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  • April 27, 2015
  • 02:03 PM

Google searches for ‘n-word’ associated with black mortality

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

Google searches could unveil patterns in Black mortality rates across the US, according to a new study. Researchers found that those areas with greater levels of racism, as indexed by the proportion of Google searches containing the “n-word,” had higher mortality rates among Blacks. The study is the first to examine an Internet query-based measure of racism in relation to mortality risk.... Read more »

Chae, D., Clouston, S., Hatzenbuehler, M., Kramer, M., Cooper, H., Wilson, S., Stephens-Davidowitz, S., Gold, R., & Link, B. (2015) Association between an Internet-Based Measure of Area Racism and Black Mortality. PLOS ONE, 10(4). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0122963  

  • April 27, 2015
  • 04:36 AM

When optimal outcome in autism meets ESSENCE

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I recently came across the paper by Martina Barnevik Olsson and colleagues [1] (open-access) and their rather interesting take on the issue of optimal outcome and autism (see here for some background on this concept).Based on the idea that a diagnosis of autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might not be as immutable as perhaps once thought (as in 'no longer meeting the diagnostic criteria for the condition'), Barnevik Olsson et al reported that loss of the autism/ASD label does not necessarily translate into typical developmental service being resumed. Indeed, that the concept of ESSENCE (Early Symptomatic Syndromes Eliciting Neurodevelopmental Clinical Examinations) or autism+ [2] if you prefer, might still influence clinical presentation and the subsequent continued "need of support, educationally, from a neurodevelopmental and a medical point of view."Following 17 children originally diagnosed with ASD who "recovered from autism" after behavioural intervention, researchers took various 'readings' at follow-up points covering "the child’s daily functioning, school situation, and need of support." Alongside a parental interview, authors also used the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) and the "Autism – Tics, Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), and other Comorbidities (A-TAC) telephone interview" to see whether loss of the ASD label meant 'symptom-free'.Results, and a long quote coming up:"At the new follow-up around age 10 years, all the children had major behavioral and/or academic problems. Of the 13 children with social interaction problems in the semistructured parental interview, 12 also had repeated tantrums, nine had difficulties with hyperactivity or impulsivity, and two with passivity. Eleven of the children had difficulties concentrating, and ten had speech problems. Hence, it was evident that a majority of the children had problems in several different domains." The authors note that many of these presented symptoms fall under the umbrella term of ESSENCE. Further, that of the 14 children who's parents were available for the A-TAC interview, three of them were again considered to meet the criteria for ASD and "another six had pronounced subthreshold ASD symptoms."Hopefully without the 'I told you so' attitude coming out to much, I have covered the issue of optimal outcome not necessarily translating into 'symptom-free' before on this blog (see here). Once again, I'm not trying to reverse my excitement about the original results from Deborah Fein and colleagues [2] but rather pushing the idea that autism is very often much more than the sum of the triad/dyad of characteristics which we use (see here). Further research from Fein and colleagues [3] has also hinted that functioning outside of the label of autism does not necessarily translate into a complete loss of certain issues too as has data from other groups.Fluidity in the presentation of autistic traits is still something of real interest to autism research including that reaching into adulthood (see here). The Barnevik Olsson results add to that interest, incorporating the idea that quite a bit of the heightened comorbidity potentially present alongside a diagnosis of ASD may very well have some pretty significant effects on a person in terms of daily functioning and onwards issues affecting quality of life [4]. In policy terms, what this means is that just because a child (or adult) drops off the autism spectrum symptom threshold wise, may not necessarily translate into no additional help and support being required. Indeed, as per the increasing interest in the DSM-5 criteria change for autism (see here) and the rise and rise of labels such as social communication disorder (SCD) one wonders how many optimal outcomers will merely fall out of the autism/ASD label and into the SCD category?Music: Seasick Steve - Summertime Boy.----------[1] Barnevik Olsson M. et al. “Recovery” from the diagnosis of autism – and then?  Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment. 2015. 11: 999-1005.[2] Fein D. et al. Optimal outcome in individuals with a history of autism. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013 Feb;54(2):195-205.[3] Orinstein AJ. et al. Social Function and Communication in Optimal Outcome Children and Adolescents with an Autism History on Structured Test Measures. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Mar 11.[4] Gotham K. et al. Depressive and anxiety symptom trajectories from school age through young adulthood in samples with autism spectrum disorder and developmental delay. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 May;54(5):369-376.e3.----------Barnevik Olsson, M., Westerlund, J., Lundström, S., Giacobini, M., Fernell, E., & Gillberg, C. (2015). “Recovery” from the diagnosis of autism – and then? Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment DOI: 10.2147/NDT.S78707... Read more »

Barnevik Olsson, M., Westerlund, J., Lundström, S., Giacobini, M., Fernell, E., & Gillberg, C. (2015) “Recovery” from the diagnosis of autism – and then?. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 999. DOI: 10.2147/NDT.S78707  

  • April 26, 2015
  • 11:21 PM

References to alcohol in UK pop music are on the increase

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

"My wine is good to me, it helps me pass the time. And my good old buddy whiskey keeps me warmer than the sunshine," Aloe Blacc – I need a dollar, 2011.Psychologists have documented a striking increase in references to alcohol and heavy drinking in the lyrics of UK chart music. They warn this could mean that attempts to control the direct advertising of alcohol to young people will be in vain, as pop music is effectively spreading a positive message on the drinks companies' behalf.Katherine Hardcastle and her colleagues analysed all songs (611 in total) that reached a top 10 UK chart position in the years 1981, 1991, 2001 and 2011. The proportion of songs that referenced alcohol in their lyrics was 5.8, 2.1, 8.1 and 18.5 per cent, respectively across these years. The researchers also looked to see whether the references to alcohol and drinking carried negative, neutral or positive connotations. References were mixed in 1981; all positive in '91 (though this was the year with the lowest number of alcohol references); more negative and neutral than positive in 2001; while in 2011, the positive and neutral references (22 songs) far outnumbered the negative references (4).From Hardcastle et al. 2015Why are alcohol references on the increase in the British pop charts? Hardcastle and her co-authors think it has to do with the influence of US acts. Alcohol references are even more prevalent in the USA chart (23.7 per cent of songs in 2008) and songs by US acts in the UK chart contained more alcohol references than songs by British acts. References to booze and drinking were highest in Urban music (R&B, hip-hop and rap) – a genre largely originating in the US. "Today's urban music scene is dominated by US artists such as Jay-Z and Alicia Keys," the researcher said, "with many artists from the UK music scene attempting to emulate the sounds and styles of their American counterparts."This study cannot answer the question of whether mentions of alcohol (especially positive ones) in pop music encourages more alcohol abuse among young listeners. However, the researchers argue there is reason to think it might. They point to the influence of non-conscious priming (ideas can influence our behaviour without us realising it) and past research showing that people drink more when in a bar that's playing music with alcohol-related lyrics. Moreover, teenagers' beliefs about what's "normal" drinking behaviour will likely be influenced by what they hear from the singers they admire. "A greater understanding of the impacts of alcohol-related popular music is urgently needed," the researchers concluded._________________________________ Hardcastle, K., Hughes, K., Sharples, O., & Bellis, M. (2015). Trends in alcohol portrayal in popular music: A longitudinal analysis of the UK charts Psychology of Music, 43 (3), 321-332 DOI: 10.1177/0305735613500701 --further reading--Pop music is getting sadderPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • April 26, 2015
  • 03:14 PM

Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

A team of Belgian philosophers and plant biotechnologists have turned to cognitive science to explain why opposition to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has become so widespread, despite positive contributions GM crops have made to sustainable agriculture. They argue that the human mind is highly susceptible to the negative and often emotional representations put out by certain environmental groups and other opponents of GMOs. The researchers urge the general public to form opinions on GMOs on a case-by-case basis, thereby not focusing on the technology but on the resulting product.... Read more »

Blancke, S., Van Breusegem, F., De Jaeger, G., Braeckman, J., & Van Montagu, M. (2015) Fatal attraction: the intuitive appeal of GMO opposition. Trends in Plant Science. DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2015.03.011  

  • April 25, 2015
  • 01:59 PM

Mental disorders do not predict violence, so please stop

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

When Sandy Hook happened, it was so shocking that to this day, some don’t actually believe it happened. Shortly after, something frustrating happened, the shooter was labeled with aspergers. This helped drive the mental health and violence connection to the point that Time came out with an article dispelling that myth. Even now according to new longitudinal study of delinquent youth, most psychiatric disorders – including depression — do not predict future violent behavior. The only exception is substance abuse and dependence.... Read more »

Elkington, K., Teplin, L., Abram, K., Jakubowski, J., Dulcan, M., & Welty, L. (2015) Psychiatric Disorders and Violence: A Study of Delinquent Youth After Detention. Journal of the American Academy of Child , 54(4), 302-31200000. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaac.2015.01.002  

  • April 25, 2015
  • 06:40 AM

Puppy-Dog Eyes Release Love Hormone

by Agnese Mariotti in United Academics

Gazing between pets and owners releases oxytocin, neurologically strengthening their bond. ... Read more »

Nagasawa, M., Mitsui, S., En, S., Ohtani, N., Ohta, M., Sakuma, Y., Onaka, T., Mogi, K., & Kikusui, T. (2015) Oxytocin-gaze positive loop and the coevolution of human-dog bonds. Science, 348(6232), 333-336. DOI: 10.1126/science.1261022  

  • April 25, 2015
  • 03:27 AM

Kids with autism: a highly [psychotropic] medicated group?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"In keeping with international studies this sample of children with ASD [autism spectrum disorder] was a highly medicated group."So said the results of the study reported by Kerry-Ann Louw and colleagues [1] back in 2013 who noted that approximately one quarter of their cohort were currently in receipt of "psychotropic medications". I don't want to linger too much on this topic given that such findings tally with other peer-reviewed reports including those with much larger participant numbers [2].I am slightly concerned that "Antipsychotics were the most common reportedly used psychotropics" according to Louw et al given that this is a paediatric group we are talking about and the special caution that is perhaps required (see here). I'm not pharma-bashing by saying that, just being mindful of issues like side-effects and the whole developing infant/child brain bit.I've covered the area of 'challenging behaviour' - one of the main reasons for medication - in the context of autism before on this blog (see here for example). In that post as in this, I can see that as a last resort and in very specific cases (accompanied by the correct medicines management and monitoring) certain psychotropic pharmaceutics can potentially bring some very positive benefits to quality of life. One only needs to look at how destructive challenging behaviours can be in the context of self-injury for example (see here) to see how medication for the right group can be a life-transformer. That being said, a careful and managed approach to medication is always the way forward, alongside treating such pharmaceutic use as a time-limited experiment...Music: Manish Boy by Muddy Waters.----------[1] Louw KA. et al. Prevalence and patterns of medication use in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders in the Western Cape, South Africa. J Child Adolesc Ment Health. 2013 Jul;25(1):69-79.[2] Coury DL. et al. Use of psychotropic medication in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2012 Nov;130 Suppl 2:S69-76.----------Louw KA, Bentley J, Sorsdahl K, & Adnams CM (2013). Prevalence and patterns of medication use in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders in the Western Cape, South Africa. Journal of child and adolescent mental health, 25 (1), 69-79 PMID: 25860309... Read more »

  • April 24, 2015
  • 09:51 AM

Marmoset Parents Teach Their Kids Not to Interrupt

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

No one expects a human infant to slide into the world with a good grasp of grammar. Marmosets, another kind of chatty primate, are also poor conversationalists when they're young. But their parents seem to teach them how it's done. Young marmosets learn the cardinal rule of having a conversation: don't interrupt. And if they mess up, their parents give them the silent treatment.

Common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) live in large family groups in the forests of Brazil. "Because marmosets ... Read more »

Chow, C., Mitchell, J., & Miller, C. (2015) Vocal turn-taking in a non-human primate is learned during ontogeny. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 282(1807), 20150069-20150069. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.0069  

  • April 24, 2015
  • 07:02 AM

“I know I shouldn’t text from the toilet,  but….”

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

People take selfies at funerals and text during sex. Others text while in the shower or while using the toilet (which apparently is not just for newspapers and books any longer). And wherever there are social faux pas’ you can bet academic researchers are not far behind. In fact, today we have research on just […]

Related posts:
Be careful what you text!
Let’s see if you can text him from jail…
When the defendant texts the juror…

... Read more »

  • April 24, 2015
  • 04:44 AM

DSM-5 impacting on autism numbers

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Consistent with previous reviews, the majority of included studies indicated between 50 and 75 % of individuals will maintain diagnoses."That was one of the conclusions reached by Isaac Smith and colleagues [1] following their systematic review of studies comparing DSM-IV and DSM-5 criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and what the changes mean for eligibility for the label.Authors further reported that: "the greatest decreases [were] among high-functioning populations with IQs over 70 and/or previous diagnoses of PDD-NOS or Asperger's disorder" when it came to those not fitting the latest autism description in DSM.I've got little more to say on this topic over what has been discussed previously on this blog with DSM-5 in mind (see here). The newly appointed catch-all category of social communication disorder (SCD) remains a label to watch, not just with respect to how many people will be diagnosed and what level of services/support will be offered, but also with the idea that the broader autism phenotype (BAP) might also gain some clinical recognition.Music: Nirvana - Drain You.----------[1] Smith IC. et al. The Effects of DSM-5 Criteria on Number of Individuals Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review. J Autism Dev Disord. 2015 Mar 22.----------Smith IC, Reichow B, & Volkmar FR (2015). The Effects of DSM-5 Criteria on Number of Individuals Diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Systematic Review. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 25796195... Read more »

  • April 23, 2015
  • 06:25 PM

Scientists create worlds first genetically modified human embryos

by Dr. Jekyll in Lunatic Laboratories

A funny thing happened on the way to the publisher. In a world first, China has successfully created genetically modified human embryos. It was certainly an amazing piece of science, but the paper was rejected by both Nature and Science. Not because the study was flawed, or because the data was falsified, the paper was rejected for ethical reasons.... Read more »

Liang, P., Xu, Y., Zhang, X., Ding, C., Huang, R., Zhang, Z., Lv, J., Xie, X., Chen, Y., Li, Y.... (2015) CRISPR/Cas9-mediated gene editing in human tripronuclear zygotes. Protein . DOI: 10.1007/s13238-015-0153-5  

  • April 23, 2015
  • 12:45 PM

In the face of discrimination, non-believers commit more strongly to their atheism

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

It’s widely recognised that atheists are one of the most marginalised groups in the USA. As you might imagine, this can cause all sorts of problems for non-believers. But might it also help explain why the public face of atheism in the USA is so stridently vocal? Many American atheists are passionate about their identity as [Read More...]... Read more »

  • April 23, 2015
  • 08:40 AM

And I Keep Hitting Re-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat-peat

by Sarah Deffit in The 'Scope

Why do we do the things we do? Knowing the science behind bad habits may help you to break them. ... Read more »

Graybiel AM. (2008) Habits, rituals, and the evaluative brain. Annual review of neuroscience, 359-87. PMID: 18558860  

Quinn JM, Pascoe A, Wood W, & Neal DT. (2010) Can't control yourself? Monitor those bad habits. Personality , 36(4), 499-511. PMID: 20363904  

Yin HH, & Knowlton BJ. (2006) The role of the basal ganglia in habit formation. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 7(6), 464-76. PMID: 16715055  

  • April 23, 2015
  • 07:28 AM

Men and boys with older sisters are less competitive

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

One of the longest-debated and most studied issues in psychology is whether and how our personalities are affected by our birth order and the sex of our siblings. A problem with much previous research is that it's depended on people self-reporting their own personality, or on siblings or parents providing the personality ratings. These ratings are prone to subjectivity and skewed by people's expectations about how, say, a younger sibling ought to behave.A new study focused on one particular finding from this literature: the idea that men with older sisters are less competitive. To get round the subjectiveness of previous research, Hiroko Okudaira and her colleagues invited participants (135 high school students in an initial experiment; 232 university students in a follow-up) to complete a maze challenge or maths test under a so-called piece-rate payment system (they accrue modest points for each correct answer) then under a tournament system (a larger reward is available, but only if they beat the other people randomly assigned to their group). Crucially, in a later trial, the participants got to choose which system they would prefer to perform under: piece-rate or tournament.In the first experiment involving mazes and high-school students, the boys more often chose to enter a tournament system than girls (61 per cent vs. 23.4 per cent, respectively). But focusing only on those boys with an older sister, their rate of entry into the tournament option was much lower than other boys, at just 38 per cent. In the second experiment with uni students and maths problems, men again showed more competitiveness than women, but men with an older sister were 21 per cent less likely to enter the tournament option than other men.The researchers found that these results held even after controlling for the influence of other potentially complicating traits such as risk-aversion and over-confidence. They did this by giving participants the chance to convert an earlier piece-rate trial into a tournament trial. Making this choice would reveal something about a person's risk-taking aversion, their confidence and so on, without involving competitiveness (because there was no prospect of actually performing again).Why should boys and men with older sisters be less competitive? There are at least two complementary explanations: one has to do with "role assimilation", which describes the way people absorb some of the gender-stereotypical traits of their siblings. The other has to do with birth-order: later borns are often found to be less competitive than first borns (evolutionarily speaking, first borns are under more pressure to meet parental expectations and must then compete to defend their stakes against younger rivals).An intriguing detail is that while having an older sister reduced the competitiveness of most boys and men, this did not hold true for those who also had an older brother or younger sister, presumably because of counter-acting influences of these siblings and effects of birth-order. Meanwhile, women with an older sister were more competitive, leading them to behave more like an average man than an average woman, in terms of their preference for competition. The researchers speculated this is because having an older sister, with shared interests and needs, increases female competition and conflict in the family._________________________________ Okudaira, H., Kinari, Y., Mizutani, N., Ohtake, F., & Kawaguchi, A. (2015). Older sisters and younger brothers: The impact of siblings on preference for competition Personality and Individual Differences, 82, 81-89 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.02.037 --further reading--The taste for competition peaks at age 50Born to leadPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest. 

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Okudaira, H., Kinari, Y., Mizutani, N., Ohtake, F., & Kawaguchi, A. (2015) Older sisters and younger brothers: The impact of siblings on preference for competition. Personality and Individual Differences, 81-89. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.02.037  

  • April 23, 2015
  • 01:46 AM

Does maternal asthma 'prime' for offspring neurodevelopmental disorder?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper from Jared Schwartzer and colleagues [1] (open-access) including a couple of familiar names on the authorship list (Charity Onore and Paul Ashwood) caught my attention recently. Based on mouse studies and the artificial induction of maternal allergy/asthma in pregnant mice, researchers reported that: "Activation of the maternal immune system with an allergy/asthma insult significantly perturbed developmental growth and species-typical behaviors in offspring." Further that their results: "support the notion that the maternal immune system has a crucial role in shaping fetal development and is an important factor contributing to the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders" (in mice at least).This is not the first time that maternal immune activation (MIA) has been looked at by this authorship group as per some of their other results on the development of "autism-like behaviors" in offspring mice of mother mice exposed to an agent leading to immune activation during pregnancy [2] (see here for my take on this). This following a whole area of research on MIA in relation to [some] autism and [some] schizophrenia (see here).On this latest occasion, the authors report on their testing of the hypothesis that: "maternal allergy/asthma (MAA) imparts neurobehavioral alterations in brain and behavior of offspring reminiscent of the common endophenotypes observed in neurodevelopmental disorders." This involved the induction of "allergic airway inflammation" in pregnant mice - C57Bl/6J mice - via the use of an injection of ovalbumin (OVA) for initial sensitisation and then a further "aerosolized solution of 1% (wt/vl) OVA in PBS" or just PBS as a control when mother mice were pregnant corresponding to "early, middle and late gestation." OVA, by the way, is quite a typical way of experimentally inducing allergic reactions.Offspring of MAA and control mice (39 PBS, 43 MAA) were then put through their behavioural paces to determine whether their were any consequences following said maternal immune stimulation during pregnancy. This involved looking at aspects such as marble-burying behaviour ("analogous to the restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior observed in neurodevelopmental disorders") and social approach behaviour among other things. A small number of mice were also sacrificed for the "analysis of serotonin transporter protein levels in the cortex."Results: well, we already know that there were some differences between the MAA and PBS (control) group. "Offspring of MAA dams... exhibited increased marble-burying behavior, a perseverative behavior analogous to repetitive behaviors observed in neuropsychiatric disorders including obsessive compulsive disorder and ASD." Social approaches were also different in MAA offspring - "Mice born to mothers repeatedly exposed to allergy/asthma displayed significantly reduced sociability scores compared with control mice from PBS-treated dams." MAA offspring who were sacrificed (a small number) also "had a 33% increase in the expression of SERT compared with control offspring of PBS-exposed dams."  Ergo, a mouse model of immune activation during pregnancy may very well show effects on offspring mice.Obviously we have to be a little cautious in interpreting these results and applying them to the very wide and very complex conditions that are autism and/or schizophrenia for example. As I've said before mice can make for good animal models of a condition/label but they will always be just models (see here). Likewise, when it comes to that SERT finding in the MAA vs control mice, we have to be slightly cautious about generalisation based on examination of one parameter in a very small number of mice.That being said, one might be open to the idea that the Schwartzer results might translate into something like real life [3] as and when further investigations are undertaken. The authors use the example of air pollution as potentially mapping onto their results: "For example, exposure to air pollutants, such as diesel fuel and other particulate matter, can result in the development of asthma, and exposure to pollutants is associated with an increased risk of having a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder." There are a few generalisations made in that story but I was kinda interested in how they talked about asthma linking into neurodevelopmental disorders following my discussions on this topic in previous musings (see here). I might add that other agents have also been linked to asthma as per some discussions on paracetamol (acetaminophen) and offspring outcomes. Maybe these represent the next mouse studies in this area?Music: The Horrors - Sea Within A Sea.----------[1] Schwartzer JJ. et al. Allergic fetal priming leads to developmental, behavioral and neurobiological changes in mice. Translational Psychiatry. 2015; 5: e543.[2] Schwartzer JJ. et al. Maternal immune activation and strain specific interactions in the development of autism-like behaviors in mice. Translational Psychiatry. 2013; 3: e240.[3] Croen LA. et al. Maternal autoimmune diseases, asthma and allergies, and childhood autism spectrum disorders: a case-control study. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005 Feb;159(2):151-7.----------Schwartzer, J., Careaga, M., Chang, C., Onore, C., & Ashwood, P. (2015). Allergic fetal priming leads to developmental, behavioral and neurobiological changes in mice Translational Psychiatry, 5 (4) DOI: 10.1038/tp.2015.40... Read more »

  • April 22, 2015
  • 09:54 AM

Psychologists study burglars' expertise

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Their actions are criminal and they cause untold misery, but repeat burglars are skilled at what they do and in that sense they are experts. By studying this expertise we can learn to better secure our properties against the threat of theft, and detectives can learn to spot the signature trail of an experienced robber.Most previous research in this area has relied on interviews with burglars about their strategies: a limited approach. A new study is more compelling. Claire Nee and her team recruited six former repeat burglars (each had committed hundreds of burglaries) and watched via video camera as they entered and robbed a carefully prepared residential house.The burglars, all male, were fitted with a head-mounted camera. They all stole into the house via the rear of the property whereas six male postgrads, tested for comparison, all entered via the front. The burglars spent proportionately more time in rooms that contained more valuable items. Half of them began upstairs and worked their way down whereas the students all started their room searches downstairs.The burglars took fewer items, but they targeted those that were more valuable. In fact, the average haul of the burglars was nearly £1000 more than the haul obtained by the students. There was also a lot more variation in the movements and strategies of the students than the burglars, which shows how the latter were operating in an optimised, less random fashion. The students also tended to miss valuable items such as designer bags containing cash and phones, and the leather jackets in the hallway."All in all, the much narrower distribution of response from burglars on almost all measures within this environment ... supported the idea of a more discriminate, systematic and practised approach to the tasks at hand," the researchers said. Similar results were obtained when the burglars and students performed the same test on computer through a virtual reality mock-up of the same house (mouse clicks were used to navigate and "steal" items). Nee and her team said this was important because it is obviously much easier to conduct research using a simulated house than to gain permission to use a real residential home. If such an approach proves to be valid with larger samples, they said "a range of simulated environments can be created and used to study a wide range of offending behaviour with both incarcerated and active offenders."_________________________________ Nee, C., White, M., Woolford, K., Pascu, T., Barker, L., & Wainwright, L. (2015). New methods for examining expertise in burglars in natural and simulated environments: preliminary findings Psychology, Crime & Law, 21 (5), 507-513 DOI: 10.1080/1068316X.2014.989849 Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • April 22, 2015
  • 08:30 AM

Does Animal-Assisted Therapy Help Adolescents with Psychiatric Problems?

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

A new study finds that a dog might be just what the doctor ordered.Can animal-assisted therapy can help adolescents who are in hospital because of an acute psychiatric crisis? A new randomized controlled trial investigates. The study, conducted by M.C. Stefanini et al (University of Florence) randomly allocated patients to either an animal-assisted therapy intervention or no intervention. Both groups continued to receive psychiatric treatment as usual, and those treating them did not know which group they were in. The results are very promising.The intervention group had better school attendance, higher levels of global functioning, and spent less time in hospital compared to the control group. The scientists say, “One possible explanation for this success is the role of the animal as a catalyst in the therapeutic process. Animals may represent a valid help in therapeutic contexts thanks to their ability to catalyze social interactions and to create a more relaxed environment.”The animal-assisted therapy involved a 45 minute session once a week. Activities included getting to know the animal and its handler, grooming, cleaning, basic obedience, and agility. It took place in the garden when the weather was nice, and in a room inside when it was wet. As well as individual sessions with the animal and handler, there were group sessions with others taking part in the program.Every session was video-taped and coded. The recordings show that over time, the adolescent interacted more with the dog and showed it more affection, showed more social behaviour with adults and peers, and withdrew less.More research is needed to understand how animal-assisted therapy works, but Stefanini et al say “the young patients who feel fragile, needy and dependent on others in the hospital context, can experience themselves as caretakers of someone else in the AAT environment. This experience can improve their sense of self-agency and self-cure, and these positive effects are not only limited to the human-animal bond, but can be extended to the patient’s global functioning and to the entire process of care.”34 patients took part, of whom 17 were assigned to each condition. There were no differences between the groups in terms of functioning, school attendance, hospital care, or demographic variables at the start of the study. The most common diagnosis was an eating disorder (65%), followed by mood disorder (21%) and schizophrenia (9%). More than half had another psychiatric diagnosis as well, and about a quarter had previously had psychiatric treatment. Patients were excluded from the study if they were afraid of dogs or allergic to them.The assessments, including a standardized global functioning scale, took place on admittance and again after three months. The children’s global functioning scale is an assessment of the extent to which they can take part in everyday activities, and whether or not they have impairments such as self-harm, suicidal thoughts or aggression. One limitation to the study is the small sample size and the fact that only one hospital was involved. In future research, it would be nice to also see a control sample that undertook an activity similar to animal-assisted therapy but without the presence of an animal (e.g., equivalent time spent in the garden or indoors with an appropriate adult from outside the hospital). Although many people believe that animal-assisted therapy can help people with psychiatric problems, there have been limited studies using randomized controlled trials, so this study is a valuable addition to the literature. A recent paper by Kamioka et al found 11 randomized controlled trials, but was unable to do a meta-analysis because of differences between them. Nonetheless they concluded that “AAT may be an effective treatment for mental and behavioural disorders.”The dogs that took part in this study were from the Guide Dogs for the Blind in Tuscany, and trained following the Pet Partners (formerly Delta Society) guidelines. If you think your dog or other pet might be a suitable candidate for animal-assisted therapy, you can find out more by visiting their website. Animals must meet the pre-requisites, which include being healthy, house-trained, knowing basic obedience and with no history of aggression. Even llamas, alpacas and pot-bellied pigs can become therapy animals.Do you find that your pets provide emotional support at difficult times?Reference Kamioka, H., Okada, S., Tsutani, K., Park, H., Okuizumi, H., Handa, S., Oshio, T., Park, S., Kitayuguchi, J., Abe, T., Honda, T., & Mutoh, Y. (2014). Effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 22 (2), 371-390 DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.016... Read more »

Kamioka, H., Okada, S., Tsutani, K., Park, H., Okuizumi, H., Handa, S., Oshio, T., Park, S., Kitayuguchi, J., Abe, T.... (2014) Effectiveness of animal-assisted therapy: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 22(2), 371-390. DOI: 10.1016/j.ctim.2013.12.016  

  • April 22, 2015
  • 07:02 AM

Lumbersexuals with tattoos: Are they new and improved? 

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

Recently we blogged about an emerging demographic subgroup: the lumbersexual. After reading the flurry of mainstream media articles about this group, here is how we described them: “As far as we can tell, the lumbersexual is an urban male (typically White and heterosexual) who dresses like a lumberjack even though he is far from a […]

Related posts:
Wait! Could that be a  lumbersexual in your venire panel?
The Millennials (aka ‘Gen Y’): On tattoos, TMI, tolerance and technology
The new bumper sticker? Tattoos in the courtroom

... Read more »

  • April 22, 2015
  • 04:39 AM

MMR vaccine was not associated with increased risk of autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"In this large sample of privately insured children with older siblings, receipt of the MMR [measles-mumps-rubella] vaccine was not associated with increased risk of ASD [autism spectrum disorder], regardless of whether older siblings had ASD. These findings indicate no harmful association between MMR vaccine receipt and ASD even among children already at higher risk for ASD."That was the conclusion reached in the study by Anjali Jain and colleagues [1] (open-access) based on an analysis of data for over 95,000 children with an older sibling held on "an administrative claims database associated with a large US health plan (the Optum Research Database)." With the aim of reporting "ASD occurrence by MMR vaccine status in a large sample of US children who have older siblings with and without ASD" researchers trawled through the collected data looking "for autistic disorder or other specified pervasive developmental disorder (PDD) including Asperger syndrome, or unspecified PDD (International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification 299.0x, 299.8x, 299.9x)" as a function of MMR vaccine receipt between birth and the 5 years of age.They found that nearly 2000 of the 95,000+ children included for study had a sibling diagnosed with autism (2%). As per the results of quite a bit of research in this area, having an older sibling with autism was associated with an increased risk of autism among study participants compared with having an older sibling without autism (6.9% vs. 0.9%).Then to the MMR...Vaccination rates were lower for those with an older sibling with autism compared with those with an older sibling without autism (73% at 2 years & 86% at 5 years vs. 84% at 2 years & 92% at 5 years respectively). This difference was present despite similar rates of 'vaccination-associated allergies' being reported. The presence of seizures and the variable of preterm birth were somewhat different between the sibling with ASD and sibling without ASD groupings but the authors don't appear to be reporting such differences to be statistically significant. The issue of vaccine uptake as a function of having an older sibling with autism has been covered before on this blog (see here).And then to the headlines: 'No association found between MMR vaccine and autism, even among children at higher risk'. This was based on the calculation of unadjusted relative risks (RRs) - "cumulative incidence rate ratios by taking the ratio of the proportion of children who had an ASD diagnosis in an exposed group (either 1 MMR dose or 2 MMR doses) to the proportion of children who had an ASD diagnosis in the unvaccinated group at a given age" and adjusted RRs - "hazard rate ratios estimated from a single Cox proportional hazard regression model that used age since birth as the time scale and included MMR receipt as a time-varying covariate ascribing follow-up time to either the unvaccinated group, the 1-dose group, or the 2-dose group, depending on immunization status at any given age." Further: "An interaction term between MMR receipt and older sibling ASD status was included to allow adjusted RRs to vary by older sibling ASD status." What this boiled down to based on either one dose of MMR received at age 2 or two doses of MMR by age 5 was pretty much nothing in terms of any elevated statistical risk of autism among cases as a function of either having an older sibling with autism or not.The editorial from Bryan King [2] accompanying the Jain results is also quite illuminating specifically on the possibility that some of the results might be "arguing that MMR vaccine actually reduces the risk of ASD in those who were immunized by age 2 years." I tread very carefully in discussing this sentiment given the confidence intervals (CIs) reported and the idea that delayed MMR vaccination past some pervceived 'critical period' might artificially decrease the risk of autism being diagnosed. I'll come back to this shortly.The Jain results add further weight to the idea that childhood vaccination is probably not going to be a significant risk factor for the subsequent development of autism. The impressive participant numbers included for study cannot be readily ignored. The data is however not perfect as per the authors critique and issues such as "children in our study who are considered unvaccinated may have received vaccines in settings such as schools or public health clinics in which claims were not submitted." MMR might also not mean MMR in terms of a single combined vaccine as per the comment: "The date of administration of the trivalent MMR (or the last-administered component of monovalent vaccines) was used to determine age at administration for each dose (first or second)."Vaccination and autism has appeared before on this blog as per my mega-post back in 2014 (see here) and previous musings on the 'too many too soon' suggestion (see here). In both those posts, the data pointed towards no population wide link between vaccination and autism as well as reiterating the important public health message on the value of vaccination. Other subsequent studies have found similar things [3]. This does not rule out isolated events potentially temporally linked to vaccine administration (as per the sentiments of 'Four Kingdoms' post from Dr Tom Insel and past other high-profile cases [4]) but certainly does not mirror the narcolepsy - H1N1 influenza vaccine story for example (see here for some background).Just before I go, I do want to go back to the issue of whether childhood MMR vaccination (or other vaccines) might actually reduce the risk of autism. Taking into account the research literature looking at something like congenital rubella with autism in mind (see here) one might make a case for suggesting that the rubella vaccine part of MMR vaccine has potentially impacted on the numbers of cases of autism down the years [5]. Whether vaccination with MMR or other immunisations might more directly confer some protection against the development of autism is something that perhaps needs further exploration alongside the possible mechanisms of effect. I'd also put forward the idea that variables such as post-vaccination paracetamol (acetaminophen) use might also require a little more study too [6].----------[1] Jain A. et al. Autism Occurrence by MMR Vaccine Status Among US Children With Older Siblings With and Without Autism. JAMA. 2015; 313: 1534-1540.[2] King BH. Promising Forecast for Autism Spectrum Disorders. JAMA. 2015; 313: 1518-1519.[3] Uno Y. et al. Early exposure to the combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and thimerosal-containing vaccines and risk of autism spectrum disorder. Vaccine. 2015 Jan 3. pii: S0264-410X(14)01689-2.[4] Poling JS. et al. Developmental regression and mitochondrial dysfunction in a child with autism. J Child Neurol. 2006 Feb;21(2):170-2.[5] Berger BE. et al. Congenital rubella syndrome and autism spectrum disorder prevented by rubella vaccination--United States, 2001-2010. BMC Public Health. 2011 May 19;11:340.[6] Schultz ST. et al. Acetaminophen (paracetamol) use, measles-mumps-rubella vaccination, and autistic disorder: the results of a parent survey. Autism. 2008 May;12(3):293-307.----------... Read more »

  • April 21, 2015
  • 06:08 PM

Is Synesthesia A Brain Disorder?

by Neuroskeptic in Neuroskeptic_Discover

In a provocative review paper just published, French neuroscientists Jean-Michel Hupé and Michel Dojat question the assumption that synesthesia is a neurological disorder.

In synesthesia, certain sensory stimuli involuntarily trigger other sensations. For example, in one common form of synesthesia, known as 'grapheme-color', certain letters are perceived as allied with, certain colors. In other cases, musical notes are associated with colors, or smells.

The cause of synesthesia is obsc... Read more »

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