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  • July 24, 2014
  • 05:30 PM
  • 15 views

Grief in Children and Adolescents

by Eva Alisic in Trauma Recovery

The plane crash in Ukraine brings up many questions related to loss and grief. How will those left behind cope with the devastating event? How can we support them? With regard to how young people cope with bereavement, Dr. Mariken Spuij’s recent articles provide new insights.... Read more »

  • July 24, 2014
  • 04:58 PM
  • 14 views

Why the new paper by Christakis and Fowler on friendship makes me queasy

by neuroecology in Neuroecology

I am a neuroscientist, and as a neuroscientist I have a strange belief that most of who we are comes from our brains. My entire career is based around understanding behavior from this neural level which I feel to be fairly justifiable. So when I see paper looking at the genetics of behavior, I expect to see at […]... Read more »

Christakis NA, & Fowler JH. (2014) Friendship and natural selection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 111(Supplement 3), 10796-10801. PMID: 25024208  

Ripke, S., Neale, B., Corvin, A., Walters, J., Farh, K., Holmans, P., Lee, P., Bulik-Sullivan, B., Collier, D., Huang, H.... (2014) Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic loci. Nature, 511(7510), 421-427. DOI: 10.1038/nature13595  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 01:34 PM
  • 20 views

Background TV and Children don’t Mix

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Coming from a, to put it gently, very broken home, my babysitter was the television. Yep, so now that you are feeling nice and awkward let’s talk television. New research, […]... Read more »

Linebarger DL, Barr R, Lapierre MA, & Piotrowski JT. (2014) Associations Between Parenting, Media Use, Cumulative Risk, and Children's Executive Functioning. Journal of developmental and behavioral pediatrics : JDBP, 35(6), 367-77. PMID: 25007059  

Lapierre, M., Piotrowski, J., & Linebarger, D. (2012) Background Television in the Homes of US Children. PEDIATRICS, 130(5), 839-846. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2581  

  • July 24, 2014
  • 04:14 AM
  • 66 views

Prenatal valproate exposure and brains

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Amanda Wood and colleagues [1] (open-access) makes a potentially very important contribution to the growing literature looking at how prenatal exposure to sodium valproate (VPA) may affect some children. Authors reported on: "regional structural cortical brain changes in humans exposed to VPA in utero" and specifically, increased cortical thickness in the left inferior frontal gyrus.Lightning and lava @ Oliver Spalt @ Wikipedia In case you need any background on the story behind pregnancy exposure to VPA, I would direct you to a few previous posts where the topic has been covered on this blog (see here and see here) with an autism slant. You might also read my small contribution to a more formal article on this topic here.Outside of any reported elevated risk of offspring autism or autistic traits associated with prenatal VPA exposure, I'm also minded to bring in some interesting work on intestinal inflammation being reported in a VPA mouse model (see here) to further highlight that important gut-brain axis which I seem to be a little obsessed with.The Wood paper is open-access and has some accompanying media coverage but a few pointers might be useful...Following other work by the authors on this topic [2] the idea behind this latest research was to apply the science of neuroimaging to a participant group comprising 16 children exposed to VPA in-utero compared with age- and sex-matched children not exposed to such pharmaceutics prenatally.MRI scans were taken and analysed and "whole brain group differences" assessed. Results: well, as discussed, there were some findings in terms of cortical thickness but also specifically with language skills in mind. To quote again: "Asymmetry of cortical thickness in the inferior frontal lobes was seen in controls but not cases". I understand that this finding might have some relevance to language processing [3] although set my non-expert stall out on such matters. As per that previous link [2] and other evidence [4], language functions in VPA exposed children tend to poorer compared to controls and to those exposed to other anti-convulsant medication during the nine months that made us. This last point on different medications potentially carrying different risk profiles [5] is something equally interesting.Allowing for the relatively small participant groups studied and the lack of any other research parameter such as looking at accompanying brain chemistry which may be important [6], the Wood paper offers some intriguing insights into how pregnancy VPA use might affect infant brain development. The very important detail of analysis being based on real human children and not rat offspring also invites some further examination of previous results based on rodents [7]. Rats are rats, children are children.I'm going to leave you with a quote from the authors about their study: "VPA remains an important medication for people with epilepsy. What this study really tells us is that further research is required so that all women with epilepsy can make informed decisions about their medication use during pregnancy". I couldn't agree more, and as per the Treating for Two initiative, I'm not the only one.Music then... HRH Gaga and Just Dance.----------[1] Wood AG. et al. Altered cortical thickness following prenatal sodium valproate exposure. Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. 2014. July 3. doi: 10.1002/acn3.74[2] Nadebaum C. et al. Language skills of school-aged children prenatally exposed to antiepileptic drugs. Neurology. 2011 Feb 22;76(8):719-26.[3] Powell HWR. et al. Hemispheric asymmetries in language-related pathways: A combined functional MRI and tractography study. NeuroImage. 2006; 32: 388-399.[4] Shallcross R. et al. In utero exposure to levetiracetam vs valproate: development and language at 3 years of age. Neurology. 2014 Jan 21;82(3):213-21.[5] Vajda FJE. et al. The teratogenicity of the newer antiepileptic drugs – an update. Acta Neurol Scand. 2014. July 18[6] Almeida LE. et al. Increased BDNF expression in fetal brain in the valproic acid model of autism. Mol Cell Neurosci. 2014 Mar;59:57-62.[7] Mychasiuk R. et al. Effects of rat prenatal exposure to valproic acid on behaviour and neuro-anatomy. Dev Neurosci. 2012;34(2-3):268-76.----------Wood, A., Chen, J., Barton, S., Nadebaum, C., Anderson, V., Catroppa, C., Reutens, D., O'Brien, T., & Vajda, F. (2014). Altered cortical thickness following prenatal sodium valproate exposure Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology DOI: 10.1002/acn3.74... Read more »

Wood, A., Chen, J., Barton, S., Nadebaum, C., Anderson, V., Catroppa, C., Reutens, D., O'Brien, T., & Vajda, F. (2014) Altered cortical thickness following prenatal sodium valproate exposure. Annals of Clinical and Translational Neurology. DOI: 10.1002/acn3.74  

  • July 23, 2014
  • 12:46 PM
  • 102 views

As a butterfly flaps its wings in Tokyo, a neuron in your head veers slightly heavenward…

by neuroecology in Neuroecology

When you look at the edge of a table, there is a neuron in your head that goes from silence to pop pop pop. As you extend your arm, a nerve commanding the muscle does the same thing. Your retina has neurons whose firing rate goes up or down depending on whether it detects a light spot […]... Read more »

Churchland, M., Cunningham, J., Kaufman, M., Foster, J., Nuyujukian, P., Ryu, S., & Shenoy, K. (2012) Neural population dynamics during reaching. Nature. DOI: 10.1038/nature11129  

Shenoy KV, Sahani M, & Churchland MM. (2013) Cortical control of arm movements: a dynamical systems perspective. Annual review of neuroscience, 337-59. PMID: 23725001  

  • July 23, 2014
  • 11:54 AM
  • 95 views

The Adolescent Dog: One Last Chance?

by CAPB in Companion Animal Psychology Blog

A synthesis of the latest research on social influences on development suggests adolescence is an important time for mammals – including dogs.Photo: dezi / ShutterstockMost people are familiar with the idea of a sensitive period for puppies that ends around 12 or 14 weeks. Is it possible that adolescence is also an important period for brain development and future behaviour?Social experience plays an important role in shaping animal behaviour throughout development according to Sachser et al (2013). They consider the way the environment influences the mother and, in turn, the behaviour of her offspring (e.g. through stress hormones). This ensures the offspring is prepared for that environment as adults. While the paper looks at the prenatal period right through to adolescence, it is the section on adolescent animals that is of most interest. They write that “the adolescent phase may provide a last chance for correction if the future environment deviates from that predicted in earlier phases.”Most developmental research has focussed on pregnancy and the period shortly after birth. During this time, maternal hormones and behaviour have a large impact on the development of offspring. However, some parts of the brain are still plastic (i.e. able to change and develop) into adulthood. This includes the hippocampus and amygdala.   The scientists say, “There is increasing evidence that adolescence, that is, the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood, also represents an additional sensitive period (beyond the prenatal and early postnatal periods) in which behavioural profiles are routinely and profoundly shaped by social events.”The potential for change during adolescence is necessary, they argue, because sometimes there will be a mismatch between the conditions in which the offspring is born and experiences very early life, and the environment in which it matures. In particular, they suggest future studies should examine the effects of this kind of mismatch, in order to find out more about this stage of development.One example of the influence of the social environment in adolescence can be found in guinea pigs. If they spend their adolescence in colonies that include both males and females, they develop good social skills. As adults, they are able to get on with other guinea pigs in the colony without being aggressive; they are also able to become part of a new colony with unfamiliar guinea pigs. However, if they spend adolescence as part of a male-female pair, they become aggressive to unfamiliar males. Thus, the adolescent experiences have shaped adult behaviour. The research considered by Sachser et al is mainly about mice, guinea pigs and wild cavies, but these ideas are thought to apply to the mammalian brain in general. They tie in with work on plasticity in the human brain. For example, Dr. Bruce Perry (2006) says that “important neurodevelopmental processes continue to take place throughout childhood and adolescence as the brain’s systems become more complex. Major cortical restructuring and myelination continue into early adult life.” Writing about the implications for dogs, Riemer et al (2014) say,  “… a major reorganisation of the central nervous system occurs during puberty, and there is growing evidence that adolescence can be considered as an additional sensitive period (beyond the prenatal and early postnatal periods), with profound effects on future behaviour (reviewed in Sachser et al 2013). There is evidence that steroid-dependent adolescent brain and behavioural development can be modified by social experience. Thus, experiences after the first sensitive period of socialisation, and in particular during adolescence, will also play an important role in determining the adult animal's behaviour.” This is good news for poorly socialized adolescent dogs, as it means there is still an important window of opportunity in which to improve their behaviour. This is an age at which many dogs are surrendered to rescue organizations because they are no longer cute puppies and their increased size means their behaviour has become problematic. A better understanding of development during this stage would therefore benefit many dogs.So does this research mean we don’t need to worry about puppy socialization anymore? Absolutely not! This is the most important time for ensuring your puppy will grow up to be a calm, friendly adult dog. (For suggestions, see this excellent article by Anne Springer on ‘five things you can do to bite proof your puppy’). However, if you have an adolescent dog that hasn’t been socialized, it means it would be a good idea to build positive socialization experiences into their training plan.Not enough is known about canine development, and more research is needed to confirm the biological and behavioural changes that take place during adolescence. We look forward to learning more about this important stage of development. The papers by Sachser et al (2013) and Riemer et al (2014) are open access and can be read at the links below.What was your dog like as an adolescent?ReferencesPerry, Bruce D. and Szalavitz, Maia (2006) The boy who was raised as a dog and other stories from a child psychiatrist’s notebook. NY: Basic Books.Riemer, S., Müller, C., Virányi, Z., Huber, L., & Range, F. (2014). The Predictive Value of Early Behavioural Assessments in Pet Dogs – A Longitudinal Study from Neonates to Adults PLoS ONE, 9 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101237 ... Read more »

  • July 23, 2014
  • 10:22 AM
  • 51 views

What the textbooks don't tell you - one of psychology's most famous experiments was seriously flawed

by Christian Jarrett in BPS Research Digest

Zimbardo speaking in '09Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) has acquired a mythical status and provided the inspiration for at least two feature-length films. You'll recall that several university students allocated to the role of jailor turned brutal and the study had to be aborted prematurely. Philip Zimbardo, the experiment's lead investigator, says the lesson from the research is that in certain situations, good people readily turn bad. "If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples," he has written.The SPE was criticised back in the 70s, but that criticism has noticeably escalated and widened in recent years. New details to emerge show that Zimbardo played a key role in encouraging his "guards" to behave in tyrannical fashion. Critics have pointed out that only one third of guards behaved sadistically (this argues against the overwhelming power of the situation). Question marks have also been raised about the self-selection of particular personality types into the study. Moreover, in 2002, the social psychologists Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam conducted the BBC Prison Study to test the conventional interpretation of the SPE. The researchers deliberately avoided directing their participants as Zimbardo had his, and this time it was the prisoners who initially formed a strong group identity and overthrew the guards.Given that the SPE has been used to explain modern-day atrocities, such as at Abu Ghraib, and given that nearly two million students are enrolled in introductory psychology courses in the US, Richard Greggs, professor emeritus at the University of Florida, says "it is especially important that coverage of it in our texts be accurate."So, have the important criticisms and reinterpretations of the SPE been documented by key introductory psychology textbooks? Greggs analysed the content of 13 leading US introductory psychology textbooks, all of which have been revised in recent years, including:  Discovering Psychology (Cacioppo and Freberg, 2012); Psychological Science (Gazzaniga et al, 2012); and Psychology (Schacter et al, 2011).Of the 13 analysed texts, 11 dealt with the Stanford Prison Experiment, providing between one to seven paragraphs of coverage. Nine included photographic support for the coverage. Five provided no criticism of the SPE at all. The other six provided only cursory criticism, mostly focused on the questionable ethics of the study. Only two texts mentioned the BBC Prison Study. Only one text provided a formal scholarly reference to a critique of the SPE.Why do the principal psychology introductory textbooks, at least in the US, largely ignore the wide range of important criticisms of the SPE? Greggs didn't approach the authors of the texts so he can't know for sure. He thinks it unlikely that ignorance is the answer. Perhaps the authors are persuaded by Zimbardo's answers to his critics, says Greggs, but even so, surely the criticisms should be mentioned and referenced. Another possibility is that textbook authors are under pressure to shorten their texts, but surely they are also under pressure to keep them up-to-date.It would be interesting to compare coverage of the SPE in European introductory texts. Certainly there are contemporary books by British psychologists that do provide more in-depth critical coverage of the SPE.Greggs' advice for textbook authors is to position coverage of the SPE in the research methods chapter (instead of under social psychology), and to use the experiment's flaws as a way to introduce students to key issues such as ecological validity, ethics, demand characteristics and subsequent conflicting results. "In sum," he writes, "the SPE and its criticisms comprise a solid thread to weave numerous research concepts together into a good 'story' that would not only enhance student learning but also lead students to engage in critical thinking about the research process and all of the possible pitfalls along the way."_________________________________ Griggs, R. (2014). Coverage of the Stanford Prison Experiment in Introductory Psychology Textbooks Teaching of Psychology, 41 (3), 195-203 DOI: 10.1177/0098628314537968 --further reading--Foundations of sand? The lure of academic myths and their place in classic psychologyImage credit: Jdec/WikipediaPost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.
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  • July 23, 2014
  • 07:02 AM
  • 6 views

Male body shame and aggression against women (“rape proclivity”)

by Rita Handrich in The Jury Room

The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. […]

Related posts:
Women and true crime tales of rape, murder & serial killers
Racist roads not taken and prejudice-based aggression
Women who stalk: Who they are and how they do it


... Read more »

  • July 23, 2014
  • 03:46 AM
  • 61 views

Trauma and PTSD raise risk of autoimmune disorders?

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

I admit to some head scratching when I first read the paper by Aoife O’Donovan and colleagues [1] reporting that among war veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, "trauma exposure and PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] may increase risk of autoimmune disorders".It wasn't that I didn't believe the results, but rather that the idea that a physical event with a psychological consequence could impact on a somatic condition with an autoimmune element to it seemed to open up some new avenues particularly pertinent to this blog and its focus on psychology and biology intersecting. That there may be consequences for other conditions from the O'Donovan findings was something else that piqued my interest.Sunset in Rio @ BBC 1Anyway, a few details first:A retrospective study based on the analysis of several thousands of medical records of US troops deployed into active theatre in Iraq or Afghanistan was the study starting point. The idea being that outside of PTSD being "associated with endocrine and immune abnormalities" [2] there may be more to see when it comes to autoimmune disease - conditions characterised by a breakdown in the immune system distinguishing self from other. The types of autoimmune disorder included for study ranged from inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) to lupus erythematosus.From an initial cohort of 666,269 veterans, 203,766 (30%) were diagnosed with PTSD and just shy of 20% were diagnosed with a psychiatric disorder other than PTSD. Comparing those with PTSD with those without, authors reported a "significantly higher adjusted relative risk (ARR) for diagnosis with any of the autoimmune disorders alone or in combination compared to veterans with no psychiatric diagnoses... and compared to veterans diagnosed with psychiatric disorders other than PTSD".Both men and women with PTSD seemed to be equally affected by autoimmune disorders. Military sexual trauma exposure was also "independently associated with increased risk in both men and women" of autoimmune disorders.The first thing that struck me about the O'Donovan findings was the observation that nearly a third of all veterans were diagnosed with PTSD. I've talked before about concepts like shell shock and how thousands of troops suffered psychological trauma during the First World War (see here). In the modern era where trench warfare has to some extent been overtaken by the digital battlefield, it appears that the psychological harms of war still persist and still inflict a terrible burden.As intrigued as I was about the PTSD - autoimmune disorder connection included in the O'Donovan paper, a quick trawl through some of the other research in this area tells me this is not the first time that such an association has been made. The results from Boscarino [3] hinted that "chronic sufferers of PTSD may be at risk for autoimmune diseases" based on an analysis of Vietnam war veterans. The comparison between veterans who operated in different theatres of conflict (Iraq/Afghanistan vs. Vietnam) also to some degree negates any individual geographical effect from the war zone itself as influencing the results. The paper by Zung and colleagues [4] looking at paediatric type 1 diabetes frequency and psychological stress associated with the 2006 Lebanon War concluded that war trauma might play a role in the increased numbers of cases situated near the conflict. One wonders what the outcome of current events might be too. Such data also implies that age and occupation (i.e. a military career) are not going to be able to account for the PTSD - autoimmunity link either.So then to the question of what mechanism might be driving this association. Outside of the general area of immune response and something like inflammation [5], the paper by Sommershof and colleagues [6] reported data pointing to a "profoundly altered composition of the peripheral T cell compartment [which] might cause a state of compromised immune responsiveness" in relation to traumatic stress and physical health. I'm no expert on T cells but I gather that they do play an important role in the issue of autoimmunity [7] (open-access) so perhaps there is more research to do there. O'Donovan et al also list "lifestyle factors" as also influencing the trauma exposure / PTSD - autoimmune disease relationship which brings into play a whole host of issues ranging from drug and/or alcohol abuse to less extreme environmental factors. I'd also be minded to suggest that culturally-related issues might also play a role in any relationship as per studies like the one from Whealin and colleagues [8] talking about "risk and resilience correlates of PTSD" as a function of ethnicity. I might also draw your attention to the important paper by Alessio Fasano on gut permeability and autoimmune disease [9] which might very well link PTSD to other physiological events as per other descriptions [10].Whichever way you look at the O'Donovan paper, their findings present some stark facts about caring for war veterans. They also emphasise how war really can be hell.----------[1] O'Donovan A. et al. Elevated Risk For Autoimmune Disorders In Iraq And Afghanistan Veterans With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Biological Psychiatry. 2014. June 28.[2] Pace TW. & Heim CM. A short review on the psychoneuroimmunology of posttraumatic stress disorder: from risk factors to medical comorbidities. Brain Behav Immun. 2011 Jan;25(1):6-13.[3] Boscarino JA. Posttraumatic stress disorder and physical illness: results from clinical and epidemiologic studies. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2004 Dec;1032:141-53.[4] Zung A. et al. Increase in the incidence of type 1 diabetes in Israeli children following the Second Lebanon War. Pediatr Diabetes. 2012 Jun;13(4):326-33.[5] Tursich M. et al. Association of trauma exposure with proinflammatory activity: a transdiagnostic meta-analysis. Translational Psychiatry. 2014. July 22.[6] Sommershof A. et al. Substantial reduction of naïve and regulatory T cells following traumatic stress. Brain Behav Immun. 2009 Nov;23(8):1117-24.[7] Dejaco C. et al. Imbalance of regulatory T cells in human autoimmune diseases. Immunology. Mar 2006; 117: 289–300.[8] Whealin JM. et al. Evaluating PTSD prevalence and resilience factors in a predominantly Asian American and Pacific Islander sample of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans. J Affect Disord. 2013 Sep 25;150(3):1062-8.[9] Fa... Read more »

  • July 22, 2014
  • 11:20 PM
  • 41 views

Heroes and Villains: Banal or Special People? Part 2 of 2

by Scott McGreal in Eye on Psych

According to Zimbardo and colleagues, both heroic acts and evil acts occur primarily in response to situational factors, rather than internal features of the person. However, on closer inspection, the situationist analysis provides inconsistent accounts of how each of these occurs. Evil actions are attributed to factors entirely outside the person, while heroism relies on the person’s inner qualities.... Read more »

  • July 22, 2014
  • 06:47 PM
  • 47 views

When Crazy becomes a Crime

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

My friend has a glass eye, you would never notice and unless you knew the story you might not think anything of it. His older brother did it. Yes, you […]... Read more »

Dana Goldman,, John Fastenau,, Riad Dirani,, Eric Hellend,, Geoff Joyce,, Ryan Conrad,, & Darius Lakdawalla,. (2014) Medicaid Prior Authorization Policies and Imprisonment Among Patients With Schizophrenia. The American Journal of Managed Care, 20(7). info:/2014;20(7):577-586

  • July 22, 2014
  • 04:43 AM
  • 20 views

Study of dynamic facial expressions suggests there are four basic emotions, not six

by Christian Jarrett in BPS Research Digest

New research suggests that humans recognise facial emotional expressions in a dynamic way. We search for urgent signals first, before seeking out more nuanced information. The University of Glasgow researchers also argue their data show there are four basic facial expressions of emotion rather than the widely accepted six.Rachael Jack and her colleagues developed computerised 3-D faces that began neutral and relaxed before transforming over one second into a random expression, created through a combination of different facial muscle movements. These standard facial actions were digitised from recordings of real people, then tweaked to create variants with different speeds of transformation (see video, above).Sixty Western Caucasian participants (31 women) then categorised each random expression as either: happiness, surprise, fear, disgust, anger or sadness. When observers agreed in their categorisations it meant something was signalling emotional information, and a technique called reverse correlation was applied across all the expressions to establish which muscle movements were associated with which emotions, and when. Many of these were expected, such as perceiving happiness in a raised upper lip and a wide mouth, but other findings were more surprising.Whereas happiness and sadness were identifiable early on, other emotions took time to be distinguished. For example, for both surprise and fear, the same two early facial signals were involved early - dropping of the jaw and raised eyelids. It was only with the later appearance of raised eyebrows that surprise was distinguished from fear. A similar pattern was found with anger and disgust, with facial actions common to both (wrinkled nose, funnelled lips) appearing early, and the differentiator (a sneered upper lip for disgust) appearing later. It is thanks to the researchers’ unique dynamic stimuli that these unfolding processes have been uncovered for the first time.Jack and her team argue that the four emotions that take time to be distinguished (fear, surprise, anger and disgust) fall into two categories: a “what the heck” avoidance response to a sudden fast-approaching threat, and a “something needs dealing with” approach response to an interest or problem within our midst. They see each of these categories as a single basic emotion, with the later distinction (fear or surprise; anger or disgust) adding social information to the more fundamental biological signal. Their argument would suggest there are four basic human emotions (approach, avoidance, happiness, sadness), contradicting the existing emotion framework, which states there are six basic emotions.The debate over the precise number of basic human emotions is likely to run for a while yet. For example, another taxonomy, based on analysis of voice, touch, and posture, claims that there are several basic forms of happiness, even before counting varieties of the other emotions._________________________________  Jack, R., Garrod, O., & Schyns, P. (2014). Dynamic Facial Expressions of Emotion Transmit an Evolving Hierarchy of Signals over Time Current Biology, 24 (2), 187-192 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.11.064 Thanks to Rachael Jack for permission to use the video and image from the study.Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • July 22, 2014
  • 04:32 AM
  • 57 views

Common variation and the genetics of autism

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

The paper by Trent Gaugler and colleagues [1] reporting that the genetic architecture of the autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) seems in the most part to be due to "common variation" over and above "rare variants or spontaneous glitches" adds to the quite voluminous literature in this area.Everything in proportion? @ Wikipedia Based on an analysis of "a unique epidemiological sample from Sweden" researchers looked at DNA variations in some 3000 individuals with autism and asymptomatic controls. They were able to model their findings "based mostly on combined effects of multiple genes and non-shared environmental factors" including some "synthesis of results from other studies".Their results: "Most genetic risk for autism comes from common inherited gene variations that can be found in many individuals without the disorder" as per one write-up of the study results. Spontaneous mutations - those so-called de novo mutations which seem to be of growing interest to autism research - were reported to only 'modestly' increase risk of the condition (2.6% of the total risk). About 40% of the risk was unaccounted for, but combined with those common inherited gene variations, made up about 90% of the total risk or liability for ASD.Quite a lot of the discussion about these results has focused on the issue of tiny genetic effects which many people not on the autism spectrum have present in their genome adding up into something with "substantial impact" when present together. Other research has hinted at similar things as for example, in the paper by St Pourcain and colleagues [2] looking at the genetics of social communication issues.Whilst I do think that the Gaugler paper is an important one, I am minded to suggest a few words of caution. First and foremost is the reliance on observed genetic variation in the current paper. Although no expert in genetics, my very basic knowledge is that such variations are structural in nature as per issues like single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The presence of such mutations (which we all have by the way, dotted around our genomic landscape) whilst of interest, don't actually though tell you an awful lot about the function of particular genes as a consequence of those point mutations unless further studies are conducted. Genes for example expressing protein can be affected by such mutations but, as we've come to realise in the past few decades, gene expression is also to some degree affected by other variables, as per the rise and rise of the science of epigenetics and the focus on non-structural effects on the genome. It's beyond the scope of this post to go too heavily into epigenetics and autism, but the research forays so far have provided some interesting data on issues like DNA methylation and autism (see here) and potential knock-on effects (see here). Importantly, structural variations might not necessarily be the same, or have the same effects, as epigenetic variations although the two may work synergistically.Second, and I hate to bang on about this, but autism or ASD does not normally appear in some sort of diagnostic vacuum. As per the Gillberg work on the ESSENCE of autism (see here) or the 'big data' studies from the likes of Kohane and colleagues (see here), not only is autism an extremely heterogeneous condition in terms of presentation, but also a condition more than likely to co-exist alongside some heightened risk of certain comorbidity. It's all well and good saying that cumulative common genetic variants raise the risk of autism but, as per other biomarker discussions, we might very well replace the word autism with something like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or epilepsy or even something more somatic along the lines of the various work looking at autoimmune conditions appearing alongside autism. In short, genetic risk might be related to other things outside of just autism or its individual traits, and as I was reminded recently: "correlation is not the same as causation" (thanks Natasa). Oh, and then there is the RDoC initiative to consider...Finally, it is a glaring omission in quite a bit of the coverage of this paper that the 41% of risk "unaccounted for" does not receive more interest than it has. I don't want to speculate on what might be included in the array of factors involved in this category (outside of my previous chatter on possible epigenetic factors) but will again draw your attention to other work on the old genetics-environment relationship with autism in mind and the question of heritability (see here and see here). That also one media piece talking about the Gaugler study is quoted as saying: "On their own, none of these common variants will have sufficient impact to cause autism" is an important detail which implies both cumulative effects and possibly the input of some external force(s). And those effects may very well cross the nature-nuture debate in some instances as per the results from Mitchell and colleagues talked about in a previous post.Deciphering the genetic architecture of autism is still very much a work in progress. This latest contribution to the issue is important not least for the conclusions arrived at with talk of an additive model and it's intersection with common genetic mutations present in the general population. That being said, I still want to see more from the discipline. I'd like to see a more comprehensive analysis taking into account both genetic and epigenetic factors crossing environmental contributions too. I'd also like to see more focus on smaller groups on the autism spectrum as a function of things like developmental trajectory (see here) or response to certain interventions (see here). And for those who seem to be using this work as a hammer against environment being related to cases of autism, just remember, there may be many, many routes towards a clinical diagnosis...----------[1] Gaugler T. et al. Most genetic risk for autism resides with common variation. Nature Genetics. 2014. July 20.[2] St Pourcain B. et al. Common variation contributes to the genetic architecture of social communication traits. Mol Autism. 2013 Sep 18;4(1):34.----------... Read more »

Gaugler T, Klei L, Sanders SJ, Bodea CA, Goldberg AP, Lee AB, Mahajan M, Manaa D, Pawitan Y, Reichert J.... (2014) Most genetic risk for autism resides with common variation. Nature genetics. PMID: 25038753  

  • July 21, 2014
  • 01:27 PM
  • 85 views

Autism and Parents: Reducing stress

by Gabriel in Lunatic Laboratories

Raising an autistic child can be a gift. Unfortunately it can also be challenging and stressful. Let’s be real, it’s stressful just being a parent, throw in a disability that […]... Read more »

  • July 21, 2014
  • 07:02 AM
  • 3 views

Should you do group brainstorming standing up or sitting down?

by Doug Keene in The Jury Room

The American Bar Association is seeking nominations until August 8, 2014 to help it decide on the Top 100 law blogs (“Blawgs”). We have been in the ABA Top 100 for the past 4 years and would like to make it 5! If you like this blog, please nominate us (it’s fast and free) here. THANKS! Doug and […]

Related posts:
When in-group rebels have a cause…
The latest issue of The Jury Expert is a total classic!
“It was ‘a man’s work’ and I just didn’t like working with those incompetent women….”


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Knight, AP, & Baer, M. (2014) Get up, Stand up: The effects of a non-sedentary workspace on information elaboration and group performance. . Social Psychological and Personality Science. . info:/

  • July 21, 2014
  • 05:51 AM
  • 107 views

It's time for Western psychology to recognise that many individuals, and even entire cultures, fear happiness

by Christian Jarrett in BPS Research Digest

It's become a mantra of the modern Western world that the ultimate aim of life is to achieve happiness. Self-help blog posts on how to be happy are almost guaranteed popularity (the Digest has its own!). Pro-happiness organisations have appeared, such as Action for Happiness, which aims to "create a happier society for everyone." Topping it all, an increasing number of governments, including in the UK, have started measuring national well-being (seen as a proxy for "happiness") - the argument being that this a potentially more important policy outcome than economic prosperity.But hang on a minute, say Moshen Joshanloo and Dan Weijers writing in the Journal of Happiness Studies - not everyone wants to be happy. In fact, they point out that many people, including in Western cultures, deliberately dampen their positive moods. Moreover, in many nations, including Iran and New Zealand, many people are actually fearful of happiness, tending to agree with questionnaire items like "I prefer not to be too joyful, because usually joy is followed by sadness".Looking into the reasons for happiness aversion, Joshanloo and Weijers identify four: believing that being happy will provoke bad things to happen; that happiness will make you a worse person; that expressing happiness is bad for you and others; and that pursuing happiness is bad for you and others. Let's touch on each of these.Fear that happiness leads to bad outcomes is perhaps most strong in East Asian cultures influenced by Taoism, which posits that "things tend to revert to their opposite". A 2001 study asked participants to choose from a range of life-course graphs and found that Chinese people were more likely than Americans to choose graphs that showed periods of sadness following periods of joy. Other cultures, such as Japan and Iran, believe that happiness can bring misfortune as it causes inattentiveness. Similar fears are sometimes found in the West as reflected in adages such as "what goes up must come down."Belief that being happy makes you a worse person is rooted in some interpretations of Islam, the reasoning being that it distracts you from God. Joshanloo and Weijers quote the Prophet Muhammad: "were you to know what I know, you would laugh little and weep much" and "avoid much laughter, for much laughter deadens the heart." Another relevant belief here is the idea that being unhappy makes people more creative. Consider this quote from Edward Munch: "They [emotional sufferings] are part of me and my art. They are indistinguishable from me ... I want to keep those sufferings."In relation to the overt expression of happiness, a 2009 study found that Japanese participants frequently mentioned that doing so can harm others, for example by making them envious; Americans rarely held such concerns. In Ifaluk culture in Micronesia, meanwhile, Joshanloo and Weijers note that expressing happiness is "associated with showing off, overexcitement, and failure at doing one's duties."Finally, the pursuit of happiness is believed by many cultures and philosophies to be harmful to the self and others. Take as an example this passage of Buddhist text: "And with every desire for happiness, out of delusion they destroy their own well-being as if it were their enemy." In Western thought, as far back as Epicurus, warnings are given that the direct pursuit of happiness can backfire on the self, and harm others through excessive self-interest. Also, it's been argued that joy can make the oppressed weak and less likely to fight injustice.There's a contemporary fixation with happiness in the much of the Western world. Joshanloo and Weijers' counterpoint is that for various reasons, not everyone wants to happy. From a practical perspective, they say this could seriously skew cross-cultural comparisons of subjective well-being. "It stands to reason," they write, "that a person with an aversion to expressing happiness ... may report lower subjective wellbeing than they would do otherwise." But their concerns go deeper: "There are risks for happiness studies in exporting Western psychology to non-Western cultures without undertaking indigenous analyses, including making invalid cross-cultural comparisons and imposing Western cultural assumptions on other cultures."_________________________________  Joshanloo, M., & Weijers, D. (2013). Aversion to Happiness Across Cultures: A Review of Where and Why People are Averse to Happiness Journal of Happiness Studies, 15 (3), 717-735 DOI: 10.1007/s10902-013-9489-9 --further reading--What's the difference between a happy life and a meaningful one?Other people may experience more misery than you realisePost written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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  • July 21, 2014
  • 03:24 AM
  • 80 views

Autism and asthma yet again

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Asthma is approximately 35 % more common in autistic children".Pipe down @ Wikipedia That was the finding reported by Stanley Kotey and colleagues [1] based on their analysis of the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) dataset, a resource looking at "the physical and emotional health of children ages 0-17 years of age" resident in the United States. I don't intend to dwell too much on the Kotey findings aside from pointing out: (a) the reported prevalence of autism came in at 1.8% which is not a million miles away from the latest US estimate made by the CDC and, (b) although the unadjusted odds ratio (OR) for asthma in cases of autism was 1.35 (CI: 1.18-1.55), the adjusted OR taking into account factors such as "age, gender, body mass index, race, brain injury, secondhand smoke and socio-economic status" dropped down to 1.19... so perhaps it was more accurate to conclude that asthma is approximately 20% more common in kids with autism. Oh and that OR and relative risk might not necessarily be one and the same [2].The NSCH is a valuable resource which provides snapshots for lots of different aspects of child health and wellbeing (see here). A quick trawl of the sections pertinent to an autism and/or asthma diagnosis (see section 2 here) reveals how information about diagnosis is arrived at. I was taken by the fact that questioning about an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis was "applicable for ages 2-17 years only" which perhaps ties into some of the issues raised in other papers when it comes to early diagnosis.Asthma and autism is a topic not totally unfamiliar to this blog (see here). The quite recent paper from Tsai and colleagues [3] covered in a previous post (see here) detailing how asthma might be a risk factor for autism puts the Kotey findings into some potential context albeit not necessarily with the same directional association. The paper from Chen and colleagues [4] likewise also discussed in another post (see here) also implicates comorbidity (ADHD in that case) as a potential confounding variable bearing in mind the estimated rates of ADHD in cases of autism (see here).When it comes to the hows and whys of any relationship between asthma and autism, a rather large void starts to appear outside of any link just being due to coincidence [5]. "[The] Autism-secondhand smoke interaction was insignificant" kinda suggests that tobacco smoke filled houses and cars were probably not a primary reason for any connection. Given what is known about asthma - a chronic lung condition characterised by inflammation of the airways - one might look to something like immune function as being a commonality between the conditions especially in light of recent meta-analyses with autism in mind. A couple of years back I did a sort of focus on some of the work from Kevin Becker (see here) including his paper on the hygiene hypothesis [6] (open-access here). I'm not necessarily saying that this is the primary connector, merely that the interaction between immune functions and environment might have some role to play. I might add that all the recent chatter on air pollution and autism (see here and see here and most recently here) might also be something to look at with further assiduity. Oh, and one might also think about certain medicines as perhaps being important to this relationship too (see here).I would close with a last sentence from Kotey et al: "screening may be an efficient approach to reduce risk of morbidity due to asthma". In other words, asthma is yet another comorbidity for which a diagnosis of autism seemingly carries no protection, and the onus is on professionals to reduce any further health inequality...So: Ben E King and Stand By Me. "Chopper! Sic'em, boy!"----------[1] Kotey S. et al. Co-occurrence of Autism and Asthma in a Nationally-Representative Sample of Children in the United States. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Jul 6.[2] Davies HT. et al. When can odds ratios mislead? BMJ. 1998 Mar 28;316(7136):989-91.[3] Tsai PH. et al. Increased risk of autism spectrum disorder among early life asthma patients: An 8-year nationwide population-based prospective study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2014; 8: 381-386.[4] Chen MH. et al. Asthma and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a nationwide population-based prospective cohort study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013 Nov;54(11):1208-14.[5] Mrozek-Budzyn D. et al. The frequency and risk factors of allergy and asthma in children with autism--case-control study. Przegl Epidemiol. 2013;67(4):675-9, 761-4.[6] Becker KG. Autism, asthma, inflammation, and the hygiene hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2007;69(4):731-40.----------Kotey, S., Ertel, K., & Whitcomb, B. (2014). Co-occurrence of Autism and Asthma in a Nationally-Representative Sample of Children in the United States Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2174-y... Read more »

  • July 21, 2014
  • 03:24 AM
  • 87 views

Autism and asthma yet again

by Paul Whiteley in Questioning Answers

"Asthma is approximately 35 % more common in autistic children".Pipe down @ Wikipedia That was the finding reported by Stanley Kotey and colleagues [1] based on their analysis of the 2007 National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) dataset, a resource looking at "the physical and emotional health of children ages 0-17 years of age" resident in the United States. I don't intend to dwell too much on the Kotey findings aside from pointing out: (a) the reported prevalence of autism came in at 1.8% which is not a million miles away from the latest US estimate made by the CDC and, (b) although the unadjusted odds ratio (OR) for asthma in cases of autism was 1.35 (CI: 1.18-1.55), the adjusted OR taking into account factors such as "age, gender, body mass index, race, brain injury, secondhand smoke and socio-economic status" dropped down to 1.19... so perhaps it was more accurate to conclude that asthma is approximately 20% more common in kids with autism. Oh and that OR and relative risk might not necessarily be one and the same [2].The NSCH is a valuable resource which provides snapshots for lots of different aspects of child health and wellbeing (see here). A quick trawl of the sections pertinent to an autism and/or asthma diagnosis (see section 2 here) reveals how information about diagnosis is arrived at. I was taken by the fact that questioning about an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis was "applicable for ages 2-17 years only" which perhaps ties into some of the issues raised in other papers when it comes to early diagnosis.Asthma and autism is a topic not totally unfamiliar to this blog (see here). The quite recent paper from Tsai and colleagues [3] covered in a previous post (see here) detailing how asthma might be a risk factor for autism puts the Kotey findings into some potential context albeit not necessarily with the same directional association. The paper from Chen and colleagues [4] likewise also discussed in another post (see here) also implicates comorbidity (ADHD in that case) as a potential confounding variable bearing in mind the estimated rates of ADHD in cases of autism (see here).When it comes to the hows and whys of any relationship between asthma and autism, a rather large void starts to appear outside of any link just being due to coincidence [5]. "[The] Autism-secondhand smoke interaction was insignificant" kinda suggests that tobacco smoke filled houses and cars were probably not a primary reason for any connection. Given what is known about asthma - a chronic lung condition characterised by inflammation of the airways - one might look to something like immune function as being a commonality between the conditions especially in light of recent meta-analyses with autism in mind. A couple of years back I did a sort of focus on some of the work from Kevin Becker (see here) including his paper on the hygiene hypothesis [6] (open-access here). I'm not necessarily saying that this is the primary connector, merely that the interaction between immune functions and environment might have some role to play. I might add that all the recent chatter on air pollution and autism (see here and see here and most recently here) might also be something to look at with further assiduity. Oh, and one might also think about certain medicines as perhaps being important to this relationship too (see here).I would close with a last sentence from Kotey et al: "screening may be an efficient approach to reduce risk of morbidity due to asthma". In other words, asthma is yet another comorbidity for which a diagnosis of autism seemingly carries no protection, and the onus is on professionals to reduce any further health inequality...So: Ben E King and Stand By Me. "Chopper! Sic'em, boy!"----------[1] Kotey S. et al. Co-occurrence of Autism and Asthma in a Nationally-Representative Sample of Children in the United States. J Autism Dev Disord. 2014 Jul 6.[2] Davies HT. et al. When can odds ratios mislead? BMJ. 1998 Mar 28;316(7136):989-91.[3] Tsai PH. et al. Increased risk of autism spectrum disorder among early life asthma patients: An 8-year nationwide population-based prospective study. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2014; 8: 381-386.[4] Chen MH. et al. Asthma and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a nationwide population-based prospective cohort study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2013 Nov;54(11):1208-14.[5] Mrozek-Budzyn D. et al. The frequency and risk factors of allergy and asthma in children with autism--case-control study. Przegl Epidemiol. 2013;67(4):675-9, 761-4.[6] Becker KG. Autism, asthma, inflammation, and the hygiene hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2007;69(4):731-40.----------Kotey, S., Ertel, K., & Whitcomb, B. (2014). Co-occurrence of Autism and Asthma in a Nationally-Representative Sample of Children in the United States Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders DOI: 10.1007/s10803-014-2174-y... Read more »

  • July 20, 2014
  • 05:19 AM
  • 66 views

Time-lapse video of developing depression and trichotillomania

by Elisabeth Buhl Thubron in United Academics

this young woman took 2100 over 6.5 years. You watch Rebecca as a young 14 year old go through not only the trials and tribulations of adolescent life, but also through the stages of developing major depressive disorder and trichotillomania.... Read more »

  • July 18, 2014
  • 11:01 AM
  • 64 views

Baboons Trade Morning Favors for All-Day Payoffs

by Elizabeth Preston in Inkfish

Primates basically invented “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” Baboons, for example, trade grooming for favors from other troop members. Social relationships are important to the monkeys. But it seems they put more effort into certain relationships depending on the time of day: in the morning, lower-ranking baboons invest more energy in grooming […]The post Baboons Trade Morning Favors for All-Day Payoffs appeared first on Inkfish.... Read more »

Sick, C., Carter, A., Marshall, H., Knapp, L., Dabelsteen, T., & Cowlishaw, G. (2014) Evidence for varying social strategies across the day in chacma baboons. Biology Letters, 10(7), 20140249-20140249. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0249  

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