Sunday, May 10, 2009

Greenland's Constant Summer Sunlight Linked To Summer Suicide Spike

ScienceDaily (May 10, 2009) — Suicide rates in Greenland increase during the summer, peaking in June. Researchers speculate that insomnia caused by incessant daylight may be to blame.
Karin Sparring Björkstén from the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden, led a team of researchers who studied the seasonal variation of suicides in all of Greenland from 1968-2002. They found that there was a concentration of suicides in the summer months, and that this seasonal effect was especially pronounced in the North of the country – an area where the sun doesn't set between the end of April and the end of August.
Björkstén said, "In terms of seasonal light variation, Greenland is the most extreme human habitat. Greenland also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. We found that suicides were almost exclusively violent and increased during periods of constant day. In the north of the country, 82% of the suicides occurred during the daylight months (including astronomical twilight)".
The researchers found that most suicides occurred in young men and that violent methods, such as shooting, hanging and jumping, accounted for 95% of all suicides. No seasonal variation in alcohol consumption was found.
The authors speculate that light-generated imbalances in turnover of the neurotransmitter serotonin may lead to increased impulsiveness that, in combination with lack of sleep, may explain the increased suicide rates in the summer. They said, "People living at high latitudes need extreme flexibility in light adaptation. During the long periods of constant light, it is crucial to keep some circadian rhythm to get enough sleep and sustain mental health. A weak serotonin system may cause difficulties in adaptation".
Björkstén concludes, "Light is just one of many factors in the complex tragedy of suicide, but this study shows that there is a possible relationship between the two."
Journal reference:
Karin S Björkstén, Daniel F Kripke and Peter Bjerregaard. Accentuation of suicides but not homicides with rising latitudes of Greenland in the sunny months. BMC Psychiatry, 2009; 9 (1): 20 DOI: 10.1186/1471-244X-9-20
Adapted from materials provided by BMC Psychiatry, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Babies Brainier Than Many Imagine


ScienceDaily (May 7, 2009) — A new study from Northwestern University shows what many mothers already know: their babies are a lot smarter than others may realize.
Though only five months old, the study's cuties indicated through their curious stares that they could differentiate water in a glass from solid blue material that looked very much like water in a similar glass.
The finding that infants can distinguish between solids and liquids at such an early age builds upon a growing body of research that strongly suggests that babies are not blank slates who primarily depend on others for acquiring knowledge. That's a common assumption of researchers in the not too distant past.
"Rather, our research shows that babies are amazing little experimenters with innate knowledge," Susan Hespos said. "They're collecting data all the time."
Hespos, an assistant professor of psychology at Northwestern, is lead author of the study, which will appear in the May 2009 issue of Psychological Science.
In a test with one group of infants in the study, a researcher tilted a glass filled with blue water back and forth to emphasize the physical characteristics of the substance inside. Another group of babies looked at a glass filled with a blue solid resembling water, which also was moved back and forth to demonstrate its physical properties.
Next all the infants were presented with test trials that alternated between the liquid or solid being transferred between two glasses.
According to the well-established looking-time test, babies, like adults, look significantly longer at something that is new, unexpected or unpredictable.
The infants who in their first trials observed the blue water in the glass looked significantly longer at the blue solid, compared to the liquid test trials. The longer stares indicated the babies were having an "Aha!" moment, noticing the solid substance's difference from the liquid. The infants who in their first trials observed the blue solid in the glass showed the opposite pattern. They looked longer at the liquid, compared to the solid test trials.
"As capricious as it may sound, how long a baby looks at something is a strong indicator of what they know," Hespos said. "They are looking longer because they detect a change and want to know what is going on."
The five-month-old infants were able to discriminate a solid from a similar-looking liquid based on movement cues, or on how the substances poured or tumbled out of upended glasses.
In a second experiment, the babies also first saw either liquid or a similar-looking solid in a glass that was tipped back and forth. This time, both groups of infants next witnessed test trials in which a cylindrical pipe was lowered into either the liquid-filled glass or the solid-containing glass.
The outcomes were similar to those of the previous experiment. Infants who first observed the glass with the liquid looked longer in the subsequent test when the pipe was lowered onto the solid. Likewise, the infants who looked at the solid in their first trials stared longer when later the pipe was lowered into the liquid.
The motion cues led to distinct expectations about whether an object would pass through or remain on top of the liquid or solid, the Northwestern researchers noted.
"Together these experiments provide the earliest evidence that infants have expectations about the physical properties of liquids," the researchers concluded in the Psychological Science study.
Hespos primarily is interested in how the brain works, and, to that end, her research on babies' brand new, relatively uncomplicated brains provides invaluable insights. She also is doing optical imaging of babies' brains, in which the biological measures confirm behavioral findings.
"Our research on babies strongly suggests that right from the beginning babies are active learners," Hespos said. "It shows that we perceive the world in pretty much the same way from infancy throughout life, making fine adjustments along the way."
In addition to Hespos, the co-investigators of the Psychological Science study are Alissa Ferry, a graduate student, and Lance Rips, professor of psychology, at Northwestern.
Journal reference:
Hespos et al. Five-Month-Old Infants Have Different Expectations for Solids and Liquids. Psychological Science, 2009; 20 (5): 603 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02331.x
Adapted from materials provided by Northwestern University.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

For Your Health, Pick A Mate Who Is Conscientious And, Perhaps, Also Neurotic

ScienceDaily (May 6, 2009) — Conscientiousness is a good thing in a mate, researchers report, not just because it's easier to live with someone who washes the dishes without being asked, but also because having a conscientious partner may actually be good for one's health. Their study, of adults over age 50, also found that women, but not men, get an added health benefit when paired with someone who is conscientious and neurotic.
This is the first large-scale analysis of what the authors call the "compensatory conscientiousness effect," the boost in health reported by those with conscientious spouses or romantic partners. The study appears this month in Psychological Science.
"Highly conscientious people are more organized and responsible and tend to follow through with their obligations, to be more impulse controlled and to follow rules," said University of Illinois psychology professor Brent Roberts, who led the study. Highly neurotic people tend to be more moody and anxious, and to worry, he said.
Researchers have known since the early 1990s that people who are more conscientious tend to live longer than those who are less so. They are more likely to exercise, eat nutritious foods and adhere to vitamin or drug regimens, and are less likely to smoke, abuse drugs or take unwarranted risks, all of which may explain their better health. They also tend to have more stable relationships than people with low conscientiousness.
Most studies have found a very different outcome for people who are highly neurotic. They tend to report poorer health and less satisfying relationships.
Many studies focus on how specific personality traits may affect one's own health, Roberts said, but few have considered how one's personality can influence the health of another.
"There's been kind of an individualistic bias in personality research," he said. "But human beings are not islands. We are an incredibly interdependent species."
Roberts and his colleagues at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan looked at the association of personality and self-reported health among more than 2,000 couples taking part in the Health and Retirement Study, a representative study of the U.S. population over age 50. The study asked participants to rate their own levels of neuroticism and conscientiousness and to answer questions about the quality of their health. Participants also filled out a questionnaire that asked them whether or not a health problem limited their ability to engage in a range of activities such as jogging one block, climbing a flight of stairs, shopping, dressing or bathing.
As other studies have found, the researchers found that those who described themselves as highly conscientious also reported better health and said they were more able to engage in a variety of physical activities than those who reported low conscientiousness.
For the first time, however, the researchers also found a significant, self-reported health benefit that accompanied marriage to a conscientious person, even among those who described themselves as highly conscientious.
"It appears that even if you are really highly conscientious, you can still benefit from a spouse's conscientiousness," Roberts said. "It makes sense that regardless of what your attributes are, if you have people in your social network that have resources, such as conscientiousness, that can always help."
A more unusual finding involved an added health benefit reported by women who were paired with highly conscientious men who were also highly neurotic, Roberts said. The same benefit was not seen in men with highly conscientious and neurotic female partners. While both men and women benefit from being paired with a conscientious mate, Roberts said, only the women saw a modest boost in their health from being with a man who was also neurotic.
"The effect here is not much larger than the effect of aspirin on cardiovascular health, which is a well-known small effect," he said.
Asked whether women looking for long-term mates should choose a man who is conscientious and neurotic over one who is simply conscientious, Roberts said, "I wouldn't recommend it."
Adapted from materials provided by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Why People Are Better At Lying Online Than Telling A Lie Face-to-face


ScienceDaily (May 5, 2009) — In the digital world, it’s easier to tell a lie and get away with it. That’s good news for liars, but not so good for anyone being deceived.
Michael Woodworth, a forensic psychologist at UBC Okanagan studying deception in computer-mediated environments, says offering up a fib in person might make you provide certain signals that you’re trying to deceive, but lying online avoids the physical cues that can give you away.
“When people are interacting face to face, there is something called the ‘motivational impairment effect,’ where your body will give off some cues as you become more nervous and there’s more at stake with your lie,” says Woodworth. “In a computer-mediated environment, the exact opposite occurs.”
The motivational enhancement effect – a term coined by Woodworth and colleague Jeff Hancock from Cornell University – describes how people motivated to lie in a computer-mediated environment are not only less likely to be detected, they are also actually better at being deceptive than people who are less motivated.
When telling a lie face-to-face, the higher the stakes of your deception, the more cues you may give out that you’re lying. So, what isn’t in a text message may have advantages for a would-be deceiver: text doesn’t transmit non-verbal cues such as vocal properties, physical gestures, and facial expressions.
Woodworth’s research is very timely as technology and deceptive practices converge.
“Deception is one of the most significant and pervasive social phenomena of our age,” says Woodworth. “On average, people tell one to two lies a day, and these lies range from the trivial to the more serious. Deception lies in communication between friends, family, colleagues and in power and politics.”
Woodworth began his exploration by looking at how to detect deception in face-to-face environments. But he soon recognized the invasion of information and communication technologies into nearly all aspects of our lives was an opportunity to study how technology affects “digital deception” – defined as any type of technologically mediated message transmitted to create a false belief in the receiver of the message.
“Given the prevalence of both deception and communication technology in our personal and professional lives, an important set of concerns have emerged about how technology affects digital deception,” says Woodworth. He points out a growing number of individuals are falling prey to deceptive practices and information received through computer mediated contexts such as the Internet
“By learning more about how various factors affect detecting deceit in online communication, our research will certainly have important implications in organizational contexts, both legal and illegal, in the political domain, and in family life as more and more children go online.”
Common threads detected in psychopath texts
Michael Woodworth’s research at UBC Okanagan goes beyond deception. He also studies the personality disorder of psychopathy, looking at what secrets can be gleaned from the language used by psychopaths who have killed.
After interviewing dozens of psychopaths and non-psychopaths convicted of murder, Woodworth and colleagues used electronic linguistics analysis to automatically process the interview transcripts, paying attention to the appearance of certain words, parts of speech (verbs, adjectives, nouns), and semantics – for example, looking at how often certain topics came up.
The results were revealing.
“In the transcripts of psychopathic offenders, we found twice as many terms related to eating, and 58 per cent more references to money,” says Woodworth. “And the psychopaths were significantly more likely to discuss both clothing and drinking while discussing their homicide, compared to non-psychopathic offenders.”
Woodworth has now teamed with noted forensic psychologist and deception researcher Stephen Porter, who joined UBC Okanagan from Dalhousie University last summer, and fellow forensic psychologist Jan Cioe to build a multi-disciplinary forensic science graduate program and research centre at UBC Okanagan.
Bringing together prominent forensic psychologists will benefit both the academic and wider communities, says Woodworth.
“In the back of my mind I’m always thinking ‘how is this going to potentially have some applied value?’ whether it be the community in general, or specifically for law enforcement, or by furthering our knowledge within a certain area,” he says. “All of these applications ultimately assist with both assessment and treatment.”
This research is supported by a grant of $87,055 from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council in Canada.
Adapted from materials provided by University of British Columbia. Original article written by Raina Ducklow and Bud Mortenson.

Children Bullied At School At High Risk Of Developing Psychotic Symptoms

ScienceDaily (May 5, 2009) — Children who are bullied at school over several years are up to four times more likely to develop psychotic-like symptoms by the time they reach early adolescence.
Researchers at the University of Warwick found children who suffered physical or emotional bullying were twice as likely to develop psychotic symptoms by early adolescence, compared to children who are not bullied. However, if they experienced sustained bullying over a number of years that risk increases up to four times.
The research team, led by Professor Dieter Wolke, Professor of Developmental Psychology, followed 6,437 children from birth to 13 years.
The children took part in annual face-to-face interviews, psychological and physical tests. Parents were also asked to complete questionnaires about their child’s development. When they reached 13 years of age they were interviewed about experiences of psychotic symptoms in the previous six months.
Psychotic symptoms include hallucinations, delusions such as being spied on or bizarre thoughts such as one’s thoughts are being broadcast.
Professor Wolke said: “Our research shows that being victimised can have serious effects on altering perception of the world, such as hallucinations, delusions or bizarre thoughts where the person’s insight into why this is happening is reduced.”
“This indicates that adverse social relationships with peers is a potent risk factor for developing psychotic symptoms in adolescence and may increase the risk of developing psychosis in adulthood.”
The researchers used data from the Avon Longtitudinal Study of Parents And Children (ALSPAC). Parents have completed regular postal questionnaires about all aspects of their child’s health and development since birth (Apr 1991- Dec 1992).
Since the children were 7 and a half they have attended annual assessment clinics where they took part in a range of face-to-face interviews, psychological and physical tests.
Chronic peer victimisation, where bullying had continued over a number of years, was found in 13.7% of children when interviewed at ages 8 and 10. Severe victimisation, where children are both physically and emotionally bullied, was reported by 5.2% of children at age 10.
Professor Wolke added: “All children have conflicts occasionally and teasing and play fighting occurs. Children learn from these conflicts of how to deal with this. When we talk about bullying victimisation it is repeated, systematic and an abuse of power with the intent to hurt. Children who become targets have less coping skills, show a clear reaction and have few friends who can help them.”
Journal reference:
Schreier et al. Prospective Study of Peer Victimization in Childhood and Psychotic Symptoms in a Nonclinical Population at Age 12 Years. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2009; 66 (5): 527 DOI: 10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2009.23
Adapted from materials provided by University of Warwick.

Early Word Recognition Is Key To Lifelong Reading Skills Says New Study


ScienceDaily (May 6, 2009) — Children’s early reading experience is critical to the development of their lifelong reading skills a new study from the University of Leicester has discovered. It found that the age at which we learn words is key to understanding how people read later in life.
The study addresses a 20-year riddle: When researchers investigate reading behaviour in children they find different patterns. Some researchers have found children’s reading mimics that of adults, but others have seen a different pattern of reading behaviour. Psychologists have struggled for twenty years to offer a convincing explanation for why different studies looking at the same topic have found such different results.
Now research by Dr Tessa Webb in the School of Psychology at the University of Leicester sheds new light on the subject by taking into account the age at which words are learnt.
She said: “Children read differently from adults, but as they grow older, they develop the same reading patterns. When adults read words they learned when they were younger, they recognise them faster and more accurately than those they learned later in life.”
In her research children from three different school years read aloud common and rarely used words, with half of the words following spelling to sound rules and the other half not obeying them. Unlike previous studies, Dr Webb made sure her research considered word learning age as well.
She found that children in their first few years at school read the words differently from adults. However, by age 10, they were mimicking the reading pattern of adults. This suggests that the different pattern of results found in children compared to adults may be due to the fact that word learning age was not considered.
This led her to conclude that word learning age is a key aspect of reading that should not be left out of research, lest the results are unsound.
The results of this research could have implications in tackling reading-related disabilities, such as dyslexia, said Dr Webb.
Adapted from materials provided by University of Leicester.