Archive for ‘News’

October 30, 2011

Social Phobia in Teens Goes Beyond Shyness

by Dave P.

MONDAY, Oct. 17 (HealthDay News) — Social phobia is not simply shyness that has been exaggerated by psychiatrists and drug makers, according to a new study that compared rates of shyness and social phobia among American teens.

Social phobia, also called social anxiety, is a disabling condition characterized by extremely high levels of self-consciousness and anxiety. Some experts have suggested that the condition is a “medicalization” of a normal variation in shyness levels or that it has been publicized by psychiatrists and drug makers in order to increase sales of psychiatric drugs, especially among youth.

In the new study, researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health examined shyness and social phobia rates among more than 10,000 teens aged 13 to 18 who took part in a national survey.

About half of the teens said they were shy, but only 12 percent of the shy teens met the criteria for social phobia in their lifetime. The study also found that about 5 percent of teens who said they weren’t shy met criteria for social phobia.

The findings indicate that the presence of social phobia may be independent of shyness in some cases, the researchers said. The two are not necessarily directly related.

“Social phobia, or social anxiety disorder, is a serious disorder that is very different than normal human shyness,” said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

He noted that the condition can take different forms. “Social phobia can be limited to only one type of situation — such as a fear of speaking in formal or informal situations, or eating or drinking in front of others — or, in its most severe form, may be so broad that a person experiences symptoms almost anytime they are around other people,” Menevitz explained. “People with social phobia have a persistent, intense and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and being embarrassed or humiliated by their own actions.”

This often manifests in physical symptoms such as blushing, sweating and nausea, he added.

“The importance of identifying and treating those adolescents with social anxiety disorder is important as they have higher levels of impairment in multiple domains, including school/work ability, social life and family relationships,” Manevitz said.

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June 22, 2011

Lifelong Learning is Problematic for People With Reading and Writing Difficulities

by Dave P.

Unless you’re flipping burgers at the local McDonalds, your career probably requires you to continually learn new skills and technologies. Obviously, this can be a problem for people with learning disabilities. A new study show that adult students with reading and writing difficulties struggle in three areas in particular.

“First of all, society implicitly requires individuals to possess certain skills, and those who don’t are in trouble. Secondly it’s a matter of each individual’s attempts to handle his or her problems absorbing the education and to achieve good results. Thirdly, there is an existential dimension where individuals compare themselves with others and feel inferior,” says Nadja Carlsson, a special needs teacher with extensive experience with municipal adult education.

Students with learning disabilities often struggle in college, but those who persevere can find alternative ways to learn and perhaps get extra help from faculty members. Once in the workplace, however, those who have trouble learning may not be given the needed extra time or help to absorb learning materials. Thus, they may experience setbacks in their careers. In comparing themselves to others, their self-esteem can be damaged, which can open the doors to all sorts of other problems such as social anxiety and depression.

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June 22, 2011

Findings Indicate Risk Of Panic Attacks Increases Gradually After Stressful Event

by Dave P.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Just like everyone else, people with panic disorder have real stress in their lives. They get laid off and they fight with their spouses. How such stresses affect their panic symptoms hasn’t been well understood, but a new study by researchers at Brown University presents the counterintuitive finding that certain kinds of stressful life events cause panic symptoms to increase gradually over succeeding months, rather than to spike immediately.

“We definitely expected the symptoms to get worse over time, but we also thought the symptoms would get worse right away,” said Ethan Moitra, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

But even if the events don’t seem to trigger an immediate panic attack, said Dr. Martin Keller, professor of psychiatry and human behavior and principal investigator of the research, patients, family members, or their psychiatrists need to keep their guard up.

“If they have the event and they are not feeling much different then maybe the vigilance on the individual’s part decreases somewhat,” Keller said. “With the knowledge we have, you may need to stay vigilant for three months or maybe longer. This is something you have to watch for.”

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June 21, 2011

Ever Wonder Why You Can’t Tickle Yourself?

by Dave P.

To be tickled, it turns out, requires the element of surprise.

Scientists used an fMRI to examine neural responses when subjects experienced a tactile stimulus that was either self-produced or externally produced. In other words, the subjects tickled themselves or were tickled by others.

“More activity was found in somatosensory cortex when the stimulus was externally produced. In the cerebellum, less activity was associated with a movement that generated a tactile stimulus than with a movement that did not.”

When you try to tickle yourself, your cerebellum (the part of the brain that regulates fear and pleasure responses) predicts your movements and provides a signal that cancels the sensory response to self-generated stimulation.

It is not known whether the words “coochie-coochie-coo” were uttered during administration of the externally produced tactile stimulus.

Source

June 20, 2011

Do You Sleep Better With Cooler Temperatures? Yes, Says Research.

by Dave P.

Do you find that you sleep better in the winter when you turn down the heat and pile on the blankets? It’s not just your imagination. Research concludes that you do sleep better when your brain is cool, and soon there may be a cap you can wear to cool your brain while you sleep.

According to the authors, a reduction in metabolism in the brain’s frontal cortex occurs while falling asleep and is associated with restorative sleep. However, insomnia is associated with increased metabolism in this same brain region. One way to reduce cerebral metabolic activity is to use frontal cerebral thermal transfer to cool the brain, a process known as “cerebral hypothermia.”

Participants received all-night frontal cerebral thermal transfer by wearing a soft plastic cap on their head. The cap contained tubes that were filled with circulating water. Source

With the high cost of power these days, many of us are foregoing use of the air conditioner — even when it’s uncomfortably warm. That might save us a few dollars a month, but it could be affecting the quality of our sleep.

Once these brain cooling caps are available, not only does it have the potential to reduce the metabolism in your brain, allowing you to sleep more soundly, but it could also cut down on your air conditioning bills.

June 12, 2011

Body Movement Can Aid in Problem-Solving

by Dave P.

When we’ve got a problem to solve, we don’t just use our brains but the rest of our bodies, too. The connection, as neurologists know, is not uni-directional. Now there’s evidence from cognitive psychology of the same fact. “Being able to use your body in problem solving alters the way you solve the problems,” says University of Wisconsin psychology professor Martha Alibali. “Body movements are one of the resources we bring to cognitive processes.”

[…]

The results: The people who were allowed to gesture usually did so—and they also commonly used perceptual-motor strategies in solving the puzzles. The people whose hands were restrained, as well as those who chose not to gesture (even when allowed), used abstract, mathematical strategies much more often.

Source

I had a theory that moving your hands and body while speaking can send more blood to the brain and help you think more clearly. More research is needed.

May 3, 2011

Obese People Can Suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder Due to Weight Alone

by Dave P.

A new study from Rhode Island Hospital researchers shows that obese individuals with social anxiety related only to their weight may experience anxiety as severe as individuals with social anxiety disorder (SAD). The findings directly conflict with the criteria for SAD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition (DSM-IV). The study is now published online in advance of print in the journal Depression and Anxiety.

The new research from Rhode Island Hospital, led by Kristy Dalrymple, Ph.D., evaluated a group of individuals who were seeking clearance for bariatric surgery. The researchers identified three separate groups: 135 individuals diagnosed with DSM-IV SAD; 40 individuals classified as “modified SAD” who experienced clinically significant social anxiety related to weight only; and 616 individuals with no history of psychiatric disorders.

In their study, both the SAD and modified SAD groups were rated as having poorer social functioning as an adolescent compared to the no disorder group, but there was no difference between the SAD and modified SAD groups in this respect, with similar results found in social functioning over the past five years. In addition, the SAD group was rated as having more time out of work in the past five years due to psychopathology or emotional reasons compared to both the modified SAD group and the no disorder group.

Results also showed that those in the modified SAD group experienced more disruption in their social life and were more distressed about having social anxiety in the past month compared to those in the SAD group. Dalrymple says, “We found it particularly interesting that the modified SAD group reported greater levels of disruption in social life and distress about their social anxiety compared to the DSM-IV SAD group. This suggests that although our modified SAD group had social anxiety that was related to obesity only, their level of impairment was significant.” She explains, “It could be that for individuals in which anxiety is related only to obesity, the change in social life functioning is more recent due to weight changes, and therefore, more distressing than for individuals who have experienced more generalized forms of social anxiety over a longer period of time.”

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May 3, 2011

Scientists Identify Genetic Risk for Major Depression

by Dave P.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 27, 2011) — A new study reveals a novel gene associated with major depression. The research, published in the April 28 issue of the journal Neuron, suggests a previously unrecognized mechanism for major depression and may guide future therapeutic strategies for this debilitating mood disorder.

Major depression is a psychiatric disorder that is responsible for a substantial loss in work productivity and can even lead to suicide in some individuals. “Current treatments for major depression are indispensible but their clinical efficacy is still unsatisfactory, as reflected by high rates of treatment resistance and side effects,” explains study author Dr. Martin A. Kohli from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, Germany. “Identification of mechanisms causing depression is pertinent for discovery of better antidepressants.”

While is likely that a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors contribute to major depression, identification of risk-conferring genes has been challenging due to the complexity of the genetics and the considerable environmental factors associated with the disease. Dr. Kohli and colleagues performed a stringent genome-wide association study of patients diagnosed with major depression and matched control subjects with no history of psychiatric illness. They identified SLC6A15, a gene that codes for a neuronal amino acid transporter protein, as a novel susceptibility gene for major depression. The finding was confirmed in an expanded study examining over 15,000 individuals.

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April 25, 2011

How child abuse and neglect damage the brain

by Dave P.

For 7 -year-old Zachary Risotti, feeling safe and cared about is a new experience.

At 2, Zachary was taken to the emergency room because of a suspicious cigarette burn under his left eye. Six months later, he was back in the hospital with a burn on his right forearm. Suspecting abuse, the state Department of Social Services removed him from his home, but he bounced around three foster homes before he was finally adopted in July 2000.

By then, Zachary already bore psychological scars of child abuse. At 3, he had the communication skills typical of a toddler half his age. He avoided eye contact, fidgeted constantly and expressed his frustration by sitting in a corner and crying.

But intensive mental health and support services as well as a loving family have given Zachary a second lease on life. ”Today he’s happy, very sociable and doing well in school,” said his adoptive mother, Kathryn Risotti of Marlborough.

Until recently, mental health clinicians could only speculate on the ways that abuse and neglect damage a child’s developing brain. But a series of ground-breaking studies in neuroscience conducted over the last decade are allowing researchers to pinpoint the actual changes in children’s brains caused by traumatic experience.

These new neurobiological findings show that trauma – physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect – dramatically affects both the structure and chemistry of the developing brain, thus causing the behavioral and learning problems that plague about three-quarters of the children mired in the child welfare system. But the good news is that these brain changes aren’t necessarily permanent. In fact, timely interventions – as in the case of Zachary – can help rewire the brain and put psychological development back on track. As Department of Social Services Commissioner Harry Spence put it: ”Neuroscience has helped to clarify our mission. We must do more than just protect children after the brain damage has been done. We must also provide loving environments because they are fundamental to healing on a physiological level.”

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April 22, 2011

Meditation May Help the Brain ‘Turn Down the Volume’ on Distractions

by Dave P.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to “turn down the volume” on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group. The report will appear in the journal Brain Research Bulletin and has been released online.

“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” says Catherine Kerr, PhD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. “Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”

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