In the search for more effective treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, a new clinical trial will test whether a prevention drug has any effect on patients who are genetically predisposed to develop the disease, but who don’t yet exhibit symptoms. In the study, scientists are focusing on members of a large, extended family in Medellín, Colombia, some of whom have a specific genetic mutation that is linked to early-onset dementia. The trial will be “the first to focus on people who are cognitively normal but at very high risk for Alzheimer’s disease,” said Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in a May 15 interview with the New York Times.

Members of the Colombian family who have the genetic mutation begin showing cognitive impairment around age 45 and develop full dementia by age 51. Three hundred family members, some as young as age 30, will participate in the initial trial.

The five-year study is a collaboration between the NIH, the nonprofit Banner Alzheimer’s Institute, Genentech (maker of the drug crenezumab, which will be used in the trial), and the University of Antioquia in Medellín. The trial will help to test the amyloid theory of Alzheimer’s, which holds that the disease is caused by a steady buildup of the beta amyloid protein. Some results of the trial—specifically those that address whether the drug can delay memory decline—may be available in as little as two years, according to study leader Ken Kosik, codirector of the Neuroscience Research Institute at University of California, Santa Barbara.

Although only a small percentage of people with Alzheimer’s have the genetic early-onset form, researchers expect the trial to yield information that will help millions people who are affected more common forms of the disease. “It offers a tremendous opportunity for us to answer a large number of questions, while at the same time offering these people some significant clinical help that otherwise they never would have had,” said Dr. Steven T. DeKosky, an Alzheimer’s researcher from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, in the New York Times article.

To learn more about this and other ongoing studies of Alzheimer’s disease, visit the NIH’s National Institute on Aging Web site.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) now affects one in 29 Americans, reports Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a June 6 statement. An anxiety disorder, PTSD affects not only combat veterans but also crime and abuse victims, disaster survivors, first responders, and others who have experienced trauma in their lives.

Symptoms of PTSD can include sleep problems, irritability, anger, recurrent dreams about the trauma, intense reactions to reminders of the trauma, disturbances in relationships, and isolation. The good news is that PTSD is treatable, and new research is helping to identify the kinds of treatment that are most effective.

“The Department of Health and Human Services, along with the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, are supporting new research to reveal the underlying causes of PTSD and related conditions, develop better tools to identify those at highest risk of developing the disorder, and develop new and better treatments and preventive interventions,” says Sebelius.

The National Institute of Mental Health is also funding research—including both evaluation and intervention studies—on a wide range of PTSD topics. Current NIMH studies are focused on:

  • Teens coping with parental military deployment

  • The effectiveness of a Web-based intervention for guardians of children whose one parent has murdered the other

  • The effects of stress in pregnancy

  • Cognitive behavioral treatment for PTSD in people with additional serious mental illnesses

  • Comparing behavioral therapies for treating adolescents with PTSD related to sexual abuse

  • The development of magnetic resonance imaging techniques for studying mood and anxiety disorders

  • Group intervention for interpersonal trauma

  • Prazosin for treating noncombat-trauma PTSD

  • Psychobiological mechanisms of resilience to trauma


To learn more about these studies, or for information and resources to share with your clients, visit the PTSD Web site at the NIMH.
Why are lying and cheating so prevalent? Is dishonesty just a part of human nature? What can be done to encourage people to be more truthful?

In a recent interview on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered,” Dan Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, talked about his new book, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone—Especially Ourselves, which was published on June 5. Ariely is interested in the psychology behind lying, and he has conducted a number of experiments over the years that were designed to get at why—and how—people lie. His experiments, which to date have involved more than 30,000 subjects, show that although very few people lie a lot, most of us lie “just a little.” Ariely also discovered some very simple ways to encourage people to be much more honest.

Why do we tell only little lies, or cheat only in small ways? “We want to view ourselves as honest, wonderful people and when we cheat ... as long as we cheat just a little bit, we can still view ourselves as good people,” Ariely told NPR’s Robert Siegal, in the June 4 interview. “But once we start cheating too much ... we can’t view ourselves as good people and therefore we stop.”

One of Ariely’s favorite experiments involved simple arithmetic problems and a paper shredder. “We give people a sheet of paper with 20 simple math problems and we say, ‘You have 5 minutes to solve as many of those as you can, and we'll give you $1 per question.’ We say, ‘Go!’ People start, they solve as many as they can, at the end of the five minutes, we say, ‘Stop! Please count how many questions you got correctly, and now that you know how many questions you got correctly, go to the back of the room and shred this piece of paper. And once you've finished shredding this piece of paper, come to the front of the room and tell me how many questions you got correctly.’”

Ariely explains that the subjects in this experiment typically claimed that they solved six problems, which they were paid for. What he didn’t tell the subjects, however, is that the shredder was modified so that it only shredded the sides of the paper, leaving the main part of the page intact. On average, people solved four problems, but claimed that they had solved six. “We find that lots of people cheat a little bit,” says Ariely, but “very, very few people cheat a lot.”

In his May 26 Wall Street Journal essay, “Why We Lie,” Ariely discusses some of the reasons that people behave in dishonest ways. Conventional wisdom suggests that when faced with a choice to be honest or dishonest, people weigh the costs (such as getting caught) against the benefits (such as gaining something useful or helping another person) and make their choice logically. Ariely’s research shows, however, that this is rarely the case. In fact, he found that level of cheating is generally unaffected by the probability of getting caught.

What factors cause people to cheat more or cheat less? In a variation on the math/paper shredder experiment, Ariely had the administrator of the test take a cell phone call while giving instructions to the participants, engaging in a distracting, unrelated conversation and seeming to ignore the test subject. In this case, subjects cheated, on average, twice as much. “I think this goes back to the law of karma, right?” says Ariely. “If somebody has mistreated you, now you can probably rationalize [your cheating behavior] to a higher degree.” Cheating also seems to be infectious: If another participant was flagrantly cheating, other subjects in the room cheated more.

If “getting caught” is not a disincentive to lie or cheat, then what is? For many of us, a simple reminder about honesty—a reminder of the moral code—can make a big difference. In an experiment at UCLA with 450 subjects, Ariely and his colleagues conducted another variation on the math problem experiment. This time, before the subjects began, they asked half of the participants to recall the Ten Commandments and half to recall ten books they’d read in high school. In his Wall Street Journal essay, Ariely explains the results. “Among the group who recalled the 10 books, we saw the typical widespread but moderate cheating. But in the group that was asked to recall the Ten Commandments, we observed no cheating whatsoever. We reran the experiment, reminding students of their schools’ honor codes instead of the Ten Commandments, and we got the same result.” Even a simple statement such as “I promise that the information I am providing is true” is often enough to encourage most people to be honest, according to Ariely.

If you have read Dr. Ariely’s book, or if you have other ideas about the psychology of dishonesty, PAR wants to hear from you—leave a comment and join the conversation!

*Nineteenth century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is perhaps better known for his literary career than his political accomplishments. He once quipped, “There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.”
A recent study suggests that children diagnosed with mental disorders are more susceptible to developing ongoing physical disorders later in life. A diagnosis of depression or anxiety combined with instances of abuse or criminal activity in the home gives children a higher chance of developing diabetes, osteoarthritis, and heart disease in adulthood.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand in conjunction with the World Health Organization (WHO) Mental Health Surveys program, analyzed data from a cross-sectional survey spanning 10 different countries. The survey sought to prove that a concrete relationship exists between mental disability and physical abuse leading to chronic physical conditions. Previous studies had failed to look at mental disability as a factor, which authors claim was an “important oversight.”

Kate M. Scott, an associate professor in the department of psychological medicine at the University of Otago, organized a team of interviewers to facilitate the survey’s two-part analysis. The first part looked for people who met the criteria of a mental disorder as defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV™). The second part evaluated childhood adversities such as “physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, parental death, parental divorce, other parental loss, parental mental disorder, parental substance use, parental criminal behavior, family violence, and family economic adversity.” These two factors were then used to evaluate the onset of physical problems.

In the study, published in the August 2011 Archives of General Psychiatry, authors point out that this was the first time scientists have analyzed data looking at the relationship between early mental illness and physical factors.

“In prior research that has considered the influence of the early psychosocial environment on later physical health, mental disorders have generally been out of the frame of consideration…. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that childhood adversities and early-onset mental disorder have independent, broad-spectrum effects that increase the risk of diverse chronic physical conditions in later life.”

Pre-1990s data shows that physical illnesses such as asthma were the most common disabilities diagnosed in children. However, in a recent article in The Future of Children, published by the Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, authors Janet M. Currie and Robert Kahn found that in 2008-2009, asthma had fallen to sixth on the list. After speech problems, the most common diagnoses were learning disabilities, affecting 23 percent; ADHD, affecting 22 percent; “other mental, emotional or behavioral problems,” affecting 19 percent; and “other developmental problems,” affecting 10 percent.

If the shift in diagnoses of children from physical to mental disorders continues, are children now facing a two-part challenge? Are there preventive measures we can take now to help children avoid physical issues later? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

Editor’s note: This week, PAR is pleased to welcome guest blogger Grace Gardner. A recent graduate of the University of South Florida with a B.A. in Mass Communication, Grace is working as an editorial assistant this summer in the production department at PAR. 
Director John Huston’s film Let There Be Light, a documentary about the psychological issues of soldiers returning from World War II, has recently been restored and released by the National Archives and Records Administration. Produced by the U.S. Army in 1945, this controversial film was censored for more than three decades. By the time it was finally given a public screening in 1980, the quality of the then-available print was so poor that it was very difficult to view and understand. In this new restoration, the technical problems have been resolved, and many of us will now see this important piece of history for the first time.

Let There Be Light deals with “shell-shock,” or in today’s terms, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among returning soldiers. Huston, who is best known as the director of such classics as The Maltese Falcon (1941), Key Largo (1948), and The African Queen (1951), was serving as a major in the U.S. Army Signal Corps when he was given the assignment to create the documentary in June 1945. Its working title was The Returning Psychoneurotics. Although by current standards, the psychiatric methods and therapeutic “cures” are dated and perhaps unrealistic, the film captures some historically significant aspects of military psychiatric practice during the 1940s.

Huston later described the project:

I visited a number of Army hospitals during the research phase, and finally settled on Mason General Hospital on Long Island as the best place to make the picture. It was the biggest in the East, and the officers and doctors there were the most sympathetic and willing…. The hospital admitted two groups of 75 patients each week, and the goal was to restore these men physically, mentally and emotionally within six to eight weeks, to the point where they could be returned to civilian life in as good condition—or almost as good—as when they came into the Army…. I decided that the best way to make the film was to follow one group through from the day of their arrival until their discharge. (Source: National Film Preservation Foundation, Film Notes)


Let There Be Light was ground-breaking not only in its use of unscripted interview techniques, but also because of the mix of racial groups represented in the film. Although the U.S. military would remain largely segregated until President Truman’s executive order of 1948, a few Army hospitals had begun integrating in 1943. Huston’s film shows African American and white soldiers being treated side-by-side, an unusually progressive choice at that time.

To view this documentary now, visit the National Film Preservation Foundation and click on the link for Let There Be Light. And let us know what you think—leave a comment here to join the conversation!
Black and Latino Students Suffer When Teachers Give Too Much Praise

A new study indicates that public school teachers may be failing to challenge minority students, giving them more positive feedback and less criticism than they give to white students, for work of equal merit. The study, led by Rutgers University psychology professor Kent D. Harber and published in the April 30 issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology, involved 113 white middle school and high school teachers in two public school districts located in the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut tri-state area, one middle class and white, and the other working class and racially mixed.

Teachers read and responded to a poorly written essay, which they believed was composed by a student in a writing class. Some teachers thought the student was black, some thought the student was Latino, and some thought that the student was white. Teachers believed that their feedback would be sent directly to the student, so that the student could benefit from their comments and advice. In fact, Harber and his colleagues had written the essay and were using it to see if the race of the student affected the way that teachers responded to subpar work. As predicted, the teachers displayed a “positive feedback bias,” giving more praise when they thought the essay was written by a minority student and more criticism when they thought the student was white.

Positive feedback bias may be one explanation for the academic performance gap between minority students and white students, according to Harber. Through the years, studies have examined other factors that contribute to this performance gap, including inequalities in school funding, racism, and a distrust of academia in some minority communities.

“The social implications of these results are important; many minority students might not be getting input from instructors that stimulates intellectual growth and fosters achievement,” says Harber, in a recent Rutgers University news release. “Some education scholars believe that minorities under-perform because they are insufficiently challenged—the ‘bigotry of lowered expectations,’ in popular parlance.”

What do you think? Can praise be a disguise for lowered expectations? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

 
Researchers at Northwestern University Medical School have suggested that depression in teens could be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Their study, published in the April 17, 2012 issue of Translational Psychiatry, identifies 11 biomarkers for early-onset major depressive disorder—one of the most common yet debilitating mental illnesses among young people. If the results are confirmed in larger populations, diagnosis could become a much simpler process, and one that might help teens avoid some of the stigma currently associated with a depression diagnosis.

Early-onset major depressive disorder is a serious mental illness that affects mainly teenagers and young adults. Although 2 to 4% of cases are diagnosed before adolescence, the numbers increase dramatically to 10-25% with adolescence, according to lead researcher Eva Redei, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Not diagnosed, depression affects how teens relate to others. The No. 1 cause of death among the depressed is suicide,” explained Redei in a recent interview with CNN. “If teens are depressed and not treated, there can be drug abuse, dropping out of school. Their whole lives can depend on these crucial and vulnerable years.”

In the study, researchers tested the blood of 28 teens, ages 15 to 19. Fourteen had been diagnosed as depressed, and the others were healthy. The researchers examined a panel of 28 markers that circulate in the blood; results showed that 11 of these markers could, with a high degree of accuracy, predict major depression in the subjects. Depression is currently diagnosed through psychological evaluations conducted by health care providers.

A blood test to diagnose depression could help reduce the stigma associated with this mental illness and help depressed teens to get the treatment and support they need. For many teens who are too embarrassed to ask for help, this blood test could be a huge step in the right direction. “Once you have a measurable index of an illness, it’s very difficult to say, ‘Just pull yourself together,’ or ‘Get over it,’” Redei explained recently to the Los Angeles Times.

Others are cautious in their response to the study. Dr. Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health, suggests that this study could give parents and teens false hope about treatment. “When something like this comes out and gets a lot of attention, it’s a false promise to parents, because it’s nowhere ready for prime time,” he said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “Some of the risks have not been considered yet. And does it really shape, in any way, how effective your treatment is going to be now?”

What do you think? In what ways could a diagnostic blood test for depression affect treatment for your clients? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Who says psychology is just common sense? Sometimes the truth—as revealed by psychological research—truly is stranger than fiction.

“When you tell someone that you’re taking, teaching, or practicing psychology, you’re likely to get the reaction that ‘it’s all common sense,’” says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in a recent article in Psychology Today.   “However, having taught introductory psychology for over 30 years, I’ve accumulated an armamentarium of facts to teach students that challenge this myth about psychology's knowledge base.”

Whitbourne’s “armamentarium” includes some surprising facts:

  • Getting paid for doing something you like can make you less creative.

  • Maslow’s study of 3000 college students found that none met the criteria for self-actualization.

  • Placebos can often offer as much relief as actual treatments.

  • Posting a calorie chart in fast food restaurants leads people to choose less healthy foods.

  • Van Gogh probably developed the symptoms that led to his hospitalization from absinthe poisoning.

  • Rorschach’s nickname as a child was “Inkblot.”


Thinking about these kinds of strange-but-true phenomena may be important for more than just countering the “common sense” charge.  Considering the unusual, the unlikely, and the counterintuitive may be a useful way to stretch the imagination and explore unconventional ideas.  In his book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology*, Emory University Professor and PAR author Scott Lilienfeld and his coauthors examine common misconceptions about human behavior. A short postscript at the end of the book, however, includes a fascinating group of unexpected findings from psychological research, including:


  • Patients who have experienced strokes resulting in severe language loss are better at detecting lies than people without brain damage.

  • Handshake style is predictive of certain personality traits. Women with firm handshakes tend to show more openness, intellectual curiosity, and willingness to seek out novel experiences.

  • Dogs really do resemble their owners. In one study, judges matched faces of dog owners to their dogs at significantly better than chance levels—although this was true only with purebred, not mixed-breed dogs.


“Many of these findings may strike us as myths because they are counterintuitive, even bizarre,” says Lilienfeld.  “They remind us to doubt our common sense” (p. 247).

What do you think? What research results have been surprising to you? Have unexpected findings changed the way you think or work?  PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

*Lilienfeld, S., Lynn, S.J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B.L. (2010). 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released on March 30 announced that 1 in 88 children is now diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, by age 8, reflecting a dramatic increase in diagnoses in the past decade.

The CDC Web site includes not only the full report but also a summary page that provides an overview of the findings on prevalence, risk factors and characteristics, diagnosis, and economic costs.  Some highlights:

  • About 1 in 88 children has been identified with an ASD, according to estimates from CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network.
  • ASDs are reported to occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups.
  • ASDs are almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252).
  • Studies in Asia, Europe, and North America have identified individuals with an ASD with an average prevalence of about 1%. A recent study in South Korea reported a prevalence of 2.6%.
  • About 1 in 6 children in the U.S. has a developmental disability, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech impairments to serious developmental disabilities such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism. 

With this news, more parents, educators, and medical professionals may be wondering whether a growing environmental threat could be the source of the problem. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times by reporter Alan Zarembo, however, gives voice to another perspective. “Autism researchers around the country said the CDC data—including striking geographic and racial variations in the rates and how they have changed—suggest that rising awareness of the disorder, better detection, and improved access to services can explain much of the surge, and perhaps all of it,” according to Zarembo.

One thing is clear: autism spectrum disorders are affecting a growing number of families. Mark Roithmayr, president of Autism Speaks, sums up the reaction of many in the autism community:  “With the new [CDC] numbers now showing that 1 in 88 children in the United States are being diagnosed with autism—nearly a doubling of the prevalence since the CDC began tracking these numbers—autism can now officially be declared an epidemic in the United States.”

ASDs have touched the lives of many of us at PAR, as well, and we are committed to supporting research and services in our community to help families dealing with autism.  On April 21, PAR staff members will be participating in the 2012 “Walk Now for Autism Speaks: Tampa Bay.” This annual event brings together “Team PAR” with thousands of other local autism supporters to raise funds for autism research.  Last year, PAR was one of the top fundraisers for the Tampa Bay area—a record we hope to top this year!

According to an eleven-year-long study by a group of Canadian researchers, it appears that the youngest students in a class are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than peers born at other points in the year.

The study, conducted by University of British Columbia researchers and headed up health research analyst Richard Morrow, finds that children born the month of the school’s cut-off date were more likely to receive an ADHD diagnosis than those born just a month later. After studying nearly 930,000 children in British Columbia, which has a cut-off date for enrollment of December 31, it was found that boys born in December were 30 percent more likely to be given an ADHD diagnosis than those born in January. Girls with December birthdays were 70 percent more likely to receive this diagnosis than those born in January. Furthermore, boys and girls with December birthdays were 41 percent and  77 percent more likely, respectively, to be treated with prescription medication for ADHD than those born the following month.

While researchers believe their analyses show a relative-age effect in the diagnosis and treatment of children age 6-12 years, they warn that these findings raise concerns about the potential for overdiagnosis and overprescribing in the youngest students because the lack of maturity in younger students may be misinterpreted as symptoms of ADHD. ADHD is currently the most commonly diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder in children.

For more information on this study, visit the Canadian Medical Association Journal.