Last month, major news outlets reported that a new study had linked concussions to a higher suicide risk among adolescents—but did the media get the story right?

In April, headlines such as “Concussions make young people more likely to attempt suicide” (U.S. News and World Report) and “Once-concussed teenagers found to be at higher risk for bullying, suicide” (Education Week) began to appear. Each source referenced a study by Dr. Gabriela Ilie, a post-doctoral fellow at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. Ilie’s study, which was published on April 15 in the science journal Plos One, looked at data from 4,685 surveys administered to adolescents in grades 7 through 12 as part of a 2011 drug use and health survey in Ontario.

In the weeks since, however, there has been some criticism, not of the study itself but of the way it was covered by the media. In her April 22 article “The press release that fell and hit its head,” Brenda Goodman, a health writer for the Association of Healthcare Journalists, followed up with Ilie about the study. One of Goodman’s criticisms is that the media coverage—including St. Michael’s own press release—used the word “concussion” to describe the brain injuries that were associated with suicide risk, even though the study itself does not use that word. Instead, the study refers to a narrower band of more traumatic brain injuries, defined as “head injury that resulted in being unconscious for at least 5 minutes or being retained in the hospital for at least one night.”

Why is that distinction so important? Goodman points out that more serious brain injuries are likely to be the result of car accidents or assaults; sports-related concussions, while still serious, result in loss of consciousness only about 10 percent of the time.

So what did the study actually say about TBI and suicide risk? “When holding constant sex, grade, and complex sample design,” according to Ilie’s findings, “students with TBI had significantly greater odds of reporting elevated psychological distress (AOR = 1.52), attempting suicide (AOR = 3.39), seeking counselling through a crisis help-line (AOR = 2.10), and being prescribed medication for anxiety, depression, or both (AOR = 2.45).” The study goes on to say that students with TBI had higher odds of being bullied or threatened with a weapon at school, compared with students who did not report a TBI. Ilie recommends that physicians screen for potential mental health and behavioral problems in adolescent patients with TBI.

This study demonstrated a correlation between some types of TBI and suicide risk in adolescents; it did not, however, show a causal relationship between concussion and suicide. Brenda Goodman and health writers like her remind us that when it comes to psychology news, it’s important to go beyond the headlines and look at the original research.
Over the past two decades, the rate of violent crime in the U.S. and Europe has dropped dramatically. Despite increasingly sensational news stories about crime, we are in fact much less likely to become the victim of a violent crime today than we were in 1990. According to the New York Times, the city of New York had fewer murders last year than in any year since 1963, when reliable record keeping began. In 2013, there were 333 murders in the city, down from 417 in 2012 and a stunning 2,245 in 1991. Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia also had large declines in violent crime during this period, as did smaller cities across the country. In England, the 2013 murder rate was at a 33-year low, nearly 50% lower than its peak in 1995, according to a recent story in the Guardian. There is no question that the rate of violent crime is significantly lower than it was 20 years ago.

Many factors could be contributing to this change, including improvements in law enforcement, reductions in the use of crack cocaine and other drugs, economic changes, and the aging of the population. However, a study by economist Rick Nevin suggests that reductions in the crime rate can be attributed to diminishing levels of lead poisoning from exposure to leaded gasoline and lead paint—and there is a growing body of research that supports his theory.

“What makes Nevin’s work persuasive is that he has shown an identical, decades-long association between lead poisoning and crime rates in nine countries,” says the Washington Post’s Shankar Vedantam.

In a recent Forbes article, science writer Alex Knapp outlines reasons that Nevin’s theory deserves attention. First, the numbers correlate almost perfectly; when a lag time of 21 years is added (to account for early childhood lead exposure in adult offenders), levels of exposure to lead from gasoline and paint track extremely closely with the U.S. homicide rate (see the graph in Nevin’s 2013 update).

Second, the correlation holds true with no exceptions. “Every country studied has shown this same strong correlation between leaded gasoline and violent crime rates,” says Knapp. “Within the United States, you can see the data at the state level. Where lead concentrations declined quickly, crime declined quickly. Where it declined slowly, crime declined slowly. The data even holds true at the neighborhood level—high lead concentrations correlate so well that you can overlay maps of crime rates over maps of lead concentrations and get an almost perfect fit.”

Third, the connection between lead poisoning and brain damage is clear. “Not only does lead degrade cognitive abilities and lower intelligence, it also degrades a person’s ability to make decisions by damaging areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, impulse control, attention, verbal reasoning, and mental flexibility,” says Knapp.

Nevin’s conclusions have been criticized by some, including those who are wary of the implications of linking biology to criminal behavior. In a recent interview with BBC News Magazine, Roger Matthews, a professor of criminology at the University of Kent, said, “The things that push people into crime are very different kinds of phenomena, not in the nature of their brain tissue….There has been a long history of people trying to link biology to crime—that some people have their eyes too close together, or an extra chromosome, or whatever. This stuff gets disproved and disproved. But it keeps popping up.”

What do you think about the link between lead levels and crime? Are the correlations strong enough to imply causation? What are the social implications of high lead levels in the blood? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Sometimes, it’s all in the questions you ask. Or the questions y’all ask. Or the ones you guys ask!

Those of us in psychology and assessment are very interested in the art of asking the right questions, and a great example from the field of linguistics has been circulating around the Internet in recent months. A dialect survey, based on work by Harvard professor Burt Vaux, has been developed into an interactive quiz by graphic artists at the New York Times, which published it in December 2013. Responses to the quiz generate maps that show the probability that the user hails from a specific region, state, or even city in the U.S.

The survey includes questions about the names of specific items (“What do you call a sweetened carbonated beverage?”) as well as pronunciations (“How do you pronounce ‘Aunt’?”). Each answer is association with a region, and there is a “heat map” for each question, as well as a “personal dialog map” for each individual user based on the sum of his or her responses to 25 questions.

“The data are fascinating,” says Katherine Wells, in her recent story about Vaux’s work in The Atlantic. “They reveal patterns of migration, unexpected linguistic kinships between regions, and the awesome variety of words we say and how we say them.”

An informal poll of users here at PAR headquarters suggests that the quiz can yield some amazingly accurate results—and we come from all over the U.S. Try the quiz yourself and see where it puts you on the map!
May 8, 2014 is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. Sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), PAR is proud to be a supporter of this national event.

National launch activities will be held during the National Council for Behavioral Health annual conference at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center near Washington, DC. Registration for the Awareness Day general session and the “What Really Works for Young Adults: A Candid Conversation” workshop is free.

Even if you are not going to be in Washington, DC for the event, you can show your support during one of the many local events taking place throughout the country that promote the importance of caring for every child’s mental health. You can also tune into the live Webcast of the national launch event on May 6 from 1:45 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. EDT.

Awareness Day focuses on positive mental health and its important relationship to a child’s healthy development. More than 1,100 communities and 136 national organizations are collaborating to make this year’s event bigger and better than ever.
When it comes to finding the right candidates for a job, what qualities and skills are most important to today’s employers? The answers may surprise you.

According to a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), teamwork, problem solving, organizational skills, and effective communication all rated more highly than “technical knowledge related to the job” (Job Outlook 2014).

NACE collected the survey data from 208 college recruiting professionals during the summer of 2013. Respondents rated each quality/skill on a five-point scale. “Ability to work in a team structure” had an average weighted rating of 4.55. Less highly rated—but still important—qualities included “ability to obtain and process information,” “ability to analyze quantitative data,” and “ability to sell or influence others.”

How can employers evaluate a potential employee’s skills in areas that seem so subjective? Other than word-of-mouth recommendations, how can employers assess whether a candidate is a team player, an analytical thinker, or an influential leader?

The new Working Styles Assessment™ (WSA™) from PAR measures 18 distinct workplace personality constructs (or “working styles”) such as initiative, concern for others, analytical thinking, and conscientiousness. The WSA helps job seekers gain a better understanding of their personal work preferences and how they approach a variety of situations in the workplace; it also helps hiring managers identify the working styles they value in employees and select applicants based on the degree to which they fit the working styles most needed for a particular position.

To learn more about the WSA and how it can help employers and job seekers to find the right match, visit the PAR Web site today!
According to a just-released statistical brief from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, mental disorders were the most costly medical expenditure for those under 18 years of age during 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available. More than 5.6 million children were treated for mental disorders at a mean expenditure of $2,465 each, for a total expense of $13.8 billion. In 2011, $117.6 billion was spent overall on the medical care and treatment of children.

The top five medical conditions that ranked highest in terms of spending included mental disorders, asthma ($11.9 billion), trauma-related disorders ($5.8 billion), acute bronchitis and upper respiratory infections ($3.3 billion), and otitis media ($3.2 billion). Although mental disorders affected the fewest number of children of the other top five medical conditions, they had the highest average expense per child.

In 2008, mental disorders ranked as the fifth most commonly treated condition; according to survey data, the expense per child has remained steady.

Nearly half the expenditures for mental disorders in children were paid by Medicaid.
Last week, PAR took home two titles that we are especially proud to share.

On March 29,  PAR staff and our favorite furry friends turned a rainy day into a walk to remember to support the Humane Society of Tampa Bay’s Bark in the Park event. Although the walk ended up being rained out just after our team picture, the PARty Animals were thrilled to take home top fundraising honors while showing our support for such a worthy organization.

Also, for the fourth consecutive year, PAR has received the Gold Achievement Award from the American Heart Association for promoting employee wellness, making PAR a Fit-Friendly Worksite. We are proud to promote the importance of healthy living and wellness in the workplace!

To learn more about the many ways PAR staff give back to the community, visit our Community PARtners page.
The PAR blog now has a sleek, modern look that’s not only attractive but easy to read and navigate, as well.  Updated weekly, our blog is a great forum to catch up on news about psychology and assessment, find links to new research studies, sign up for a Webinar, meet our authors, learn about a conference, or even watch a video about a new product or service.

We know that a lot of you are reading the blog, and now we’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to become an active participant. At the top of each post, just below the headline, there is a “Leave a comment” button. Interested in the topic or have something to add? Don’t hesitate to leave a comment—or respond to a colleague’s comment.

Looking for a blog on a particular topic? Skim recent blogs, browse previous issues by category or date, or search the “tag cloud” on the righthand side of the page—just click on a word in the cloud to find posts related to that key word.

If you’ve arrived at our blog through an existing bookmark, be sure to go to the new site (http://blog.parinc.com) and update your bookmark so that you can see our updated look and access the new features.

We hope you find our blog useful and you like our new look.  And as always…we want to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
A recent study by researchers from UCLA’s Anderson School of Management suggests that although extroverts are initially held in higher esteem in the workplace, self-described neurotics and those who are socially withdrawn tend to gain respect over time while their outwardly confident co-workers lose status. As time passes, neurotics tend to exceed expectations and are perceived as hard workers, while extroverts are seen to coast—and this is the case even if the two groups make similar contributions. In a recent New York Times article, lead author Corinne Bendersky describes her findings and suggests that the patterns she found reflect the value of creating low expectations.

Bendersky’s study included two parts. In the first part, graduate students completed a survey about their own personalities and how they viewed others in their work groups. Initially, the more confident students were perceived as being stronger contributors. But when the survey was repeated ten weeks later, the perception of the introverts had improved, while the extroverts lost status.

In the second part of the study, students were presented with a hypothetical situation: a co-worker named John was assigned to help them finish a project. John was described to half of the students as neurotic and to the other half as extroverted. As predicted, students initially expected that extroverted John would be a more effective contributor. Next, some students were told that even though he was busy, John had agreed to work late; others were told that John was too busy and had to leave early. In both cases, students were less critical of neurotic John’s contributions, while extroverted John was seen as disappointing—even when he was generous with his time.

The findings may also suggest that people perceive the values of personality and contribution differently. Extroverted personalities are overvalued but their contributions can be undervalued; introverted personalities tend not to be valued, but their contributions are sometimes overvalued—they seem to be given the benefit of the doubt.

What are the implications of this research for hiring managers and team leaders? In a recent interview with Forbes magazine, Bendersky cautions against hiring too many extroverts. “The core of an extroverted personality is to be attention-seeking,” she says. “It turns out they just keep talking, they don’t listen very well, and they’re not very receptive to other people’s input. They don’t contribute as much as people think they will.”

What do you think? What combinations of personality traits make up the most effective teams where you work? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

 
This month, PAR was honored to be named as a recipient of the “Spirit of Tampa Bay” award from United Way’s Suncoast Chapter. United Way explains that the award is their way of recognizing companies that go “above and beyond” in organizing and energizing fundraising, volunteerism, and community engagement at their workplaces.

Cathy Smith, PAR’s Vice President of Community Relations, was thrilled to accept the award at a special half-time ceremony during a recent Tampa Bay Lightning game. For this honor, however, she credits PAR employees for their commitment and enthusiasm for helping others.

“From our beginning more than 35 years ago, PAR’s mission has included giving back to the community,” Cathy explains. Helping children and families in Tampa Bay is a special priority, and PAR employees have participated in a wide range of United Way Suncoast programs that support literacy, mental health, nutrition, and much more. “Staff participation was always strong,” says Cathy, “but about 15 years ago, we reached the milestone of 100% employee participation—and we’ve maintained that every year since.”

Each year, a large contingent from PAR participates in United Way’s annual Day of Caring, which brings together volunteer teams to tackle various projects that most agencies could never undertake on their own. Last fall, PAR staff helped organize supplies and donations at the Family Resource Center, a wonderful organization that helped more than 11,000 low-income and at-risk families in Hillsborough County last year.

United Way Pledge Week is one of the most fun weeks of the year at PAR. The week includes a series of games (with treats and prizes), from the hotly contested annual Scrabble competition to a ride-like-there’s-no-tomorrow tricycle race through our Distribution Center! The culmination of the week is a luncheon featuring speakers from local organizations who have benefited from PAR’s support through United Way—a wonderful way to end pledge week on a high note.

To learn more about PAR’s ongoing commitment to United Way and to other community service projects, visit our Community PARtners Web page.

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