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Gene Which Decreases Risk Of Social Network-related Stress, Increases Finance-related Stress Risk

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Researchers have discovered that the same gene which increases your risk of depression following financial stress as you grow older also reduces your chance of depression associated with friendship and relationships stresses when young- your social network.

This may have implications for treatment, but also offers a possible answer to a question which has puzzled scientists: why has depression survived through evolution? This work is presented at the ECNP Congress in Barcelona.

5-HTTLPR, which is found on chromosome 17, is a form (a variant) of the gene which carries the instructions for producing the serotonin transporter protein, which is central to the pharmacology of depression: antidepressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs, e.g. Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, and others) are the mainstay of drug treatment for depression. One of the two variants of 5-HTTLPR, the short (s) variant is generally thought to promote a tendency to depression, although as depression is associated with many genes, there is no single genetic cause of depression.

For an inherited trait to survive over time, there normally needs to be some advantage to it being passed on, but with depression there is no obvious reason why evolution should allow a tendency to depression to survive.

Now scientists have found that the s variant (5-HTTLPRs) of this gene may help protect against the depression associated with stressors and life events deriving from the social network in younger people. In previous work, the same scientists had found that the 5-HTTLPRs variant does not increase the depression risk following exposure to most types of stressors as had been believed, but in fact may actually only increases the risk of depression following financial stress in older males.

Researcher Dr Xenia Gonda said:

“What we see is the same gene having opposite effects following different types of environmental events and even at different points throughout one’s life. For people under around the age of 30, their social network of friends and acquaintances is vitally important. This is the period when they are looking to form attachments. In this younger age, we found that the 5-HTTLPR s variant protects people against depression when exposed to social network stress. However, our previous work showed us that the same gene variant tends to make people more susceptible to depression if they experience financial stress when they get older.

With the older group, we found that if we looked at the two genders separately, this effect was observable only in men, whose traditional gender role is that of the provider for the family so that’s perhaps why financial problems may be more stressful for them.”

For the latest work, the team had enrolled a sample of 1081 volunteers from Budapest and Manchester, all under the age of 30, and questioned them about 4 different types of stress experience including relationship problems, illness or injury, financial difficulties, and stresses related to the social network such as friends and acquaintances. They found that the short variant of 5-HTTLPR, which is present in around 37-40% of the Caucasian population, conferred a statistically significant protection against depression risk following social network problems, but not against the other stressors in the study.

Dr Gonda continued,

“Depression is not a single disease, and depression related to different types of genes and different stresses may respond to different types of pharmacological and psychotherapeutic treatment. What our study shows that genes involved in depression may actually have positive effects which can also be exploited for therapy. For example those with higher social sensitivity conferred by the s allele may respond better to psychotherapy than those who do not carry this variant, however, further studies would be needed to confirm this.

It’s a subtle distinction, but we believe depending on the environmental context, 5-HTTLPR may have both negative and positive effects; so sometimes it may promote depression, but in certain circumstances, like when exposed to life events and stressors affecting the social network, it protects. We should always consider the possible ancestral context when looking at the adaptive or risk side of genes, and it appears that the adaptive role of 5-HTTLPR was to increase sensitivity to social influences and events with positive outcomes, and its negative effect like increasing depression risk appear only in case of a few types of stress. And this is probably why these genes have been preserved in evolution. But we need to remember that there are multiple genes involved in depression which interact with one another and with the environment, so it’s not as simple as saying ‘this gene causes depression’.

The take-home message from this work is that “depressogenic” genes (genes which are associated with more depression) are not always depressogenic, it depends on their environmental context, your gender, your age, and what type of stress you are under.”

She added:

“We have surveyed more than 1000 people in this research, but this is a fairly modest sample in terms of population genetics, so we are continuing the research to allow us to confirm the findings.”

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Parents, Kids Spend More Time Discussing How To Use Mobile Technology Than Talking About Content

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ANN ARBOR—Most parents would agree that one of the of the biggest modern parenting challenges is monitoring a child’s online activity.

A new study appearing in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that parents spend more time talking with kids about the mechanics of using their mobile devices than they do about what their kids watch and download on those devices.

The findings came from a small, recent study of 75 children and their families, led by researcher Sarah Domoff, then a postdoctoral fellow at University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development. The children wore recording devices at home, which recorded talking, conversations or other sounds nearby, as well as audible screen media use.

Domoff, now an assistant professor at Central Michigan University, said the findings revealed some concerning trends in how families and children communicate about media today. Specifically, the researchers observed minimal conversation about the content of programming that children were watching.

Additionally, they learned that other family members appear to play an important role when content is discussed. Children––not parents––initiated most conversations about content, and older siblings played a much bigger role than parents in content mediation for younger siblings. Also, the study found that children as young as toddlers were exposed to multiple media sources at one time, or media multitasking.

Other findings include:

  • Negotiations and conflict are common among parents and children.
  • Parallel family media use is common, meaning different family members use their own devices at the same time.

“One of the most challenging aspects of parenting today is being aware of what children are exposed to online, particularly content delivered via mobile devices,” Domoff said.

“Thus, it is critical that parents utilize privacy settings and restrictions to protect children from certain content. Ideally, this would occur before the child received their own mobile device.”

Domoff recommends developing a family media plan. In 2016, The American Academy of Pediatrics released a tool that helps families set different goals and media use rules based on individual needs, she said.

It’s also troubling that some apps downloaded by children include advertising or request in-app purchases, she said. Parents can identify these apps by using Common Sense Media’s app review.

Parents can also recruit older children to help younger siblings make good content choices.

The study aimed to identify themes of parental mediation and family communication around mobile media devices. There’s a dearth of scientific data in this area compared to television and video games, but studies show that parental mediation leads to better outcomes for children.

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Internet Therapy Apps Reduce Depression Symptoms

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — In a sweeping new study, Indiana University psychologists have found that a series of self-guided, internet-based therapy platforms effectively reduce depression.

The work, which reviewed 21 pre-existing studies with a total of 4,781 participants, was published in the November issue of the Journal of Medical Internet Research. The study was led by Lorenzo Lorenzo-Luaces, an assistant professor of clinical psychology in the IU Bloomington College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

In the past several years, many internet-based apps and websites have made claims to treat depression. The subjects of the IU study were specifically those applications that provide treatment with cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy that focuses on changing thought patterns and behavior to alleviate symptoms of depression and other mental disorders.

Previous studies had examined the effectiveness of individual internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps, or iCBT, using a range of methods. Until this study, however, no review had examined whether the effects of these treatments were inflated by excluding patients with more severe depression or additional conditions such as anxiety or alcohol abuse.

“Before this study, I thought past studies were probably focused on people with very mild depression, those who did not have other mental health problems, and were at low risk for suicide,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“To my surprise, that was not the case. The science suggests that these apps and platforms can help a large number of people.”

For Lorenzo-Luaces, internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps are an important new tool for addressing a major public health issue: that individuals with mental health disorders like depression far outnumber the mental health providers available to treat them.

“Close to one in four people meet the criteria for major depressive disorder,” he said.

“If you include people with minor depression or who have been depressed for a week or a month with a few symptoms, the number grows, exceeding the number of psychologists who can serve them.”

People with depression are also expensive for the health care system, he added.

“They tend to visit primary-care physicians more often than others,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“They have more medical problems, and their depression sometimes gets in the way of their taking their medication for other medical problems.”

By conducting a “meta-regression analysis” of 21 studies, Lorenzo-Luaces and collaborators decisively determined that internet-based therapy platforms effectively alleviate depression. A central question was determining whether previous studies distorted the strength of these systems’ effects by excluding people with severe depression.

The conclusion was that the apps worked in cases of mild, moderate and severe depression.

Many of the studies in the analysis compared use of internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy apps to placement on a wait list for therapy or the use of a “fake app” that made weak recommendations to the user. In these cases, the iCBT apps worked significantly better.

“This is not to say that you should stop taking your medication and go to the nearest app store,” added Lorenzo-Luaces, who said both face-to-face therapy and antidepressants may still prove to be more effective than the iCBT apps alone.

“People tend to do better when they have a little bit of guidance,” he said. But he added that a 10- to 15-minute check-in may be sufficient for many people, freeing health care providers to see more patients.

App-based therapy also has an advantage in situations where access to face-to-face therapy is limited due to logistical barriers, such as long distances in rural areas or inflexible work schedules.

“ICBT apps take the methods we have learned and make them available to the many people who could benefit from them,” Lorenzo-Luaces said.

“It’s an exciting development.”

 

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New Study Finds Employee Incentives Can Lead To Unethical Behavior In The Workplace

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Considering end-of-year bonuses for your employees? Supervisors be forewarned, a new study finds that while incentive rewards can help motivate and increase employee performance it can also lead to unethical behavior in the workplace.

“Goal fixation can have a profound impact on employee behavior, and the damaging effects appear to be growing stronger in today’s competitive business landscape,” says Bill Becker, co-author of the study and associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

The study, “The effects of goals and pay structure on managerial reporting dishonesty,” provides valuable insight into the relationship between pay structures and motivation.

Findings suggest that setting compensation goals can increase dishonesty when managers are also paid a bonus for hitting certain targets.

“These unintended negative consequences can lead to dishonesty, unethical behavior, increased risk-taking, escalation of commitment, and depletion of self-control,” says Becker.

The study points to observations of unethical behaviors in the workplace that include employees falsifying or manipulating financial reporting information as well as time and expense reports.

For example, service professionals such as auditors, contractors, lawyers, and consultants who report hours billed against a target budget is often based on a fixed contract price.

“This causes potential for both under-reporting and over-reporting costs, which can undermine organizational objectives and negatively impact the interest of the firm,” says Becker.

“Using purely monetary incentives is almost always a double edged sword.”

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