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Pregnant Women Recognize Baby Expressions Differently Depending On Mental Health History

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A pilot study has found that pregnant women who have suffered from depression or bipolar disorder (i.e. both mania and depression) recognise babies’ faces and how babies laugh or cry, differently to healthy controls. This happens even if they are not currently experiencing depressive or manic symptoms and may represent an early risk-factor for children of these women, although the authors stress that research would be needed to confirm any long-term effects. This work is presented at the ECNP Congress in Barcelona.

Figures show that nearly 8% of Europeans (EU) have suffered from depression in the previous 12 months, with the rate of depression in women (9.7%) being around 50% higher than the rate in men. Around 1% of Europeans have suffered from bipolar disorder in the previous 12 months. With over 5.1 million births in the EU every year, a significant number of the women who become pregnant will suffer from depression or bipolar disorder.

Researchers compared 22 pregnant women, currently well but with a history of depression, and 7 with bipolar disorder who were also currently well, against 28 healthy pregnant women. They also tested 18 non-pregnant women, as controls.

Between the 27th and 39th weeks of pregnancy, all the women were tested for how they responded to a series of happy or sad faces, and to laughter and crying, of both babies and adults. Specifically, the women were asked to rate how happy or distressed the infants were based on infants’ facial and vocal displays of emotion (including smiles, laughter and cries). They were also asked to identify adult facial expressions of emotion (including happiness, sadness, fear and disgust) across varying intensity levels

According to lead researcher, Dr Anne Bjertrup (Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen), “In this study, we found that pregnant women with depression or bipolar disorder process infants’ facial and vocal signals of emotion differently even when they are not currently experiencing a depressive or manic episode. These differences may impair these women’s ability to recognise, interpret and respond appropriately to their future infants’ emotional signals.”

The researchers found that, compared to healthy pregnant women:

  • Pregnant women with bipolar disorder had difficulty with recognising all facial expressions and showed a “positive face processing bias,” where they showed better recognition of happy adult faces and more positive ratings of happy infant faces.
  • In contrast, pregnant women with previous depression showed a negative bias in the recognition of adult facial expressions and rated infant cries more negatively.

Anne Bjertrup continued:

“This is a pilot study, so we need to replicate the findings within a larger sample. We know that depression and bipolar disorder are highly heritable, with up to 60% of children of parents with these affective disorders more likely to develop a mental disorder themselves. Genes play a role, but it is also likely that the quality of the early interaction with the mother is important. The different cognitive response to emotional infant signals in pregnant women with a history of mania and/or depression may make it more difficult for them to relate to their child and could thus confer an early environmental risk for the child.

It’s worth emphasizing that this work does not say that the affected women are “bad mothers.” It simply means that because of their health history, they may experience difficulties interpreting and responding appropriately to their infants’ emotional needs and that we as clinicians need to be more aware of these possible difficulties. These are early days; this is the first research to show this link in both depression and bipolar disorder, so we need further studies to design and test early screening and intervention programs possibly involving ways which will train mothers to interpret the signals from their children better.

But above all, we need evidence of any effect on children; our group have an ongoing study of mothers with affective disorders and their infants, to see if what we have found does indeed make a difference to the mother-infant interaction, which has an impact on the child’s psychological development — this is something the work presented here does not address.”

Commenting, Professor Eduard Vieta (Institute of Neuroscience, University of Barcelona) said:

“This study adds to the growing scientific literature showing emotional bias in people with mood disorders, even when they are in remission, and for the first time shows the difficulties mothers have in identifying emotions in their own newborns. The results, however, do not imply at all that women with such conditions would not be able to raise a child properly and it does not prove any risk for their children since longitudinal data are lacking. This work may help us identify targets for pharmacological and psychological treatments, which in turn may help people with depression and bipolar disorder.”

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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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