Saturday, August 21, 2010

Superheroes send wrong images to boys .

Today's superheroes send wrong image to boys, say researchers

SAN DIEGO — Watching superheroes beat up villains may not be the best image for boys to see if society wants to promote kinder, less stereotypical male behaviors, according to psychologists who spoke Sunday at the 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

"Resistance to Ideals of Masculinity in Middle School Boys," Carlos Santos, PhD, Arizona State University"Superheroes and Slackers: Limited Media Representations of Masculinity for Boys," Sharon Lamb, EdD, University of Massachusetts-Boston; Lyn Mikel Brown, EdD, and Mark Tappan, EdD, Colby College

Take a Love Test ?

How Deep Is Your Love? Quiz

Based upon the Passionate Love Scale (1986),
by Elaine Hatfield and Susan Sprecher
February 2008

Meditation can improve brain function.

Meditation Can Improve Brain Function

By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 19, 2010

Meditation Can Improve Brain FunctionA new research study suggests learning a meditation technique can improve brain connectivity.

The technique — integrative body-mind training (IBMT) — has been the focus of intense scrutiny by a team of Chinese researchers led by Yi-Yuan Tang in collaboration with University of Oregon psychologist Michael I. Posner.

IBMT was adapted in the 1990s from traditional Chinese medicine and is practiced by thousands of Chinese people.

It is now being taught to undergraduates involved in research on the method at the University of Oregon.

The new research — published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – involved 45 UO students (28 males and 17 females). Twenty-two subjects received IBMT while 23 participants were in a control group that received the same amount of relaxation training.

The experiments involved the use of brain-imaging equipment in the UO’s Robert and Beverly Lewis Center for Neuroimaging.

A type of magnetic resonance called diffusion tensor imaging allowed researchers to examine fibers connecting brain regions before and after training. The changes were strongest in connections involving the anterior cingulate, a brain area related to the ability to regulate emotions and behavior.

The changes were observed only in those who practiced meditation and not in the control group. The changes in connectivity began after six hours of training and became clear by 11 hours of practice.

The researchers said it is possible the changes resulted from a reorganization of white-matter tracts or by an increase of myelin that surrounds the connections.

“The importance of our findings relates to the ability to make structural changes in a brain network related to self-regulation,” said Posner.

“The pathway that has the largest change due to IBMT is one that previously was shown to relate to individual differences in the person’s ability to regulate conflict.”

In 2007 in PNAS, Tang, a visiting scholar at the UO, and Posner documented that doing IBMT for five days prior to a mental math test led to low levels of the stress hormone cortisol among Chinese students. The experimental group also showed lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger and fatigue than students in a relaxation control group.

In 2009 in PNAS, Tang and Chinese colleagues, with assistance from Posner and UO psychology professor Mary K. Rothbart, found that IBMT subjects in China had increased blood flow in the right anterior cingulate cortex after receiving training for 20 minutes a day over five days.

Compared with the relaxation group, IBMT subjects also had lower heart rates and skin conductance responses, increased belly breathing amplitude and decreased chest respiration rates.

The latter findings suggested the possibility that additional training might trigger structural changes in the brain, leading to the new research, Tang and Posner said. The researchers currently are extending their evaluation to determine if longer exposure to IBMT will produce positive changes in the size of the anterior cingulate.

Deficits in activation of the anterior cingulate cortex have been associated with attention deficit disorder, dementia, depression,schizophrenia and many other disorders.

“We believe this new finding is of interest to the fields of education, health and neuroscience, as well as for the general public,” Tang said.

In their conclusion, the researchers wrote that the new findings suggest a use of IBMT as a vehicle for understanding how training influences brain plasticity.

IBMT is not yet available in the United States beyond the research being done at the UO.

The practice avoids struggles to control thought, relying instead on a state of restful alertness. It allows for a high degree of body-mind awareness while receiving instructions from a coach, who provides breath-adjustment guidance and mental imagery and other techniques while soothing music plays in the background.

Thought control is achieved gradually through posture, relaxation, body-mind harmony and balanced breathing. A good coach is critical, Tang said.

Source: University of Oregon

Soldiers being misdiagnosed ?

Hundreds of PTSD soldiers likely misdiagnosed

August 15, 2010, Associated Press

WASHINGTON - At the height of the Iraq war, the Army routinely fired hundreds of soldiers for having a personality disorder when they were more likely suffering from the traumatic stresses of war, discharge data suggests.

Under pressure from Congress and the public, the Army later acknowledged the problem and drastically cut the number of soldiers given the designation. But advocates for veterans say an unknown number of troops still unfairly bear the stigma of a personality disorder, making them ineligible for military health care and other benefits.

"We really have an obligation to go back and make sure troops weren't misdiagnosed," said Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, a clinical psychologist whose nonprofit "Give an Hour" connects troops with volunteer mental health professionals.

The Army denies that any soldier was misdiagnosed before 2008, when it drastically cut the number of discharges due to personality disorders and diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorders skyrocketed.

Unlike PTSD, which the Army regards as a treatable mental disability caused by the acute stresses of war, the military designation of a personality disorder can have devastating consequences for soldiers.

Defined as a "deeply ingrained maladaptive pattern of behavior," a personality disorder is considered a "pre-existing condition" that relieves the military of its duty to pay for the person's health care or combat-related disability pay.

According to figures provided by the Army, the service discharged about a 1,000 soldiers a year between 2005 and 2007 for having a personality disorder.

But after an article in The Nation magazine exposed the practice, the Defense Department changed its policy and began requiring a top-level review of each case to ensure post-traumatic stress or a brain injury wasn't the underlying cause.

After that, the annual number of personality disorder cases dropped by 75 percent. Only 260 soldiers were discharged on those grounds in 2009.

At the same time, the number of post-traumatic stress disorder cases has soared. By 2008, more than 14,000 soldiers had been diagnosed with PTSD - twice as many as two years before.

The Army attributes the sudden and sharp reduction in personality disorders to its policy change. Yet Army officials deny that soldiers were discharged unfairly, saying they reviewed the paperwork of all deployed soldiers dismissed with a personality disorder between 2001 and 2006.

"We did not find evidence that soldiers with PTSD had been inappropriately discharged with personality disorder," wrote Maria Tolleson, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Army Medical Command, which oversees the health care of soldiers, in an e-mail.

Command officials declined to be interviewed.

Advocates for veterans are skeptical of the Army's claim that it didn't make any mistakes. They say symptoms of PTSD - anger, irritability, anxiety and depression - can easily be confused for the Army's description of a personality disorder.

They also point out that during its review of past cases, the Army never interviewed soldiers or their families, who can often provide evidence of a shift in behavior that occurred after someone was sent into a war zone.

"There's no reason to believe personality discharges would go down so quickly" unless the Army had misdiagnosed hundreds of soldiers each year in the first place, said Bart Stichman, co-director of the National Veterans Legal Services Program.

Stichman's organization is working through a backlog of 130 individual cases of wounded service members who feel they were wrongly denied benefits.

Among those cases is Chuck Luther, who decided to rejoin the Army after the Sept. 11 attacks. He had previously served eight years before being honorably discharged.

"I knew what combat was going to take," he said.

Luther, who lives near Fort Hood, Texas, said throughout his time in the Army, he received eight mental health evaluations from the Army, each clearing him as "fit for duty."

Luther was seven months into his deployment as a reconnaissance scout in Iraq's violent Sunni Triangle in 2007 when he says a mortar shell slammed him to the ground. He later complained of stabbing eye pain and crippling migraines, but was told by a military doctor that he was faking his symptoms to avoid combat duty.

Luther says that he was confined for a month in a 6-by-8 foot room without treatment. At one point, Luther acknowledges, he snapped - biting a guard and spitting in the face of a military chaplain.

After that episode, Luther says, the Army told him he could return home and keep his benefits if he signed papers admitting he had a personality disorder. If he didn't sign, he said, he was told he would be kicked out eventually anyway.

Luther, whose account was first detailed by The Nation, signed the papers.

His case highlights the irony in many personality discharges. A person is screened mentally and physically before joining the military. But upon returning from combat, that same person is told he or she had a serious mental disorder that predated military service.

As in the civilian world, where many insurance companies deny coverage for illnesses that develop before a policy is issued, the government can deny a service member veteran health care benefits and combat-related disability pay for pre-existing ailments.

Despite the Defense Department's reforms, groups such as the National Veterans Legal Services Program say they don't have enough manpower to help all the veterans who believe they were wrongly denied benefits.

Stichman says his organization has more than 60 law firms across the country willing to take on the legal cases of wounded veterans for free. But even with that help, the group doesn't know when it would be able to take on even one new case.

A congressional inquiry is under way to determine whether the Army is relying on a different designation - referred to as an "adjustment disorder" - to dismiss soldiers.

Sen. Kit Bond, a Missouri Republican, wants the Pentagon to explain why the number of these discharges doubled between 2006 and 2009 and how many of those qualified to retain their benefits.

As for Luther, he got lucky. After about a year, he says the Veterans Administration agreed to reevaluate him and decided that he suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome coupled by traumatic brain injury. The ruling gives him access to a psychologist and psychiatrist every two weeks, despite his discharge status, he said.

But Luther acknowledges that he still struggles. In June, he received word that the Army had turned down his appeal to correct his record, which means he could never return to the service or retire with full benefits.

A week later, he says, he lost his job delivering potato chips because a superior felt threatened by him. Luther says he misses the Army.

"When I was in uniform, that defined me," he said. "It's what made me, me."



U.S. Army Medical Command:

Department of Veterans Affairs:

"Give an Hour":

National Veterans Legal Services Program:

Bullying affects academic performance ?

Victims of Bullying Suffer Academically as Well, Psychologists Report

ScienceDaily (Aug. 20, 2010) — Students who are bullied regularly do substantially worse in school, UCLA psychologists report in a special issue of theJournal of Early Adolescence devoted to academic performance and peer relationships.

The UCLA study was conducted with 2,300 students in 11 Los Angeles-area public middle schools and their teachers. Researchers asked the students to rate whether or not they get bullied on a four-point scale and to list which of their fellow students were bullied the most -- physically, verbally and as the subject of nasty rumors.

A high level of bullying was consistently associated with lower grades across the three years of middle school. The students who were rated the most-bullied performed substantially worse academically than their peers. Projecting the findings on grade-point average across all three years of middle school, a one-point increase on the four-point bullying scale was associated with a 1.5-point decrease in GPA for one academic subject (e.g., math) -- a very large drop.

Teachers provided ratings on how engaged the students were academically, including whether they were participating in class discussions, showing interest in class and completing their homework. The researchers collected data on the students twice a year throughout the three years of middle school and examined the students' grades.

The study is published Aug. 19 in the journal's online edition; the print edition will be published at a later date.

"We cannot address low achievement in school while ignoring bullying, because the two are frequently linked," said Jaana Juvonen, a UCLA professor of psychology and lead author of the study. "Students who are repeatedly bullied receive poorer grades and participate less in class discussions. Some students may get mislabeled as low achievers because they do not want to speak up in class for fear of getting bullied. Teachers can misinterpret their silence, thinking that these students are not motivated to learn.

"Students who get bullied run the risk of not coming to school, not liking school, perceiving school more negatively and now -- based on this study -- doing less well academically," said Juvonen, who is also a professor in UCLA's developmental psychology program. "But the link between bullying and achievement can work both ways. The students who are doing poorly are at higher risk for getting bullied, and any student who gets bullied may become a low achiever. Whether bullying happens on school grounds or after school hours on the Internet, it can paralyze students from concentrating on academics."

The research is part of a long-term UCLA bullying project led by UCLA education professor Sandra Graham (who is not a co-author on this study) and Juvonen, which is funded federally by the National Science Foundation and privately by the William T. Grant Foundation.

"Instruction cannot be effective unless the students are ready to learn, and that includes not being fearful of raising your hand in class and speaking up," said Juvonen, who has been studying bullying for more than a decade. "Once students get labeled as 'dumb,' they get picked on and perform even worse; there's a downward cycle that we need to stop.

"If the academically low-performing students are at higher risk for getting bullied, that suggests one way to reduce bullying is to help those students academically," she added. "Once they get into the cycle of being bullied because of their poor academic performance, their chances of doing better academically are worse."

Reducing bullying is a "collective challenge," she said, and not just a matter of dealing with a few aggressive students. The UCLA team's prior findings show that in middle school, bullies are considered "cool' by their classmates. The high social status of bullies promotes a "norm of meanness that needs to be addressed." Bullying affects millions of students, Juvonen said.

Of the students in the study, approximately 44 percent were Latino, 26 percent were African American, 10 percent were Asian American, 10 percent were white and 10 percent were multi-racial. Fifty-four percent were female and 46 percent were male.

Some anti-bullying programs are comprehensive and effective, while some schools rely on a number of "quick fixes" that do not work, according to Juvonen. Teachers need training in how to address bullying, she said.

Co-authors on the Journal of Early Adolescence study are UCLA psychology graduate students Yueyan Wang and Guadalupe Espinoza. The journal offers new perspectives on pivotal developmental issues among young teenagers.

In previous research, Juvonen and her colleagues found that nearly three in four teenagers were bullied online at least once during a recent 12-month period, and only one in 10 reported such cyber-bullying to parents or other adults. The probability of getting bullied online is substantially higher for those who have been the victims of school bullying. Victims of bullying do not want to attend school and often do not, Juvonen said.

In research from 2005 by Juvonen and Adrienne Nishina, an assistant professor of human development at UC Davis, nearly half the sixth graders at two Los Angeles-area public schools said they were bullied by classmates during a five-day period. In another 2005 study, Nishina and Juvonen reported that middle school students who are bullied in school are likely to feel depressed and lonely, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to further bullying.

Children who are embarrassed or humiliated about being bullied in school are unlikely to discuss it with their parents or teachers, Juvonen and Nishina found. Instead, they are more likely to suffer in silence and dislike school.

Juvonen advises parents to talk with their children about bullying before it ever happens, pay attention to changes in their children's behavior and take their concerns seriously.

Students who get bullied often have headaches, colds and other physical illnesses, as well as psychological problems.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of California - Los Angeles.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Managing Back to School Stress

The lazy hazy days of summer are winding down and that means it’s time to start thinking about going back to school. For some kids and families, this time is an exciting one that they look forward to. For many, it’s a time of stress and adjustment; schedules change, teachers change, classmates differ, kids may transition from elementary school to middle school or high school, there’s added homework responsibilities and back-to-school shopping can all be a challenge.

How can you help?

Parents can help children by providing a setting that fosters resilience and encouraging them to share and express their feelings about returning to school. Attending school orientation programs with your kids can often help ease the fear of the unknown: classmates, teachers, the school building, bus routes, curriculum expectations, etc. Most schools offer these or other kinds of programs to help ease the back-to-school stress that happens this time of year.

In addition, the American Psychological Association offers the following back-to-school tips:

1. Practice the first day of school routine: Getting into a sleep routine before the first week of school will aide in easing the shock of waking up early. Organizing things at home—backpack, binder, lunchbox or cafeteria money—will help make the first morning go smoothly. Having healthy, yet kid-friendly lunches, will keep them energized throughout the day. Also, walking through the building and visiting your child’s locker and classroom will help ease anxiety of the unknown.

2. Get to know your neighbors: If your child is starting a new school, walk around your block and get to know the neighborhood children. Try and set up a play date, or, for an older child, find out where neighborhood kids might go to safely hang out, like the community pool, recreation center or park.

3. Talk to your child: Asking your children about their fears or worries about going back to school will help them share their burden. Inquire as to what they liked about their previous school or grade and see how those positives can be incorporated into their new experience.

4. Empathize with your children: Change can be difficult, but also exciting. Let your children know that you are aware of what they’re going through and that you will be there to help them in the process. Nerves are normal, but highlight that not everything that is different is necessarily bad. It is important to encourage your children to face their fears instead of falling in to the trap of encouraging avoidance.

5. Get involved and ask for help: Knowledge of the school and the community will better equip you to understand your child’s surroundings and the transition he or she is undergoing. Meeting members of your community and school will foster support for both you and your child. If you feel the stress of the school year is too much for you and your child to handle on your own, seeking expert advice from a mental health professional, such as a psychologist, will help you better manage and cope.