Increase Social Media Likability

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Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies have lower perceived likability

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A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed.

WACO, Texas

Maybe you think your Facebook posts are hilarious. Or you might think that Instagram selfie of you at the beach is picture-perfect. And that clever Tweet? You nailed it! But what do other people – your “friends,” “followers” and anyone else who might stumble across your profile – think of you based on your social media presence? Do they really like you?

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A new Baylor University study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture looks at the value that outside observers place on social media cues (followers, likes, number of selfies, etc.) and measures the perceived likability of the people whose profiles were viewed. The experimental study generated 873 decision responses from 72 experienced social media users who were asked to look at differing social media profiles and posts and then assess the likeability of the social media user.

“There are many studies of individuals’ self-perception through social media use. We are turning that around and looking at the audience’s perspective,” said the study’s lead author, Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business.

The study shows that “perceived likability” – a combination of perceived friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – differed among men and women. Individual cue patterns confirmed several commonly held assumptions while combinations of social cues produced more intriguing findings, Bradley said. Researchers found:

  • Social media users who amass a larger number of friends and garner high numbers of likes on their posts have a higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who are considered physically attractive have higher perceived likability
  • Social media users who post a high percentage of selfies – photos featuring only themselves – have lower perceived likability
  • Males tend to value attractiveness more than females in assessing likability
  • Females tend to base perceived likability on numbers of followers, likes and percentage of selfies
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Overall, the number of followers and likes are twice as important as attractiveness in predicting likeability, Bradley said. Alternatively, social media users with a higher percentage of selfies are considered 1.5 times less likeable by outside observers.   

Researchers found that users who were rated “low in attractiveness” gained more likability points, per se, if they had a large number of followers and likes. When social media users are viewed as “higher in attractiveness,” a change in the followers and likes from low to high increases perceived likeability by 20 percent. In contrast, for social media users who are perceived as lower in attractiveness, the difference in rated likeability between low and high followers and likes is 64 percent.

“In other words, numbers of followers and likes may be used by an observer to ‘make up’ for more obvious indicators like attractiveness when assessing likability,” the researchers wrote. “Most observers suggest that attractive people are likable due to associated attributes like social ease and confidence. A less attractive person with a high number of followers and likes suggest that other features – perhaps friendliness, relevance, empathy and realness – are the source of their social network, which also increase perceptions of likability.”

As for selfies? The researchers found that observers use their experience with cues regarding selfies to evaluate whether an authentic or manufactured self is presented.

“Too many selfies suggest the page owner is overly narcissistic and not a good friend candidate,” said study co-author James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business.

Likability diminished even when other social media status cues of followers or attractiveness were high.

“We hypothesized and found that a high percentage of selfies is a cue that may indicate less reciprocity and group benefit, focusing narcissistically on oneself relative to others,” the researchers wrote.

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ABOUT THE STUDY

The study, “Experimental Evidence of Observed Social Media Status Cues on Perceived Likability,” is published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Authors are Steven W. Bradley, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; James A. Roberts, Ph.D., The Ben H. Williams Professor of Marketing, Baylor University Hankamer School of Business; and Preston W. Bradley, student, Live Oak Classical School, Waco, Texas.

ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

ABOUT HANKAMER SCHOOL OF BUSINESS

Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business provides a rigorous academic experience, consisting of classroom and hands-on learning, guided by Christian commitment and a global perspective. Recognized nationally for several programs, including Entrepreneurship and Accounting, the school offers 24 undergraduate and 13 graduate areas of study. Visit http://www.baylor.edu/businessand follow on Twitter at twitter.com/Baylor_Business.

A vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws

Credit: Florida Atlantic University
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Bill Nelson Edges Ahead of Rick Scott in U.S. Senate Race

In the wake of a mass shooting that took the lives of 17 students and teachers at a South Florida high school, a vast majority of Floridians support stricter gun laws, including a ban on assault-style rifles, universal background checks and raising the minimum age for gun purchasers, according to a statewide survey by the Florida Atlantic University Business and Economics Polling Initiative (FAU BEPI).

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On the political front, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has lost ground to Sen. Bill Nelson in a U.S. Senate race hypothetical matchup. Although Scott has not officially declared his candidacy for the seat currently held by Nelson, the latest poll shows Nelson with a two-point lead over Scott, 40 to 38 percent. A poll FAU BEPI conducted at the beginning of February showed Scott leading Nelson by 10 points.

“The bad news for Scott is his A+ rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) makes 44 percent of voters less likely to vote for him and only 26 percent more likely,” said Monica Escaleras, Ph.D., director of the BEPI. “A deeper dive into these numbers also finds Independents less likely to vote for Scott, 43 to 17 percent, because of his NRA rating.”

Additionally, Floridians disapprove of U.S. President Donald Trump’s response to the recent mass shooting 49 to 34 percent. Republicans approve 62 to 20 percent, while Democrats disapprove 73 to 16 percent, and Independents disapprove 53 to 23 percent.

Seven out of 10 voters want stricter gun laws while only 11 percent said laws should be less strict and 19 percent said laws should be left as is. A majority of voters of every party affiliation want stricter gun laws, with Democrats most in support at 84 percent, followed by Independents at 69 percent and Republicans at 55 percent.

Universal background checks for all gun buyers are supported by 87 percent of voters, and there is no statistical difference based on party affiliation. Nearly 4 of 5 voters (78 percent) support raising the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, while 69 percent support a ban on assault-style rifles, with 23 percent opposed. A proposal to arm teachers is opposed by 56 percent of voters and supported by only 31 percent, with Democrats opposing by a 74 to 16 percent margin, Independents opposing 57 to 26 percent and Republicans supporting the proposal 53 to 37 percent.

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“Gun control may turn out to be a pivotal issue in the midterm elections and could well be the difference in a close race for the Senate between Rick Scott and Bill Nelson,” said Kevin Wagner, Ph.D., professor of political science at FAU and a research fellow of the Initiative. “While large majorities of Floridians support background checks and an increase in the age requirement, it is not at all clear that there is sufficient support for these measures in the Florida legislature. As we are already late in the session, it will take a serious push by Gov. Scott to pass any of these reforms this year.”

The survey also found that 27 percent of voters have either been a victim of gun violence themselves or know someone who has. Among African American voters this number jumps to 51 percent, while only 22 percent of whites and 24 percent of Hispanics have had this experience. Younger voters are also more likely to have been a victim or know a victim of gun violence, with 36 percent of voter’s age 18-34, 30 percent of age 35-54, 23 percent of age 55-74 and 9 percent of those over 75.

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When asked what they believe is the major contributor to mass shootings, the availability of guns came in first with nearly 4 of 10 voters (39 percent), while 24 percent selected a lack of mental healthcare. Violent themes on TV and video games came in third at 18 percent, while 14 percent said it’s something else. One-third of Republicans (33 percent) said the lack of mental healthcare was a major contributor of gun violence, while availability of guns was ranked as the major contributor by Democrats (56 percent) and Independents (42 percent).

More than 4 of 10 (41 percent) of voters in the survey own a gun. Republicans (52 percent) are more likely to own a gun than Democrats (36 percent) and Independents (33 percent).

“Independent voters are closer to the Democrats than the Republicans on some of these gun control issues in our poll. That could be a problem for Republicans in the fall,” Wagner said.

The survey, which polled 800 Florida registered voters Feb. 23-25, was conducted using an online sample supplied by Survey Sampling International using online questionnaires and via an automated telephone platform (IVR) using registered voter lists supplied by Aristotle, Inc. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points. Responses for the entire sample were weighted to reflect the statewide distribution of the Florida population. The polling results and full cross-tabulations are available at www.business.fau.edu/bepi.

– FAU –

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About FAU BEPI: The Florida Atlantic University Business and Economic Polling Initiative conducts surveys on business, economic, political and social issues with a focus on Hispanic attitudes and opinions at regional, state and national levels via planned monthly national surveys. The initiative subscribes to the American Association of Public Opinion Research and is a resource for public and private organizations, academic research and media outlets. In addition, the initiative is designed to contribute to the educational mission of the University by providing students with valuable opportunities to enhance their educational experience by designing and carrying out public opinion research.

About Florida Atlantic University Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.

A collective narcissism

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Credit: (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

“Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You!”

As the United States celebrates its founding on July 4, new research on “collective narcissism” suggests many Americans have hugely exaggerated notions about how much their home states helped to write the nation’s narrative.

New research on collective narcissism suggests that residents of many American states, including Texas, have an inflated sense of their home state’s role in U.S. history.

newswise-fullscreen Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You
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Heat map of residents’ ratings of their state’s contributions to U.S. history. Darker colors and higher percentages represent a larger estimated contribution to U.S.

“Our study shows a massive narcissistic bias in the way that people from the United States remember the contributions of their home states to U.S. history,” said Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger, professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and senior author of the study.

The study, published June 24 in the journal Psychological Science, is based on a national survey of nearly 4,000 U.S residents, including about 50-60 respondents from each of the nation’s 50 states.

Asked to estimate their home state’s contribution to U.S. history, participants routinely gave their home state higher scores than those provided by non-residents of the state.

“As we originally hypothesized, the original 13 colonies, Texas and California showed high levels of narcissism, but there were also some surprises,” said Adam Putnam, the study’s first author and assistant professor of psychology at Furman University in South Carolina. “For example, people from Kansas and Wyoming thought much more of their state than nonresidents.”

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Collective narcissism — a phenomenon in which individuals show excessively high regard for their own group — has been studied extensively in smaller social circles, such as workplaces and communities. Psychologists have explored the idea that people over-claim responsibility for shared tasks for a long time, but this study is among the first to research its effects among huge virtual groups of loosely connected individuals scattered across entire states.

While it is difficult for anyone to accurately estimate an individual state’s contribution to the nation’s history, it is mathematically reasonable to expect the sum total of individual state contributions to add up to a figure in the vicinity of 100 percent.

Instead, the average percentage contributions estimated by residents of each state in this study added up to a staggering 907 percent, more than nine times higher than logic suggests.

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Roediger grew up in Virginia and was not surprised that his home state was on the high end of the continuum, claiming responsibility for 41 percent of the nation’s history.

“We would study U.S. history one year, then Virginia history the next. Many of the events are the same: Jamestown, the Revolution, four of the first five presidents being from Virginia, all the Civil War battles,” he recalls.

When people in other states were asked about Virginia’s percentage contribution to U.S. history, they also gave a high number: 24 percent.

In an effort to see if state narcissism could be reduced by exposure to the realities of U.S. history, researchers divided the sample into two groups, requiring half to take a quiz designed to remind them of the true breadth of U.S. history before they answered the relevant question. The other half answered the question first, before they took the quiz. However, placement of the question about how much the person’s state contributed did not matter. The average across the 50 states was 18.1 percent whether the question was posed first or was placed last.

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“The responses are even more amazing because we explicitly tell people in the question that there are 50 states and the total contribution of all states should equal 100 percent — even with that reminder Americans give really high responses,” Putnam said. “Being reminded about the scope of U.S. history before making the estimate doesn’t seem to lower the responses.

Putnam, who earned a doctorate in psychology from Washington University in 2015, has worked with Roediger on other studies of collective narcissism, including a just-published paper that applies the same methodology to 35 nations around the globe.

That study, which found that residents of Malaysia considered themselves responsible for 39 percent of world history, has important implications for how residents of these countries view one another and interact on the world stage.

Roediger and Putnam offer several explanations for the skewed perceptions uncovered in the study of collective narcissism among residents of American states.

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State of the union’s perception

Most humble states, according to the Narcissism Index:
1. Washington. Less than 1 percent
(Tie) 2. Colorado. 1 percent
Iowa
Kentucky
Mississippi
6. Arizona. 2 percent
(T) 7. Alabama. 3 percent
Maine
Texas
Utah
(T) 11. Missouri, with 6 others. 4 percent

Most immodest states:
(T) 1. Delaware, Virginia. 18 percent
3. Georgia. 15 percent
(T) 4. Kansas. 12 percent
Massachusetts
Wyoming
(T) 7. Idaho. 11 percent
Louisiana
New Jersey
(T) 10. Rhode Island, Hawaii. 10 percent

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For starters, people know a lot more about their home state than other states: they study state history in school, visit museums and so on. All of this information comes to mind quickly and easily compared to information about other states (a phenomenon known as the availability heuristic).

A second factor is that social psychology research has clearly shown that people like to associate with successful groups and think of themselves as being slightly above-average on a variety of positive traits.

Finally, people might not be particularly good at making quantitative estimates about small numbers.

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“The most important take away from this research is that people may appear to be egocentric or narcissistic about their own groups, but there isn’t necessarily anything malicious or evil about it — it is just the way we view the world,” Putnam said. “There is certainly concern about tribalism in today’s culture, so this project is a nice reminder to try and think about how people from different backgrounds see things.”

Bullying children with autism

Photo by Quin Stevenson

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BINGHAMTON, NY – Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to experience bullying than children without ASD and this bullying gets worse with age, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Hannah Morton, a graduate student in the clinical psychology PhD program at Binghamton University, aimed to conceptualize bullying in children with ASD in order to specifically identify different bullying and behavior types. Her research also emphasizes the need to establish better definitions of bullying behaviors.

“This research is important because it contributes to our understanding of how bullying is nuanced,” said Morton. “This variability means it is crucial to establish a definition for bullying and have standard assessments to know when and what types of bullying are occurring.”

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Morton, along with Binghamton psychologists Jennifer Gillis, Richard Mattson and Raymond Romanczyk, focused this study on teachers and parents of children with ASD, and community members without an ASD child. Participants took a survey containing 80 scenarios of interactions between two school-aged children. The scenarios varied from children ages four to fifteen. Sixty-four of these scenarios contained a type of bullying behavior (i.e. physical, verbal, interpersonal and cyber). The participants were randomly presented with 16 scenarios, and were asked to rate the severity of the interaction between the two children, as well as indicate which types of bullying were present.

Results showed that a child’s increased age predicted higher bullying severity ratings. The findings also showed that bullying among older children with ASD is viewed as especially problematic by their parents, and that perceived bullying severity differed according to the type of bullying behavior (i.e., physical, verbal, interpersonal, and cyber). 

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“This paper emphasizes that bullying is a really broad construct,” said Morton. “What any two people might be referring to when they use the term ‘bullying’—regardless if they are parents, teachers, researchers, etc.— likely differs, and perhaps in subtle ways.”

Morton plans to further her research on this topic by focusing specifically on the bullying behaviors that children with ASD experience compared to children without ASD.

This research was conducted through Binghamton University’s Institute for Child Development, which offers early intervention services, speech services and more to children and families in the Binghamton region. 

The paper, “Conceptualizing bullying in children with autism spectrum disorder: Using a mixed model to differentiate behavior types and identify predictors,” was published in Autism.

Autistic Adolescents Want to Learn to Drive

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Photo by Alex Jumper

Specialized driving instructors stress life skill development, parent-supervised practice, and individualized training to enhance learning and independence

Autistic adolescents need the support of their parents or guardians to prioritize independence so that they are prepared for learning to drive, according to a study of specialized driving instructors who have worked specifically with young autistic drivers. These findings were compiled by researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and recently published in the journal Autism in Adulthood.

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Driving instructors also emphasized the need to develop and refine best practices to guide assessment and delivery of highly individualized instruction for autistic adolescents. 

The study was conducted by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from CHOP’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention, Center for Autism Research, and Division of Emergency Medicine, as well as the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI), as part of a five-year study aimed at understanding mobility issues for autistic adolescents funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This is the first paper published as part of the study.

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“Through our interviews with specialized driving instructors, we learned they believe parents are a critical partner in preparing for and undertaking independent driving,” said Rachel K. Myers, PhD, lead author of the study and scientist at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). “Instructors recommend that parents help their children develop independent life skills, including the use of alternative forms of transportation such as bicycling or mass transit, and to practice pre-driving skills, such as navigation, before undertaking on-road driving lessons.”

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Driving instructors are an important resource for families, especially for those with autistic adolescents learning to drive. However, because not much is known about the specific experience of teaching autistic adolescents how to drive, this limits the ability to provide adolescents and families with proper guidance preparing for the learning-to-drive process. To help bridge this gap, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with specialized driving instructors who had experience working with autistic adolescents and young adults. This is the first study to examine the process and experience of driving instructors who provide behind-the-wheel training specifically for this population.

The study revealed a set of common themes that underscored the importance of parents of autistic adolescents in preparation for the learning-to-drive process, with driving instructors viewing parents as essential partners in supporting their efforts in teaching driving skills and promoting independence. Participating instructors said parents can support and prioritize independence by encouraging their autistic adolescents to develop life skills, such as mowing the lawn, cooking, and taking public transportation, before learning to drive.

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Although the driving instructors identified a need to develop and refine best practices for assessment and instruction, they recognized that specific approaches must be tailored to meet the unique needs of each autistic adolescent driver, reflecting the spectrum that affects each adolescent differently. Other suggestions from the instructors involved in this study included using of state-level vocational rehabilitation services to provide financial support for instruction, identifying and promoting prerequisite life skills prior to undertaking driving, parent-supervised driving instruction in partnership with professional driving instruction, and tailoring instruction to address the particular needs of learner drivers.

“What these specialized driving instructors told us about the disconnect between driving and other life skills was surprising,” said Benjamin E. Yerys, PhD, study author and psychologist at the Center for Autism Research at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Some parents may not let their autistic adolescents use a stovetop oven, but are asking if their teens are ready to drive. Whether or not their children decide to drive, parents should encourage greater independence by encouraging them to get around on their own. Traveling independently by driving or other modes of transportation is key to continuing their education, working, and staying connected with friends and family.”

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Obtaining a driver’s license is a major milestone in the transition to adulthood. This milestone increases the independence and mobility of adolescents, which can potentially lead to improved access to educational, occupational training, social, and community engagement opportunities. According to previous CHOP research, nearly one-third of autistic adolescents obtain a driver’s license by the time they are 21 years old, which may improve their ability to transition into independent adulthood.

Resources for families to help their teens with ASD transition to adulthood are available at The Center for Autism Research at CHOP and TeenDriverSource.org.

This work was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development at the National Institutes of Health awards R01HD079398 and R01HD096221.

Myers et al, “Teaching Autistic Adolescents and Young Adults to Drive: Perspectives of Specialized Driving Instructors.” Autism in Adulthood, online May 22, 2019. doi.org/10.1089/aut.2018.0054.

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About Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals, and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide. Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country. In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 564-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit http://www.chop.edu

Ancient Egyptians

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In ancient Egypt, Sacred Ibises were collected from their natural habitats to be ritually sacrificed, according to a study released November 13, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Sally Wasef of Griffith University, Australia and colleagues.

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Egyptian catacombs are famously filled with the mummified bodies of Sacred Ibises. Between around 664BC and 250AD, it was common practice for the birds to be sacrificed, or much more rarely worshipped in ritual service to the god Thoth, and subsequently mummified. In ancient sites across Egypt, these mummified birds are stacked floor to ceiling along kilometers of catacombs, totaling many millions of birds. But how the Egyptians got access to so many birds has been a mystery; some ancient texts indicate that long-term farming and domestication may have been employed.

In this study, Wasef and colleagues collected DNA from 40 mummified Sacred Ibis specimens from six Egyptian catacombs dating to around 2500 years ago and 26 modern specimens from across Africa. 14 of the mummies and all of the modern specimens yielded complete mitochondrial genome sequences. These data allowed the researchers to compare genetic diversity between wild populations and the sacrificed collections.

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If the birds were being domesticated and farmed, the expected result would be low genetic diversity due to interbreeding of restricted populations, but in contrast, this study found that the genetic diversity of mummified Ibises within and between catacombs was similar to that of modern wild populations. This suggests that the birds were not the result of centralized farming, but instead short-term taming. The authors suggest the birds were likely tended in their natural habitats or perhaps farmed only in the times of year they were needed for sacrifice.

The authors add: “We report the first complete ancient genomes of the Egyptian Sacred Ibis mummies, showing that priests sustained short-term taming of the wild Sacred Ibis in local lakes or wetlands contrary to centralised industrial scale farming of sacrificial birds.”

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Citation: Wasef S, Subramanian S, O’Rorke R, Huynen L, El-Marghani S, Curtis C, et al. (2019) Mitogenomic diversity in Sacred Ibis Mummies sheds light on early Egyptian practices. PLoS ONE 14(11): e0223964. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0223964

Funding: Human Frontier Science is acknowledged for financial support in the form of a grant to DL, SI, BH, and EW(RGP0036/2011). SW thanks Griffith University for a PhD scholarship. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

In a warming world

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In a warming world, glacier scientists have to keep going higher.

An expedition to Peru captures climate history trapped in ice – before it is gone.

From the summit of Huascarán, the highest mountain in Earth’s tropics, the valleys of the western Andes look placid and peaceful – calming, even. The signs of climate change – of the melting glaciers throughout the Andes, of the changes to the local villages’ water supplies – are not immediately evident.

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But the scientific crew on top of the mountain knows those changes are there.

It’s part of why they’ve traveled so far, from the United States, Mexico, Italy, Peru, France and Russia, and tackled this harrowing climb to more than 22,000 feet: to visit the glaciers at the top and to drill columns of glacier ice to send back to The Ohio State University for analysis. The ice holds many clues to what has happened in Earth’s atmosphere and in the climate of the region over the last 20,000 years. And, if Earth keeps warming, the glacier might not be there for much longer. 

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“I’ve worked in Peru for 44 years, and have visited some of the ice fields 25 times,” said Lonnie Thompson, distinguished university professor in the School of Earth Sciences and senior research scientist at the Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center. “And I’ve been able to document the increase in temperature and the melting that is taking place on the summits of many of these glaciers.”

Huascarán is a peak in the Cordillera Blanca range in northern Peru. Thompson has been here before, in 1980, 1992, 1993, 2016, and in the summer of 2019 he led a group of scientists back to see how the glacier had changed and to collect new ice samples.

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Because of its altitude, Huascarán is one of the more challenging and dangerous peaks on which Thompson and his crew have drilled. But that altitude also protects the ice. Currently glaciers at lower altitudes, where it is warmer, are melting rapidly and Huascarán’s glacier will eventually melt, too, but for now, it is likely one of the few remaining intact tropical glaciers in the world. 

“It is our belief that this mountain is the only one in Peru that still has a largely unaltered ice record, both in the col (the flat glacier area between the North and South Peaks) and on the higher South Peak,” Thompson said. “And this makes it ideal for certain types of gas measurements that have not been made in the low latitudes before – if there’s any tropical place on Earth where gases like methane can be measured, this will be it.”   

Though they ran into some local political tensions during the expedition, the drilling process went smoothly – more smoothly, Thompson said, than any of the past 80-plus similar excursions he has led.

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Extracting ice from glaciers in the Tropics can be harrowing. The climbs are often dangerous – in the case of Huascarán, avalanches required the team’s mountaineers to create an entirely new route to the summit. (Mountain climbers are known for naming their routes; they christened this one “the Lonnie Thompson route” in Thompson’s honor.) The air gets thinner the higher up a person climbs; high-altitude sickness is a real threat. The symptoms, which include shortness of breath, can also go unnoticed or may begin as low as 8,000 feet. At 22,000 feet, the air is so thin that the scientific team traveled with “backup” oxygen tanks and a Gamow bag, a portable hyperbaric chamber that can be pressurized to sea level values. Fortunately, neither had to be used. 

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“It’s that high elevation that preserves the record in the ice cores – if you didn’t have those cold temperatures, you wouldn’t have the record,” Thompson said. “We’ve done dozens and dozens of expeditions, and the result of climate change is that we keep having to go higher on the glaciers. And that becomes an issue, because – well, I’m getting older, for one. And we are strict about acclimatizing – we go up four or five thousand meters on hikes and then come back down and sleep at lower altitudes. But it can wear on your body.” 

And Thompson, who celebrated his 71st birthday in Peru at the start of this summer’s expedition, had a heart transplant in 2012.

But the work is necessary, Thompson and the other scientists believe: Because of their ice core work, climate scientists around the world now know that climate change could have devastating effects on vulnerable people in the Andes Mountains and the Tibetan Plateau region. Their research has shown that glaciers in both parts of the world are melting more rapidly than at any point in the past 6,000 years, which could have serious repercussions for the water supply in parts of Peru, Pakistan, China, India and Nepal. 

On this most recent trip, they drilled more than 471 meters of glacial ice cores – long columns of ice that had been frozen since the last Ice Age. Work to analyze them is already underway – Thompson calls them “some of the best cores we’ve ever drilled.”

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They hope to begin publishing their findings from the cores soon. The cores will be analyzed for mineral dust to detect droughts; isotopes that indicate temperature changes; black carbon and trace elements to determine whether fires like the ones burning in the Amazon this year are part of the historical record; greenhouse gases to see how their concentrations in the atmosphere have changed over time; pollen to track vegetation changes; and microbes to determine how they have evolved over the last 20,000 years. 

In the meantime, Thompson and the team are contemplating their next excursion. There are glaciers in Peru and Tibet they would like to revisit, and there are more analyses to be made on ice they’ve already collected from other parts of the world. He wants to be sure he’s helping the next generation of scientists understand how to do this kind of field work.

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“These are difficult expeditions – there is the risk of avalanches; there is always the potential for injuries, inflections and various high altitude issues,” he said. “But if you overcome these, you realize the potential of which you’re capable. Some of our younger members just take to it like a duck to water. But the only way they are going to get that experience is to go to the field – first on lower elevation glaciers and then to the higher, more challenging glaciers like those on Huascarán.”

 

Written by: Laura Arenschield, Arenschield.2@osu.edu; 614-292-9475

The Happiness in the Workplace

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Photo by Ian Stauffer

If you want a better business, make sure your employees are happy. If you want to be a more successful employee, make sure not to neglect your own happiness.

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That’s the advice of Raj Raghunathan, professor of marketing at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. Raghunathan studies happiness and shares his insights in both his in-person classes at McCombs and in his award-winning online Coursera class that has been taken by more than 260,000 people in 196 countries since it launched in 2015.

Now, Raghunathan is offering a new online class aimed at making workplaces better for employers, employees, clients and customers. Happier Employees and Return on Investment, an open-access four-week course offered by McCombs through edX, is now open for enrollment.

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The course explores five critical issues: why happiness at work matters; what the five most important determinants of happiness at work are; what holds people back from feeling happy and fulfilled at work; what people can do to enhance their own happiness levels at work; and what they can do to enhance the happiness of coworkers.

“When employees are happy on the job, they are more productive for their company and earn more for themselves, said Raghunathan. “They take fewer sick days, are more collegial, perform better in teams, are more creative and objective, and make better decisions.”

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There are no prerequisites for the course. It is open to anyone who wishes to register. The online video lectures can be started and stopped on whatever timeline is convenient for each student. And the course is supported by an interactive website with resources, exercises and communication portals.

“We spend so much of our lives at work,” said Raghunathan. “It makes sense for us to do everything we can to maximize how happy we are in our jobs.”

This is the first online course that McCombs is offering in collaboration with edX, with a number of others soon to be launched.

Raghunathan is the Zale Centennial Professor of Business at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York TimesFortune, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, Inc., and Fast Company. He writes about happiness and leadership in a blog for Psychology Today called Sapient Nature. His book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? was published in 2016 and has been translated into 13 languages. His TED Talk has been viewed by more than 17 million people worldwide.

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For more information about Raghunathan’s work, read these McCombs Big Ideas feature stories or view the McCombs video Top Five Ways to Be Happier at Work.

For more information, contact Molly Dannenmaier at molly.dannenmaier@mccombs.utexas.edu or 512-232-6779.

A sensor to save children and pets left in vehicles

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Credit: University of Waterloo

Graduate students Mostafa Alizadeh, left, and Hajar Abedi position a doll, modified to simulate breathing, in a minivan during testing of a new sensor.

A small, inexpensive sensor could save lives by triggering an alarm when children or pets are left alone in vehicles.

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The new device, developed by researchers at the University of Waterloo, combines radar technology with artificial intelligence (AI) to detect unattended children or animals with 100-per-cent accuracy.

Small enough to fit in the palm of a hand at just three centimetres in diameter, the device is designed to be attached to a vehicle’s rear-view mirror or mounted on the ceiling.

It sends out radar signals that are reflected back by people, animals and objects in the vehicle. Built-in AI then analyzes the reflected signals.

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“It addresses a serious, world-wide problem,” said George Shaker, an engineering professor at Waterloo. his system is so affordable it could become standard equipment in all vehicles.”

Development of the wireless, disc-shaped sensor was funded in part by a major automotive parts manufacturer that is aiming to bring it to market by the end of 2020.

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Analysis by the device determines the number of occupants and their locations in a vehicle. That information could be used to set rates for ride-sharing services and toll roads, or to qualify vehicles for car-pool lanes.

Its primary purpose, however, is to detect when a child or pet has been accidentally or deliberately left behind, a scenario that can result in serious harm or death in extremely hot or cold weather.

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In such cases, the system would prevent vehicle doors from locking and sound an alarm to alert the driver, passengers and other people in the area that there is a problem.

“Unlike cameras, this device preserves privacy and it doesn’t have any blind spots because radar can penetrate seats, for instance, to determine if there is an infant in a rear-facing car seat,” said Shaker, a cross-appointed professor of electrical and computer engineering, and mechanical and mechatronics engineering.

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The low-power device, which runs on a vehicle’s battery, distinguishes between living beings and inanimate objects by detecting subtle breathing movements.

Researchers are now exploring the use of that capability to monitor the vital signs of drivers for indications of fatigue, distraction, impairment, illness or other issues.

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Shaker supervised graduate students Mostafa Alizadeh and Hajar Abedi on the research.

A paper on their project, Low-cost low-power in-vehicle occupant detection with mm-wave FMCW radar, was recently presented at an international conference in Montreal.

Lost Lou Reed Recording Discovered

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Photo by Hannah Rodrigo
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A video of professor Judith Peraino discussing the discovery can be viewed here. A 30-second clip of one of the songs can be listened to here. Photos of Lou Reed and the video can be downloaded here.

ITHACA, N.Y. – Twelve previously unreleased songs by Hall of Fame artist Lou Reed have been discovered on a cassette tape from 1975, stored in the archives of the Andy Warhol Museum.

The songs, which are on one side of the cassette, are based on Warhol’s book, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again).”

“It sounds like he recorded them in his apartment with an open-air microphone, just voice and acoustic guitar,” said Judith Peraino, professor of music at Cornell University, who discovered the tape while doing archival research at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh.

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Reed labeled side 2 of the tape “The Philosophy Songs (From A to B and Back).” Side 1 of the cassette consists of songs dubbed from soundboard recordings of Reed’s 1975 concerts.

Peraino said her first reaction to discovering the cassette was “disbelief and uncertainty.” When one Warhol Museum staffer commented that Peraino had found an unreleased Lou Reed album, “that’s when the excitement really hit.”

“The sound of Reed’s voice on ‘The Philosophy Songs’ is very different from his live concert performances on side 1,” she said. “Such a discovery is rare, and it is certainly a highlight of my career.”

The cassette came to the Warhol Museum as one of almost 3,500 audiotapes, part of the extensive collection Warhol assembled of the sounds of his life. Another important source for Peraino’s research was Bruce Yaw, the bass player who toured with Reed in 1975 and ’76. Yaw lived until his death in September near Cornell University in upstate New York.

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“What makes this rare is the gift aspect of the tape – that Lou Reed intentionally created both a curated set of songs and a composed set of songs on tape meant only for Warhol,” she said. “This is a harbinger of the mixtape culture and gift-giving that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s.”

Peraino unearthed another partial recording of the “Philosophy Songs” at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. “I’ll Be Your Mixtape: Lou Reed, Andy Warhol and the Queer Intimacies of Cassettes,” was published Oct. 30 in the Journal of Musicology and includes a 30-second clip of one of the songs with permission from the Lou Reed Estate.

For more information, see this Cornell Chronicle story.

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.

Autism Drug Citalopram Is Ineffective

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN
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A drug commonly given to autistic children to reduce repetitive behaviors is ineffective compared to placebo and, in some children, may actually increase repetitive behaviors, the largest study of autistic children to date has found.

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“What we found, much to our surprise, is that there was no significant difference in positive response between kids treated with citalopram and kids who received the placebo. And the kids treated with citalopram tended to have more side effects,” said Linmarie Sikich, M.D., a co-author of the study and associate professor of psychiatry in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

“I cannot emphasize this enough: This was not at all what we expected to see,” Sikich said.

Results of the study, a randomized controlled clinical trial of the drug citalopram, are published in the June 29, 2009 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health and took place at six academic medical centers across the country. Principal investigator and lead author of the study is Bryan H. King, M.D., who began the study at Dartmouth and continued to oversee it there after he moved to the University of Washington, where he is currently director of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Seattle Children’s Hospital.

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Citalopram, which is sold under the brand name Celexa, is one of a class of antidepressant drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. SSRIs are the most frequently used medications for children with autism. They are also used to treat depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder in both adults and children. Prior to this study there was very little scientific evidence to support the use of SSRIs in autistic children, but some preliminary studies showed promising results for citalopram, Sikich said.

Hypothesizing that citalopram would improve the overall functioning of autistic children and adolescents by reducing repetitive behavior, Sikich and colleagues recruited 149 children ages 5 to 17 to take part in the 12-week trial. Seventy-three received daily doses of liquid citalopram while 76 received daily doses of liquid placebo. Researchers measured the children’s’ response to treatment using the Clinical Global Impression-Improvement scale (CGI-I). They also recorded measures of repetitive behavior and side effects.

At the end of the trial, some children in both groups showed a positive response. However, there was no significant difference between the groups: the positive response in the citalopram group was 32.9 percent versus 34.2 percent in the placebo group. In addition, children in the citalopram group were significantly more likely to experience adverse side effects such as increased energy level, impulsiveness, decreased concentration, hyperactivity, increased repetitive movements and behaviors, diarrhea, insomnia, and dry itchy skin.

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The researchers concluded that citalopram “is not an effective treatment” for autistic children with repetitive behaviors. In addition, they wrote, this trial shows that the use of SSRIs in autistic children “is not without risk” and “at present there is insufficient research evidence to merit a clear recommendation regarding the use of SSRIs as a class” for the treatment of repetitive behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders.

“The obvious short term message is, this treatment didn’t work. And that surprised us a great deal,” Sikich says. “But the really important take-home message is that we have to do large, scientifically-sound comparative studies like this to really know whether a specific treatment works and is safe. Simply relying on doctors’ and families’ impressions often leads us to use medications that really don’t work and may do more harm than good” says Sikich.

Safe and effective medication and behavioral treatments are desperately needed to help children with autism realize their potentials and keep from harming themselves or others, Sickish says.

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“Well-done studies, using methods like the ones in this study, have shown that another drug, risperidone, is useful in reducing irritability and aggression in children with autism,” she says. “Thus, this study shouldn’t be interpreted as saying all medications don’t help people with autism and are harmful. Instead it says that citalopram doesn’t help most children with autism and is harmful to some children. Clearly we need more research to develop and test other interventions for this important problem.”

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People with autism are severely impaired by the disorder and experience major problems with highly repetitive behaviors, often including self-injurious behaviors, communicating and interacting appropriately with others. Frequently the repetitive behaviors keep children with autism from learning in school or participating in age appropriate activities. When it is time to stop the repetitive behavior and begin a new, functional activity, many children with autism become distraught and aggressive. These repetitive behaviors also contribute to the difficulties that make it hard for most people with autism to live independently or work as adults, Sikich says.

In addition to UNC, academic medical centers taking part in the study were Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System, Dartmouth, UCLA and Yale University.

The study was conducted as part of the NIH-sponsored Studies to Advance Autism Research and Treatment network.

Deep sea vents had ideal conditions for origin of life

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Photo by Silas Baisch
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By creating protocells in hot, alkaline seawater, a UCL-led research team has added to evidence that the origin of life could have been in deep-sea hydrothermal vents rather than shallow pools.

Previous experiments had failed to foster the formation of protocells – seen as a key stepping stone to the development of cell-based life – in such environments, but the new study, published in Nature Ecology & Evolution, finds that heat and alkalinity might not just be acceptable, but necessary to get life started.

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“There are multiple competing theories as to where and how life started. Underwater hydrothermal vents are among most promising locations for life’s beginnings – our findings now add weight to that theory with solid experimental evidence,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Nick Lane (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment).

Deep under the Earth’s seas, there are vents where seawater comes into contact with minerals from the planet’s crust, reacting to create a warm, alkaline (high on the pH scale) environment containing hydrogen. The process creates mineral-rich chimneys with alkaline and acidic fluids, providing a source of energy that facilitates chemical reactions between hydrogen and carbon dioxide to form increasingly complex organic compounds.

Some of the world’s oldest fossils, discovered by a UCL-led team, originated in such underwater vents.

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Scientists researching the origins of life have made great progress with experiments to recreate the early chemical processes in which basic cell formations would have developed. The creation of protocells has been an important step, as they can be seen as the most basic form of a cell, consisting of just a bilayer membrane around an aqueous solution – a cell with a defined boundary and inner compartment.

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Previous experiments to create protocells from naturally-occurring simple molecules – specifically, fatty acids – have succeeded in cool, fresh water, but only under very tightly controlled conditions, whereas the protocells have fallen apart in experiments in hydrothermal vent environments.

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The study’s first author, Dr Sean Jordan (UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment), said he and his colleagues identified a flaw in the previous work: “Other experiments had all used a small number of molecule types, mostly with fatty acids of the same size, whereas in natural environments, you would expect to see a wider array of molecules.”

For the current study, the research team tried creating protocells with a mixture of different fatty acids and fatty alcohols that had not previously been used.

The researchers found that molecules with longer carbon chains needed heat in order to form themselves into a vesicle (protocell). An alkaline solution helped the fledgling vesicles keep their electric charge. A saltwater environment also proved helpful, as the fat molecules banded together more tightly in a salty fluid, forming more stable vesicles.

For the first time, the researchers succeeded at creating self-assembling protocells in an environment similar to that of hydrothermal vents. They found that the heat, alkalinity and salt did not impede the protocell formation, but actively favoured it.

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“In our experiments, we have created one of the essential components of life under conditions that are more reflective of ancient environments than many other laboratory studies,” Dr Jordan said.

“We still don’t know where life first formed, but our study shows that you cannot rule out the possibility of deep-sea hydrothermal vents.”

The researchers also point out that deep-sea hydrothermal vents are not unique to Earth.

Professor Lane said: “Space missions have found evidence that icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn might also have similarly alkaline hydrothermal vents in their seas. While we have never seen any evidence of life on those moons, if we want to find life on other planets or moons, studies like ours can help us decide where to look.”

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The study involved researchers from UCL and Birkbeck, University of London, and was funded by the BBSRC and bgC3.

What’s Behind the Chile Protests?

What’s happening?

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Chile has seen several weeks of unrest, including street protests, riots, and vandalism, that has so far killed twenty people and injured more than one thousand others.

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The turmoil began on October 18 with student-led protests over a metro fare increase. It soon escalated as rioters burned buses and metro stations, looted businesses, and clashed with security forces. Most demonstrations have been peaceful, though, with one drawing more than a million people—the largest protest in Chilean history.

How has the government responded?

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Chile’s conservative president, Sebastian Pinera, initially cracked down, declaring “a state of war” and deploying ten thousand troops to the streets. Security forces unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons on civilians. Human rights groups have alleged abuses by police and soldiers.

Pinera has since softened his stance, reversing the fare hike and unveiling reforms, including a minimum wage increase and higher taxes on the wealthy, that require approval by lawmakers. He also reshuffled his cabinet, saying “Chile changed and the government also has to change.”

What’s driving the protests?

The immediate trigger—the equivalent of a four-cent rise in metro fare—struck a nerve among many Chileans, who say income growth has not kept pace with rising education, housing, and health-care costs.

Chile has been held up as a model for development in the region, with its strong economic growth, falling poverty, and stable political system since the end of Augusto Pinochet’s rule in 1990. But it remains one of the most unequal countries in the world; the United Nations estimates that the richest 1 percent of citizens earn one-third of national wealth.

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Experts say middle- and working-class Chileans have many complaints. These include: a low minimum wage and slow wage growth, weak union protections, a privatized pension system, a stratified education system that leaves poorer students in debt, unaffordable housing and health care, a constitution that retains vestiges of military rule, and a political class beset by corruption scandals.

Public frustration over these issues is not new. Chileans have repeatedly protested over the education and pension systems, including in 2006, 2011, and 2016.

What’s the international context?

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Chile is an open, trade-based economy that is highly dependent on global commodity prices, especially that of copper. As copper prices have fallen in recent years, Chile’s growth has slowed—a dynamic exacerbated by the U.S.-China trade war.

But some have cast blame further afield, alleging interference by socialist governments after Chilean police identified Venezuelan and Cuban nationals among the rioters. Pinera is a staunch opponent of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has celebrated the protests, though many analysts question how large a role Caracas could realistically play in the mass movement.

The United Nations sent a team to investigate allegations of human rights abuses by security forces, which have sparked memories of brutal practices under the Pinochet dictatorship. The three-person investigative team was sent by former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who is now the UN high commissioner for human rights.

The United States, which backed the Pinochet regime, has remained largely silent. Washington has not had an ambassador to Chile since January.

The ongoing unrest led Pinera to cancel next month’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, where U.S. President Donald J. Trump was expected to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss a bilateral trade deal. Pinera also pulled out of hosting the next major UN climate conference, planned for Santiago in December.

What’s next for Chile?

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Demonstrators have so far rejected Pinera’s moves. They demand his resignation and broader reforms, and some call for a new constitution. But the decentralized nature of the movement has created confusion about protesters’ demands, which activists worry will weaken their negotiating power.

Observers say that if Pinera survives calls to step down, he faces an uphill battle. His approval rating has fallen to 14 percent and the opposition controls the National Congress, making political gridlock likely, at least until the next national election in 2021.

6 ways to overcome the holiday blues

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Charlie Brown might have said it best as he opined to his pal, Linus: “Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel.”

Yes, the holiday season can foster moments of great joy, but it can also at times be a source of distress.

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Whether you’re worried about purchasing the right mix of decorations to create the perfect atmosphere for a Thanksgiving meal, or finding a way to connect with family members who live on the opposite coast, the holidays can be tricky to navigate.

It’s easy, especially in our increasingly social media-driven world, to “compare and despair,” says Dr. Michelle Paul, psychologist and director of The PRACTICE Mental Health Clinic at UNLV.

“It’s difficult to tear ourselves away from constant messages of what they’re doing and what we’re, in turn, not doing,” Paul said. 

As pumpkin pies bake, and grocery stores line their shelves with peppermint-flavored treats, Paul explained the sources of holiday blues that can sometimes affect us, and shared some practical ways to greet this time of year.

What causes holiday stress?

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There are a number of things about the holidays that can potentially be sources of distress. For each person it’s going to be different, but there are some general themes that we can reliably predict.

  • Loss of a loved one: If someone has lost a loved one, that loss can be made all the more poignant, and experienced more deeply, around the holidays. The holidays generally represent a time where family and friends get together, and enjoy each other’s company, so having lost someone can create distress.
  • Materialism: In our culture, the holidays represent a focus on having gifts and possessions. There is marketing around how the Thanksgiving table ‘should’ be set, and how the holiday decorations inside and outside of our homes ‘should’ appear. However, not everyone has the means to make extra purchases, setting the stage for comparing and judging others or ourselves negatively for ‘failing’ to keep up.
  • Hustle and bustle: Rushing to make sure I have the right groceries, the perfect gift for that someone special, and the best decorations, is magnified during the holidays. It’s difficult to find a balance around celebrating in a way that’s meaningful, and not getting caught up in a long to-do list.
  • Unrealistic Expectations: If your circumstances don’t match the cultural ideal of a Norman Rockwell painting, your mind tends to go to a place of judgment. And with judgment comes shame. You start thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me that I can’t have it the way they do?’

How does social media contribute to holiday stress?

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Social media is supposed to help us connect. But the unintended consequences of social media include increased stress, isolation, and a decreased sense of belonging. It’s had this weird, paradoxical effect of giving us this ongoing, never-ending opportunity to look in the mirror and compare ourselves to others. We’re constantly bombarded through our phones, with young people being particularly vulnerable to the pressures of social media. 

As an adolescent, you’re figuring out who you are and where you fit in. It’s a time when friendships are very important and meaningful, and you begin to build relationships outside of your family. Today, teens are also being asked to manage these social media messages about what is cool and not cool, and you can’t get away from it. You could escape it 40 years ago. You could go home and take a break from whatever drama was going on at school, or what a classmate wore to class and what you didn’t. 

As human beings, we naturally want to find where we feel in, instead of out, where we belong and feel connected. The holidays add another layer of that, with strong messages that circulate around us for months in advance.

What are some tips that can help people cope with these and other holiday stressors?

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  • Determine your values: Step back and think intentionally about what you want the holidays to represent. Who do you want to be in relation to the holidays? What kind of values do you want to connect to? Once you make that determination, you can behave in accordance with those values. 
  • Act on your values: Behaving in ways that are consistent with your values is more important than making comparisons or judgments. Thanksgiving, for example, is all about being thankful for what you have. And there are lots of activities around Thanksgiving that wouldn’t require spending a ton of money. Maybe on that day, you can take a walk in nature in order to contemplate or spend time appreciating what you have. If you’re missing family members, why not do a Friendsgiving? Enjoy food and company and embrace the fact that you’re a ragtag team of people spending time together. Or, go out and volunteer. If you’re feeling that you’re not receiving, why not do the opposite and do some giving?
  • Avoid compare and despair: Have self-compassion. You can compare, but you don’t have to add in the layer of judgment. If someone’s reality is different than yours, that’s OK! Stop “shoulding” all over yourself, and stop using damaging or punishing language. Instead of saying, ‘I should do this,’ or ‘I must do that,’ you could try, ‘I preferably should.’ Be mindful of your own mental chatter and the automatic tendency to go toward punishing language.
  • Make connections: Focus on creating space for belonging or acceptance. Find places where you can receive support, but also give support in return. Reach out to others. Think about worth, value, and appreciation versus the enemies of comparison, judgment, shaming, blaming, and pushing people away.
  • Take stock: Take an inventory of what your individual sources of stress are because it’s different for everybody. Ask yourself: If I could change one or two things to feel better, what would they be? Do some active problem solving. If you lost a loved one, for example, celebrate that person’s life, or change up what might have been a holiday routine with that person. Make room for it to not be a happy time — it’s OK if it’s not a happy time. 
  • Seek help: If you’re really feeling that you can’t cope with the stressors around you, it’s perfectly reasonable to reach out to others, or even a mental health professional. Sometimes we get muddled in our own brains, and an outside perspective from a trusted mental health practitioner can help provide you with clarity and relief. 
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About The PRACTICE

The PRACTICE is a UNLV mental health clinic that offers counseling and other services to campus and community members. Faculty experts in clinical and school psychology and mental health counseling train and supervise advanced graduate students in high-quality mental and behavioral health care. Faculty and student clinicians work together to provide evidence-based care, drawing upon the most up-to-date research and knowledge available.

Borderline Mother and Autism (Part 1)

Credit Photo Velizar Ivanov

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By Fabrizio Catalfamo

“I would like to point out that this is not an article to blame mothers but a simple (non-technical) analysis, the result of personal experiences, therefore to be read in a narrative and non-scientific way, on the other hand I would not have the necessary qualifications.”

I am the father of three splendid boys, two of those born of a second marriage. One of the two youngest will turn twelve in four days, diagnosed in autism spectrum when he was 3 years old. The mother, never diagnosed (also because she refuses every test) in my opinion with deep teenage borderline wounds.

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Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Is a condition characterized by difficulties regulating emotion. This means that people who experience BPD feel emotions intensely and for extended periods of time, and it is harder for them to return to a stable baseline after an emotionally triggering event.

This difficulty can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, stormy relationships and intense emotional responses to stressors. Struggling with self-regulation can also result in dangerous behaviors such as self-harm (e.g. cutting).

It’s estimated that 1.4% of the adult U.S. population experiences BPD. Nearly 75% of people diagnosed with BPD are women. Recent research suggests that men may be equally affected by BPD, but are commonly misdiagnosed with PTSD or depression. 

Autism is related to emotional disorder

I lived for more than 10 years with the mother of my 2 children and after the first apparently “normal” times, the borderline personality manifested itself.
This led me to try to understand the reasons and the causes of all this, reading and informing myself, about this type of disorder that destroyed the relations of this woman at the same speed as everyone could fall in love with her.

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Over time, I learned to recognize this kind of personality and at the same time for obvious reasons, I met parents of other autistic children. The thing that struck me at the beginning was that, the most part of the parents were single parents and those that were not, presented with evidence the presence of the man, subordinate to the woman. Clearly in the rare cases of couples, the man appeared as a second-rate figure.
I wouldn’t want to bore you too much with this story, I promise you I’ll follow up on the next posts.
Follow me!

iPads and Teens with Autism

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As adults, individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can be highly dependent on family members or assistance programs for their day-to-day living needs. It has been reported that following high school and up to eight years after, only 17 percent of adults with ASD live independently. Developing skills like cooking, getting dressed and cleaning are essential to promoting autonomy and self-determination and improving quality of life. For some individuals with ASD, completing daily tasks can be challenging because they often involve sequential steps.

Research has shown that people with ASD are strong visual learners. With technological advances, devices such as smartphones and tablets have become more portable and ultimately, accessible to caregivers. However, few studies have examined whether parents can learn to effectively deliver evidence-based practices using portable, mainstream devices like an iPad.

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Researchers from Florida Atlantic University and collaborators conducted a small, novel study to examine whether video prompting interventions using an iPad could be effective in increasing parents’ competence and confidence to use mobile devices to interact with their adolescent children with ASD. The objective was to evaluate the effects of behavior skills training with follow-along coaching to instruct parents to deliver video prompting with an iPad to teach daily living skills to their children. What makes this study unique is that parents of adolescents were coached and learned to use an iPad in their own homes. While other studies have been successful in teaching parents to implement evidence-based practices, they largely targeted parents of young children.

For the study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, researchers targeted parents of adolescents with ASD who would be transitioning into adulthood in the near future and who needed to cultivate independent living skills to decrease dependency on others, while improving self-esteem and confidence. Each child, between the ages of 12 and 17 years old, had to complete a skill selected by the parents: make a bed, cook pasta or tie shoelaces. Parents received guidance on using an iPad and implementing the intervention. They learned how to guide their child to watch the instructional video, imitate what they viewed, and then provide appropriate feedback.

Depending on the outcome, parents were asked to provide praise, correct the errors or demonstrate the step themselves if the child made two or more consecutive errors on the same task step. Lead researcher of the study Elisa Cruz-Torres, Ed.D., in the Department of Exceptional Student Education in FAU’s College of Education, visited families’ homes three times a week for one hour for each family’s intervention, which lasted between five to seven weeks.

Results of the study showed that all of the children substantially improved correct and independent completion of their daily living skills, which validates that video prompting procedures are effective in ameliorating skill deficits.

While parents were successful in implementing the video prompting preparation and procedures, they were inconsistent with the consequence strategies such as social praise and error correction. None-the-less, the children still mastered their skills and maintained the skill three weeks after the end of the intervention.

“Our findings show that video prompting interventions produced both immediate and lasting effects for children with autism spectrum disorder and that parents can be powerful delivery agents to increase independence in their children,” said Cruz-Torres. “While it is desirable that parents follow steps exactly, we learned that even with slight variations in parent delivery, the teens still mastered the intended skills.”

Data from this study also revealed that none of the children required more than 17 interventions to reach mastery criteria. In addition, this study draws attention to the importance of evidence-based practices for families of older children with ASD.

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“Now, when I’m working with my son to learn a new skill or even talk about a new skill, because of this study I have learned to break it down into smaller pieces rather than asking him to do the whole thing. We use this concept for other things like doing laundry. I’ve also learned that he is very responsive to praise,” said Susan Freeman, a parent in the study. “John is a very visual learner so being able to see what each step should look like enables him to complete the task. He’s still making his bed and we’re working on changing the sheets, which is a new skill. I don’t have to make his bed anymore.”

Freeman’s son Johnathon “John” DiFusco also is pleased with this instructional method, which makes him feel good about himself as well as proud.

“Now, I can be on time for school and I also know how to vacuum,” said DiFusco.  

Co-authors of the study are Mary Louise Duffy, Ph.D., a retired professor; Michael P. Brady, Ph.D., a professor and chair; and Peggy Goldstein, Ed.D.; an associate professor, all within FAU’s Department of Exceptional Student Education; and Kyle D. Bennett, Ed.D., associate professor, Department of Teaching and Learning, Florida International University.  

– FAU – 

About Florida Atlantic University:

Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of critical areas that form the basis of its strategic plan: Healthy aging, biotech, coastal and marine issues, neuroscience, regenerative medicine, informatics, lifespan and the environment. These areas provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu.

The Artist

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Archive Hoffmann & Hoffmann

“The gods,” the artist said, “pleasure themselves with men by
rummaging through their lives, wounding their bodies with their
darts of pain, denying man the ability to be near them, yet they still
make us love them and feel the thrill of immortality.”

It is the story of life, the metaphor of human pettiness and the reactions linked to them. A journey along the short but intense parabola of an artist painter who finds himself projected (by chance) into a world of lights and lust. Checkpoint Charlie is the limit, the line that not everyone wants to cross, where there is no return except after selling the soul to the devil.

“What is your job?” The artist asked.
“Undertaker” he said. Twenty-five years of work, and he’d certainly
buried a lot of people. He dug the grave and if necessary, undressed
and redressed the body. They pay for everything.
“Do the dead stink?”
“Yes, a great deal.”
“Animals don’t have cemeteries. Why is it that, in your opinion?”

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Michele Iacono offers us reasons to reflect, on the limits that the common moral sense imposes. It retraces Italy in its most beautiful cities telling us the limits that some of us have decided or have been forced to face.
The Artist presents itself as new air on the American market after its release in Italian under the title Checkpoint Charlie. Published by Hoffmann & Hoffmann and distributed by Ingram.

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Scare away spending this Halloween?

This Halloween, Americans are expected to spend a near-record amount of $8.8 billion on costumes and other decorations. While the holiday traditionally attracts a core of committed fans, many are also peer-pressured to jump into the festivity’s spending. 

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Ori Heffetz, professor of applied economics at Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business, is an expert on consumption and studies the psychological, social and cultural aspects of economic behavior. Heffetz says that when it comes to celebrations, Halloween has become the holiday to show off one’s status.

Bio: https://www.johnson.cornell.edu/faculty-research/faculty/oh33/

Heffetz says:

“From a consumer-economics point-of-view, Halloween is unique in at least two ways relative to other holidays. First, in addition to home decorations, which can be reused from year to year (say, like Christmas decorations), Halloween is much more about the costumes. Reusing decorations is relatively easy, but reusing costumes is more difficult, because our children grow fast, and because costumes are often less durable, and kids destroy them quickly.

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“Second, wearables are among the most socially visible items a family could spend on. This unsurprising observation is confirmed and quantified in my research on expenditure visibility. This could make costumes a child’s membership card into some social circles, and the right costume can be an opportunity to display one’s status within a group.

“Even if we gave up on the costumes and stuck to decorations, while a family’s Christmas tree and many of the related decorations are only visible to those guests who are invited to visit inside the home, Halloween decorations are visible to anyone driving down the street.

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“In short, in both decorations and costumes, Halloween is the expenditure-visibility holiday! For some parents this could be a not-to-be-missed opportunity for public display. Other parents may feel that they are reluctantly dragged into this race, or they risk disappointing their children.”

For interviews contact:
Rebecca Valli
office: 607-255-6035
cell: 607-793-1025
rv234@cornell.edu

Cornell University has dedicated television and audio studios available for media interviews supporting full HD, ISDN and web-based platforms.

Narcissism Reduce Chances of Depression

Photo by Amir Geshani

Queen’s University Belfast

People who have grandiose narcissistic traits are more likely to be ‘mentally tough’, feel less stressed and are less vulnerable to depression, research led by Queen’s University Belfast has found.

While narcissism may be viewed by many in society as a negative personality trait, Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, who is Director of the InteRRaCt Lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s, has revealed that it could also have benefits. He has published two papers on narcissism and psychopathology in Personality and Individual Differences and European Psychiatry.

Dr Papageorgiou explains: “Narcissism is part of the ‘Dark Tetrad’ of personality that also includes Machiavellianism, Psychopathy and Sadism. There are two main dimensions to narcissism – grandiose and vulnerable. Vulnerable narcissists are likely to be more defensive and view the behaviour of others as hostile whereas grandiose narcissists usually have an over inflated sense of importance and a preoccupation with status and power.”

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He adds: “Individuals high on the spectrum of dark traits, such as narcissism, engage in risky behaviour, hold an unrealistic superior view of themselves, are overconfident, show little empathy for others, and have little shame or guilt.

“However, what this research has questioned is – if narcissism, as an example of the dark tetrad, is indeed so socially toxic, why does it persist and why is it on the rise in modern societies?”

The papers include three independent studies each involving more than 700 adults in total and highlights some positive sides of narcissism, such as resilience against symptoms of psychopathology.

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A key finding of the research was that grandiose narcissism can increase mental toughness and this can help to offset symptoms of depression. It also found that people who score high on grandiose narcissism have lower levels of perceived stress and are therefore less likely to view their life as stressful.

The research is a fresh approach to the study of personality and psychopathology, highlighting that there are some positives to be found in terms of potential societal impact.

Dr Papageorgiou comments: “The results from all the studies that we conducted show that grandiose narcissism correlates with very positive components of mental toughness, such as confidence and goal orientation, protecting against symptoms of depression and perceived stress.

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“This research really helps to explain variation in symptoms of depression in society – if a person is more mentally tough they are likely to embrace challenges head on, rather than viewing them as a hurdle.

Dr Papageorgiou says: “While of course not all dimensions of narcissism are good, certain aspects can lead to positive outcomes.

“This work promotes diversity and inclusiveness of people and ideas by advocating that dark traits, such as narcissism, should not be seen as either good or bad, but as products of evolution and expressions of human nature that may be beneficial or harmful depending on the context.

“This move forward may help to reduce the marginalisation of individuals that score higher than average on the dark traits. It could also facilitate the development of research-informed suggestions on how best to cultivate some manifestations of these traits, while discouraging others, for the collective good.”

An event on Mental Toughness and Narcissism is being held at Queen’s on 15 November 2019, for more information visit https://aqrinternational.co.uk/event/mental-toughness-symposium.

Parents Left in the Cold When It Comes to Kids with Autism

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First-line health professionals must vastly improve their communication and engagement with parents if they are to help address the growing prevalence of autism among children, say researchers from the University of South Australia.

Undertaking a meta-synthesis of 22 international studies, researchers consolidated the voices of 1178 parents advocating for their children with autism, finding that parents feel ignored and dismissed by medical practitioners as they navigate initial concerns for their child, further investigations, and finally, a formal diagnosis of autism.

Researchers say that medical practitioners need to adopt a family-focused approach to ensure that parents’ concerns, perspectives and observations are taken seriously so that their child has appropriate and timely access to early intervention services.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a persistent developmental disorder characterised by social difficulties, restricted or repetitive patterns of behaviour, and impaired communication skills. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, with early signs often evident from early childhood.

Autism is one of the most prevalent developmental conditions among children, with one in 70 people in Australia on the spectrum, an estimated 40 per cent increase over the past four years. Internationally, statistics are higher with one in 59 children on the spectrum.

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UniSA lead researcher, Dr Kobie Boshoff, says the parent advocacy role is critical and must be taken more seriously by medical practitioners.

“Parents are natural advocates for their child, making them an invaluable source of information when it comes to complex diagnoses for invisible disabilities like autism,” Dr Boshoff says.

“Yet parents are increasingly finding the diagnosis process overly stressful and complicated.

“In this study, parents commonly reported their concerns for their child were not being heard or taken seriously by medical professionals. They said they felt confused, stressed and frustrated at the lack of support and understanding.

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“They also reported lengthy delays in receiving a diagnosis for their child, as well as a variety of unsatisfactory explanations as alternatives to autism. As access to early intervention services is essential for improving the development outcomes of children with autism, this too is unacceptable.”

Dr Boshoff says first-line medical professionals and service providers must recognise both the role of parents as advocates for their child, and the importance of the parent-practitioner role, which can significantly impact future relationships with other professionals.

She says to build trust medical practitioners must reassess the way they talk and engage with parents.

“First line health professionals and diagnostic services must ensure emotional support is provided to parents throughout the diagnosis process, engaging parents as partners and taking their concerns seriously,” Dr Boshoff says.

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“Autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong developmental condition. A positive experience in the early stages of diagnosis can deliver better relationships with future professionals, and most importantly, secure better outcomes for the children.”

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Media: Annabel Mansfield: office +61 8 8302 0351 | mobile: +61 417 717 504 email: Annabel.Mansfield@unisa.edu.au Lead Researcher: Dr Kobie Boshoff office: +61 8 830 21089 | kobie.boshoff@unisa.edu.au

NOTES TO EDITORS:

Dr Kobie Boshoff will also be presenting this topic at the Healthy Development Adelaide event ‘Research and Developments in Autism: A SA Perspective.’ On Wednesday 30 October 2019, rom 5:30pm – 8:00pm. This is a free event open to everyone.

Halloween Costumes at Work?

Halloween is a dicey time of year for managers and employees alike. A well-planned celebration can boost morale, energize the staff, and help to build connections between co-workers. But an inappropriate costume, or a party that goes off the rails, can damage reputations and even lead to terminations and legal problems.

Jessica Methot, an associate professor of human resource management in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations (SMLR), separates the tricks from the treats.

When is it OK to wear a costume to work?

Employees should only wear a Halloween costume if company leadership has clearly communicated an invitation to do so. If you have recently joined the company and you are not yet familiar with its culture and policies, ask multiple sources for advice (including your boss). Don’t rely on just one co-worker for guidance. An office jokester may try to trick you into dressing up when no one else does.

If you do wear a costume, bring a change of clothes to work if you expect to have any meetings or videoconferences with external stakeholders. If you know the client personally and you have established an informal relationship, the costume could be appropriate and funny. But meeting a new client dressed as the Charlie Chaplin might not set the most professional tone.

Which costumes are too risqué for the office?

Some employees see dressing up as an opportunity to “bring their whole selves to work”—a chance to express an aspect of their identity typically left at home. But this can be tricky.

Company leadership and HR managers should communicate their policy on costumes and props (including fake guns and knives). Generally speaking, avoid anything that may be interpreted as too revealing, provocative, politically-charged, or inappropriate for a professional setting. Not sure? Check with HR.

Beyond what you wear to the office, it’s also important to think about what you post on social media. We often forget how much our professional contacts can see about us online. Posting a picture of yourself wearing a risqué costume can blur personal and professional boundaries.

What are the consequences for going overboard?

Wearing an inappropriate costume can damage your professional image. In extreme cases, it could even pose legal and safety risks.

Workplace violence is a very real issue today. If your costume includes a weapon and you joke about hurting people, your co-workers may disagree with the humor and find it threatening. They could take legal action against the organization for allowing a hostile work environment.

A provocative or revealing costume raises concerns about sexual harassment, especially in the heightened awareness of the #MeToo era. You could be disciplined if your outfit violates company guidelines. Co-workers who make sexually-explicit remarks, or engage in other harassing behaviors toward you, could face serious consequences including termination.

Importantly, companies must be careful not to victim-blame. Discipline should not be framed as though the employee wearing the revealing costume “invited” the comments or was at fault for being on the receiving end.

The bottom line? HR must enforce costume guidelines consistently across the workforce and the discipline should always fit the infraction.

Is there an upside for employers?

Absolutely. Despite these risks, there is a good business case for throwing Halloween celebrations and welcoming costumes.

If implemented strategically, they can strengthen the company’s culture, reinforce its emphasis on fun, improve employee relationships, and even boost employee well-being and productivity. Celebrations give employees a chance to recharge, which also spills over into improved life and family satisfaction. In the long run, these types of celebrations, and a “fun” organizational culture, can help attract new employees, improve employee commitment, and reduce turnover rates.

However, it is important to align these celebrations with the organizational culture. A fun work environment is defined by consistent access to workplace activities, games, and group outings. If a Halloween celebration is an isolated event, it might be perceived as a superficial attempt at engaging employees.

Contact: To schedule an interview with Jessica Methot, please contact Steve Flamisch at 848.252.9011 (cell) or steve.flamisch@smlr.rutgers.edu.

Broadcast Interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews

The Walt Disney’s Natural Sciences

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 New Brunswick, N.J. (Oct. 24, 2019) – Rutgers scholar Colin Williamson is available to discuss the scientific inspirations behind some of Walt Disney’s most iconic films including Fantasia, which celebrates its 79th anniversary Nov. 13. 

 “Fantasia’s Nutcracker Suite and Rite of Spring sequences, with their animations of plant and animal life, were shaped by Disney’s interests in evolutionary biology, natural history, and environmental conservation. The studio’s animators developed the art for Fantasia in collaboration with scientists and naturalists in fields ranging from astronomy to botany,” Williamson said.

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“It’s not coincidental that Fantasia’s dancing flowers resemble time-lapse films of plants. In fact, the famous pumpkin-to-carriage transformation in Disney’s Cinderella was reportedly modeled on time-lapse film of a growing pumpkin created by biologist John Ott. These connections invite us to think differently about Fantasia, and the place Disney holds in the history of art and science,” Williamson continued.

Williamson, an assistant professor in Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Department of American Studies and the Program in Cinema Studies, is an expert on early cinema and media archaeology, film theory, animation, and the history of science. He is the author of Hidden in Plain Sight: An Archaeology of Magic and the Cinema

He can be reached by contacting Cynthia Medina

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Broadcast interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews with Rutgers experts. For more information,

ABOUT RUTGERS—NEW BRUNSWICK

Rutgers University–New Brunswick is where Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, began more than 250 years ago. Ranked among the world’s top 60 universities, Rutgers’s flagship university is a leading public research institution and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It is home to internationally acclaimed faculty and has 12 degree-granting schools and a Division I Athletics program. It is the Big Ten Conference’s most diverse university. Through its community of teachers, scholars, artists, scientists, and healers, Rutgers is equipped as never before to transform lives.

Do we trust artificial intelligence agents to mediate conflict?

New study says we’ll listen to virtual agents except when goings get tough

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We may listen to facts from Siri or Alexa, or directions from Google Maps or Waze, but would we let a virtual agent enabled by artificial intelligence help mediate conflict among team members? A new study says not just yet.

Researchers from USC and the University of Denver created a simulation in which a three-person team was supported by a virtual agent avatar on screen in a mission that was designed to ensure failure and elicit conflict. The study was designed to look at virtual agents as potential mediators to improve team collaboration during conflict mediation.

Confess to them? Yes. But in the heat of the moment, will we listen to virtual agents?

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While some of researchers (Gale Lucas and Jonathan Gratch of the USC Viterbi School Engineering and the USC Institute for Creative Technologies who contributed to this study), had previously found that one-on-one human interactions with a virtual agent therapist yielded more confessions, in this study “Conflict Mediation in Human-Machine Teaming: Using a Virtual Agent to Support Mission Planning and Debriefing,” team members were less likely to engage with a male virtual agent named “Chris” when conflict arose.

Participating members of the team did not physically accost the device (as we have seen humans attack robots in viral social media posts), but rather were less engaged and less likely to listen to the virtual agent’s input once failure ensued and conflict arose among team members.

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The study was conducted in a military academy environment in which 27 scenarios were engineered to test how the team that included a virtual agent would react to failure and the ensuring conflict. The virtual agent was not ignored by any means. The study found that the teams did respond socially to the virtual agent during the planning of the mission they were assigned (nodding, smiling and recognizing the virtual agent ‘s input by thanking it) but the longer the exercise progressed, their engagement with the virtual agent decreased. The participants did not entirely blame the virtual agent for their failure.

“Team cohesion when accomplishing complex tasks together is a highly complex and important factor,” says lead author, Kerstin Haring, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of Denver.

“Our results show that virtual agents and potentially social robots might be a good conflict mediator in all kinds of teams. It will be very interesting to find out the interventions and social responses to ultimately seamlessly integrate virtual agents in human teams to make them perform better.”

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Study co-author, Gale Lucas, Research Assistant Professor of Computer Science at USC, and a researcher at the Institute for Creative Technologies, adds that some feedback from study participants indicates that they perceived virtual agents to be neutral and unbiased. She would like to continue the work to see if virtual agents can be applied “to help us make better decisions” and press “what it takes to have us trust virtual agents.”

While this study was conducted in a military academy with particular structures, the researchers are hoping to develop this project to improve team processes in all sorts of work environments.

Animals can lie to themselves too

Like Humans, Crayfish Talk a Tough Game

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Self-deception like this seems very human. Now, thanks to a recent study led by an Arizona State University biologist, for the first time we know that it happens in the animal kingdom, too.

Crayfish are some of the most aggressive creatures on earth. They fight with big claws capable of doing real damage. But sometimes there’s not much muscle under the bravado.

“What males are doing is making as little crappy muscle as possible, which is energetically saving,” said Michael Angilletta, a biology professor in the School of Life Sciences.

It’s like buying designer knockoffs. You save a lot of money, and most people can’t tell the difference. In the case of crayfish, you make a big claw without much muscle, and you put crappy muscle on it to boot. Everyone sees you wave your big claw and they presume that you’re a powerful crayfish.

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“Since they signal to each other before fighting, this is a way they can convince someone to back down without fighting,” Angilletta said. “Importantly, this only works if there’s enough crayfish out there that have big claws that are actually strong. If you accidentally fight one of those and call a bluff, you’re going to lose a claw.”

In the crayfish world, losing a claw is a disaster: It takes up to two years for a claw to regenerate. In the meantime, no one is mating with anyone who has a puny claw. 

Angilletta and his co-authors have been studying self-deception in crayfish for about 10 years. In 2006 they accidentally discovered that many crayfish with big claws were quite weak. There was about a tenfold variation.

“You would go, ‘Oh, this (pinch) is going to hurt,’ but it doesn’t hurt at all,” Angilletta said. “The question is are they not trying, or are they really not strong? And it’s repeatable from day after day with the same individuals.”

They combined mathematical modeling with an experiment to show that crayfish meet the criteria for self-deception. This approach opens up the possibility of studying self-deception in nonhuman animals, without being able to talk to them. They used 97 adult males, staging fights between 20 select crayfish and 77 opponents.

“How do we know what a crayfish would do if it knows whether it’s weak or it’s strong?” Angilletta asked. “If it knows that (it has a weak claw), it should actually be less aggressive.”

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It might escalate up to the point of a fight, and then run away. The probability that a crayfish engaged in a fight depended on two factors: the relative size of its claws and the expected difference in force. How do they know how strong (or not) they are? Crayfish use claws to deter predators, defend territory and capture prey. They have a pretty good idea of how strong their own claws are. They’re also skilled at assessing their size versus an opponent’s. They can even recognize previous opponents.

So natural selection has given them an ability to detect size and identity. Given that they have those abilities, it naturally follows that they have an ability to gauge strength when knowing it will improve decisions.

“In our population of crayfish, deceptive signalers largely ignored their own strength when escalating or evading aggression,” Angilletta said. “If this benefit of heightened aggression outweighs any long-term cost, natural selection should favor individuals who escalate aggression through self-deception.”

In other words, they buy into their own bluff. Angilletta teaches a biology course on human behavior called “Why people steal, cheat, and lie,” which explores the ecological and evolutionary causes of selfishness and cooperation in human societies.

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“What’s new about this study is that if you’re ever in a situation where I’m lying to you, there’s also a possibility I’m selling my lie exceptionally well because I’ve convinced myself that it’s true,” he said. “That’s because of self-deception. It’s very common in psychology but it’s not really that much in biology because we’re usually thinking about nonhuman animals and we don’t know what they’re thinking. We have a hard time understanding what they know and don’t know.”

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The paper was published last summer in Behavioral Ecology.

Video Credits:  Ken Fagan, ASU

Photo Credit: Charlie Leight, ASU

About ASU

Arizona State University has developed a new model for the American Research University, creating an institution that is committed to access, excellence and impact. ASU measures itself by those it includes, not by those it excludes. As the prototype for a New American University, ASU pursues research that contributes to the public good, and ASU assumes major responsibility for the economic, social and cultural vitality of the communities that surround it.

Appeal to Teens and Parents to Get Vaccinated

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Unity Consortium is thrilled to welcome newest member, Ethan Lindenberger, a 19-year oldAmerican activist known for his opposition to vaccine misinformation efforts. Ethan will be featured in a number of resources as part of Unity’s Voice of AYA (Adolescents and Young Adults) campaign.

Ethan grew up being told that vaccines cause autism, brain damage, and do not benefit the health and safety of society despite the fact such opinions have been debunked numerous times by the scientific community. Through his own research, and relying on scientific evidence, he learned that vaccinations are proven to be a medical miracle, stopping the spread of numerous diseases and therefore saving countless lives. Ethan was dismayed that stories often spread through social media based on skepticism and falsities and were putting lives at danger.

“We all need to follow the CDC’s recommendations and be protected from all vaccine-preventable diseases,” noted Lindenberger.  “I felt a connection with Unity and jumped at the opportunity to become a member because they understand the value of teen and young adult involvement and our ability to be proactive and make the best decisions for ourselves based on decades of research.”

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The goal of the campaign is to encourage young adults and teens to get up-to-date with recommended vaccinations and to teach them how to spot vaccine-related misinformation on the internet.  With new outbreaks in diseases, such as the measles epidemics that have hit multiple states in the US, it’s important to spread the word about the importance of vaccinations.  A Unity survey conducted by Harris poll found that 4 in 10 parents and nearly 6 in 10 teens believe teens should only see a doctor for an illness, which likely reduces opportunities for physicians to discuss preventive health measures, such as vaccination. Similarly, the survey showed that 1 in 4 parents and teens believe that vaccines are for babies and not as important for teens.

Unity’s programs focus on educating teens, young adults and parents with evidence based vaccine information. It is done in a way that is grounded in science and with respect to his generation so that teens and young adults feel empowered to make decisions for themselves.

Outcome Health, a technology company providing health education at the moment of care, partnered with Unity to produce video spots featuring Ethan.  Dr. Laura Offutt a physician and teen health advocate is also featured in the spots as an expert source. Since 2018, Outcome Health has delivered Unity’s vaccination and preventative healthcare messages across its nationwide point-of-care platform; this is the first time the organizations have collaborated on a joint video campaign. Outcome Health will run the videos on their screens in tens of thousands of doctors’ offices across the country. Ethan will also post a number of blogs about AYA vaccination over the coming months.

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“Millions of adolescents and young adults in the U.S. are not fully vaccinated and not even aware that they’re missing recommended vaccines,” said Judy Klein, President of Unity Consortium. “We are working with Ethan to amplify his voice.  He is all about galvanizing teens to do their homework on the power of vaccination to protect themselves against preventable diseases, and the imperative of being caught up on all missing immunizations. Outcome Health is a valued and exceptional partner in broadly disseminating this message.”

Unity also developed a first-of-its-kind campaign (VAX@16) emphasizing the 16-year-old well-visit and the vaccines that can help protect teens as they head into adulthood. Unity’s VAX@16 campaign aims to increase awareness among parents, teens, and health care providers of the vaccinations recommended for 16-year-olds, including Meningococcal ACWY (MenACWY), Meningococcal B (MenB), and flu (seasonally). 

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Ethan commented, “We each have the power to protect ourselves from serious and potentially dangerous illnesses like meningitis and the measles.  We grew up learning to wear a helmet when we rode a bike in case we fall and to wear a seat belt in casewe are in an accident.  What about getting a vaccine in casewe are exposed to a lethal illness?” 

The Voices of AYA campaign featuring Ethan Lindenberger resourcesare available on Unity’s website and include videos that feature Ethan and Dr. Laura Offutt, Lead for Unity’s Teen Advisory Council.

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About Unity Consortium

Unity Consortium is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization that brings together diverse groups that share a common and passionate interest in maintaining life-long health, with a focus on adolescent and young adult preventive healthcare and immunization.Unity members and liaisons represent professional/trade organizations, coalitions/educational organizations, public health, providers, technology and communications organizations, and vaccine manufacturers.

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Media Contact:

Debbie Kanterman

Communications, UnityTM Consortium

Email:debbiekanterman@yahoo.com

Phone: 914-512-0277

Tom Hanks and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

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Rutgers Expert Available to Discuss the Religious Convictions Behind Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood Ahead of Tom Hanks-Starring Biopic

New Brunswick, N.J. (Oct. 18, 2019) – Rutgers scholar Louis Benjamin Rolsky is available to discuss the religious and spiritual convictions that infused the life of Fred Rogers and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The film A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, starring Tom Hanks as Rogers, is scheduled for release next month.

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Rogers, who became an ordained minister in 1963, challenged the culture of his time by addressing topics like divorce, war, and racism in Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. He exemplified an understanding of religion-as-service, and sought its application in American public life and to children’s programming. The episode in which Rogers introduced an African-American police officer, followed by the cooling and washing of feet together in a small pool in the name of friendship and mutual understanding, challenged many racist assumptions at the time and embodied Rogers’ theological commitment to treating others as he would like to be treated. Rogers understood television less as a passive instrument of pure reception, and more as an interactive medium that could shape individuals in real time, especially children, Rolsky said.

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 Rolsky, a part-time lecturer in Rutgers University–New Brunswick’s Department of Religious Studies, is an expert in relationships between religion, American politics and popular culture in post-World War II America. He is the author of Rise and Fall of the Religious Left : Politics, Television, and Popular Culture in the 1970s and Beyond.

He can be reached by contacting Cynthia Medina.

Media contact: Cynthia Medina, c.medina@rutgers.edu, 848-445-1940

Medicinal Cannabis Research

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Researchers will look at how CBD might help remedy schizophrenia, rheumatoid arthritis, insomnia, alcohol dependence and anorexia anxiety

The Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) at University of California San Diego School of Medicine, the nation’s oldest research center for scientific inquiry into the safety and efficacy of cannabis, has announced $3 million in research grants to explore new applications of cannabis for a number of novel medical applications.

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The cannabis plant produces a number of compounds called cannabinoids, the most widely known of which are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its principle psychoactive agent, and cannabidiol (CBD), which has been linked to reduced pain, anxiety and inflammation in previous studies. The five new studies all focus on CBD.

“Within the medical community, there is a lot of interest in the role of medical cannabis and CBD,” said Igor Grant, MD, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and CMCR director. “There is a hope that it could be yet another useful agent in some of these conditions, which are difficult to treat or disabling.”

The five grants are funded by California Proposition 64, which was passed on the November 8, 2016 ballot and legalized recreational marijuana in the state. The measure allocated tax revenue for research on potential new drugs, treatment and health and safety programs related to marijuana and medical cannabis.

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This year marks CMCR’s first such funding. All five grants are for proof-of-principle studies that would seek to establish the basis for future research.

Effects of Cannabidiol versus Placebo as an Adjunct to Treatment in Early Psychosis

The $825,000 grant was awarded to Kristin Cadenhead, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues, who will explore whether medical cannabis could serve as an alternative treatment for patients facing early psychosis, a time when traditional treatments, such as antipsychotic medications, are moderately effective but produce debilitating side effects.

Therapeutic Response of Cannabidiol in Rheumatoid Arthritis

The $825,000 grant was awarded to Veena Ranganath, MD, a rheumatologist at UCLA Medical Center. Ranganath’s research focuses on CBD’s use an anti-inflammatory agent, an application she hopes to exploit in treating rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune condition that affects an estimated 1.5 million persons in the United States.

Cannabidol for Sedative/Hypnotic-sparing Management of Insomnia in Adults

The $825,000 grant was awarded to Mariana Cherner, PhD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues, who will investigate whether CBD might be a viable alternative for sleeping pills among patients with chronic sleep disorders.

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“Sleeping pills are moderately safe but they can also be habit-forming and they do have side effects, particularly in older people,” said Grant. “So many people are prescribed sleeping pills so there’s good reason to look for something that might be safer and not have that side effect profile.”

Cannabidiol as a Strategy to Treat Alcohol Dependence

The $300,000 grant was awarded to Giordano de Guglielmo, PhD, assistant adjunct professor in the UC San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, and colleagues. This study is the only one of the five using an animal model. It will look at the role CBD might play in reducing alcohol cravings and withdrawal syndromes among alcohol-addicted rats, with findings perhaps applicable to future human research.

The Role of Cannabidiol in Regulating Meal Time Anxiety in Anorexia Nervosa

The $300,000 grant was awarded to Emily Gray, MD, associate clinical professor of psychology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues, who will explore whether CBD can help reduce a core symptom of anorexia — anxiety about food — and whether or not that reduction helps patients also reduce their food aversions overall.

A second round of CMCR grants is scheduled for 2020.

Sweating People

Photo by Food Photographer | Jennifer Pallian

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When people become stressed, their bodies can respond by sweating. Now, researchers at the University of Missouri are monitoring how much adolescents severely affected by autism sweat in order to better understand when behavioral issues, such as aggression, are likely to occur.

Bradley Ferguson analyzed the stress levels of eight adolescents who are severely affected by autism spectrum disorder at The Center for Discovery, a residential facility in New York that provides advanced care and research for individuals with complex conditions. Using wrist and ankle monitors, Ferguson found that there was a rise in the body’s electrodermal activity – which results from increased levels of sweat – 60% of the time before an individual showed behavioral issues.

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“A spike in electrodermal activity is telling us that the individual’s body is reacting physiologically to something that is stressful, which could be their internal state, something in the environment, or a combination of the two,” said Ferguson, assistant research professor in the departments of health psychology, radiology and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders. “If parents or caregivers are notified ahead of time that their child’s stress levels are rising, they might have a chance to intervene and de-escalate the situation before problem behaviors occur.”

Ferguson explained that possible intervention methods could include removing the child from the environment or activity that is causing the stress, as well as providing access to an item that the child enjoys interacting with in an effort to calm them.

“Individuals who are severely affected by autism spectrum disorder are often unable to verbally communicate their discomfort when they become stressed,” Ferguson said. “However, their body still responds to stressors just like anyone else. Therefore, being alerted of increases in electrodermal activity can allow parents and caregivers to intervene prior to engagement in problem behavior with the goal of ensuring the health and safety of those involved.”

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Ferguson collaborated on the study with David Beversdorf, a professor of radiology, neurology and psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science as well as principal investigator of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory in the MU School of Medicine. Ferguson also collaborated with Theresa Hamlin, Johanna Lantz, and Tania Villavicencio at The Center for Discovery, and John Coles at Calspan-University of Buffalo Research Center and The State University of New York at Buffalo.

“Important work is being done to try to identify predictors for when a person with autism is at greatest risk of having a behavioral episode,” Beversdorf said. “This research highlights the individual variability in this response that must be considered, and may also have implications for individualized treatment approaches moving forward.”

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“Examining the association between electrodermal activity and problem behavior in severe autism spectrum disorder: A feasibility study,” was published in Frontiers in Psychiatry.

The study was funded by the New York State Center of Excellence, New York State Department of Health and Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, as well as private monies donated to The Center for Discovery. The content is solely the responsibilities of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the funding agencies.

The Department of Health Psychology is in the MU School of Health Professions, and the Department of Radiology is in the MU School of Medicine.

Egoists (a book of supermen)

Free book for autism research

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Donations

$1.00

By F. Guzzardi

This new edition of Huneker’s book that saw his first appearance in 1909, is wholly devoted to those modern poets, philosophers and prose masters whose writings embody the individualistic idea as opposed to altruistic and
socialistic sentiments.

Amply discussed are Stendhal, whose cult, recently revived on the Continent, is steadily growing; Maurice Barres, French Academician; Anatole France, blithe pagan and delicious ironist; Max Stimer, the forerunner of Nietzsche; The mystics, Ernest Hello new to American readers and William Blake. Much new historical material can be found in the studies of Charles Baudelaire and Gustave Flaubert.

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The hitherto unpublished letter of the novelist, along with an original page proof of “Madame Bovary,” corrected by his own hand, will prove of interest to his admirers. That brilliant virtuoso of the French language, J. K.
Huysmans, forms the subject of a chapter, while certain phases of Nietzsche, including his famous published biography, “Ecce Homo”, and Ibsen dramas, are also subjects of discussion. Altogether the book represents the most mature critical and analytical thought of the author applied to some of the most interesting literary characters in the modern Europe of 1909.

Earliest Signs of Life

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Scientists Find Microbial Remains in Ancient Rocks

Scientists have found exceptionally preserved microbial remains in some of Earth’s oldest rocks in Western Australia – a major advance in the field, offering clues for how life on Earth originated.

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The UNSW researchers found the organic matter in stromatolites – fossilised microbial structures – from the ancient Dresser Formation in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

The stromatolites have been thought to be of biogenic origin ever since they were discovered in the 1980s. However, despite strong textural evidence, that theory was unproven for nearly four decades, because scientists hadn’t been able to show the definitive presence of preserved organic matter remains – until today’s publication in prestigious journal Geology.

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“This is an exciting discovery – for the first time, we’re able to show the world that these stromatolites are definitive evidence for the earliest life on Earth,” says lead researcher Dr Raphael Baumgartner, a research associate of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology in Professor Martin Van Kranendonk’s team at UNSW.

Professor Van Kranendonk says the discovery is the closest the team have come to a “smoking gun” to prove the existence of such ancient life.

“This represents a major advance in our knowledge of these rocks, in the science of early life investigations generally, and – more specifically – in the search for life on Mars. We now have a new target and new methodology to search for ancient life traces,” Professor Van Kranendonk says.

Drilling deep, looking closely

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Ever since the Dresser Formation was discovered in the 1980, scientists have wondered whether the structures were truly microbial and therefore the earliest signs of life.

“Unfortunately, there is a climate of mistrust of textural biosignatures in the research community. Hence, the origin of the stromatolites in the Dresser Formation has been a hotly debated topic,” Dr Baumgartner says.

“In this study, I spent a lot of time in the lab, using micro-analytical techniques to look very closely at the rock samples, to prove our theory once and for all.”

Stromatolites in the Dresser Formation are usually sourced from the rock surface, and are therefore highly weathered. For this study, the scientists worked with samples that were taken from further down into the rock, below the weathering profile, where the stromatolites are exceptionally well preserved.

“Looking at drill core samples allowed us to look at a perfect snapshot of ancient microbial life,” Dr Baumgartner says.

Using a variety of cutting-edge micro-analytical tools and techniques – including high-powered electron microscopy, spectroscopy and isotope analysis – Dr Baumgartner analysed the rocks.

He found that the stromatolites are essentially composed of pyrite – a mineral also known as ‘fool’s gold’ – that contains organic matter.

“The organic matter that we found preserved within pyrite of the stromatolites is exciting – we’re looking at exceptionally preserved coherent filaments and strands that are typically remains of microbial biofilms,” Dr Baumgartner says.

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The researchers say that such remains have never been observed before in the Dresser Formation, and that actually seeing the evidence down the microscope was incredibly exciting.

“I was pretty surprised – we never expected to find this level of evidence before I started this project. I remember the night at the electron microscope where I finally figured out that I was looking at biofilm remains. I think it was around 11pm when I had this ‘eureka’ moment, and I stayed until three or four o’clock in the morning, just imaging and imaging because I was so excited. I totally lost track of time,” Dr Baumgartner says.

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Clues for search for life on Mars

Just over two years ago, Dr Baumgartner’s colleague Tara Djokic, a UNSW PhD candidate, found stromatolites in hot spring deposits in the same region in WA, pushing back the earliest known existence of microbial life on land by 580 million years.

“Tara’s main findings were these exceptional geyserite deposits that indicate that there have been geysers in this area, and therefore fluid expulsions on exposed land surface,” Dr Baumgartner says.

“Her study was focused on the broader geological setting of the paleo-environment – lending support to the theory that life originated on land, rather than in the ocean – whereas my study really went deeper on the finer details of the stromatolite structures from the area.”

The scientists say that both studies are helping us answer a central question: where did humanity come from?

“Understanding where life could have emerged is really important in order to understand our ancestry. And from there, it could help us understand where else life could have occurred – for example, where it was kick-started on other planets,” Dr Baumgartner says.

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Just last month, NASA and European Space Agency (ESA) scientists spent as week in the Pilbara with Martin Van Kranendonk for specialist training in identifying signs of life in these same ancient rocks. It was the first time that Van Kranendonk shared the region’s insights with a dedicated team of Mars specialists – a group including the Heads of NASA and ESA Mars 2020 missions.

“It is deeply satisfying that Australia’s ancient rocks and our scientific know-how is making such a significant contribution to our search for extra-terrestrial life and unlocking the secrets of Mars,” says Professor Van Kranendonk.

Talks with Mussolini

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The following conversations took place in the
Palazzo di Venezia at Rome, being held almost daily
for an hour at a time between March 23 and April
4, 1932, both dates inclusive. We talked Italian and
each conversation was recorded by me in German
as soon as it was finished. Only a few sentences from
earlier conversations have been introduced into this
book. The German manuscript was submitted to
Mussolini, who checked the passages in which his
own utterances were recorded.

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No material other than the before-mentioned has
been incorporated, but I have to acknowledge my
indebtedness to Margherita Sarfatti for a good many
hints conveyed to me in her biography. I have made
no use of the numberless anecdotes current in
Rome; and I have ignored the reports of Mussolini’s
collaborators, informative though these are. In a
word, the talks consist of what actually passed in
conversation between Mussolini and myself.

Emil Ludwig

Harvard University to Launch Center for Autism Research

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Autism and related disorders—a constellation of neurodevelopmental conditions affecting one in 59 children in the United States alone—have become one of modern medicine’s most confounding mysteries. The condition is believed to arise from the complex interplay between genes and environment, yet its basic biology remains largely a black box.

Now, a new research effort at Harvard University led by Harvard Medical School is poised to identify the biologic roots and molecular changes that give rise to autism and related disorders with the goal of informing the development of better diagnostic tools and new therapies. Harvard University has received a $20 million gift from philanthropists Lisa Yang and Hock Tan, an alumnus of Harvard Business School, to establish The Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at Harvard Medical School. The latest gift brings the total autism-related research funding provided by Yang and Tan to nearly $70 million.

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The center will serve as a hub that brings together the diverse expertise of scientists and clinicians working throughout Harvard University, Harvard Medical School and its affiliated hospitals.

“There is an urgent need to understand the fundamental biology of autism,” said Michael Greenberg, chair of the Department of Neurobiology at Harvard Medical School and the center’s inaugural faculty leader. “I strongly believe that the multidisciplinary expertise convened by this center will propel us into a new era of autism research, enhancing our understanding of the condition and yielding critical new insights into its causes. This generous gift will be transformative for the field.”

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Working under the premise that autism’s complexity demands the cross-pollination of diverse expertise across different modes of scientific inquiry, the center will encompass the efforts of basic, translational and clinical scientists from the entire Harvard ecosystem. The center will have its administrative home within the Harvard Brain Science Initiative, which brings together researchers from Harvard Medical School and its affiliated hospitals as well as from the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Neuroscience has reached a unique inflection point. Advances such as single-cell analysis and optogenetics, coupled with an unprecedented ability to visualize molecular shifts down to the minutest level, will enable today’s researchers to tackle a disorder as dauntingly complex as autism,” said Harvard Medical School Dean George Q. Daley.

“Medical history has taught us that truly transformative therapies flow only from a clear understanding of the fundamental biology that underlies a condition,” Daley added. “This gift will allow our researchers to generate critical insights about autism and related disorders.”

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Investigators at the new Harvard University center will collaborate with peer researchers at MIT and complement efforts already underway at The Hock E. Tan and K. Lisa Yang Center for Autism Research at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, with the unique strengths of each institution converging toward a shared goal: understanding the roots of autism, explaining the condition’s behavior and evolution and translating those insights into novel approaches to treat its symptoms.

“In a short time, the Tan-Yang Center at the McGovern Institute has supported groundbreaking research we believe will change our understanding of autism,” said Robert Desimone, the director of the sibling center at MIT. “We look forward to joining forces with the new center at Harvard, to greatly accelerate the pace of autism-related research.”

“We are excited and hopeful that these sibling centers at Harvard and MIT—two powerhouses of biomedical research—will continue to collaborate in a synergistic way and bring about critical new insights to our understanding of autism,” Yang said. Yang is a former investment banker who has devoted much of her time to mental health advocacy. Tan is president and CEO of Broadcom, a global infrastructure technology company. 

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Autism-spectrum disorders—neurodevelopmental conditions that typically emerge in the first few years of life—are marked by a cluster of symptoms, impaired social interactions and compromised communication skills. Yet exactly what portion of these cases is rooted in genetic mutations and how they are influenced by environmental factors is an area of lingering uncertainty. Another key area of uncertainty is how much of autism’s fundamental features arise in the brain and what influence organs and systems outside of the brain might have.

Two of the new center’s initial areas of inquiry will address these critical gaps in knowledge.

One group of researchers will focus on understanding precisely what goes awry during critical windows in the first two years of life—a period marked by rapid brain development, great neuroplasticity and intense wiring of the brain’s circuits. This is also the typical window of autism diagnosis. The scientists will try to understand what molecular, cellular or neural-circuitry changes underlie autism-fueling processes during this stage. Identifying such critical changes can help illuminate how experiences modulate brain development in individuals with autism.

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Another group of researchers will examine the role of factors arising from organs and organ systems outside the brain that may drive autism risk. For example, the peripheral nervous system—made up of nerve cells throughout the body that act as nodes to collect and transmit signals to the brain—has emerged as a central player in the development of autism.

Heightened sensitivity to even light touch is a common feature in autism and one of the disorder’s many perplexing symptoms. Recent research from neurobiologists and geneticists at Harvard Medical School has not only identified the molecular changes that give rise to heightened touch sensitivity in autism-spectrum disorders but also points to a possible treatment for the condition.

IN VINO VERITART FOR AUTISM

In Vino Veritart is a journey through the multi-artistic genius of Roberto Sironi and the poetic sensibility of Mariagrazia Pia. A journey through the world of wine and its love drifts through colors and images imbued with tannic emotions, sometimes tender, sensual and dreamy. It is an original work in a visionary and futuristic artistic form where the talent of the writer is combined with the skill of the painter.

In vino veritart in Dubai sold by Ingram at the World Trade Center Mall, Al Danah, Abu Dhabi

International Poetry Festival of Milan – 11 May 2019 –
Presentation of the project “Love notes of a bottled humankind” (Italian)

in vino veritart solicits donations for Autism society of Florida, through its publisher Hoffmann & Hoffmann. The Autism Society of Florida is a statewide affiliate of the Autism Society of America and is your best source of information and support, a nonprofit 501(c)3 comprised entirely of volunteers, mostly parents and people with autism.

Autism society of Florida

Autism20, is only echoes of this campaign donations along with the art book "In Vino Veritart" by Roberto Sironi and Mariagrazia Pia. Donations at Autism society of Florida are exclusively in this link and cannot be accumulated with sales of the digital book or in other forms.

$1.00

Fill out the form below, or email info@autismfl.org

Meet Siamraptor suwati

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Meet Siamraptor suwati, a new species of giant predatory dinosaur from Thailand
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Fossils discovered in Thailand represent a new genus and species of predatory dinosaur, according to a study released October 9, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Duangsuda Chokchaloemwong of Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University, Thailand and colleagues. 

Carcharodontosaurs were a widespread and successful group of large predatory dinosaurs during the Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods and were important members of ecosystems on multiple continents. However, the fossil record of these animals is notably lacking from the Early Cretaceous of Asia, with no definite carcharodontosaurs known from Southeast Asia.

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In this study, Chokchaloemwong and colleagues describe fossil material from the Khok Kruat geologic formation in Khorat, Thailand, dating to the Early Cretaceous. These fossils include remains of the skull, backbone, limbs, and hips of at least four individual dinosaurs, and morphological comparison with known species led the authors to identify these remains as belonging to a previously unknown genus and species of carcharodontosaur which they named Siamraptor suwati

Phylogenetic analysis indicates that Siamraptor is a basal member of the carcharodontosaurs, meaning it represents a very early evolutionary split from the rest of the group. It is also the first definitive carcharodontosaur known from Southeast Asia, and combined with similarly-aged finds from Europe and Africa, it reveals that this group of dinosaurs had already spread to three continents by the Early Cretaceous.

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The authors summarize their work as follows: “A Siam predator: New carnivorous dinosaur Siamraptor suwati discovered in Thailand.

Image Caption: Siamraptor skull reconstruction

Image Credit: Chokchaloemwong et al., 2019

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Citation: Chokchaloemwong D, Hattori S, Cuesta E, Jintasakul P, Shibata M, Azuma Y (2019) A new carcharodontosaurian theropod (Dinosauria: Saurischia) from the Lower Cretaceous of Thailand. PLoS ONE 14(10): e0222489. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0222489

Funding: This work was supported by the Fukui Prefectural Government, Japan, and Nakhon Ratchasima Rajabhat University, Thailand. EC research was financed by a Postdoctoral Fellowship program of the Japan Society of Promotion of Science (JSPS) (Ref. PE18034). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

A super tool helps kids with autism improve socialization skills

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A team of NIH-funded researchers at Stanford University Medical School has found that children with autism improved measurably on a test of socialization and learning when their therapy included an at-home intervention with Google Glass. Google Glass is a headset worn like eyeglasses that provides augmented reality on a miniature screen, with sound. The smart system of eye wear and mobile-phone-based games helped the children with autism understand emotions conveyed in facial expressions.

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Autism is a complex neurological and developmental spectrum disorder that affects how children interact with others, communicate, and learn. Many children affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are unable to discern facial expressions, so miss out on important cues that aid in learning and socialization.

The Stanford team, led by Dennis P. Wall, Ph.D., associate professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatry and Biomedical Data Sciences, used Google Glass’s built-in camera along with software customized to run on a smart phone as an intervention that care givers used with their children at home to supplement clinic-based therapy.  The study was published March 25, 2019, in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Technology can be a terrific asset to the therapy process, for both physical and neurodevelopmental gains,” said Tiffani Lash, Ph.D., director of the NIBIB programs in Connected Health (mHealth and Telehealth), and Point-of-Care Technologies. “This is a heartwarming achievement and a promising example using a bioengineering approach. The innovative software and hardware solution coupled with the therapeutic component meets a dire need for many children and their parents.”

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Google Glass is lens-less, non-invasive, and peripheral—sitting off to the right side of view for the child. “The system acts as a true augmentation to their reality, keeping them in their natural social world, as opposed to taking them out of it,” Wall said. “In contrast to virtual or mixed reality, augmented reality is potentially a powerful vehicle through which we can teach children social skills to rescue some of these deficits early in their development.”

A camera in the device captures the facial expression of family members in the glasses’ field of view, reinforcing what the child sees by providing an image and audio prompt. It detects up to eight emotions: happy, sad, angry, scared, surprised, disgusted, “meh,” and neutral. The glasses are wirelessly connected to a smartphone device that may be operated in three different play modes. There is ‘find the smile’ game, where the child is prompted to say something that prompts an expression in the family member’s face; the ‘guess the emotion’ game, where the family member asks the child to guess the emotion from the family member’s face; and free play, an unstructured mode of identifying facial expressions.

The device also records a video that parents can observe at a later time to monitor the progress that their child makes with the activities. “Our hope was that the video playback would be a good source of reinforcement learning with the children,” Wall said. “It provides the opportunity for the learner to focus in on certain human emotions that they may or may not be getting right, so they might become more adept at detecting those emotions in real time.”

The researchers recruited 71 children between the ages of six and 12 who all had been enrolled in a program of applied behavioral analysis therapy—the standard care for most children with ASD. Experts recommend 20 hours per week of the standard therapy, in which the child interacts with a therapist who leads learning activities to improve social, motor, and verbal behaviors, as well as reasoning skills through observation and positive reinforcement. The authors cite the current cost for this standard therapy to be between $40,000 and $60,000 per year, noting that parents can often wait up to 18 months for their child to gain access to the therapy.

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Experts suggest that it is important for children with ASD to receive a diagnosis early—which can be assessed by the age of two—so that children can begin treatment as early as possible. According to the authors, learning aids such as the type tested in the study could begin to address this difficult challenge of accessing therapy more immediately, outside the clinic.

Of the 71 enrolled in the study, 40 children also received the augmented reality device to play the programmed games or freely play during 20-minutes sessions, four times per week. After six weeks, the team assessed all 71 children on a standard socialization scale.

The researchers found that children receiving the smart-glasses intervention along with standard therapy scored significantly better in the post-study assessment than those in the control group. Children who used the smart glasses improved 4.58 points on the standard scale above those who did not use the Google Glass intervention. Authors unrelated to the work by Wall and colleagues recently published in Autism Research that changes of 2 to 3.75 points on the scale represent a clinically important difference.

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“This is based on a statistically rigorous approach to the analysis of the data,” Wall said. “We should be excited about the result. While the overall effect is modest, the positive change seen in the treated children is significant and points to a new direction that could help more children get the care they need, when they need it.”

Wall noted that the device represents a short-term learning aid and predicts that in the not-too-distant-future there will be a wider array of available augmented reality wearables. “After a period of time, they take the glasses off and they grow on their own into more complex social scenarios.”

Though a playful intervention, families in the treatment group missed a portion of the prescribed hours in which to practice with Google Glass, and most preferred the structured games over the unstructured free-play option. But the activity was positively received to the point that children who participated in the study created a new name for the tool, calling it Superpower Glass, a moniker the authors adopted in writing their report on the study. The researchers have begun to plan for a larger, follow up study.

For more about autism spectrum disorder, go to: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/in…

The research was conducted with support from NIBIB (EB025025) and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HD091500), both at NIH.

The study: Effect of Wearable Digital Intervention for Improving Socialization in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Voss C, Schwartz J, Daniels J, Kline A, Haber N, Washington P, Tariq Q, Robinson TN, Desai M, Phillips JM, Feinstein C, Winograd T, Wall DP. JAMA Pediatrics. 2019 Mar 25

Immigration Issues at U.S.-Mexico Border

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New Brunswick, N.J. (Sept. 26, 2019) – Rutgers scholar Camilla Townsend is available to discuss shifting perspectives of the U.S.-Mexico border.

“How we think about the border has transformed over time. In the first half of the 20th century, the U.S. government worked hard to encourage the migration northward of many thousands of needed Mexican workers. It was only in the second half of the century that the government’s goal shifted to stopping the migrations,” said Townsend, whose new fall course Wars, Wayfarers, and the Wall: A History of the U.S.-Mexican Border encourages critical thinking about hotly contested issues such as the border wall and U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border to be turned away. “What was once a welcomed migration of people has now become this thing to be ‘defended’ and it has caused a rift in the population. I think the next generation of voters is going to have their work cut out for them this next election season.”

Townsend, a Distinguished Professor of history at Rutgers–New Brunswick, is an expert in Latin-American history and the author of Annals of Native America: How the Nahuas of Colonial Mexico Kept Their History. She can be reached by contacting Cynthia Medina at  c.medina@rutgers.edu.

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Broadcast interviews: Rutgers University–New Brunswick has broadcast-quality TV and radio studios available for remote live or taped interviews with Rutgers experts. For more information, contact Cynthia Medina c.medina@rutgers.edu

ABOUT RUTGERS—NEW BRUNSWICK

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Rutgers University–New Brunswick is where Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, began more than 250 years ago. Ranked among the world’s top 60 universities, Rutgers’s flagship university is a leading public research institution and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. It is home to internationally acclaimed faculty and has 12 degree-granting schools and a Division I Athletics program. It is the Big Ten Conference’s most diverse university. Through its community of teachers, scholars, artists, scientists, and healers, Rutgers is equipped as never before to transform lives.

First Large-Scale Study of Universal Screening for Autism Raises Critical Questions about Accuracy, Equity

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Researchers urge continued screening for all toddlers, while recommending changes to M-CHAT screening method to improve accuracy, address disparities

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Newswise — Philadelphia, September 27, 2019 –

In the first large, real-world study of universal screening for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in toddlers, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) have found that the most widely used and researched screening tool is less accurate than shown in previous studies conducted in research laboratory settings. The new study also revealed significant disparities in detecting early autism symptoms in minority, urban and low-income children. The findings were published online today in the journal Pediatrics.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends screening all toddlers for ASD at their 18- and 24-month primary care check-ups using the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers with Follow-Up (M-CHAT/F), a two-stage parent survey to determine whether a child may have autism, with the follow-up designed to eliminate false positives. However, most studies to evaluate the accuracy of the M-CHAT/F have been conducted in research settings rather than in real-world clinical settings. Therefore, very little was known about screening in the recommended primary care setting, nor about longer-term outcomes for children who screened negative on the M-CHAT/F. The CHOP study is the first to look at outcomes of truly universal screening in a real-world primary care setting.

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“As part of a large pediatric network implementing universal screening, we found ourselves in a unique position to find answers to critical questions about the accuracy of the M-CHAT, and to determine how many children are missed by early, universal screening,” said lead author Whitney Guthrie, PhD, a clinical psychologist specializing in early diagnosis at CHOP’s Center for Autism Research. “Early intervention has been shown to improve outcomes, potentially into adulthood. We know that early and accurate screening and diagnosis is the crucial first step in helping children access those effective, autism-specific therapies.”

The CHOP research team studied the electronic health records (EHR) of 25,999 patients screened in primary care using the M-CHAT/F between the ages of 16 and 26 months, and systematically followed these children until 4 through 8 years of age using the EHR. Ninety-one percent of these children were screened using the M-CHAT/F, meaning that nearly universal screening of all children in primary care was achieved.

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The study showed that the M-CHAT/F detected only about 40% of children who went on to be diagnosed with ASD. However, children who screened positive were diagnosed seven months earlier than those who screened negative, suggesting that early screening may facilitate early intervention. Overall, 2.2% of children in the study were ultimately diagnosed with ASD, which is consistent with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates nationally.

“Although our findings reveal significant shortcomings in current screening tools, we want to be clear that we are not recommending that pediatricians stop universal screening,” said Guthrie. “Instead, clinicians should continue to screen using the M-CHAT/F, while being aware that this screening tool does miss some children with ASD. Any clinical or parental concerns should be taken seriously, and warrant continued surveillance even if a child screens negative on the M-CHAT/F. And of course, a screen positive on the M-CHAT/F warrants referral so that children with ASD can be diagnosed and receive early intervention.

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“Pediatricians should also be aware of disparities in screening practices and results in children of color and from low-income backgrounds.”

The CHOP study found that the 9% of children who did not receive screening at 18 or 24 months were disproportionately from racial minority groups; from non-English speaking households; and from households with lower median income and who receive Medicaid. When screening was administered, these same children were more likely to receive a false positive result. The M-CHAT was also less accurate in girls than in boys.

“Persistent racial and economic disparities in autism screening and diagnosis are a cause for great concern, and are consistent with previous research showing that black and Hispanic children tend to be diagnosed years later than white children,” said co-author Kate Wallis, MD, MPH, a developmental pediatrician and researcher at CHOP’s PolicyLab who is also studying disparities in referrals for autism services. “This study revealed important limitations and provides us with new knowledge that we can use to make critical improvements to autism screening tools and screening processes, so pediatricians can properly detect and support more children with autism and reduce disparities in diagnosis and care.”

Guthrie et al, “Accuracy of Autism Screening in a Large Pediatric Network.” Pediatrics, online 27 September 2019. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2019-0925.

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About Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia was founded in 1855 as the nation’s first pediatric hospital. Through its long-standing commitment to providing exceptional patient care, training new generations of pediatric healthcare professionals, and pioneering major research initiatives, Children’s Hospital has fostered many discoveries that have benefited children worldwide.  Its pediatric research program is among the largest in the country.  In addition, its unique family-centered care and public service programs have brought the 564-bed hospital recognition as a leading advocate for children and adolescents. For more information, visit http://www.chop.edu

Autism CARES Act of 2019

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 19, 2019 /PRNewswire/ —

Autism Speaks applauds the final passage of the Autism Collaboration, Accountability, Research, Education and Support Act of 2019 (Autism CARES Act of 2019) (H.R.1058). The bill now goes to the President’s desk for his signature. Autism CARES is the foundation of the federal government’s efforts around autism, serving as the primary source of federal funding for autism research, services, training and monitoring.

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The bipartisan, bicameral legislation received broad support with 173 house members and 41 senators having signed on as co-sponsors of the legislation. Autism Speaks is grateful to have worked hand-in-hand with the measure’s congressional champions and advocates across the country in order to ensure support for the life-enhancing research and high-quality services authorized under the Autism CARES Act.

“Autism Speaks, alongside the millions of people with autism and their families, celebrates the passage of the Autism CARES Act of 2019,” said Autism Speaks President and CEO Angela Geiger. “Thanks to the leadership of Senator Bob Menendez, Senator Michael Enzi, Congressman Chris Smith and Congressman Mike Doyle, this legislation ensures sustained funding to better support people with autism across the spectrum and at every stage of life.”

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The CDC estimates that 1 in 59 U.S. children have autism, according to surveillance and prevalence studies authorized by Autism CARES. A recent study by Autism Speaks researchers also found that children with autism have nearly four times higher odds of having unmet health care needs compared to children without disabilities. “We know autism is a lifelong condition and these unmet needs can and often do continue into adulthood,” said Autism Speaks Senior Vice President of Advocacy Stuart Spielman. “The Autism CARES Act of 2019 not only renews federal support for existing autism research and programs but also expands these activities, placing an increased emphasis on reducing health disparities and improving services throughout the life span.”

Under the authority of the Autism CARES Act of 2014 and predecessor legislation, over $3.1 billion has been dedicated for autism to the National Institute of Health (NIH), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) since 2006. The Autism CARES Act of 2019 authorizes more than $1.8 billion in funding over the next five years. This funding primarily supports autism research grants awarded by NIH which advance the scientific understanding of autism, expand efforts to develop treatments for medical conditions often associated with autism and address the needs of people affected by it. The NIH Autism Centers of Excellence also fosters collaboration within and among research centers, increasing the power and efficiency of their efforts.

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The Autism CARES Act of 2019 also reauthorizes and supports numerous programs across the country focused on ensuring high-quality services for people with autism. Through 52 Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Other Related Disabilities (LEND) programs and 12 Developmental Behavioral Pediatric Training Programs, the legislation has and will continue to enhance education, early detection and intervention activities at HRSA through the training of future leaders and healthcare professionals. Likewise, collaborative programs such as the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) will continue to help translate research into improved care and tangible resources for families and clinicians.

Under Autism CARES, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) is empowered to advise on federal autism activities, and tasks the federal government with surveying and reporting to Congress on the current landscape of autism services. The 2014 legislation resulted in a report to Congress on young adults with autism and the challenges related to transitioning from school-based services to those available during adulthood. The 2019 legislation mandates another report, this time focused on the health and well-being of individuals with autism spectrum disorder, emphasizing their needs throughout the life span.

Autism Speaks looks forward to working with Congress and its community partners to deliver on the promise of Autism CARES through renewed appropriations for these programs. 

SOURCE Autism Speaks

Yoga and Autism

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Motor development would be the first phase that comes to mind when we talk about yoga and autism, but this is only one of the many facets of yoga. Breath control, useful for stabilizing emotions, mastering one’s body and therefore greater manual skills.

Yoga practice allows children to develop stability, balance and motor skills. Some asanas require children to learn to balance their weight well between their legs and arms, to try to keep their balance on one foot or to keep their head and spine aligned, always respecting their age and their abilities physical.

Free online yoga

Yoga can improve sensory integration skills so that it is useful to train stimuli or stimuli in children with autism. Sensory integration itself is the brain’s ability to read and translate various stimuli from the five senses, namely vision, smell, touch, hearing and taste.

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In children with autism, altered sensory integration causes children to have difficulty interpreting the sensory stimuli they receive. Through yoga positions, children will learn to recognize and interpret various types of sensory stimuli.

Jurassic fossil

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Discovery of a new fossil in China sheds light on when early mammal ancestors first evolved sophisticated thyroid bones that gave them the ability to swallow food like modern-day mammals.

The 165-million-year-old fossil of Microdocodongracilis, a tiny, shrew-like animal, shows the earliest example of modern hyoid bones in mammal evolution The hyoid bones link the back of the mouth, or pharynx, to the openings of the esophagus and the larynx. The hyoids of modern mammals, including humans, are arranged in a “U” shape, similar to the saddle seat of children’s swing, suspended by jointed segments from the skull. It helps us transport and swallow chewed food and liquid – a crucial function on which our livelihood depends.

Mammals as a whole are far more sophisticated than other living vertebrates in chewing up food and swallowing itone small lump at a time, instead of gulping down huge bites or whole prey like an alligator.

“Mammals have become so diverse today through the evolution of diverse ways to chew their food, weather it is insects, worms, meat, or plants. But no matter how differently mammals can chew, they all have to swallow in the same way,” said Zhe-Xi Luo, PhD, a professor of organismal biology and anatomy at the University of Chicago and the senior author of a new study of the fossil, published this week in Science.

“Essentially, the specialized way for mammals to chew and then swallow is all made possible by the agile hyoid bones at the back of the throat,” Luo said.

‘A pristine, beautiful fossil’

This modern hyoid apparatus is mobile and allows the throat muscles to control the intricate functions to transport and swallow chewed food or drink fluids. Other vertebrates also have hyoid bones, but their hyoids are simple and rod-like, without mobile joints between segments. They can only swallow food whole or in large chunks.

When and how this unique hyoid structure first appeared in mammals, however, has long been in question among paleontologists. In 2014, Chang-Fu Zhou, PhD, from the Paleontological Museum of Liaoning in China, the lead author of the new study, found a new fossil of Microdocodon preserved with delicate hyoid bones in the famous Jurassic Daohugou site of northeastern China.Soon afterwards, Luo and Thomas Martin from the University of Bonn, Germany, met up with Zhou in China to study the fossil.

“It is a pristine, beautiful fossil. I was amazed by the exquisite preservation of this tiny fossil at the first sight. We got a sense that it was unusual, but we were puzzled about what was unusual about it,”Luo said. “After taking detailed photographs and examining the fossil under a microscope, it dawned on us that this Jurassic animal has tiny hyoid bones much like those of modern mammals.”

This new insight gave Luo and his colleagues added context on how to study the new fossil. Microdocodonis a docodont, from an extinct lineage of near relatives of mammals from the Mesozoic Era called mammaliaforms. Previously, paleontologists anticipated that hyoids like this had to be there in all of these early mammals, but it was difficult to identify the delicate bones.  After finding them in Microdocodon, Luo and his collaborators have since found similar fossilized hyoid structures in other Mesozoic mammals.

“Now we are able for the first time to address how the crucial function for swallowing evolved among early mammals from the fossil record,” Luo said. “The tiny hyoids of Microdocodonare a big milestone for interpreting the evolution of mammalian feeding function.”

New insights on mammal evolution as a whole

Luo also worked with postdoctoral scholar Bhart-Anjan Bhullar, PhD, now on the faculty at Yale University, and April Neander, a scientific artist and expert on CT visualization of fossils at UChicago, to study casts of Microdocodonand reconstruct how it lived.

The jaw and middle ear of modern mammals are developed from (or around) the first pharyngeal arch, structures in a vertebrate embryo that develop into other recognizable bones and tissues. Meanwhile, the hyoids are developed separately from the second and the third pharyngeal arches. Microdocodonhas a primitive middle ear still attached to the jaw like that of other early mammals like cynodonts, which is unlike the ear of modern mammals. Yet its hyoids are already like those of modern mammals.

“Hyoids and ear bones are all derivatives of the primordial vertebrate mouth and gill skeleton, with which our earliest fishlike ancestors fed and respired,” Bhullar said. “The jointed, mobile hyoid of Microdocodoncoexists with an archaic middle ear — still attached to the lower jaw. Therefore, the building of the modern mammal entailed serial repurposing of a truly ancient system.”

The tiny, shrew-like creature likely weighed only 5 to 9 grams, with a slender body, and an exceptionally long tail. The dimensions of its limb bonesmatch up with those of modern tree-dwellers.

“Its limb bones are as thin as matchsticks, and yet this tiny Mesozoic mammal still lived an active life in trees,” Neander said.

The fossil beds that yielded Microdocodonare dated 164 to 166 million years old. Microdocodonco-existed with other docodonts like the semiaquatic Castorocauda, the subterranean Docofossor, the tree-dwellingAgilodocodon, as well as some mammaliaform gliders.

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The study, “New Jurassic mammaliaform sheds light on early evolution of mammal-like hyoid bones,” was published in Scienceon July 19, 2019. The research was supported by the University of Chicago Division of Biological Sciences (Luo); the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Martin); and the National Natural Science Foundation and Ministry of Land Resources of China, Shenyang Normal University, and Shandong University of Science and Technology (Zhou).

Autism Study Stresses Importance of Communicating with All Infants

Photo by Zoltan Tasi

Language Skills Can Benefit from Parents’ Early Support, Interactions.

University of Texas at Dallas

Dr. Meghan Swanson, assistant professor at The University of Texas at Dallas, is the corresponding author of the study, published online June 28 in Autism Research. It is the first to extend research about the relationship between caregiver speech and infant language development from typically developing children to those with autism. The findings could inform guidelines for earlier action in cases of developmental difficulties.

A new language-skills study that included infants later diagnosed with autism suggests that all children can benefit from exposure to more speech from their caregivers.

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“You can diagnose autism at 24 months at the earliest; most people are diagnosed much later. Early intervention, from birth to age 3, has shown to be effective at supporting development in various cohorts of children,” said Swanson, who joined the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences in January as the director of the Infant Neurodevelopment & Language Research Lab, known as the Baby Brain Lab.

She said there has been a push to identify autism earlier or demonstrate that the same techniques that help most children develop language skills also benefit those eventually diagnosed with autism.

The study involved 96 babies, 60 of whom had an older sibling with autism. Swanson said that this “baby-sibling” research design was necessary.

“How do you study autism in infancy when you can’t diagnose it until the kids are age 2 at least?” she asked. “The answer relies on the fact that autism tends to run in families. These younger siblings have about a 20% chance of being diagnosed eventually with autism.”

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Indeed, 14 children from the high-risk subset of 60 were diagnosed with autism at 24 months.

The study results directly tied the number of words an infant hears, as well as the conversational turns he or she takes, to the performance on the 24-month language evaluation — both for typical children and those with autism.

“One conclusion we’ve come to is that parents should be persistent in talking with their babies even if they aren’t getting responses,” Swanson said.

Swanson emphasized how important large, longitudinal studies — tracking the same individuals across an extended period — like this one are in her field.

“You have to follow the same children for years to learn anything conclusive about development,” she said. “You can’t simply shift from a group of 2-year-olds to a different group of 3-year-olds and so on.”

Correcting the misunderstanding of parents’ influence in autism has been a gradual fight against outdated conceptions, Swanson said.

“When parents receive an autism diagnosis for a child, some might wonder, ‘What could I have done differently?’” she said. “There is no scientific backing for them to think in these terms. But there is a dark history in autism where parents were wrongly blamed, which reinforced these thoughts. To do research involving mothers as we have, you must approach that topic with sensitivity but also firmly reinforce that the logic that parenting style can cause autism is flawed.”

The children’s interactions with caregivers were recorded over two days — once at nine months and again at 15 months — via a LENA (Language Environment Analysis) audio recorder. The children’s language skills were then assessed at 24 months.

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“The LENA software counts conversational turns anytime an adult vocalizes and the infant responds, or vice versa,” Swanson said. “The definition is not related to the content of the speech, just that the conversation partner responds. We believe that responding to infants when they talk supports infant development, regardless of eventual autism diagnosis.”

The project was undertaken by the Infant Brain Imaging Study (IBIS) network, a consortium of eight universities in the United States and Canada funded by the National Institutes of Health as an Autism Center of Excellence. Before joining UT Dallas, Swanson was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of IBIS’ study sites. The other study sites are Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Washington in Seattle and the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus.

Dr. Joseph Piven, the IBIS network’s principal investigator, is the director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC-Chapel Hill. For parents, the results should highlight the long-term effect of initiating conversations from an early age, he said.

“Talking to your kids makes a big difference,” Piven said. “Any impact on early language skills will almost certainly have an impact on a wide range of later abilities in school-age children and significantly enhance their probability of success.”

Swanson said the most important takeaway from this work is that parents can make a significant difference in language development, even in children who are eventually diagnosed with autism.

“Parents can be amazing agents of change in their infants’ lives from as early as 9 months old,” she said. “If we teach parents how to provide their children with a rich communication environment, it helps support their children’s development. I find that incredibly hopeful — the power that parents have to be these positive role models.”

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In addition to UT Dallas and the IBIS study sites, researchers from Temple University, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, McGill University and the University of Alberta contributed to this study. The Simons Foundation also supported the research.

Autism rates increasing fastest among black and Hispanic children

Autism rates among racial minorities in the United States have increased by double digits in recent years, with black rates now exceeding those of whites in most states and Hispanic rates growing faster than any other group, according to new University of Colorado Boulder research.

The study, published this month in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, also found that prevalence of autism among white youth is ticking up again, after flattening in the mid-2000s.

While some of the increase is due to more awareness and greater detection of the disorder among minority populations, other environmental factors are likely at play, the authors conclude.

“We found that rates among blacks and Hispanics are not only catching up to those of whites — which have historically been higher — but surpassing them,” said lead author Cynthia Nevison, an atmospheric research scientist with the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. “These results suggest that additional factors beyond just catch-up may be involved.”

For the study, Nevison teamed up with co-author Walter Zahorodny, an autism researcher and associate professor of pediatrics at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, to analyze the most recent data available from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

IDEA tracks prevalence, including information on race, among 3-to-5-year-olds across all 50 states annually. ADDM tracks prevalence among 8-year-olds in 11 states every two years.

The new study found that between birth year 2007 and 2013, autism rates among Hispanics age 3-5 rose 73%, while rates among blacks that age rose 44% and rates among whites rose 25%.

In 30 states, prevalence among blacks was higher than among whites by 2012.

In states with “high prevalence,” 1 in 79 whites, 1 in 68 blacks and 1 in 83 Hispanics born in 2013 have been diagnosed with autism by age 3-5.

Other states like Colorado fell in a “low-prevalence” category, but the authors cautioned that differences between states likely reflect differences in how well cases are reported by age 3-5. They also said the real prevalence is substantially higher, as many children are not diagnosed until later in life.

“There is no doubt that autism prevalence has increased significantly over the past 10 to 20 years, and based on what we have seen from this larger, more recent dataset it will continue to increase among all race and ethnicity groups in the coming years,” said Zahorodny.

In 2018, the Centers for Disease Control reported that about 1 in 59 children of all races have been diagnosed with autism and that rates had risen 15 percent overall from the previous two year period, largely due to better outreach and diagnosis among historically underdiagnosed minority populations. The new study challenges that explanation.

“Our data contradict the assertion that these increases are mainly due to better awareness among minority children,” said Zahorodny. “If the minority rates are exceeding the white rates that implies some difference in risk factor, either greater exposure to something in the environment or another trigger.”

Established risk factors associated with autism include advanced parental age, challenges to the immune system during pregnancy, genetic mutations, premature birth and being a twin or multiple.

The authors said that, based on current research, they cannot pinpoint what other environmental exposures might be factoring into the increases in autism. But they would like to see more research done in the field.