Tag: Behavioral Science

Exercise Improve Video Game Performance?

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Photo by Lucie Liz on Pexels.com
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Time spent playing video games is often seen as time stolen from physical activities. Research has shown that exercise has many physical and cognitive benefits. But what if exercise could benefit video game performance as well? A new study led by neuroscientist Dr. Marc Roig and his research team from the School of Physical & Occupational Therapy at McGill University, found, for the first time, that it can. The results of this study challenge the preponderant view that video gaming and physical activity are antagonistic activities. The findings were published online in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

“The idea for the study actually came from two of my students in The Memory Lab , Bernat de Las Heras and Orville Li,” explains Dr. Roig, the study’s senior author. “They devoted so much time and effort investigating the impact of exercise on brain plasticity and cognition in people who have various conditions such as stroke or Parkinson’s Disease, that they were curious to also explore the relationship between exercise and video game performance, a leisure activity that some of them are very familiar with. The question was whether a single bout of exercise could improve video game performance?”

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Several studies have shown that increased screen time, including video gaming is associated with low levels of physical activity and that video gamers who exceed screen-time limits are at greater risk of experiencing health issues associated to physical inactivity. The evidence also reveals that a lack of physical activity combined with increased sedentary activity puts people at a greater risk of experiencing health issues including cardiometabolic clinical conditions such as hyperlipidemia, coronary heart disease and diabetes as well as psychosocial issues. Participating in an exercise program can improve overall health, reduce the risk of developing these sedentary-related cardiometabolic health problems and is also shown to have positive effects on cognition.

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Discovering the benefits of exercise to gaming

Conducting their work at The Memory Lab, the researchers showed that as little as 15 minutes of intense cardiovascular exercise, performed immediately before playing a video game, improved the performance of the popular online video game, League of Legends (LoL). To complete the study, a group of young individuals were asked to either perform intense cardiovascular exercise, or rest, immediately before playing the same customized mission in LoL. Their performance in the video game was observed and documented and found to improve after exercise in comparison with rest. The research group was excited to find these results not only because exercise can have a positive effect on video gaming performance but also because this is the first time this has been demonstrated.

This positive relationship of exercise and video gaming could have an important impact on the growing number of people who play video games worldwide. The latest statistics show that there are 2.3 billion video game players in the world and this number is expected to increase to 2.7 billion by 2021. Online video game platforms such as League of Legends or Fortnite have 67 and 78.3 million players monthly respectively. At the same time as video game use is increasing, as a society we are failing to promote physical activity in younger individuals. The findings in this study could produce a dramatic shift in the video game discussion as the results provide a strong argument to convince the rapidly growing number of video gamers in the world to become more active physically.

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“It was surprising that most participants benefited from the effects of exercise regardless of their fitness level and their emotional response to exercise,” notes Dr. Roig. “It was striking to see that those participants who were not in exceptionally good shape or were not particularly crazy about exercise also improved their video game skill level after the single bout of exercise. This suggests that this intervention could be suitable for many individuals in our society. Video gamers could potentially integrate exercise into their training routines not only to enhance their video game performance but also to benefit from the well-known effects of exercise on physical and cognitive health.”

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Plans to expand on this research in the future

Looking ahead, the group would be interested to see whether these findings can be extrapolated to other video games and whether other exercise modalities would show similar effects. It would also be interesting to look into potential underlying mechanisms and whether multiple exercise sessions would have summative effects on video gaming skills. Finally, but not the least important, one could ask whether the results of this study will be enough to change the habits of sedentary video gamers and their views on physical activity.

Dr. Roig says that one of the main challenges of the study was to create a video game task that was close enough to real video gaming but that also allowed the researchers to measure the performance of players reliably. That is why the research group is thinking about partnering with a company to create a video game platform for research purposes. The idea would be to create a video game that could be used to study the effects of different interventions (e.g. exercise) on different cognitive and motor skills. They would also like to explore the combined effects of exercise and video gaming as a multimodal intervention to improve cognition in non-disabled individuals but also those suffering from clinical conditions.

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Can artificial intelligence help prevent suicides?

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New tool from the Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society at USC aims to prevent suicide among youth

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According to the CDC, the suicide rate for individuals 10-24 years old has increased 56% between 2007 and 2017. In comparison to the general population, more than half of people experiencing homelessness have had thoughts of suicide or have attempted suicide, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council reported.

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Phebe Vayanos, assistant professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and Computer Science at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering has been enlisting the help of a powerful ally -artificial intelligence- to help mitigate the risk of suicide.

“In this research, we wanted to find ways to mitigate suicidal ideation and death among youth. Our idea was to leverage real-life social network information to build a support network of strategically positioned individuals that can ‘watch-out’ for their friends and refer them to help as needed,” Vayanos said.

Vayanos, an associate director at USC’s Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society (CAIS), and her team have been working over the last couple of years to design an algorithm capable of identifying who in a given real-life social group would be the best persons to be trained as “gatekeepers” capable of identifying warning signs of suicide and how to respond.

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Vayanos and Ph.D. candidate Aida Rahmattalabi, the lead author of the study “Exploring Algorithmic Fairness in Robust Graph Covering Problems,” investigated the potential of social connections such as friends, relatives, and acquaintances to help mitigate the risk of suicide. Their paper will be presented at the Thirty-third Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NeurIPS) this week.

“We want to ensure that a maximum number of people are being watched out for, taking into account resource limitations and uncertainties of open world deployment. For example, if some of the people in the network are not able to make it to the gatekeeper training, we still want to have a robust support network,” Vayanos said.

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For this study, Vayanos and Rahmattalabi looked at the web of social relationships of young people experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, given that 1 in 2 youth who are homeless have considered suicide.

“Our algorithm can improve the efficiency of suicide prevention trainings for this particularly vulnerable population,” Vayanos said.

For Vayanos, efficiency translates into developing a model and algorithm that can stretch limited resources as far as they can go. In this scenario, the limited resources are the human gatekeepers. This algorithm tries to plan how these individuals can be best positioned and trained in a network to watch out for others.

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“If you are strategic,” says Vayanos, “you can cover more people and you can have a more robust network of support.”

“Through this study, we can also help inform policymakers who are making decisions regarding funding on suicide prevention initiatives; for example, by sharing with them the minimum number of people who need to receive the gatekeeper training to ensure that all youth have at least one trained friend who can watch out for them,” Vayanos said.

“Our aim is to protect as many youth as possible,” said lead author, Rahmattalabi.

An important goal when deploying this A.I. system is to ensure fairness and transparency.

“We often work in environments that have limited resources, and this tends to disproportionately affect historically marginalized and vulnerable populations,” said co-author on the study Anthony Fulginiti, an assistant professor of social work at the University of Denver who received his Ph.D. from USC, having begun his research with Eric Rice, founding director of USC CAIS.

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“This algorithm can help us find a subset of people in a social network that gives us the best chance that youth will be connected to someone who has been trained when dealing with resource constraints and other uncertainties,” said Fulginiti.

This work is particularly important for vulnerable populations, say the researchers, particularly for youth who are experiencing homelessness.

“One of the surprising things we discovered in our experiments based on social networks of homeless youth is that existing A.I. algorithms, if deployed without customization, result in discriminatory outcomes by up to 68% difference in protection rate across races. The goal is to make this algorithm as fair as possible and adjust the algorithm to protect those groups that are worse off,” Rahmattalabi said.

The USC CAIS researchers want to ensure that “gatekeeper” coverage of the more vulnerable groups is as high as possible. Their algorithm reduced the bias in coverage in real-life social networks of homeless youth by as much as 20%.

Said Rahmattalabi: “Not only does our solution advance the field of computer science by addressing a computationally hard problem, but also it pushes the boundaries of social work and risk management science by bringing in computational methods into design and deployment of prevention programs.”

Children of abused mothers

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Photo by Jen Theodore

50% more likely to have low IQ

Children of women who reported domestic violence in pregnancy or during the first six years of the child’s life are almost 50% more likely to have a low IQ at age 8, research finds.

In the study by University of Manchester epidemiologists, 13% of children whose mothers did not experience domestic violence had an IQ of below 90 at 8 years of age.

If their mothers experienced physical violence from their partner either in pregnancy or during the first six years of the child’s life, the figure rises to 22.8%.

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The team led by Dr Kathryn Abel from The University of Manchester show the chance of a low IQ rises to 34.6% if the mother was repeatedly exposed to domestic violence.

That means children with mothers who repeatedly suffer domestic violence during pregnancy and the first six years of their child’s life are almost three times more likely to have a low IQ at 8 years of age, find researchers.

Low IQ is defined as an IQ score less than 90, where a normal IQ is considered to be 100.

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The study examined the link between domestic violence – also called Intimate partner violence (IPV) – and child intelligence at 8 year’s old, using 3,997 mother child pairs from The University of Bristol’s Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.

The study, funded by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council, is published in Wellcome Open Research.

ALSPAC follows children from pregnancy, and measures emotional and physical domestic violence – also known as intimate partner violence – from pregnancy until eight years of age.

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The intelligence of the children was measured at eight years using the Weschler standardised IQ test.

Dr Abel said: “We already know that 1 in 4 women age 16 and over in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and that their children are at greater risk of physical, social and behavioural problems.

“We also know that intelligence in childhood is strongly linked with doing well in adulthood, though there has been little evidence about the risk of low IQ for these children.

“While we cannot conclude that IPV causes low IQ, these findings demonstrate domestic violence has a measurable link, by mid-childhood, independent of other risk factors for low IQ.”

17.6% of the mothers in the study reported emotional violence and 6.8% reported physical violence.

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The findings are independent of other risk factors for low IQ such as alcohol and tobacco use in pregnancy, maternal depression, low maternal education and financial hardship around the child’s birth.

There is some disagreement on whether the IQ test is a complete measure of intelligence, as it only considers verbal and non-verbal intelligence

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However, it is regarded as useful by many experts because a high IQ has been demonstrated in many countries and cultures to associate with a broad range of improved social and health outcomes.

Dr Hein Heuvelman, from The University of Bristol added: “Exposure to domestic violence is common for children in the UK and an important and often overlooked risk factor in their life chances.

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“So knowing the extent to which these already vulnerable children are further affected is a powerful argument for more, better and earlier intervention.

“Current support for women experiencing domestic violence is inadequate in some areas and absent in others.

“Early intervention with these families protects children from harm, but it may also prioritise their future development.”

Families of youth with autism face big barriers to care, gaps in services

Case Western Reserve University researchers examine needs, services for youth with autism and their family caregivers

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Photo by Tim Graf

New research at Case Western Reserve University found big gaps in services and continued care for children with autism—and their families—as they transition from adolescence to adulthood.

The families need more support, including improved job training, access to services and transportation, according to research from the university’s Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.

Researchers surveyed 174 families from Northeast Ohio to examine the needs and barriers to services for youth with autism—from 16 to 30 years old—and their family caregivers.

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Examining the issues

Participants were recruited from  28 public and private agencies and organizations. The survey asked about services—both received and needed—as well as top concerns. Chief among them: limited access to information, reported by 51% of the respondents. Other issues include waiting lists or services not being available (44%), location (39%) and cost (37%).

Researchers also examined the quality of the services provided. They found that often families don’t know where to turn for service, or what services exist.

“The number one thing we heard from parents was that they weren’t aware of the services available to them,” said Karen Ishler, a senior research associate at the Mandel School and co-director of the project.  “How do you know what you don’t know? Who do they talk to?” 

David Biegel, the Henry L. Zucker Professor of Social Work Practice at the Mandel School and one of the project’s co-directors.  said there were some positives learned from the research, too. More than 60% said they “see eye-to-eye” with their spouse/partner regarding care, and more than 65% of the caregivers reported other positive aspects of care.

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“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the entire family,” said Biegel, “Many young people with ASD are at risk for reduced quality of life in adulthood. Additionally, families of adolescents and young adults with ASD face all kinds of stressors—especially during those critical transition years.”

Take, for example, finding a job. Children with autism are allowed to stay in public schools until age 22. When they finish, though, employment training and support dries up, according to the study.

“What happens when they age out? It’s a growing concern,” Ishler said. “We have to look at the service delivery, because we know there are many unmet needs.”

A growing concern

In 2018, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an increase in autism’s estimated prevalence in children, based on an analysis of 2014 medical and educational records of 8-year-old children nationally.

In 2004, one in 166 children nationally were diagnosed with autism; in 2018, that ratio was one in 59.

“A lot of these kids diagnosed at 4, 5 and 6 years old are now becoming young adults,” Biegel said. “It’s putting new pressures on them, and particularly their families, as they age out of school-based services.”

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One caregiver’s response about his or her daughter summed up the problem: “Don’t assume that just because she is highly intellectually functioning that she doesn’t need support and acceptance socially.”

Biegel and Ishler found that 82% of those with autism live with their parents into adulthood. “This confirms what we already know: families shoulder the burden of autism,” Biegel said. The study found that 28% family members had elevated anxiety and 35% had elevated symptoms of depression. 

“We tend to emphasize the people who aren’t doing well,” he said. “We knew there were going to be issues. But some  families are doing just fine—they’ve figured out how to navigate the system. However, here is also a significant number of families that have major concerns and needs. Our hope is that these results stimulates discussion and awareness.”

The study was funded by the International Center for Autism Research and Education (ICARE) through a Mt. Sinai Foundation catalytic grant.