Tag: Psychology and Psychiatry

Spending time in nature reduces stress

ITHACA, N.Y. – New research from an interdisciplinary Cornell team has found that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help college students feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

The research, published Jan. 14 in Frontiers in Psychology, is part of a larger examination of “nature therapy” and aims to provide an easily-achievable dosage that physicians can prescribe as a preventive measure against high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues college students face.

“It doesn’t take much time for the positive benefits to kick in — we’re talking 10 minutes outside in a space with nature,” said lead author Gen Meredith, associate director of the Master of Public Health Program and lecturer at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We firmly believe that every student, no matter what subject or how high their workload, has that much discretionary time each day, or at least a few times per week.”

Meredith and her co-authors reviewed studies that examined the effects of nature on people of college age (no younger than 15, no older than 30) to discover how much time students should be spending outside and what they should be doing while they’re there. They found that 10-50 minutes in natural spaces was the most effective to improve mood, focus and physiological markers like blood pressure and heart rate.

“It’s not that there’s a decline after 50 minutes, but rather that the physiological and self-reported psychological benefits tend to plateau after that,” said co-author Donald Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

To enjoy the positive effects of being outside, students need only to be sitting or walking, the two primary activities the researchers examined in an effort to provide accessible recommendations.

“We wanted to keep this access to nature as simple and achievable as possible,” says Rakow. “While there is a lot of literature on longer outdoor programs, we wanted to quantify doses in minutes, not days.”

For Cornell students, there are a multitude of options for escaping into nature. For urban universities, research suggests that adding green elements to a built space can produce the same results. It is the time spent in nature, not necessarily nature itself, that’s beneficial.

“This is an opportunity to challenge our thinking around what nature can be,” says Meredith. “It is really all around us: trees, a planter with flowers, a grassy quad or a wooded area.”

The impetus for this work is a movement toward prescribing time in nature as a way to prevent or improve stress and anxiety, while also supporting physical and mental health outcomes. The researchers wanted to consider what “dose” would need to be prescribed to college-age students to show an effect. They are hoping that when it’s applied at universities, it becomes part of a student’s routine and is consumed in regular doses, like a pill.

“Prescribing a dose can legitimize the physician’s recommendation and give a tangible goal” says Meredith. “It’s different than just saying: ‘Go outside.’ There is something specific that a student can aim for.”

Meredith and Rakow’s co-authors include Erin Eldermire, head librarian at the Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library; Cecelia Madsen ’12, M.P.H. ’19; Steven Shelley, M.P.H. ’19, epidemiologist at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; and Naomi Sachs, assistant professor at the University of Maryland.

Families of Children With Autism Face Physical, Mental and Social Burdens

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Caregivers face increased social isolation and emotional burnout .

Families of children with autism face high physical, mental and emotional burdens, are sometimes ridiculed and even accused of child abuse, according to a Rutgers study.

The findings were published in the International Journal of Autism & Related Disabilities.

The study surveyed 25 caregivers of 16 children ages 2 to 20 with autism spectrum disorder to evaluate how their care affected their family dynamics, physical and mental health, and social functioning. The researchers also asked about the caregivers’ worries, daily activities, family relationships and insurance.

“While the understanding of how autism spectrum disorders impact individuals has grown, the awareness of the burden on families who care for these individuals is less established,” said Xue Ming, a professor of neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “Caring for loved ones with autism spectrum disorder is emotionally and physically taxing.”

The study found:

  • Emotional burnout was more likely in families with a child with low-functioning autism spectrum disorder and simultaneous conditions.
  • Social isolation was greater in families who reported significant emotional burnout.
  • Families with more than one caregiver experienced less emotional burnout and social isolation.
  • Families with a higher socioeconomic status tended to spend more money on medical treatments outside of their health insurance policy.
  • Families with an aggressive and irritable child tended to experience more social isolation and emotional burnout.
  • Simultaneous medical and behavioral disorders were common in these children.

Nine of the 16 families in the study reported being ridiculed or accused of child abuse, which they said limited them from attending social events, visiting public places such as churches, supermarkets and restaurants, and using mass transportation.

“This suggests that communities need to improve their inclusiveness for families with children with autism spectrum disorder,” Ming said. “The study shows there is a need to raise public awareness of the burdens faced by these families and to alert medical providers to provide them with more support.”

The findings also can be used to advocate for better resources for these children and families to improve their quality of life and reduce stress, she said.  

Other Rutgers co-authors included Binhao Wu, Max Yang and Apoorva Polavarapu.

Can artificial intelligence help prevent suicides?

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

“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.”

Does Crime Really Rise During a Full Moon?

      

Photo by Thomas Brenac

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York University researchers looked into it, just in time for Halloween. 

 

Just in time for Halloween, the BetaGov team at NYU’s Marron Institute of Urban Management is releasing a three-country study on the “lunar effect.”

 

Betagov, which carries out randomized controlled trials for, and collaborates with, stakeholders in the field, looked into the purported relationship between crime and the full moon. The investigation resulted from a conversation with a police official in Vallejo, CA, and an article on the phenomenon he pointed out from Australia.

To start out, BetaGov researchers conducted a review of the overall research literature on the “lunar effect,” which, surprisingly, is mixed. Some studies have found evidence of a lunar effect on crime and negative behavior, and others show none at all.

The Vallejo police official, meanwhile, pulled together his agency’s crime data from January 2014 through May 2018. He researched phases of the moon for each crime event, and sent BetaGov his data for analysis. According to the analysis, the data demonstrated that there’s no association between crime events and full moon. In Vallejo, California, at least, people don’t commit more crimes when there is a full moon.

Other police departments heard about this analysis and were curious whether there was evidence for the lunar hypothesis in their own data. To make sure North America was represented, BetaGov teed up replication studies with the Barrie (Ontario) Police Service in Canada and the Irapuato Citizen Safety Secretariat in Mexico. The team merged moon-phase data into their calls-for-service and crime data.

What was found? Again, nothing.

“Although these kinds of analyses are fun, the findings have practical implications for policing such as in developing staffing assignments and distribution of other law-enforcement resources. The bottom line is be vigilant in questioning your assumptions and use your data to explore. It might just surprise you,” said BetaGov director Angela Hawken (PhD), a professor of public policy at the NYU Marron Institute.

To see the individual research briefs, or to speak with Dr. Hawken, please contact NYU public affairs officer Robert Polner at robert.polner(at)nyu.edu .

 

 

ABOUT BETAGOV: Our team includes psychologists, economists, policy experts, clinical researchers, statisticians, and consultants with decades of experience planning and conducting randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and collaborating with stakeholders in the field. Supported initially by funding from Give Well and Good Ventures, and by subsequent funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Smith Richardson Foundation, our services are provided at no cost. Visit http://betagov.org/index.html