Best and Worst in Psychology and Psychiatry — June 2015

While reviewing the thousands of studies published in psychology and psychiatry this June 2015 a clearly dominant theme emerged — it’s all about the kids! From treating mental illness and problems with child development, to understanding both child and parent thinking and behavior, school might be out, but child psychology takes center stage in this month’s best and worst research limelight.

WORST: Boys in the US More Likely to Have Antipsychotics Prescribed, Regardless of Age

A study on 2006-2010 data from the MS LifeLink LRx database, which includes 63% of outpatient prescriptions filled in the U.S , revealed that boys are more likely than girls to receive a prescription for antipsychotic medication regardless of age. In children ages 1-6, boys were more than twice as likely as girls to receive an antipsychotic prescription (0.16 vs. 0.06% in 2010). This pattern held true for boys and girls ages 7-12 (1.20 vs. 0.44% in 2010) before narrowing for the 13-18 age group (1.42 vs. 0.95% in 2010) and finally becoming more comparable for young men and women ages 19 to 24 (0.88 to 0.81% in 2010). Shockingly, the youngest children, ages 1-6, were the least likely to receive the prescription from a psychiatrist (57.9 vs. 71.9, 77.9, and 70.4% for the other three age groups).

WORST: Researchers Find Mass Killings and School Shootings are Contagious

By examining databases on past high-profile mass killings and school shootings in the U.S. and fitting a contagion model to the data, researchers determined that these tragedies inspired similar events, creating a period of contagion that lasts an average of 13 days. Considering mass school shootings occur on average monthly, more so in states with a high prevalence of firearm ownership, and that roughly 20-30% of such tragedies appear to arise from contagion, the premise that news media of these events may be planting unconscious ideation in vulnerable people requires serious and immediate investigation.

WORST: When Times Are Tough, US Parents Favour Daughters Over Sons

While most parents claim they do not favor one child over another, research is saying otherwise. New research reports that participants creating a will for an imaginary son and daughter preferred to enroll a daughter rather than a son in beneficial programs, preferred to give a U.S. Treasury bond to a daughter rather than a son, and bequeathed a greater share of their assets to female offspring in their will when they perceived economic conditions to be poor. When economic conditions were considered poor, participants entrusted nearly 60% of their available resources to the girl compared to a nearly 50/50 split between the two children when economic conditions were viewed as either neutral or prosperous.

WORST: Children from High Conflict Homes Process Emotion Differently and Face More Social Challenges

Monitoring the brain activity of children picking out angry couples from a mixture of angry and neutral pictures revealed that children exposed to high parental conflict registered a much higher amplitude on an EEG test of an electrical activity called P-3 compared with children in the low conflict group. P-3 is associated with the brain’s ability to discriminate among stimuli and to focus on and give meaning to one. The pattern suggests children from high conflict homes, by training their brains to be conflict vigilant, process signs of interpersonal emotion, either anger or happiness, differently than children from low conflict homes. The researchers note that for some, that extra vigilance could lead to problems in social relationships later in life, although more research is needed to test that theory.

WORST: Avoidant and Anxious Mothers Have Greater Tendency to Punish Positive Child Behaviour and Compromise Bonding

Ninety-seven mothers and their 7-12-year-old children reported on the mothers’ responses to their children’s positive events and emotions as well as her own, and the attachment style and security in the mother-child relationship. The results indicated that more avoidant mothers reported less intense positive feelings in response to their own and their children’s positive events and were also less likely to encourage their children to savor positive events. Moreover, mothers higher on anxiety reported greater likelihood of dampening their own positive events and were more likely to feel discomfort and to reprimand their children for expressing positive moods, which was associated with the child having low feelings of security in the mother-child relationship.

BEST: Sniffing Out Autism

The study tested the sniff response of 18 children with ASD and 18 normally developing children (17 boys and 1 girl in each group) with pleasant and unpleasant odors. The results were clear. While typical children adjusted their sniffing within 305 milliseconds of smelling an odor, children diagnosed with ASD showed no such response. In fact, the sniff test results accurately predicted an ASD diagnosis 81% of the time. Researchers suggest a sniff test could be a great diagnostic tool that is completely non-verbal allowing for accurate assessments in toddlers only a few months old.

BEST: A Supportive Close Friendship Helps Boys and Girls Overcome Adversity

Young people from low-income backgrounds typically face substantial challenges to good physical health, mental health, academic achievement and employment. A new study reveals that having a single supportive close friendship can help the child to thrive under such challenging circumstances.

Analysis of 409 11-19 year old’s survey data from Yorkshire based schools (UK) serving catchment areas with poor socioeconomic status reveals that both boys’ and girls’ best friendships facilitated effective ways of coping (such as planning, reframing an issue in a positive way and using emotional support) that helped them develop resilience to complex challenges. Interestingly, girls’ best friendships had a slight tendency to promote risky and ineffective ways of coping with adversity (such as self-blame and substance use), but boys’ best friendships did not.

BEST: Understanding the Best Ways to Teach Children to Like and Eat Vegetables

A review of studies on methods to teach children to like vegetables suggests that a child’s increased liking for and intake of vegetables by using associative conditioning (repeated exposure to a food that is associated with a positive or negative consequence) and mere exposure (repeatedly providing the food to increase liking with increased familiarity) depends partly on age and partly on vegetable type. Exposure seems to be sufficient in increasing liking for non-bitter vegetables in all ages. However, associative conditioning seems necessary for bitter vegetables in children aged two years and older as children at this age are at the height of neophobia (avoiding the unfamiliar) and seem to need the added benefit of a reinforcer to learn to like bitter vegetables. Masking the bitterness of the vegetable with a small amount of sugar, sweetener, or salt will also probably enhance bitter vegetable acceptance in older children, as it does in college students.

BEST: Drug-Free CBT Therapy Better Than SRIs in Treating Child OCD

A meta-analysis of 20 randomized controlled trials collectively representing a total of 507 cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) receiving participants and 789 serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) receiving participants demonstrates that CBT is more efficient in treating OCD than SRIs alone. Large treatment effects were found with CBT for treatment efficacy, treatment response and symptom/diagnostic remission compared with moderate effects for SRIs. The results also indicate that lower experimental quality makes SRIs appear more effective than they are in reality.

BEST: Specialized CBT Therapy Can Aid Traumatized Children in Developing Nations

New research led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers reveals that a specific type of talk therapy, called Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), showed dramatic results for orphans and other vulnerable children who experienced trauma such as sexual and domestic abuse in Zambia, despite being administered by workers with little education.

Those in the intervention group saw measures of sleep problems, feelings of sadness and the inability to talk about issues fall by nearly 82% on average, while those in the treatment-as-usual group had a reduction in their scores of 21 percent.


PMID:26130211 A Meta-Analysis Of Cognitive Behavior Therapy And Medication For Child Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Moderators Of Treatment Efficacy, Response, And Remission

VEGETABLES doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.06.016

Mothers attachment style: PMID:26095911

Daughters over sons:

Mass killings: 10.1371/journal.pone.0117259

Antipsychotic meds: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0500

Zambia and TF-CBT: 10.1001/jamapediatrics.2015.0580

High conflict homes:

Best friends: 10.1111/bjop.12135

Autism sniff test: DOI:

Image via Nadezhda1906 / Shutterstock.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Lead Editor and Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor. A scientific consultant, writer, and researcher in a variety of fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology, and biophysical chemistry, you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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