Active anxiety disorders have lasting detrimental effects on pregnant mothers and their offspring but it is unknown if historical, non-active, maternal anxiety disorders have similar effects. Anxiety-related conditions, such as reduced autonomic cardiac control, indicated by reduced heart rate variability (HRV) could persist despite disorder resolution, with long-term health implications for mothers and children. The objective in this study is to test the hypotheses that pregnant mothers with a history of, but not current anxiety and their children have low HRV, predicting anxiety-like offspring temperaments.
The participants in this case-control study consist of 56 women during their first trimester and their offspring (15 male, 29 female). Women had a history of an anxiety disorder (n=22) or no psychopathology (n=34) determined using the Mini-International Neuropsychiatric Interview. The main outcome measures were indices of autonomic cardiac control including root mean square of successive differences (RMSSD) and high frequency (HF) variability. Children’s fearfulness was also assessed using the Laboratory Temperament Assessment Battery (Lab-TAB)-Locomotor Version.
HRV was lower in women and children in the past anxiety group compared to controls. HRV measures for mothers and children were positively correlated in the anxiety group only. In all children, low HRV measures at 2-4 months were associated with a higher chance of fearful behavior at 9-10 months.
Pregnant women with previous but not current anxiety and their children have low HRV. Children with low HRV tend to show more fearfulness. These findings have implications for identifying children at risk of anxiety disorders and point to possible underlying mechanisms of child psychopathology.
Previous research has shown that being affectively unstable is an indicator of several forms of psychological maladjustment. However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying affective instability. Our research aims to examine the possibility that being prone to extreme fluctuations in one’s feelings is related to maladaptive emotion regulation. We investigated this hypothesis by relating affective instability, assessed in daily life using the experience sampling method, to self-reported emotion regulation strategies and to parasympathetically mediated heart rate variability (HRV), a physiological indicator of emotion regulation capacity. Results showed that HRV was negatively related to instability of positive affect (as measured by mean square successive differences), indicating that individuals with lower parasympathetic tone are emotionally less stable, particularly for positive affect.
Recent concerns over the impact of antidepressant medications, including the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), on cardiovascular function highlight the importance of research on the moderating effects of specific lifestyle factors such as physical activity. Studies in affective neuroscience have demonstrated robust acute effects of SSRIs, yet the impact of SSRIs on cardiovascular stress responses and the moderating effects of physical activity remain to be determined. This was the goal of the present study, which involved a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial of a single-dose of escitalopram (20 mg) in 44 healthy females; outcomes were heart rate (HR) and its variability. Participants engaging in at least 30 min of vigorous physical activity at least 3 times per week (regular exercisers) showed a more resilient cardiovascular stress response than irregular vigorous exercisers, a finding associated with a moderate effect size (Cohen's d = 0.48). Escitalopram attenuated the cardiovascular stress response in irregular exercisers only (HR decreased: Cohen's d = 0.80; HR variability increased: Cohen's d = 0.33). HR during stress under escitalopram in the irregular exercisers was similar to that during stress under placebo in regular exercisers. These findings highlight that the effects of regular vigorous exercise during stress are comparable to the effects of an acute dose of escitalopram, highlighting the beneficial effects of this particular antidepressant in irregular exercisers. Given that antidepressant drugs alone do not seem to protect patients from cardiovascular disease (CVD), longitudinal studies are needed to evaluate the impact of exercise on cardiovascular stress responses in patients receiving long-term antidepressant treatment.
selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); escitalopram; exercise; physical activity; cardiovascular stress response; heart rate; heart rate variability; HRV
The study explored factors to which people traumatized by war attribute their recovery from posttraumatic symptoms and from war experiences.
: In-depth interviews were conducted with two groups of participants with mental sequelae of the war in the former Yugoslavia: 26 people who had recovered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and 17 people with ongoing symptoms of PTSD. Participants could attribute their recovery to any event, person or process in their life. The material was subjected to thematic analysis.
Eight themes covered all factors to which participants attributed their recovery. Six themes described healing factors relevant for both groups of participants: social attachment and support, various strategies of coping with symptoms, personality hardiness, mental health treatment, received material support, and normalization of everyday life. In addition to the common factors, recovered participants reported community involvement as healing, and recovered refugees identified also feeling safe after resolving their civil status as helpful. Unique to the recovered group was that they maintained reciprocal relations in social attachment and support, employed future-oriented coping and emphasised their resilient personality style.
The reported factors of recovery are largely consistent with models of mental health protection, models of resilience and recommended interventions in the aftermath of massive trauma. Yet, they add the importance of a strong orientation towards the future, a reciprocity in receiving and giving social support and involvement in meaningful activities that ensure social recognition as a productive and valued individual. The findings can inform psychosocial interventions to facilitate recovery from posttraumatic symptoms of people affected by war and upheaval.
Frequent mobility has been linked to poorer educational attainment. We investigated the association between moving home and moving school frequently and the early childhood formal educational achievement. We carried out a cohort analysis of 121,422 children with anonymised linked records. Our exposure measures were: 1) the number of residential moves registered with a health care provider, and 2) number of school moves. Our outcome was the formal educational assessment at age 6–7. Binary regression modeling was used to examine residential moves within the three time periods: 0 – <1 year; 1 – <4 years and 4 – <6 years. School moves were examined from age 4 to age 6. We adjusted for demographics, residential moves at different times, school moves and birth related variables. Children who moved home frequently were more likely not to achieve in formal assessments compared with children not moving. Adjusted odds ratios were significant for 3 or more moves within the time period 1 –<4 years and for any number of residential moves within the time period 4–<6 years. There was a dose response relationship, with increased odds ratios with increased frequency of residential moves (2 or more moves at 4–<6 years, adjusted odds ratio 1.16 (1.03, 1.29). The most marked effect was seen with frequent school moves where 2 or more moves resulted in an adjusted odds ratio of 2.33 (1.82, 2.98). This is the first study to examine the relationship between residential and school moves in early childhood and the effect on educational attainment. Children experiencing frequent mobility may be disadvantaged and should be closely monitored. Additional educational support services should be afforded to children, particularly those who frequently change school, in order to help them achieve the expected educational standards.
Polyvagal theory emphasizes that autonomic nervous system functioning plays a key role in social behavior and emotion. The theory predicts that psychiatric disorders of social dysfunction are associated with reduced heart rate variability, an index of autonomic control, as well as social inhibition and avoidance. The purpose of this study was to examine whether heart rate variability was reduced in treatment-seeking patients diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, a disorder characterized by social fear and avoidance.
Social anxiety patients (n = 53) were recruited prior to receiving psychological therapy. Healthy volunteers were recruited through the University of Sydney and the general community and were matched by gender and age (n = 53). Heart rate variability was assessed during a five-minute recording at rest, with participants completing a range of self-report clinical symptom measures.
Compared to controls, participants with social anxiety exhibited significant reductions across a number of heart rate variability measures. Reductions in heart rate variability were observed in females with social anxiety, compared to female controls, and in patients taking psychotropic medication compared to non-medicated patients. Finally, within the clinical group, we observed significant associations between reduced heart rate variability and increased social interaction anxiety, psychological distress, and harmful alcohol use.
The results of this study confirm that social anxiety disorder is associated with reduced heart rate variability. Resting state heart rate variability may therefore be considered a marker for social approach-related motivation and capacity for social engagement. Additionally, heart rate variability may provide a useful biomarker to explain underlying difficulties with social approach, impaired stress regulation, and behavioral inhibition, especially in disorders associated with significant impairments in these domains.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are commonly recognized as the pharmacological treatment of choice for patients with depressive disorders, yet their use in adolescent populations has come under scrutiny following reports of minimal efficacy and an increased risk of suicidal ideation and behavior in this age group. The biological mechanisms underlying these effects are largely unknown. Accordingly, the current study examined changes in hippocampal protein expression following chronic administration of paroxetine in drinking water (target dose = 10 mg/kg for 22 days) to adult and adolescent rats. Results indicated age-specific changes in protein expression, with paroxetine significantly altering expression of 8 proteins in adolescents only and 10 proteins solely in adults. A further 12 proteins were significantly altered in both adolescents and adults. In adults, protein changes were generally suggestive of a neurotrophic and neuroprotective effect of paroxetine, with significant downregulation of apoptotic proteins Galectin 7 and Cathepsin B, and upregulation of the neurotrophic factor Neurogenin 1 and the antioxidant proteins Aldose reductase and Carbonyl reductase 3. Phosphodiesterase 10A, a signaling protein associated with major depressive disorder, was also downregulated (-6.5-fold) in adult rats. Adolescent rats failed to show the neurotrophic and neuroprotective effects observed in adults, instead displaying upregulation of the proapoptotic protein BH3-interacting domain death agonist (4.3-fold). Adolescent protein expression profiles also suggested impaired phosphoinositide signaling (Protein kinase C: -3.1-fold) and altered neurotransmitter transport and release (Syntaxin 7: 5.7-fold; Dynamin 1: -6.9-fold). The results of the present study provide clues as to possible mechanisms underlying the atypical response of human adolescents to paroxetine treatment.
antidepressant; paroxetine; proteomics; adolescent; hippocampus; rat
To evaluate the risk of cancer among patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) in a nationwide population-based dataset.
We recruited newly-diagnosed GAD patients aged 20 years or older without antecedent cancer from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research database between 2000–2010. Standardized incidence ratios (SIRs) of cancers were calculated in GAD patients, and the subgroup of GAD patients diagnosed by psychiatric specialists.
A total of 559 cancers developed among 19,793 GAD patients with a follow-up of 89,485 person-years (median follow-up of 4.34 years), leading to a significantly increased SIR of 1.14 [95% confidence interval (CI) 1.05–1.24]. Male GAD patients had a significantly increased SIR overall (1.30, 95% CI 1.15–1.46) and for lung and prostate cancer (1.77, 95% CI 1.33–2.30 and 2.17, 95% CI 1.56–2.93, respectively). Patients over 80 years of age also had a significantly increased SIR (1.56, 95% CI 1.25–1.92), especially in males. However, psychiatrist-diagnosed GAD patients did not show increased cancer risk relative to the general population, perhaps due to having fewer physical comorbidities than non-psychiatrist-diagnosed GAD patients.
This study found that overall cancer risk is elevated among patients with GAD. The risk of lung and prostate cancer also increased in male patients with GAD. This increased cancer risk may be due to physical comorbidities and surveillance bias. Further prospective study is necessary to confirm these findings.
Liberals and conservatives exhibit different cognitive styles and converging lines of evidence suggest that biology influences differences in their political attitudes and beliefs. In particular, a recent study of young adults suggests that liberals and conservatives have significantly different brain structure, with liberals showing increased gray matter volume in the anterior cingulate cortex, and conservatives showing increased gray matter volume in the in the amygdala. Here, we explore differences in brain function in liberals and conservatives by matching publicly-available voter records to 82 subjects who performed a risk-taking task during functional imaging. Although the risk-taking behavior of Democrats (liberals) and Republicans (conservatives) did not differ, their brain activity did. Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, while Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala. In fact, a two parameter model of partisanship based on amygdala and insula activations yields a better fitting model of partisanship than a well-established model based on parental socialization of party identification long thought to be one of the core findings of political science. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk, and they support recent evidence that conservatives show greater sensitivity to threatening stimuli.
Cumulative evidence over the last decade indicates that intranasally administered oxytocin (OT) has a major impact on social behavior and cognition. In parallel, researchers have also highlighted the effects of OT on cardiovascular (CV) and autonomic nervous system (ANS) regulation. Taken at face value, these two streams of research appear largely unrelated. However, another line of evidence highlights a key role for autonomic cardiac control in social behavior and cognition. In this review, we suggest that autonomic cardiac control may moderate the relationship between OT and social behavior. We also highlight the importance of autonomic cardiac control in psychiatric disorders of social dysfunction and suggest that heart rate variability (HRV)—an index of autonomic cardiac control—may play a key role in patient response in treatment trials of OT.
oxytocin; autonomic nervous system; heart rate variability; social cognition; social behavior
Polymorphisms in the promoter region of the serotonin transporter gene (5-HTTLPR) and exposure to early childhood adversities (CA) are independently associated with individual differences in cognitive and emotional processing. Whether these two factors interact to influence cognitive and emotional processing is not known.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We used a sample of 238 adolescents from a community study characterised by the presence of the short allele of 5-HTTLPR (LL, LS, SS) and the presence or absence of exposure to CA before 6 years of age. We measured cognitive and emotional processing using a set of neuropsychological tasks selected predominantly from the CANTAB® battery. We found that adolescents homozygous for the short allele (SS) of 5-HTTLPR and exposed to CA were worse at classifying negative and neutral stimuli and made more errors in response to ambiguous negative feedback. In addition, cognitive and emotional processing deficits were associated with diagnoses of anxiety and/or depressions.
Conclusion and Significance
Cognitive and emotional processing deficits may act as a transdiagnostic intermediate marker for anxiety and depressive disorders in genetically susceptible individuals exposed to CA.
A Noh mask worn by expert actors when performing on a Japanese traditional Noh drama is suggested to convey countless different facial expressions according to different angles of head/body orientation. The present study addressed the question of how different facial parts of a Noh mask, including the eyebrows, the eyes, and the mouth, may contribute to different emotional expressions. Both experimental situations of active creation and passive recognition of emotional facial expressions were introduced.
In Experiment 1, participants either created happy or sad facial expressions, or imitated a face that looked up or down, by actively changing each facial part of a Noh mask image presented on a computer screen. For an upward tilted mask, the eyebrows and the mouth shared common features with sad expressions, whereas the eyes with happy expressions. This contingency tended to be reversed for a downward tilted mask. Experiment 2 further examined which facial parts of a Noh mask are crucial in determining emotional expressions. Participants were exposed to the synthesized Noh mask images with different facial parts expressing different emotions. Results clearly revealed that participants primarily used the shape of the mouth in judging emotions. The facial images having the mouth of an upward/downward tilted Noh mask strongly tended to be evaluated as sad/happy, respectively.
The results suggest that Noh masks express chimeric emotional patterns, with different facial parts conveying different emotions This appears consistent with the principles of Noh which highly appreciate subtle and composite emotional expressions, as well as with the mysterious facial expressions observed in Western art. It was further demonstrated that the mouth serves as a diagnostic feature in characterizing the emotional expressions. This indicates the superiority of biologically-driven factors over the traditionally formulated performing styles when evaluating the emotions of the Noh masks.
Both emotion and attention are known to influence the startle response. Stress influences emotion and attention, but the impact of stress on the human startle response remains unclear. We used an established physiological stressor, the Cold Pressor Test (CPT), to induce stress in a non-clinical human sample (24 student participants) in a within-subjects design. Autonomic (heart rate and skin conductance) and somatic (eye blink) responses to acoustic startle probes were measured during a pre-stress baseline, during a three minutes stress intervention, and during the subsequent recovery period. Startle skin conductance and heart rate responses were facilitated during stress. Compared to baseline, startle eye blink responses were not affected during the intervention but were diminished afterwards. These data describe a new and unique startle response pattern during stress: facilitation of autonomic stress responses but no such facilitation of somatic startle eye blink responses. The absence of an effect of stress on startle eye blink responsiveness may illustrate the importance of guaranteeing uninterrupted visual input during periods of stress.
An epistatic interaction of 5-HTTLPR and BDNF Val66Met polymorphisms has been implicated in the structure of rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) and amygdala (AMY): key regions associated with emotion processing. However, a functional epistasis of 5-HTTLPR and BDNF Val66Met on overt emotion processing has yet to be determined. Twenty-eight healthy, Caucasian female participants provided saliva samples for genotyping and underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during which an emotion processing protocol were presented. Confirming the validity of this protocol, we observed blood oxygen level–dependent (BOLD) activity consistent with fMRI meta-analyses on emotion processing. Region-of-interest analysis of the rACC and AMY revealed main effects of 5-HTTLPR and BDNF Val66Met, and an interaction of 5-HTTLPR and BDNF Val66Met. The effect of the BDNF Met66 allele was dependent on 5-HTTLPR alleles, such that participants with S and Met alleles had the greatest rACC and AMY activation during the presentation of emotional images relative to other genetic groupings. Increased activity in these regions was interpreted as increased reactivity to emotional stimuli, suggesting that those with S and Met alleles are more reactive to emotional stimuli relative to other groups. Although limited by a small sample, this study contributes novel and preliminary findings relating to a functional epistasis of the 5-HTTLPR and BDNF Val66Met genes in emotion processing and provides guidance on appropriate methods to determine genetic epistasis in fMRI.
5-HTTLPR; BDNF Val66Met; emotion processing; epistasis; fMRI; healthy subjects
Background and Purpose
Major depressive disorder (MDD) is characterized by recurrent depressive episodes and one of the treatment choices is antidepressants. Patients with MDD are at greater risk of developing major metabolic diseases that may in turn lead to stroke. Moreover, both depressive symptoms and taking antidepressant medications are associated with higher risk of stroke. However, whether and how clinical depression increases stroke risk remains an unanswered question. Our aim was to provide answers to this question.
A matched cohort study of 5015 subjects (1003 MDD patients and 4012 control subjects) was conducted using a nationwide database. Subjects were followed to a maximum of 9 years to determine rates of newly-developed strokes, and controls and MDD groups with different levels of antidepressant refractoriness were compared to determine the temporal relation between stroke and three major metabolic comorbidities (i.e., diabetes mellitus, hypertension and hyperlipidemia). The levels of depressive symptoms and the antidepressant medications before stroke onset were investigated.
Patients with MDD had significantly higher rates of stroke (4.3% vs. 2.8%, p<0.05) during the follow-up. Mediation regression analyses revealed that the occurrence of stroke in the MDD subjects was significantly mediated by the development of major metabolic diseases. Greater severity of depression, but not greater use of antidepressants, preceded the occurrence of stroke.
A clinical diagnosis of major depression leads to stroke indirectly through more intense depressive symptoms and the development of major comorbidities.
Musical performance is a skilled activity performed under intense pressure, thus is often a profound source of anxiety. In other contexts, anxiety and its concomitant symptoms of sympathetic nervous system arousal have been successfully ameliorated with HRV biofeedback (HRV BF), a technique involving slow breathing which augments autonomic and emotional regulatory capacity. Objective: This randomised-controlled study explored the impact of a single 30-minute session of HRV BF on anxiety in response to a highly stressful music performance.
A total of 46 trained musicians participated in this study and were randomly allocated to a slow breathing with or without biofeedback or no-treatment control group. A 3 Group×2 Time mixed experimental design was employed to compare the effect of group before and after intervention on performance anxiety (STAI-S) and frequency domain measures of HRV.
Slow breathing groups (n = 30) showed significantly greater improvements in high frequency (HF) and LF/HF ratio measures of HRV relative to control (n = 15) during 5 minute recordings of performance anticipation following the intervention (effect size: η2 = 0.122 and η2 = 0.116, respectively). The addition of biofeedback to a slow breathing protocol did not produce differential results. While intervention groups did not exhibit an overall reduction in self-reported anxiety, participants with high baseline anxiety who received the intervention (n = 15) displayed greater reductions in self-reported state anxiety relative to those in the control condition (n = 7) (r = 0.379).
These findings indicate that a single session of slow breathing, regardless of biofeedback, is sufficient for controlling physiological arousal in anticipation of psychosocial stress associated with music performance and that slow breathing is particularly helpful for musicians with high levels of anxiety. Future research is needed to further examine the effects of HRV BF as a low-cost, non-pharmacological treatment for music performance anxiety.
Fear acquisition and extinction are crucial mechanisms in the etiology and maintenance of anxiety disorders. Moreover, they might play a pivotal role in conveying the influence of genetic and environmental factors on the development of a (more or less) stronger proneness for, or resilience against psychopathology. There are only few insights in the neurobiology of genetically and environmentally based individual differences in fear learning and extinction. In this functional magnetic resonance imaging study, 74 healthy subjects were investigated. These were invited according to 5-HTTLPR/rs25531 (S+ vs. LALA; triallelic classification) and TPH2 (G(-703)T) (T+ vs. T-) genotype. The aim was to investigate the influence of genetic factors and traumatic life events on skin conductance responses (SCRs) and neural responses (amygdala, insula, dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC)) during acquisition and extinction learning in a differential fear conditioning paradigm. Fear acquisition was characterized by stronger late conditioned and unconditioned responses in the right insula in 5-HTTLPR S-allele carriers. During extinction traumatic life events were associated with reduced amygdala activation in S-allele carriers vs. non-carriers. Beyond that, T-allele carriers of the TPH2 (G(−703)T) polymorphism with a higher number of traumatic life events showed enhanced responsiveness in the amygdala during acquisition and in the vmPFC during extinction learning compared with non-carriers. Finally, a combined effect of the two polymorphisms with higher responses in S- and T-allele carriers was found in the dACC during extinction. The results indicate an increased expression of conditioned, but also unconditioned fear responses in the insula in 5-HTTLPR S-allele carriers. A combined effect of the two polymorphisms on dACC activation during extinction might be associated with prolonged fear expression. Gene-by-environment interactions in amygdala and vmPFC activation may reflect a neural endophenotype translating genetic and adverse environmental influences into vulnerability for or resilience against developing affective psychopathology.
Oxytocin (OT) plays a key regulatory role in human social behaviour. While prior studies have examined the effects of OT on observable social behaviours, studies have seldom examined the effects of OT on psychophysiological markers such as heart rate variability (HRV), which provides an index of individual’s motivation for social behaviour. Furthermore, no studies have examined the impact of OT on HRV under resting conditions, which provides an index of maximal capacity for social engagement.
To examine the effects of OT on HRV measures in healthy male participants while at rest. OT was hypothesised to increase HRV, compared to placebo, and that the effects would be greatest for a non-linear measure of HRV (the detrended fluctuation scaling exponent).
Twenty-one male participants were recruited for this study. Participants were non-smokers, not on any medications and reported no history of psychiatric illness, neurological disorder, or any other serious medical condition (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular disease). The study employed a randomised, placebo-controlled, within-subject, crossover, experimental design.
Main Outcome Measures
HRV was calculated from electrocardiography under a standardized, 10-minute, resting state condition.
As hypothesised, OT increased HRV and these effects were largest using the detrended fluctuation scaling exponent, a non-linear measure. These changes were observed in the absence of any change in state mood, as measured by the profile of mood states. Importantly, participants were unable to correctly guess which treatment they had been assigned at either of the two assessments.
Together with the broader literature on OT and HRV, findings suggest that acute administration of OT may facilitate a fundamental psychophysiological feature of social behaviour, increasing capacity for social engagement. Findings also suggest that HRV changes may provide a novel biomarker of response to OT nasal spray that can be incorporated into research on response to treatment.
Recent research suggests profound sex and sexual orientation differences in sexual response. These results, however, are based on measures of genital arousal, which have potential limitations such as volunteer bias and differential measures for the sexes. The present study introduces a measure less affected by these limitations. We assessed the pupil dilation of 325 men and women of various sexual orientations to male and female erotic stimuli. Results supported hypotheses. In general, self-reported sexual orientation corresponded with pupil dilation to men and women. Among men, substantial dilation to both sexes was most common in bisexual-identified men. In contrast, among women, substantial dilation to both sexes was most common in heterosexual-identified women. Possible reasons for these differences are discussed. Because the measure of pupil dilation is less invasive than previous measures of sexual response, it allows for studying diverse age and cultural populations, usually not included in sexuality research.
Evolutionary models of cooperation require proximate mechanisms that sustain prosociality despite inherent costs to individuals. The “warm glow” that often follows prosocial acts could provide one such mechanism; if so, these emotional benefits may be observable very early in development. Consistent with this hypothesis, the present study finds that before the age of two, toddlers exhibit greater happiness when giving treats to others than receiving treats themselves. Further, children are happier after engaging in costly giving – forfeiting their own resources – than when giving the same treat at no cost. By documenting the emotionally rewarding properties of costly prosocial behavior among toddlers, this research provides initial support for the claim that experiencing positive emotions when giving to others is a proximate mechanism for human cooperation.
The Great East Japan (Tōhoku/Kanto) earthquake of March 2011was followed by a major tsunami and nuclear incident. Several previous studies have suggested a number of psychological responses to such disasters. However, few previous studies have modelled individual differences in the risk perceptions of major events, or the implications of these perceptions for relevant behaviours. We conducted a survey specifically examining responses to the Great Japan earthquake and nuclear incident, with data collected 11–13 weeks following these events. 844 young respondents completed a questionnaire in three regions of Japan; Miyagi (close to the earthquake and leaking nuclear plants), Tokyo/Chiba (approximately 220 km from the nuclear plants), and Western Japan (Yamaguchi and Nagasaki, some 1000 km from the plants). Results indicated significant regional differences in risk perception, with greater concern over earthquake risks in Tokyo than in Miyagi or Western Japan. Structural equation analyses showed that shared normative concerns about earthquake and nuclear risks, conservation values, lack of trust in governmental advice about the nuclear hazard, and poor personal control over the nuclear incident were positively correlated with perceived earthquake and nuclear risks. These risk perceptions further predicted specific outcomes (e.g. modifying homes, avoiding going outside, contemplating leaving Japan). The strength and significance of these pathways varied by region. Mental health and practical implications of these findings are discussed in the light of the continuing uncertainties in Japan following the March 2011 events.
It is well established that there is anxiety-related variation between observers in the very earliest, pre-attentive stage of visual processing of images such as emotionally expressive faces, often leading to enhanced attention to threat in a variety of disorders and traits. Whether there is also variation in early-stage affective (i.e. valenced) responses resulting from such images, however, is not yet known. The present study used the subliminal affective priming paradigm to investigate whether people varying in trait social anxiety also differ in their affective responses to very briefly presented, emotionally expressive face images.
Participants (n = 67) completed a subliminal affective priming task, in which briefly presented and smiling, neutral and angry faces were shown for 10 ms durations (below objective and subjective thresholds for visual discrimination), and immediately followed by a randomly selected Chinese character mask (2000 ms). Ratings of participants' liking for each Chinese character indicated the degree of valenced affective response made to the unseen emotive images. Participants' ratings of their liking for the Chinese characters were significantly influenced by the type of face image preceding them, with smiling faces generating more positive ratings than neutral and angry ones (F(2,128) = 3.107, p<0.05). Self-reported social anxiety was positively correlated with ratings of smiling relative to neutral-face primed characters (Pearson's r = .323, p<0.01). Individual variation in self-reported mood awareness was not associated with ratings.
Trait social anxiety is associated with individual variation in affective responding, even in response to the earliest, pre-attentive stage of visual image processing. However, the fact that these priming effects are limited to smiling and not angry (i.e. threatening) images leads us to propose that the pre-attentive processes involved in generating the subliminal affective priming effect may be different from those that generate attentional biases in anxious individuals.
Women have a higher prevalence of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and report more severe depressive symptoms than men. Several studies have suggested that gender differences in depression may occur because women report higher levels of somatic symptoms than men. Those studies, however, have not controlled or matched for non-somatic symptoms. The objective of this study was to examine if women report relatively more somatic symptoms than men matched on cognitive/affective symptoms.
Male and female patients receiving treatment for MDD in outpatient psychiatric clinics in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, USA were matched on Beck Depression Inventory-II (BDI-II) cognitive/affective symptom scores. Male and female BDI-II somatic symptom scores were compared using independent samples 2-tailed t-tests.
Of 472 male and 1,026 female patients, there were 470 male patients (mean age = 40.1 years, SD = 15.1) and 470 female patients (mean age = 43.1 years, SD = 17.2) successfully matched on BDI-II cognitive/affective symptom scores. Somatic symptoms accounted for 35% of total BDI-II scores for male patients versus 38% for matched female patients. Female patients had somatic symptom scores on average 1.3 points higher than males (p<.001), equivalent to 4% of the total BDI-II scores of female patients. Only 5% of male patients and 7% of female patients scored 2 or higher on all BDI-II somatic symptom items.
Gender differences in somatic scores were very small. Thus, differences in the experience and reporting of somatic symptoms would not likely explain gender differences in depression rates and symptom severity.
There is evidence that heart rate variability (HRV) is reduced in major depressive disorder (MDD), although there is debate about whether this effect is caused by medication or the disorder per se. MDD is associated with a two to fourfold increase in the risk of cardiac mortality, and HRV is a robust predictor of cardiac mortality; determining a direct link between HRV and not only MDD, but common comorbid anxiety disorders, will point to psychiatric indicators for cardiovascular risk reduction.
To determine in physically healthy, unmedicated patients whether (1) HRV is reduced in MDD relative to controls, and (2) HRV reductions are driven by MDD alone, comorbid generalized anxiety disorder (GAD, characterized by anxious anticipation), or comorbid panic and posttraumatic stress disorders (PD/PTSD, characterized by anxious arousal).
Design, Setting, and Patients
A case-control study in 2006 and 2007 on 73 MDD patients, including 24 without anxiety comorbidity, 24 with GAD, and 14 with PD/PTSD. Seventy-three MDD and 94 healthy age- and sex-matched control participants were recruited from the general community. Participants had no history of drug addiction, alcoholism, brain injury, loss of consciousness, stroke, neurological disorder, or serious medical conditions. There were no significant differences between the four groups in age, gender, BMI, or alcohol use.
Main Outcome Measures
HRV was calculated from electrocardiography under a standardized short-term resting state condition.
HRV was reduced in MDD relative to controls, an effect associated with a medium effect size. MDD participants with comorbid generalized anxiety disorder displayed the greatest reductions in HRV relative to controls, an effect associated with a large effect size.
Unmedicated, physically healthy MDD patients with and without comorbid anxiety had reduced HRV. Those with comorbid GAD showed the greatest reductions. Implications for cardiovascular risk reduction strategies in otherwise healthy patients with psychiatric illness are discussed.
From personality to neuropsychiatric disorders, individual differences in brain function are known to have a strong heritable component. Here we report that between close relatives, a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders covary strongly with intellectual interests. We surveyed an entire class of high-functioning young adults at an elite university for prospective major, familial incidence of neuropsychiatric disorders, and demographic and attitudinal questions. Students aspiring to technical majors (science/mathematics/engineering) were more likely than other students to report a sibling with an autism spectrum disorder (p = 0.037). Conversely, students interested in the humanities were more likely to report a family member with major depressive disorder (p = 8.8×10−4), bipolar disorder (p = 0.027), or substance abuse problems (p = 1.9×10−6). A combined PREdisposition for Subject MattEr (PRESUME) score based on these disorders was strongly predictive of subject matter interests (p = 9.6×10−8). Our results suggest that shared genetic (and perhaps environmental) factors may both predispose for heritable neuropsychiatric disorders and influence the development of intellectual interests.