Autism and Eye Contact

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In theory, autistic individuals shun eye contact with others.

According to a new study, that’s not a voluntary or learned behavior. Eye contact can cause excessive stimulation of a section of the brain, and that in turn can be felt as pain by the individual.

That makes sense. If something causes pain, you usually try to avoid doing it.

Unfortunately, lack of eye contact is also interpreted by some as a sign of dishonesty. With the autistic person, that interpretation simply doesn’t apply.

Bottom line: you have to get to know someone in order to understand what their physical cues mean.


Sources:

  1. Nouchine Hadjikhani, Jakob Åsberg Johnels, Nicole R. Zürcher, Amandine Lassalle, Quentin Guillon, Loyse Hippolyte, Eva Billstedt, Noreen Ward, Eric Lemonnier, Christopher Gillberg. Look me in the eyes: constraining gaze in the eye-region provokes abnormally high subcortical activation in autism. Scientific Reports, 2017; 7 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-03378-5

Parenting and Risky Sexual Behavior in Teens

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It may sound obvious, but parents matter. Both parents matter.ben_franklin

However, when it comes to risky sexual behavior in teen daughters, the spotlight is on the father.

A new study from the University of Utah relates the “quality of fathering” with teen behavior.

  • High quality fathering is associated with setting standards for behavior and consistent monitoring of how the teen spends her time and money. It affects with whom the teen associates and reduces the likelihood of risky behavior.
  • Low quality fathering does just the opposite.

The study strongly suggests that having a low quality father out of the home may be better for daughters than keeping the family intact.

The study may in fact underestimate the negative effects of low quality fathering. In some cases, parents or other family members are the source of risky behavior.

According to an The Atlantic article from 2013,

One in three-to-four girls, and one in five-to-seven boys are sexually abused before they turn 18, an overwhelming incidence of which happens within the family. These statistics are well known among industry professionals, who are often quick to add, “and this is a notoriously underreported crime.” (2)

Another review of the research literature suggests a 40% rate of molestation among girls and 30% among boys in the US. (4) In all cases, the figures are subject to some disagreement about definitions.

For those of us who know victims  of family abuse, this incidence is quite plausible. In my own conversations, I’ve been flabbergasted by the people who reveal histories of abuse — people I would never have suspected. It comes out in conversations after a certain level of trust is in place. And it surfaces too many times with too many people.

Ultimately, the statistics we have are unreliable, because too many people won’t talk about this. The statistics are incomplete, as they tend to focus on father-daughter abuse and not on mother-son or sibling relations (or on abuse by authority figures other than priests).

Traditional studies have focused on “broken” families and the importance of having two parents in the home. The truth seems to be a bit more complex. There are many cases in which the “intact” family is broken and dysfunctional, and breakup represents improvement.


Sources:

  1. Danielle J. DelPriore, Gabriel L. Schlomer, Bruce J. Ellis. Impact of Fathers on Parental Monitoring of Daughters and Their Affiliation With Sexually Promiscuous Peers: A Genetically and Environmentally Controlled Sibling Study. Developmental Psychology, 2017; DOI: 10.1037/dev0000327
  2. Mia Fontaine, “America Has an Incest Problem,” The Atlantic, 24 January 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/01/america-has-an-incest-problem/272459/
  3. Margaret Ballantine and Lynne Soine, “Sibling Sexual Abuse — Uncovering the Secret,” Social Work Today Vol. 12 No. 6 P. 18. http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/111312p18.shtml
  4. Rational Skepticism.org. “Just how common is incest?” 11 July 2010. http://www.rationalskepticism.org/social-sciences/just-how-common-is-incest-t9841.html

Impact of Weight on Friendships Between Children

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In a previous post, we discussed the link between being overweight as a child and being bullied. A new Dutch study adds to this, by documenting how excess weight affects friendships between children.

Overweight children face a form of social isolation.

  • Overweight children tend to think they have friends, when those people may not like them.
  • Overweight children tend to be excluded from friendships more often than are children of normal weight.
  • Overweight children see themselves as having more enemies than do children of normal weight.

The previous research suggested that these emotional effects may linger into  high school and young adulthood and be linked to depression and to self-harmful behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse.

The growing literature on weight and the interactions between children strongly suggests the need to channel children at an early age into some form of physical activity, preferably team-based. If over-weight and isolation are harmful, team sports led by an appropriately trained coach would appear to be an antidote.

The good news is that managing weight in children who are heavy may be easier than expected. Another study suggests that use of a powdered prebiotic fiber could reduce weight gain in children by improving healthy gut bacteria and digestion. The fiber used in the study is oligofructose-enriched inulin.

“Powdered fiber, mixed in a water bottle, taken once a day is all we asked the children to change, and we got, what we consider, some pretty exciting results — it has been fantastic,” added Raylene A. Reimer, PhD, RD, professor and researcher in the Faculty of Kinesiology at University of Calgary, who led the study. (3)

Using an experimental design with a test and control group, the prebiotic fiber (taken mixed with water) appeared to cut weight gain among growing children by almost 2/3 (6.6 lb  gain among those using the prebiotic v. 17.6 in the control group).

Note: a prebiotic facilitates growth of good bacteria in the gut. A probiotic introduces new bacteria. They’re quite different and should not be confused.


Sources:

  1. Kayla de la Haye, Jan Kornelis Dijkstra, Miranda J. Lubbers, Loes van Rijsewijk, Ronald Stolk. The dual role of friendship and antipathy relations in the marginalization of overweight children in their peer networks: The TRAILS Study. PLOS ONE, 2017; 12 (6): e0178130 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0178130
  2. Crain, “Childhood Weight, Adult Depression and . . . Bullying? Time to Connect the Dots?” May 2017.
  3. Alissa C. Nicolucci, Megan P. Hume, Inés Martínez, Shyamchand Mayengbam, Jens Walter, Raylene A. Reimer. Prebiotic Reduces Body Fat and Alters Intestinal Microbiota in Children With Overweight or Obesity. Gastroenterology, 2017; DOI: 10.1053/j.gastro.2017.05.055

Childhood Weight, Adult Depression and . . . Bullying? Time to Connect the Dots?

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Being narrow-minded affects people in a broad range of occupations, including ben_franklinacademia. Most people working in one field don’t see what people in related field are doing. Truth literally “falls between the cracks” separating different areas of work.

The people to whom we ascribe brilliance, like Steve Jobs, are those who are able to gather information from a broad array of sources and disciplines and connect the dots to form a coherent picture that others can’t see. Others fail to see the same because they don’t look. They limit what they see to the portion of the world in which they live and work.

Now for an example . . .

In an earlier blog, I reported on research linking being a victim of bullying to depression and health issues in high school. (1) The theory is that the impact of bullying can last well into adulthood.

A new study by Deborah Gibson-Smith from VU University Medical Center in the Netherlands and colleagues reports on a link between being overweight as a child and adult depression. The study doesn’t explain how extra pounds as a child effect adult emotions; it simply reports a statistical relationship. (2) The premise is that it has something to do with self-image.

My theory: Overweight children get bullied, and that bullying causes negative attitudes and behaviors that can linger into adulthood. It’s a simple idea, testable, and provides a concrete mechanism for converting excess weight as a child into adult depression.

However, because we have one group studying the effects of weight, and a different group studying the effects of bullying, apparently no researchers have tried to connect these dots.

Does that make sense?


Sources:

  1. Crain, “Bullying and Depression.”
  2. European Association for the Study of Obesity. “Being overweight in childhood may heighten lifetime risk of depression.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 May 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170518221006.htm>.

 

 

Internet Insecurity Revisited

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Your applications encrypt your data.  You’re protected, right?ben_franklin

Wrong.

There are three things you need to know about the latest round of papers made public by Wikileaks:

  • The CIA (in some cases in partnership with UK’s MI5) developed ways to hack device operating systems. The devices include all types of computers and cell phones, networked TVs, car onboard systems — basically everything anyone uses that’s connected to the Internet. The operating systems affected are Windows, Android and Apple.
  • The hack allows the user to read data as it is entered (typed or oral), before it is encrypted.  Everything.
  • The hack allows users to control devices and use them for spying on device owners.
  • The CIA may have LOST CONTROL of these hacks, meaning that they are out in the public domain where others can use them.

The CIA might not care about you, but are there others who might want your bank account?

The revelations have shocked experts.

Still, the amount of smartphone vulnerabilities and exploits detailed in these documents was shocking even to experts. “It certainly seems that in the CIA toolkit there were more zero-day exploits” – an exploitable vulnerability in software not known to the manufacturer – “than we’d estimated,” Jason Healey, a director at the Atlantic Council think tank, told Wired Magazine. He added: “If the CIA has this many, we would expect the NSA to have several times more.”(3)

Early reports are that the documents published by Wikileaks appear authentic.  None of the companies involved have commented on the situation. Nor do there appear to be any patches immediately in the offing.  After all, none of the players is yet admitting that they have something to patch.

Some writers see a bright side in these revelations: the decision to hack operating systems means that data encryption tools work.  That may or may not be true.  We don’t know what is still to be revealed.

Security problems aren’t under control or going away.

“Anybody who thinks that the Manning and Snowden problems were one-offs is just dead wrong,’’ said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence at the office of the Director of National Intelligence. “Ben Franklin said three people can keep a secret if two of them are dead. If secrets are shared on systems in which thousands of people have access to them, that may really not be a secret anymore. This problem is not going away, and it’s a condition of our existence.’’(4)

I’ve said that nothing on the Internet is private, but this takes that statement to an entirely new level.  Nothing you type or speak into an Internet connected device is private. 

Ben Franklin was indeed a very wise man.


Sources:

  1. Sharon Profis and Sean Hollister, “WikiLeaks and how the CIA sees your WhatsApp messages, explained,” CNet, 7 March 2017. https://www.cnet.com/how-to/wikileaks-cia-hack-phone-tv-router-vault-7-year-zero-weeping-angel/?ftag=CAD3c77551&bhid=25995825932822145966367556179766
  2. Jose Pagliery, “Wikileaks claims to reveal how CIA hacks TVs and phones all over the world,” CNN Tech, 7 March 2017. http://money.cnn.com/2017/03/07/technology/wikileaks-cia-hacking/
  3. Trevor Timm, “WikiLeaks says the CIA can use your TV to spy on you. But there’s good news,” The Guardian, 7 March 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/07/wikileaks-says-the-cia-can-use-your-tv-to-spy-on-you-but-theres-good-news
  4. Devlin Barrett, “FBI prepares for new hunt for WikiLeaks’ source,” The Washington Post, 7 March 2017.

Merchant of Death

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f22raptorThe US spends more on weapons than do other developed countries that are not actually at war.

In the US, 3.3% of GDP (2015) goes to military spending. In Russia (still considered a “developing country” economically, it’s 5%; in China, it’s 2%. In the EU, it’s 2.8%.

The big spenders on weapons are the Arab states, led by the Saudis. The Saudis spend approximately 14% of annual GDP on weapons, the highest percentage in the world.

The US also sells more weapons to other countries than does anyone else.

Out of 197 countries, 12 of the largest 25 weapons manufacturers are based in the US. Here’s the top 10 (2015 data, as not all companies have closed their 2016 fiscal year):

  1. Lockheed Martin (US) $40 billion
  2. Boeing (US) $29 billion
  3. BAE Systems (UK) $25 billion
  4. Raytheon (US) $22 billion
  5. General Dynamics (US) $19 billion
  6. Northrop Grumman (US) $18 billion
  7. Airbus (The Netherlands) $15 billion
  8. United Technologies (US) $13 billion
  9. Finmeccanica (Italy) $11 billion
  10. L-3 Communications (US) $10 billion (1)

In addition to domestic purchases, the US is a major provider of weapons to other countries (2). The major buyers are

  1. Saudi Arabia, $1.9 billion from US out of $3 billion in total arms imports
  2. Iraq, $893 million in purchases from the US (51.5% of total arms imports)
  3. Australia, $869 million from US (82% of total arms imports)
  4. United Arab Emirates, $773 million from US (61%)
  5. Qatar, $595 million from US (66%)
  6. Israel, $526 million from US (87%)
  7. Italy, $511 million from US (59%)
  8. South Korea, $501 million (37%)
  9. Japan, $307 million (93%)
  10. Mexico, $280 million (72%)

Oddly, current foreign policy in the Middle East and towards Mexico could put much of this weapons revenue at risk. In World War II, the US was “the arsenal of democracy.” That’s no longer the case since most of the major buyers are monarchies.

 


Sources:

  1. http://ceoworld.biz/2016/02/17/the-top-25-largest-defense-companies-in-the-world-2015
  2. http://247wallst.com/special-report/2017/02/24/countries-buying-the-most-weapons-from-the-us-government/2/
  3. “Military Expenditure,” http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/MS.MIL.XPND.GD.ZS

 

Diabetes and Domestic Violence

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Diabetes is an ugly disease, affecting the physical health of those who have it.  It may also imagesaffect the mental health of victims.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that it may be the cause of some verbal and physical violence in the home.

What we know.

  • 29.1 million Americans have diabetes, according to a 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control.
  • Of these, 8.1 million are undiagnosed.
  • Another 86 million are pre-diabetic, meaning they are at risk for development of the disease.
  • Diabetes results from a hormone imbalance (insulin) that results in excessive glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream.
  • Diabetes places a person at risk for heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, risk of amputation, and death.  It was the seventh leading cause of death in 2010 in the US.
  • Diabetes may develop at birth or occur in adults.  Risk factors include poor diet and obesity. (1)

What we’re not sure about and need to know

Excess sugar in the blood is anecdotally associated with mood swings and “irrational” behavior.  Most researchers have focused on eating disorders and the willingness of those suffering from diabetes to make the necessary behavior changes to control the disease.  However, that may not be the whole story.

  • The American Diabetes Association apparently considers “diabetic rage” to be a reaction to the diagnosis.

Diabetes is the perfect breeding ground for anger. Anger can start at diagnosis with the question, “Why me?” You may dwell on how unfair diabetes is: “I’m so angry at this disease! I don’t want to treat it. I don’t want to control it. I hate it!” (2)

  • However, there is both research on children and anecdotal evidence among adults that mood swings and rage behavior  occur independent of diagnosis.
    • A mother talks about a child with Type 1 Diabetes and how poor behavior is linked to low or excessive blood sugar levels. (4)
    • Joslin researchers reported a link between high levels of glutamate (a neurotransmitter produced by glucose) to symptoms of depression in people with type 1 diabetes. (5)
    • “Behaviors such as aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity In children with type 1 diabetes, are associated with high blood glucose (sugar) levels.” (6)
    • There is a blog thread on people who have direct experience with violent behavior associated with abnormal glucose levels. (7)

Gonder-Frederick and colleagues comment on the lack of research on the social and behavior impact of hypoglycenia (abnormal blood glucose levels).(8)  Balhara points to the existence of a relationship between diabetes and psychiatric disorders, and also to the lack of research focused on this link.(9)

Mary de Groot and her colleagues focus on the relationship between diabetes and depression, anxiety disorders and more severe forms of mental illness (e.g., bipolar disorder).(10)

In my own family, my grandmother was apparently prone to verbally abusive outbursts as a young woman.  These outbursts apparently stopped when she was diagnosed as diabetic and placed on an insulin regimen.

My wife’s first husband was verbally and physically abusive.  He was also diagnosed late in life (after their divorce) as diabetic, and was about to remarry when he died.  Could earlier diagnosis have put a stop to the abuse?  There’s just no way to know.  Hindsight only goes so far.

What you need to consider:

  • If you know someone who is abusive to family or  coworkers, does the person have characteristics that might suggest they are diabetic?  For example, are they overweight?  Does their demeanor change before and after meals? 
  • Have they been tested for diabetes?  Are they willing to be tested?
Caveat:  I am a researcher, not a doctor.  If you think there is an issue in your family, you need to consult with a medical professional and determine whether diabetes might be a factor in what you are seeing.  If it is, it needs to be managed.  It’s not something you can ignore and hope it goes away.
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Sources:
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “National Diabetes Report 2014.” http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes
  2. American Diabetes Association, “Anger”, http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/complications/mental-health/anger.html
  3. Liberty Medical, “How does elevated blood sugar affect a person’s behavior and mood?” https://libertymedical.com/diabetes/question/how-does-elevated-blood-sugar-affect-behavior-and-mood/
  4. Insulin Nation, “Bad Behavior or Blood Sugar Swings?”  http://insulinnation.com/living/bad-behavior-or-blood-sugar-swings/
  5. Joslin Diabetes Center, “Emotions & Blood-Sugar Levels: How Diabetes Can Affect Your Mood,” 8 July 2014.  http://blog.joslin.org/2014/07/emotions-blood-sugar-levels-how-diabetes-can-affect-your-mood-2/
  6. “Sugar Levels Affects Behavior of Children With Diabetes,” 9 October 2007. http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/sugar-levels-affects-behavior-of-children-with-diabetes/
  7. “High Blood sugar and irrational behavior,” Blog discussion, 24 March 2006. http://www.ourhealth.com/conditions/diabetes/high-blood-sugar-and-irrational-behavior
  8. Gonder-Frederick LA, Clarke WL, Cox DJ. “The Emotional, Social, and Behavioral Implications of Insulin-Induced Hypoglycemia,” Semin Clin Neuropsychiatry. 1997 Jan;2(1):57-65.
  9. Yatan Pal Singh Balhara, “Diabetes and psychiatric disorders,” Indian J Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Oct-Dec; 15(4): 274–283.
  10. Mary de Groot, Sherita Hill Golden, Julie Wagner, “Psychological Conditions in Adults With Diabetes,” American Psychologist, 2016, Vol. 71, No. 7, 552–562.