Category Archives: Iowa State University

These ‘at-risk’ preschoolers beat expectations

Dual-language learners in Head Start show significant growth in cognitive and academic areas, report researchers. Once they gained basic English proficiency, the dual-language learners eventually outperformed students who only spoke English.

Not all dual-language learners (DLLs) are at risk academically, but as a group, they are often labeled that way.

As reported in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, researchers analyzed data measuring inhibitory control (the ability to pay attention and control natural, but unnecessary thoughts or behaviors) and math achievement for low-income students in Head Start through kindergarten.

The data, collected through the Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey (FACES) 2009, included 825 children—whose home language was English or Spanish—at 59 Head Start programs across the country.

Instead of treating DLLs as a homogenous group, researchers created two categories—Spanish-English bilinguals, who can function in both languages; and DLLs with limited English skills—based on their ability entering Head Start.

The findings identified stark differences between the DLL groups and English-only students over the course of the study. Entering Head Start, bilingual students had higher inhibitory control, but lower math scores, than English-only students did. DLLs with limited English skills lagged behind both groups.

“When these students do not have age-appropriate English skills they are more at risk, but once they achieve those skills they actually excel.”

However, over the course of 18 months, bilingual students outperformed English-only students with higher scores in math and inhibitory control, despite having lower baseline scores for math at the beginning of the study.

DLLs with limited English skills—students considered at risk when they entered Head Start—also made significant progress. These students outpaced bilingual and English-only students in the rate of gains for inhibitory control skills.

While their scores had not caught up with the other two groups by the midpoint of kindergarten (the final point of analysis for the study), researchers expect with more time DLLs with limited English skills would eventually match or even outperform English-only peers as they learn more English and become bilingual.

“Recognizing that dual-language learners can do better than we expected has huge implications. When these students do not have age-appropriate English skills they are more at risk, but once they achieve those skills they actually excel,” says Ji-Young Choi, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University. “This study also confirms that there is a cognitive benefit for bilingual students.”

Do bilingual homes raise better communicators?

Bilingual children’s faster growth rate in inhibitory control over time helped explain the significant difference in kindergarten math skills between bilingual children and English-only students. Based on the FACES data, they could not provide a definitive explanation for the faster growth rate in inhibitory control.

However the results lend support to the theory that bilingual students develop stronger inhibitory control skills because of their daily practice toggling between languages to fit the conversation, and inhibiting one language while speaking another.

Inhibitory control encompasses everything from a child’s ability to suppress the impulse to grab a toy away from a friend to inhibiting the impulse to pronounce a “t” sound at the beginning of the, says Christine Lippard, an assistant professor of human development and family studies. It is an important foundational skill for academic growth as well as behavior.

Bilingual babies know when the rules don’t apply

Recognizing skill-level differences is important given that DLLs are in more than 70 percent of Head Start classrooms. All early childhood educators need to understand the developmental strengths of DLLs, and recognize there is no one-size-fits-all approach for teaching these students.

The study makes the case for instructional support to help DLLs become proficient in English while learning or maintaining their home language. One way to achieve that is by giving students the opportunity to engage with linguistically diverse teachers, Lippard says.

“Preschool programs are so full of academic expectations that adding a Spanish lesson time may not be helpful or developmentally appropriate. Learning Spanish by interacting with a native Spanish speaker and experiencing typical preschool activities like singing songs or reading stories in Spanish holds potential benefits for all of the children in the classroom.”

Source: Iowa State University

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Teen smartphone use and lack of sleep may be linked

Teens who spend more than an hour or two on their smartphones each day may not be getting a enough sleep at night, new research suggests.

“The way tech companies develop these algorithms is like making a drug…”

The research is the strongest evidence to date that teens’ increased use of electronic devices in recent years is responsible for similar rises in insufficient sleep.

Researchers analyzed data from two national surveys of more than 360,000 teens, focusing specifically on changes in sleep and smartphone use from 2009 to 2015. They noted an abrupt change in teens’ sleep habits around 2012, the same time smartphones became more prevalent.

According to the study, as time spent on smartphones increased, so did the percentage of teens getting insufficient sleep:

  • Relative to 2009, 17 percent more teens in 2015 reported sleeping fewer than seven hours a night.
  • 35 percent of teens using electronic devices for one hour a day slept fewer than seven hours.
  • 52 percent of teens using electronic devices for five-plus hours slept fewer than seven hours.
  • For comparison, those spending more than five hours were 50 percent more likely to sleep less than those spending an hour a day.

Nine hours a night

Insufficient sleep is one of the many health consequences stemming from an increased dependency on technology, says Zlatan Krizan, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University. This is especially concerning for teens who are not getting the recommended nine hours of sleep each night.

“Our body is going to try to meet its sleep needs, which means sleep is going to interfere or shove its nose in other spheres of our lives,” Krizan says. “Teens may catch up with naps on the weekend or they may start falling asleep at school.”

Establishing good sleep habits and setting smartphone limits at an early age helps promote responsible use later in life. Jean Twenge, lead author of the study, San Diego State University professor, and author of the book iGen (Simon and Schuster, 2017), says this study illustrates the need for moderation, particularly for generations of teens now growing up with smartphones.

“Given the importance of sleep for physical and mental health, both teens and adults should consider whether their smartphone use is interfering with their sleep. It’s particularly important not to use screen devices right before bed, as they might interfere with falling asleep,” Twenge says.

Sleepy teens wake at night to check social media

While personal responsibility is an important component, Krizan says that alone is not enough to reverse the trend. The issue is complicated because smartphones are beneficial for work, staying connected with family, and even for emergency notifications, such as Amber Alerts. Electronic devices are so intertwined with our daily activities that if we’re not on our phone, it is always close by.

Unlike other public health concerns, government or social interventions have a limited reach in addressing this issue, Krizan says. Schools have implemented policies and rules regarding smartphone use during class, but parents bear much of the responsibility to restrict use for teens, especially late at night. However, Krizan notes that effective change often comes from social institutions. That is why he says technology companies must be part of the solution.

Silence your phone

“The way tech companies develop these algorithms is like making a drug,” Krizan says. “The software developers want you to make sure you never put your smartphone down. They want you to check in constantly and to like and click as many times as possible. That’s why we get alerts and notifications, all of which make it more and more difficult to put the device down.”

Krizan says we are unlikely to change our behavior without tech companies giving control back to the user. Facebook and Twitter have created social rewards that drive us to check and see if someone liked one of our tweets or shared a photo we posted, he says.

“You may think you’re in control of your smartphone use, but are you? If you are always checking it, then your phone is controlling your behavior,” Krizan says. “It’s the drug of the 21st century.”

Creating a culture without active alerts and protected times when our smartphones are silent will not happen overnight, but Krizan says such steps are likely to have the greatest effect.

Should teens sleep in on school days?

The researchers report their findings in the journal Sleep Medicine.

Source: Iowa State University

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Teamwork is more complex than ‘collective intelligence’

New research casts doubt on the idea of “collective intelligence.”

The concept of collective intelligence is simple—it asserts that if a team performs well on one task, it will repeat that success on other projects, regardless of the scope or focus of the work. While it sounds good in theory, it doesn’t work that way in reality, according to new research.

“While a Marine Corps fire team is great at its job, it’s not going to work well performing surgery.”

Marcus Credé, an assistant professor of psychology at Iowa State University, says unlike individuals, group dynamics are too complex to predict a team’s effectiveness with one general factor, such as intelligence. Instead, there are a variety of factors—leadership, group communication, decision-making skills—that affect a team’s performance, he says.

Anita Woolley’s research supporting collective intelligence quickly gained traction in the business world when it came out in 2010. The attention didn’t surprise Credé. Because organizations rely heavily on group work, managers are always looking for a “silver bullet” to improve team performance, he says.

After re-analyzing the data gathered by Woolley and her colleagues, however, Credé and Garett Howardson, an assistant professor at Hofstra University, found the data didn’t support the basic premise of collective intelligence.

“For decades researchers have looked at what makes a team work well. They’ve typically found that if a team performs well in one area, that is largely unrelated to how the team will perform in a different area,” Credé says. “A team working on a production line requires a fundamentally different set of skills than a team trying to find creative solutions to a problem. While a Marine Corps fire team is great at its job, it’s not going to work well performing surgery.”

Credé notes that of the six studies included in their re-analysis, only one—a 2014 study by researchers at Indiana University—correctly concluded there was no evidence of collective intelligence.

Credé says conflicting data was just one of three major problems he and Howardson discovered. Their analysis found participants in these studies were either unmotivated—which Credé suspects is likely the case—or they were confused by some of the tasks the groups were asked to perform. For example, as part of a brainstorming task, each team had 10 minutes to come up with different uses for a brick. Teams scored a point for each use, regardless of the practicality.

At least one team included in the analysis received a zero on this task. Credé says it’s hard to believe a team could not come up with one use for a brick. In this example, if one group does poorly because of minimal effort, it can artificially inflate correlations between performance across tasks, the researchers explain in the paper.

Groups are often smarter without ‘opinion leaders’

As a result, Credé says Woolley and her team may have misinterpreted the data as an indicator of collective intelligence.

They also did not recognize that teams can exhibit some consistency in performance across tasks, even when the team members barely interact with each other. In other words, the teams may not have functioned collectively. Instead, Credé says individual team members may have developed separate responses that were averaged across the team, rather than true collaboration.

The fact that study participants were college students receiving course credit or community members receiving a stipend also doesn’t reflect how teams form and function within organizations.

“In real organizations, people typically know each other; they work together over time and work on very different tasks than the ones assigned in the study,” Credé says. “A lot of teams are also comprised of members with high-level and different skill sets, and often one member functions as a leader.”

Credé says in one study, Woolley and her team recorded team conversations while each group was completing a task, which offers a better understanding of how team members interact. In some groups, one team member dominated the entire conversation, and in other groups, there were more equal contributions. Credé says team performance generally suffers when one person controls the conversation.

It is possible that team performance on one task may predict its performance on another similar task, Credé says. For researchers to fully understand this relationship, however, their work must mirror team composition and tasks in real organizations. Credé cautions that this may be difficult to replicate in a lab setting.

One ‘dominator’ can damage a group project

The researchers published their work in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: Iowa State University

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Extra fertilizer puts prairie plants off schedule

Excess nitrogen from fertilizers can give an advantage to early-season plants in Midwestern prairies, leading to further changes in prairie ecosystems, new research suggests.

The study shows how excess nutrients from fertilizers that find their way onto prairies tend to alter the composition of those ecosystems, a development that has implications for management practices and wildlife habitat. The nutrients in the fertilizers can end up on nearby prairies when washed away by rain or carried by the wind when fields are plowed.

“When we add fertilizer, we’re changing the composition of the prairie community to species that produce flowers earlier in the season…”

Lead author Lori Biederman, adjunct assistant professor of ecology, evolution, and organismal biology at Iowa State University, says the project drew on data gathered from 11 prairies throughout the Midwest. The study looked at nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium fertilizers and found that nitrogen added to tall-grass prairies gives an advantage to early-season flowering plants such as brome grass and violets.

The earlier-flowering plants then compete with plants that flower later in the year, such as asters and bluestems. The plants that flower in May and June, fertilized by the excess nutrients, take up more space, water, and sunlight than they would under normal conditions, Biederman says. That makes it more difficult for late-season plants to grow.

“When we add fertilizer, we’re changing the composition of the prairie community to species that produce flowers earlier in the season,” Biederman says. “Nitrogen was the driver of the changes we saw.”

The changes in prairie composition could cause shifts in animal habitat, particularly for pollinating insects that depend on flowering plants, she says.

In the study, researchers added various levels of fertilizer to numerous plots of prairie plants. The researchers then assessed the abundance of each plant species growing in each plot. The research drew on data from a global web of scientists who monitor and share ecological conditions.

Leaving ‘prairie strips’ on farmland pays off

Known as the Nutrient Network, the system has helped scientists at Iowa State and many other institutions by providing valuable datasets at little cost. Iowa State University scientists have participated in the Nutrient Network since 2009, and the network provides data from every continent except Antarctica.

The researchers originally reported their work in the journal PLOS ONE. The Science Journal for Kids, a publication aimed at presenting younger audiences with scientific concepts, also published the paper.

Source: Iowa State University

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Leaving ‘prairie strips’ on farmland pays off

Even a relatively small amount of prairie on certain farmland can deliver major environmental benefits, 10 years of data show.

A group of scientists called STRIPS (Science-based Trials of Rowcrops Integrated with Prairie Strips) is investigating the benefits that may arise from integrating prairie into crop production systems.

“This study puts everything we’ve worked on together,” says Lisa Schulte Moore, a professor of natural resource ecology and management at Iowa State University and lead author of the paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“The strips are designed to act as a speed bump to slow water down and give it time to infiltrate the soil.”

The study includes findings from 12 watersheds at the Neal Smith Wildlife Refuge near Prairie City. The experimental areas featured corn and soybean fields with strips of prairie integrated into the land at various positions and percentages on the row-crop landscape.

Each prairie strip contained a diverse range of perennial grass and wildflower species in order to slow the movement of water and ensure that plants would be in bloom the entire growing season to provide habitat to pollinating insects.

The researchers gathered data on dozens of ecosystem performance metrics. The results show prairie strips offer a range of environmental benefits at a lower cost than many other conservation techniques, Schulte Moore says. Social survey results also presented in the paper portray Iowans’ support for agricultural policies that produce outcomes such as those that the prairie strips provide.

The prairie strips reduce soil and nutrient loss from steep ground, provide habitat for wildlife, and improve water infiltration. According to the study, converting as little as 10 percent of the cropped area to prairie conservation strips reduced soil loss by 95 percent, phosphorus losses in surface runoff by 77 percent, nitrate concentrations in groundwater by 72 percent, and total nitrogen losses in surface runoff by 70 percent, compared with all-crop watersheds. Pollinator and bird abundance more than doubled.

“The strips are designed to act as a speed bump to slow water down and give it time to infiltrate the soil,” Schulte Moore says.

The study found that 40 percent of Iowa land currently devoted to row crops could realize significant benefits from growing prairie on approximately 10 percent of the area. Most of the land in question features steep inclines where soil erodes easily.

Paying farmers not to farm saved sage grouse

The study’s economic analysis found the prairie strips cost less than terraces and compare similarly to the cost of planting cover crops. But prairie strips pose different management considerations compared to cover crops, making them more amenable to some farming operations, Schulte Moore says. The study also found that the benefits derived from prairie strips are considerable compared to the land used to support them.

“We found that a little prairie yields big benefits,” Schulte Moore says. “The benefits are disproportionate to the area taken out of crop production.”

The STRIPS project began in the fall of 2003 at the Neal Smith National Wildlife Refuge site. Initiating institutions included Iowa State, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service. The new paper also includes scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service and a private farmer who worked with the team.

Project personnel and collaborators have helped 47 farmers in Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin install native prairie on their fields, and the team is now working to gather data on a subset of those sites as well. The STRIPS team is planning installations at 11 additional farms in the next few months. The next phase of the project will involve adding new layers to the prairie strip formula, including testing how strips interact with varying soil types and how they work in conjunction with other conservation practices, Schulte Moore says.

Source: Iowa State University

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Oil on your salad may boost its benefits

Dieters who fret about adding dressing to their salad can feel less guilty, a new small study of 12 women suggests.

The findings show that added fat from soybean oil promotes absorption of seven different micronutrients in salad vegetables.

“For most people, the oil is going to benefit nutrient absorption…”

Those nutrients include four carotenoids—alpha and beta carotene, lutein, and lycopene—two forms of vitamin E and vitamin K. The oil also promotes the absorption of vitamin A, which forms in the intestine from the alpha and beta carotene.

The study builds on previous research that focused on alpha and beta carotene and lycopene.

Better absorption of the nutrients promotes a range of health benefits, including cancer prevention and eyesight preservation, says Wendy White, an associate professor of food science and human nutrition at Iowa State University.

Further, the amount of oil added to the vegetables has a proportional relationship with the amount of nutrient absorption. That is, more oil means more absorption.

“The best way to explain it would be to say that adding twice the amount of salad dressing leads to twice the nutrient absorption,” White says.

But don’t go drenching your greens in dressing, White cautions. The US dietary recommendation is for about two tablespoons of oil per day.

The study included 12 college-age women who ate salads with various levels of soybean oil, a common ingredient in commercial salad dressings. Researchers then tested the participants’ blood to measure the absorption of nutrients. Women were chosen for the trial because of differences in the speed with which men and women metabolize the nutrients in question.

These words get people to eat more vegetables

The results showed maximal nutrient absorption occurred at around 32 grams of oil, which was the highest amount studied, or a little more than two tablespoons, but there was some variability.

“For most people, the oil is going to benefit nutrient absorption,” White says. “The average trend, which was statistically significant, was for increased absorption.”

The researchers published their work in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Unilever, a global food company, funded the work but had no input in the publication of the study.

Source: Iowa State University

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To get yourself to exercise, enjoy it. Here’s how

The allure of high-intensity interval training is simple—go all-out for as little as one minute and reap the benefits of a 45 or 60-minute workout. With a promise like that, it is easy to understand why people are willing to try it.

But the promise comes with a catch. The entire premise of high-intensity training guarantees a level of displeasure.

“The message of ‘squeezing it in’ perpetuates the idea that exercise is a chore.”

“If you can take an hour of exercise and squeeze it into one minute, there’s a price to pay,” says Panteleimon “Paddy” Ekkekakis, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University. “The price is 100 percent intensity. It’s undeniable that the experience will be unpleasant.”

As high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, has grown in popularity, so has the debate over whether it is an effective public health solution. Proponents promote it as a way to help inactive people “squeeze in a workout” and boost physical activity.

While lack of time is a popular excuse, it really boils down to behavior and people choosing to spend their free time doing something they enjoy more than exercise. Given that most people don’t adhere to a workout philosophy of “no pain, no gain,” condensing the duration won’t make a difference, Ekkekakis says.

“The message of ‘squeezing it in’ perpetuates the idea that exercise is a chore. We want to break down the association of exercise as punishment, as something unpleasant, something to tolerate, or a bitter pill you have to swallow,” Ekkekakis says. “For example, instead of viewing a bike ride as exercise, we want people to think of it as a chance to enjoy the outdoors or to spend time with family.”

Only 3.2 percent of American adults get a combined 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey reports. The survey uses accelerometers, rather than self-reports, to more accurately measure activity. A total of 150 minutes a week is the minimum recommended by the World Health Organization.

The wrong message

Just the thought of exercising for the recommended 30 to 60 minutes a day is enough to keep some people from even trying, Ekkekakis says. HIIT may be a good fit for some people who are young and healthy, but for the majority of the population it’s unpleasant, and therefore not sustainable.

Thinking you’re not fit enough may cut lifespan

For a new study in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, Ekkekakis and Emily Decker measured levels of pleasure and enjoyment during and following two workouts that burned the same number of calories. One workout consisted of high-intensity intervals and the other was a longer, moderate-intensity, continuous exercise routine.

The researchers intentionally recruited people who were inactive and obese, to test if high-intensity exercise is a viable option for the growing number of Americans who are obese and need to move more. The results: people reported greater pleasure and enjoyment with moderate-intensity exercise compared to high-intensity.

“I fear these programs send the wrong public health message,” Ekkekakis says. “The people who can maintain this type of training are a small minority. Most people are overweight, sedentary, and not getting enough activity.

“The only objective that makes sense is to adopt a type and amount of exercise that will help you incorporate exercise into your daily life so you can be active for the rest of your life.”

How to enjoy exercise

It may seem like an oxymoron, but it is possible to enjoy vigorous exercise. How? Start strong and then decrease intensity throughout the workout. Here is what Ekkekakis has learned from his research analyzing two, 15-minute workouts on a recumbent bike:

  • Adults who started with a vigorous intensity and ramped down to very low intensity reported increasing pleasure during and after exercise.
  • Up to seven days later, those same adults still remembered it as a positive experience and expected to feel good in future workouts.
  • Adults who started at very low intensity and ramped up to a vigorous intensity, as people are typically instructed to do, felt progressively worse, perceived the workout as less enjoyable and remembered it as such the next week.

These research results appear in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology.

Source: Iowa State University

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Putting a TV in your kid’s bedroom carries risks

Children who have a television or video games in their bedroom spend less time reading and sleeping, research suggests. Consequences include poor performance at school, greater risk of obesity, and even video game addiction.

Further, children with bedroom media watched programs and played video games that were more violent, which increased levels of physical aggression. It stands to reason that most parents are not fully aware of what is happening behind closed doors, says Douglas Gentile, professor of psychology at Iowa State University and lead author of the study in Developmental Psychology.

“When most children turn on the TV alone in their bedroom, they’re probably not watching educational shows or playing educational games.”

“When most children turn on the TV alone in their bedroom, they’re probably not watching educational shows or playing educational games. Putting a TV in the bedroom gives children 24-hour access and privatizes it in a sense, so as a parent you monitor less and control their use of it less.”

The study uses data from Gentile’s previous studies on screen time and media content. While some of the results mirror the findings in those studies, the new work also finds that having bedroom media significantly changes the amount of time children spend with media, changes what they view, and also changes what children do not do, like read.

Children now spend as much as 60 hours a week in front of some kind of screen and more than 40 percent of children ages 4-6 have a TV in their bedroom. A substantial majority of children 8 and older have a TV or video game console in their bedrooms.

While the current study looked specifically at TVs and video games in the bedroom, Gentile expects the effects to be the same, if not stronger, given the access children now have to digital devices. He has talked with parents worried about their child’s digital media use or how best to set limits. Concerns include children accessing questionable content and responding in the middle of the night to text messages or social media alerts.

Keeping media out of bedrooms may cause a battle in the short term, but will benefit children in the long term, he says.

“It’s a lot easier for parents to never allow a TV in the bedroom than it is to take it out. It’s a question every parent must face, but there is a simple two-letter answer. That two-letter answer is tough, but it is worth it.”

There is no direct link between the physical presence of a TV and poor grades, Gentile says. Rather, bedroom media makes it easier for children to spend more time watching or playing, instead of doing other beneficial, healthy activities.

Electronics at bedtime rob kids of sleep

Researchers tracked children over a period of 13 and 24 months and found bedroom media (both TV and video games) increased total screen time, which indirectly affected school grades. The data pointed to one explanation–third through fifth grade students who spent more time watching TV, spent less time reading.

Increased screen time was also linked to higher body mass index, physical aggression, and symptoms of video game addiction.

“We know from decades of research on addiction that the No. 1 predictor of addiction is access. You can’t be addicted to gambling, if there is no place to gamble,” Gentile says. “Access is certainly the gateway to a wide range of effects, both positive and negative.”

Olivia Berch worked with Gentile on the study as an undergraduate at Iowa State. Hyekyung Choo, National University of Singapore; Angeline Khoo, Nanyang Technological University; and David Walsh, Mind Positive Parenting also contributed to the research.

Source: Iowa State University

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Tension with mom and siblings predicts midlife depression

New research links tension with our mothers or siblings to symptoms of depression in midlife.

…tension between mothers and adult children was a stronger predictor of depression for daughters than it was for sons.

Relationships with our mothers and siblings change as we become adults and start our own families, but the quality of those relationships still has an effect on our well-being.

The research, published in the journal Social Sciences, found the relationships a person has with siblings, mothers, and spouses have a similar effect on well-being and one is not stronger than another.

“Family scholars have focused a lot on the relationship we have with our spouse,” says Megan Gilligan, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University. “There is this assumption that as you go through your life course, you leave these other relationships with your parents and siblings behind, but you don’t. You carry those with you.”

The relationship between mothers and daughters is even more significant. The research shows tension between mothers and adult children was a stronger predictor of depression for daughters than it was for sons. However, gender did not make a difference in relationships with spouses and siblings. Gilligan says this makes sense based on her previous research.

“We know that mothers and daughters in adulthood have the closest relationships and also the most conflictual. These are really intense relationships,” she says. “Later in life, adult children start providing more care to their parents, and daughters in particular are often caregivers for their mothers.”

Midlife is often characterized as stable and uneventful, but in reality, it is a time of change and transition for many people, Gilligan says. For example, adult children may be leaving the house and aging parents start requiring more care. Additionally, researchers know that midlife adults often react more strongly to family conflict than older adults do.

While there is a great deal of research on young families and family dynamics later in life, there is a gap at midlife, Gilligan says. Given the potential for greater conflict with mothers or siblings related to these midlife changes, it is important to understand the consequences of negative relationships on our psychological well-being.

“Midlife is a time when siblings are often coming back together as they prepare and navigate care for parents,” she says. “For that reason, it’s a pivotal time when these family relationships might be experiencing more tension, more strain, more discord.”

Caregiver stress can shorten dementia patients’ lives

The research team used data collected through the Within-Family Differences Study. Their analysis included 495 adult children within 254 families. For a majority of families, multiple siblings participated in the study.

Researchers measured depressive symptoms and tension among family members through survey questions. They controlled for race, gender, and education.

In the paper, Gilligan and her colleagues explained that they expected all three relationships would predict depressive symptoms, but the effect would vary depending on the salience of the relationship.

The fact that they found no significant difference between spouses, mothers, and siblings is important to note, especially for practitioners. Gilligan says instead of focusing solely on a romantic partner or spouse, marriage and family therapists should ask about other sources of family stress.

“These findings show that we are navigating other family relationships at the same time and we’re not experiencing them in isolation; we’re experiencing them simultaneously,” Gilligan says.

You can catch your friend’s mood, but not depression

“The stress people are experiencing may be the result of a romantic partner or spouse. However, it could also be that they’re fighting with their siblings or they’re experiencing a lot of tension with their mother even though they are 50 years old,” she says.

Additional researchers contributing to the work are from Iowa State and Purdue University.

Source: Iowa State University

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Sing to protect swallowing from Parkinson’s

Singing can significantly improve muscle activity associated with swallowing and respiratory control, research finds. The effects of Parkinson’s disease on these functions can lead to death.

Elizabeth Stegemöller, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, holds weekly music therapy classes for people with Parkinson’s disease. Her clients are even preparing for an upcoming music festival and concert, which highlight the clients’ musical talents, and celebrate the strength they have built through song.

“We’re not trying to make people better singers. We’re trying to work the muscles involved with swallowing and respiratory control, to make them work better and therefore protect against some of the complications of swallowing,” says Stegemöller.

Interest in the singing classes has exceeded what Stegemöller alone can manage, which is why she has created a DVD to train extension specialists.

“The goal is to expand this singing initiative,” Stegemöller says. “If the DVD is an effective training tool, we’d like to have as many classes as possible across the state.”

Musical pacifier teaches preemies how to eat

In addition to extending her outreach, Stegemöller is also building on her research. Through her initial study, she learned singing might provide other benefits related to stress, mood, and depression. Stegemöller and colleagues are conducting follow-up studies testing blood and cortisol levels to see if there is a measurable difference.

Results of Stegemöller’s initial study appear in the journals Disability and Rehabilitation and Complementary Therapies in Medicine.

Source: Iowa State University

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