Smartphone Use is Out of Control — This Graph Says It All

The average time some people use their phones each day is twice what they guess.

The average time some people use their phones each day is twice what they guess.

Young people use their smartphones for an average of five hours per day, a new study finds.

That’s one-third of the time they are awake.

Along the way they check their phones fully 85 times per day.

The study asked people to guess how much they used their smartphones.

This was compared with data from an app installed on the phone which measured their actual usage.

The study included 23 people between the ages of 18 and 33.

Most of the usage came in small bursts lasting as little as 30 seconds.

Below is the graph showing people’s smartphone usage in black blocks over two weeks.

Time of day runs along the bottom of the graph and each day of the two weeks runs vertically.

The lines running across indicate the two Saturdays.

People were checking the time, their email, social media alerts or playing music.

Dr David Ellis, one of the study’s authors, said:

“Psychologists typically rely on self-report data when quantifying mobile phone usage in studies, but our work suggests that estimated smartphone use should be interpreted with caution.”

The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE (Andrews et al., 2015).

Phones and relationships image from Shutterstock

The Serious Eating Disorder Linked to These Microorganisms

A serious psychological condition that affects over 3 million Americans.

A serious psychological condition that affects over 3 million Americans.

Anorexia nervosa may be partly related to a bacterial imbalance in the gut, a new study finds.

There are trillions of bacteria in the gut — these have been increasingly linked by scientists to brain function.

This new frontier of research has been dubbed the ‘gut-brain axis’.

Anorexia a serious condition that affects over 3 million Americans.

It also has the highest risk of death of any psychological disorder.

Dr Ian Carroll, one of the study’s authors, said:

“Other studies have linked gut bacteria to weight regulation and behavior.

Since people with anorexia nervosa exhibit extreme weight dysregulation, we decided to study this relationship further.”

The study compared fecal samples of women with anorexia before and after treatment.

Before treatment the women had gut bacteria with much lower diversity.

Low diversity is a sign of poor health.

After treatment, with their weight restored, bacterial diversity had increased, but it was still not as high as healthy individuals.

Dr Carroll said:

“We’re not saying that altering gut bacteria will be the magic bullet for people with anorexia nervosa.

Other important factors are at play, obviously.

But the gut microbiota is clearly important for a variety of health and brain-related issues in humans.

And it could be important for people with anorexia nervosa.”

Nevertheless, this could offer hope for a new type of treatment, said Dr Cynthia Bulik, another study author:

“Currently available treatments for anorexia nervosa are suboptimal.

In addition, the process of weight gain and renourishment can be extremely uncomfortable for patients.

Often, patients are discharged from the hospital, and within months and sometimes weeks they find themselves losing weight again and facing readmission.

If specific alterations in their microbiota could make renourishment less uncomfortable, help patients regulate their weight, and positively affect behavior, then we might see fewer readmissions and more cures.”

The study was published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine (Kleiman et al., 2015).

Anorexia image from Shutterstock

Ease Mental And Physical Pain With This Type of Spiritual Belief

Study reveals how spiritual beliefs affect physical and mental health.

Study reveals how spiritual beliefs affect physical and mental health.

People who believe God loves them and forgives them have better mental health, a new study finds.

In contrast, those who hold negative spiritual beliefs tend to have worse mental health.

Negative spiritual beliefs include believing that God is punishing you or feeling abandoned.

Professor Brick Johnstone, one of the study’s authors, said:

“In general, the more religious or spiritual you are, the healthier you are, which makes sense.

But for some individuals, even if they have even the smallest degree of negative spirituality — basically, when individuals believe they’re ill because they’ve done something wrong and God is punishing them — their health is worse.”

Almost 200 people with a variety of health conditions were included in the study.

Amongst the ailments, some had cancer, some brain injuries, while others were healthy.

Everyone was divided into two groups:

  • Positive spirituality: felt loved and accepted by a higher power.
  • Negative spirituality: felt abandoned or punished by a higher power.

Those with negative spirituality reported being in more pain and having worse mental health.

Even small amounts of negative spirituality were linked to lower levels of health.

Professor Johnstone said:

“Previous research has shown that about 10 percent of people have negative spiritual beliefs; for example, believing that if they don’t do something right, God won’t love them.

That’s a negative aspect of religion when people believe, ‘God is not supportive of me.

What kind of hope do I have?’

However, when people firmly believe God loves and forgives them despite their shortcomings, they had significantly better mental health.”

The study was published in the Journal of Spirituality in Mental Health (Jones et al., 2015).

Holding sun image from Shutterstock

This Supplement May Reduce Risk of Psychotic Disorders

First study to show a positive effect of this supplement on serious mental illness.

First study to show a positive effect of this supplement on serious mental illness.

Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown for the first time to reduce the long-term risk of developing psychotic disorders.

The conclusion comes from a study of 13-25 year-olds in Australia.

The young people in the study were all deemed at risk of developing psychotic disorders later in life.

Half took a 3-month course of omega-3 and the remainder took a placebo.

They were originally followed up for over a year.

In the omega-3 group only 2 of 41 young people had developed a psychotic disorder in comparison to 11 of 41 in the placebo group.

In the study’s latest instalment, the two groups have been followed up 7 years later.

The results are still encouraging.

Just four people originally in the omega-3 group have gone on to develop a psychotic disorder in the intervening 7 years.

In the control group, 16 have developed a psychotic disorder since the study began.

Early treatment of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia is key.

This study provides one way to help some people who are at high-risk to avoid anti-psychotic medication, which has considerable side-effects.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications (Amminger et al., 2015).

Heal mind image from Shutterstock

How To Feel Good About Making Mistakes

Sometimes we need to make mistakes in order to learn and grow.

Sometimes we need to make mistakes in order to learn and grow.

The reward areas of the brain activate when people learn from their mistakes, a new study finds.

People normally feel bad about mistakes and try to avoid them in future.

But sometimes we need to make mistakes in order to learn and improve.

Now neuroscientists have found that if people are given the opportunity to reflect, they could feel good about their mistakes.

Dr Giorgio Coricelli, one of the study’s authors, said:

“We show that, in certain circumstances, when we get enough information to contextualize the choices, then our brain essentially reaches towards the reinforcement mechanism, instead of turning toward avoidance.”

So, after reflecting positively on mistakes, people may not be so averse to trying something new.

In the research, people answered questions which they either got right or wrong.

Naturally, people felt bad when they got them wrong and the areas of the brain related to avoidance activated.

Subsequently, though, people were given a chance to review their mistakes.

Scientists found that people’s brain responded positively when reflecting.

Brain scans revealed the ‘reward circuit’ activating during the review.

This suggested that even mistakes can feel rewarding, given time for reflection.

The study was published in the journal Nature Communications (Palminteri et al., 2015).

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Tested: If Mental Work Genuinely Affects Physical Tiredness

How mental and physical stresses interact in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

How mental and physical stresses interact in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.

Both mental and physical stress can interact to cause fatigue, a new study finds.

The brain’s resources in the prefrontal cortex — an area used for planning and control — are divided during physical and mental activity, the research found.

Dr Ranjana Mehta, the study’s first author, said:

“Existing examinations of physical and mental fatigue has been limited to evaluating cardiovascular, muscular and biomechanical changes.

The purpose of this study was to use simultaneous monitoring of brain and muscle function to examine the impact on the PFC [prefrontal cortex] while comparing the changes in brain behavior with traditional measures of fatigue.”

For the research, participants repeatedly squeezed on a hand-grip while performing mental tasks designed to fatigue them.

At the same time, an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex was monitored.

The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain at the front above and behind the eyes.

This area is vital to our personalities, how we plan complex actions, and more.

The researchers found that the prefrontal cortex became more ‘tired’ when people were performing both mental and physical tasks.

It appears the brain devotes some of its resources to physical tasks and some to mental tasks.

The research is one of the first to show how mental and physical tasks can interact to fatigue the brain.

Dr Mehta said:

“Not a lot of people see the value in looking at both the brain and the body together.

However, no one does purely physical or mental work; they always do both.”

So, it appears the brain is like a muscle in the sense that work — whether mental or physical — weakens its strength.

The study was published in the journal Human Factors (Mehta & Parasuraman, 2015).

Mental work image from Shutterstock

High-Fat Diet May Disturb a Range of Thoughts And Feelings

Treat your gut well and this is why your brain will thank you.

Treat your gut well and this is why your brain will thank you.

Changes in bacteria in the gut are linked to critical psychological changes, a new mouse study finds.

A high-fat diet could increase the risk of repetitive behaviours, depression and anxiety, researchers have concluded.

Dr. John Krystal, editor of journal Biological Psychiatry, where the article was published, said:

“This paper suggests that high-fat diets impair brain health, in part, by disrupting the symbiotic relationship between humans and the microorganisms that occupy our gastrointestinal tracts.”

As the authors write, this is the…

“…first definitive evidence that high-fat diet-induced changes to the gut microbiome [the community of organisms in the human gut] are sufficient to disrupt brain physiology and function in the absence of obesity.” (Annadora et al., 2015)

In the study, non-obese mice were fed a normal diet.

But they were then given the gut microbiota — the microorganisms which live in the gut — from another mouse which had been fed a high-fat diet.

These were compared with mice who were given gut microbiota from a mouse fed on a normal diet.

Remarkable changes were seen in the non-obese mice that had been given the microbiota from the high-fat mice.

They showed signs of depression, anxiety, memory problems and repetitive behaviours.

There were also signs of brain inflammation.

High-fat diets have long been known to increase the risk of physical problems like stroke and heart disease.

This study is part of a growing body of research showing the link between brain and gut.

For example, the first ever human study of its kind recently found that consuming a prebiotic bacteria can have an anti-anxiety effect.

The authors conclude:

“…these data are in agreement with the extensive body of literature describing the sensitivity of the brain to diet-induced obesity and the growing number of studies linking gut microbiota to central nervous system health and behavior.

For example, there is a reported high comorbidity [overlap] between psychiatric syndromes, including depression and anxiety, with gastrointestinal disorders, while conversely, recent studies link probiotics to positive changes in mood and behavior.”

Eating cake image from Shutterstock

Hearing Voices: Rachel’s Experience Might Surprise You

Hearing voices is much more common than you might think.

Hearing voices is much more common than you might think.

The experience of hearing voices is common and much more variable than previously thought, a new study finds.

Many people who do not have a psychiatric diagnosis hear voices.

It is thought between 5 and 15% of people will experience hearing voices at some point in their lives (scroll down for Rachel’s story).

Researchers asked 153 people about their experiences of hearing voices.

Most of them (81%) said they heard more than one voice, with 70% saying they heard specific characters.

Only around half the people said their voices were purely sounds they heard.

Almost half said they were more thought-like voices or somewhere in between sounds and thoughts.

Two-thirds of people also reported feeling bodily sensations while hearing voices.

These included tingling or hot sensations in the hands or feet.

Dr Nev Jones, one of the study’s authors, said:

“By and large, these voices were not experienced simply as intrusive or unwanted thoughts, but rather, like the auditory voices, as distinct ‘entities’ with their own personalities and content.

This data also suggests that we need to think much more carefully about the distinction between imagined percepts, such as sound, and perception.”

Rachels’ story

Rachel Waddingham is a former psychiatric patient who has successfully rejected the labels, and the medications, to live alongside her voices.

She says:

“I hear about 13 or so voices.

Each of them is different — some have names, they are different ages and sound like different people.

Some of them are very angry and violent, others are scared, and others are mischievous.

Sometimes, I hear a child who is very frightened.

When she is frightened I can sometimes feel pains in my body — burning.

If I can help the voice calm down, by doing some grounding strategies, the burning pains stop.

Since going to a Hearing Voices Group, I have found ways of making sense of and coping with my voices.

I no longer feel terrorised by them even though some of them say some very frightening things.

I now have a family of voices and have a better relationship with them.

I can make a choice about how I respond to them — whether I listen to them, and how I reply.

Some of them are now much more helpful — they can be a window to my feelings, letting me know about a problem that I have in my life that I need to address.

Although in our society, people who hear voices are often seen as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’, I do think things are changing.

I find that lots of people are interested in voice-hearing.

Many people have told me about experiences they have had — either in their childhood, or as an adult.

It’s as if by talking about voices we are starting to de-stigmatise the experience and opening the door for others to speak openly too.

As long as we believe that voices are signs of pathology and illness, it makes little sense to really explore a person’s lived experience.

Instead we try to suppress or eliminate the voices as far as possible.

Listening to them seems ‘crazy’.

Still, in my experience it can be really useful to be interested in people’s lived experience of voice-hearing.

Every one of us is different, and being curious about my experiences was one of the first steps to dealing with them.

This research is a step forward.

If we want to understand more about voice-hearing, it makes sense to ask a voice-hearer — and be willing to modify our perception of what it means to hear voices based on their answers.

For me, the word ‘voices’ isn’t sufficient.

I use it, but it hides the embodied parts of my experience for which I have few words to describe.

I would like to live in a world where we are curious about one another’s experiences and seek to understand rather than pathologise.

Everyone has a story and the world would be much kinder if we started to listen to it.”

The study is published in the journal Lancet Psychiatry (Woods et al., 2015).

You can read more about Rachel’s story at her website.

Hands over ears image from Shutterstock

Smartphone Addiction: How It May Affect Your Thinking Skills

How smartphone addiction could be affecting some people’s ability to think.

How smartphone addiction could be affecting some people’s ability to think.

Smartphone addiction has been linked to lazy thinking by a new psychology study.

Smarter people tend to use the search function on their smartphones less often, the research has found.

Intuitive thinkers, though, who tend to be less intelligent, are more prone to searching for information on smartphones.

Gordon Pennycook, who co-led the study, said:

“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it.”

In contrast, analytical thinkers, who are generally more intelligent, search less.

Dr Nathaniel Barr, who co-led the study, said:

“Decades of research has revealed that humans are eager to avoid expending effort when problem-solving and it seems likely that people will increasingly use their smartphones as an extended mind.”

Smartphone addiction

The research asked 660 people about their smartphone addiction.

Their verbal and literacy skills were also assessed, along with their thinking style.

The results showed that people with stronger and more analytical thinking skills used the search function on their smartphones the least.

The study is published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior (Barr et al., 2015).

Mr Pennycook said:

“Our research provides support for an association between heavy smartphone use and lowered intelligence.

Whether smartphones actually decrease intelligence is still an open question that requires future research.”

That said, it may be that a smartphone addiction leaves people with weaker thinking skills.

Dr Barr continued:

“Our reliance on smartphones and other devices will likely only continue to rise.

It’s important to understand how smartphones affect and relate to human psychology before these technologies are so fully ingrained that it’s hard to recall what life was like without them.

We may already be at that point.”

Smartphone user image from Shutterstock

Vitamin D Benefits Common Mental Illnesses By Regulating Serotonin

Study reveals how vitamin D benefits mental disorders, as do omega-3 fatty acids.

Study reveals how vitamin D benefits mental disorders, as do omega-3 fatty acids.

Serotonin regulation could explain why vitamin D benefits many brain disorders, as do marine omega-3 fatty acids, a new study finds.

Depression, autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder and even schizophrenia have all been linked to low levels of vitamin D and omega-3.

Low levels of serotonin have been found to impair memory, planning, social behaviour and increase impulsiveness and aggression.

Supplementation with these essential nutrients has shown promise in improving some of these conditions.

Until now, though, scientists have been unsure of the mechanism of how omega-3 and vitamin D benefits such a wide range of conditions.

Vitamin D benefits

The new study, published in the FASEB Journal, finds that the link could be how they interact with serotonin, a vital neurotransmitter (Patrick & Ames, 2015).

Dr Rhonda P. Patrick, the study’s first author,

“In this paper we explain how serotonin is a critical modulator of executive function, impulse control, sensory gating, and pro-social behavior.

We link serotonin production and function to vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, suggesting one way these important micronutrients help the brain function and affect the way we behave.”

Vitamin D is mostly produced in the body when sun strikes the skin, which is why these levels tend to be much lower in the winter.

Along with low levels of vitamin D, many people do not eat enough fish and so have low levels of two critical marine omega-3 fatty acids — Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Dr Patrick said:

“Vitamin D, which is converted to a steroid hormone that controls about 1,000 genes, many in the brain, is a major deficiency in the US and omega-3 fatty acid deficiencies are very common because people don’t eat enough fish,”

The researchers think that the correct intake of both omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D benefits many brain disorders.

Serotonin image from Shutterstock