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Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’


Binge Drinking in College May Lower Chances of Landing a Job After College

Drinking habits, not drinking itself, may impact future careers, say Tel Aviv University, Cornell University researchers

Tel Aviv — Heavy drinking six times a month reduces the probability that a new college graduate will land a job by 10 percent, according to Tel Aviv University and Cornell University research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Previous studies were unable to determine the precise effect of alcohol consumption on first-time employment. But according to the new study, each individual episode of student binge-drinking during a month-long period lowers the odds of attaining full-time employment upon graduation by 1.4 percent.

“The manner in which students drink appears to be more influential than how much they drink when it comes to predicting the likelihood of getting a job upon graduation,” says Prof. Peter Bamberger of TAU’s Coller School of Business Management and Cornell University, who co-authored the study with Prof. Samuel Bacharach of Cornell University; Prof. Mary Larimer and Prof. Irene Geisner, both of the University of Washington; Jacklyn Koopmann of Auburn University; Prof. Inbal Nahum-Shani of the University of Michigan; and Prof. Mo Wang of the University of Florida.

“Binge-drinking” is defined as ingesting four or more alcoholic drinks within two hours by a woman and five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours by a man, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

How often, not how much

The research found that a non-binge pattern of drinking does not adversely impact job search results unless and until their drinking reaches binge levels.

Data for the study was provided by 827 individuals who graduated in 2014, 2015, and 2016 from Cornell, the University of Washington, the University of Florida, and the University of Michigan.

“A student who binge-drinks four times a month has a 6 percent lower probability of finding a job than a student who does not engage in similar drinking habits. Those students who drank heavily six times a month increased their unemployment probability to 10 percent,” says Prof. Bamberger.

Funded by a $2.2 million grant from the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, the research is the first installment of a longitudinal study on how alcohol misuse affects the college-to-work transition. More than 16,000 individuals have been contacted as part of the five-year study.

“This paper is consistent with the recent emphasis on the impact of drinking behavior on career transition from Cornell’s Smithers Institute,” said Prof. Bacharach. “It is in concert with the previous work we’ve done on retirement, and on-boarding [the entry and socialization of newcomers into an organization]. Most importantly, it is also consistent with the Smithers Institute’s continued programmatic interest in substance abuse not only in the workplace, but in the college community as well.”


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Less work for a better memory

TAU researchers find brief reactivations of visual memories are enough to complete the learning process

A  new Tel Aviv University study finds that brief memory reactivations can replace repeated extensive practice and training — commonly known as “practice makes perfect” — as a basis of procedural learning.

“Instead of bombarding our brain with repeated practice and training, people can utilize our new framework and improve learning with only several brief but highly efficient reactivations of a learned memory,” said Dr. Nitzan Censor of TAU’s School of Psychological Sciences. “In our study, instead of repeating a computer-based visual recognition task hundreds of times, participants were briefly exposed to just five trials — each lasting only a few milliseconds.

“Our results can facilitate the development of strategies geared to substantially reduce the amount of practice needed for efficient learning, both in the healthy brain and in the case of neurological damage or disease.”

The research was spearheaded by Dr. Censor’s students Rony Laor-Maayany and Rotem Amar-Halpert, and published in Nature Neuroscience.

Only a few milliseconds

In procedural learning, individuals repeat a complex activity over and over again until all relevant neural systems work together to automatically produce the activity. It is essential for the development of any motor skill or cognitive activity.

The researchers hypothesized that brief periods of memory reactivation would be sufficient to improve basic visual perception and yield a full normal learning curve, supporting a new paradigm of human learning dynamics. They based their hypothesis on knowledge accumulated from studies in animal models.

For the study, 70 participants performed a visual discrimination computer-based task, in which visual stimuli flashed on a screen for several milliseconds. Afterwards, participants were required to learn to discriminate between features within a visual stimulus (for example to report whether the orientation of lines was vertical or horizontal). Such discrimination performance constitutes a common measure of human visual perception. The results revealed that subjects who underwent exposure of several seconds to a learned task later demonstrated the completion of an entire learning curve.

“After we conducted this basic and common visual discrimination task, participants returned for a session in which the visual memory was briefly reactivated and the task performed for only several seconds,” said Dr. Censor. “A memory of the task was created and encoded in the participants’ brains as they performed the task.”

The subjects then participated in three additional sessions spread over three days, in which the memory of the initial visual task was briefly reactivated five times, the visual stimuli flashing for several milliseconds. On a separate day, the participants’ performance rate was measured and compared to that of control subjects who had undergone a standard training protocol.

“Additional control experiments were carried out,” said Dr. Censor. “These all suggested that we can leverage a new form of learning — reactivation-induced learning. Accordingly, brief ‘ignitions’ of the memory are sufficient to activate and improve the memory network encoded in our brains. This efficiently yields a full typical learning curve and challenges the ‘practice-makes-perfect’ basis of procedural learning.”

 The researchers are currently studying the neural mechanisms underlying this novel reactivation-induced learning.

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Are gender roles inherited?

A new collaborative study from TAU, the University of Melbourne and the University of Exeter says yes

The different ways men and women behave, passed down from generation to generation, can be inherited from our social environment — not just from genes, according to a new study.

Rather than the sexes acting differently because of genetic inheritance, the human environment and culture allow for the transfer of some gender-specific behavior traits from generation to generation. New advances in evolutionary theory, and current models of how sex influences the brain, suggest that the interactions between the genetic and hormonal components of sex, along with other factors, create variability between individuals for some gender-related traits, while environmental factors supply the stable conditions needed for the reproduction of those traits in each generation.

The study was conducted by Prof. Daphna Joel from Tel Aviv University, Prof. Cordelia Fine of the University of Melbourne and Prof. John Dupré of the University of Exeter. It was recently published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences.

Gender roles as adaptive behavior

These two important shifts in scientific thinking point to the possibility that gender roles examined across different generations are sometimes best explained in terms of inherited socio-environmental conditions. “Even in non-human mammals, adaptive traits that have reliably developed in offspring for thousands of years can disappear within a few generations, if the relevant environmental conditions change,” said Prof. Dupré.

“Genetic inheritance continues to be critical for the capacity to quickly learn an adaptive behavior, but environmental factors that are stable over generations remove any selective pressure for the development of parallel genetic mechanisms,” Prof. Dupré observed.

The researchers studied recent thinking from evolution theory and recent findings from studies of the relations between sex and the brain for the study.

As part of another study, Prof. Joel and colleagues found that human brains are composed of unique mosaics of features, some more common in one sex than in the other.

“Masculine and feminine behaviors cannot be explained by the existence of male and female brains, as has previously been suggested,” Prof. Joel said. “Our research suggests that intergenerational inheritance of gender-specific traits may be better explained by highly stable features of the social environment.”

The article says non-genetic mechanisms may be particularly important in humans because our culture strongly encourages us to have male or female roles. The enormous human capacity to learn also allows for information to be passed from generation to generation.

 “We need to question the pervasive assumption that it is always biological sex, via its direct action on the brain, that does the ‘heavy lifting’ when it comes to the gender traits we inherit and display,” Prof. Fine said.

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What if…time doesn’t heal?

A new TAU study finds that resilience and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive among aging groups

At a conference held by TAU’s Herczeg Institute on Aging, researchers presented a study that counters commonly-held beliefs on happiness among the aged. Whereas older people have been typically characterized as either resilient or vulnerable, the researchers found that these two characteristics are intertwined among aging populations facing particular hardships.

Psychological well-being in older people – defined by the study as 50 years and older– is thus more complex than previously believed, according to Prof. Dov Shmotkin, the study’s principal investigator and Director of the Herczeg Institute.

The basic assumption of the study was that psychological systems that facilitate happiness, such as a subjective sense of well-being or meaning in life, regulate our perception of potentially negative situations (known as the “hostile-world scenario”). In other words, most people can negotiate between their happiness-promoting capacities and hostile scenarios so that the good outweighs the bad in their lives.

What the study determined, however, was that these dynamic mechanisms exist in older people in more complicated ways than academics previously thought.


What if…time doesn’t heal?

Panel discussion of experts on aging

One notable finding is that contrary to the popular adage, time does not heal. Dr. Kfir Ifrah, the study’s director, and researcher Dr. Rinat Lifshitz explained that there’s a distinction between daily function and happiness in the aging populations that were studied. For example, as more time passes after a child’s death, bereaved parents report better daily functioning (manifested by less depression and anxiety) but also decreased satisfaction with life. This finding is especially relevant in Israel, where an astounding 30% of older people are bereaved parents.

Additionally, the study found that the poor are able to use happiness-promoting systems more effectively than the non-poor in old age to overcome perceptions of a hostile world, according to Noam Markovitz, a co-investigator in the study.

The study investigated four groups of older people in Israel: bereaved parents, the poor, the handicapped and homosexual men. In the bereaved group, the researchers decided to study cases of death resulting from a disease or accident, as opposed to military or terror deaths, which have been widely studied in Israel.

The Herczeg researchers chose these groups because they are paradigms for major human challenges. The team wanted to explore the implications that these challenges have on the aging process, using psychosocial and health-related perspectives.

Research on aging is especially important as the elderly population in Israel and the world grows rapidly. This increase has significant psychological, social and economic consequences for all societies. In Israel, the older population is characterized by an accumulation of negative life experiences such as the Holocaust, immigration, wars and multiple losses.

At the conference, Shmotkin explained that the objective of the study, titled “Aging in a Hostile World: Resilience or Vulnerability?”, was to give the target groups a voice and raise awareness of their circumstances and needs. Understanding the elderly is critical in helping them age successfully and with dignity, he stressed. Further, Dr. Irit Bluvstein, another member of the team, explained that an integral part of the research was approaching the traumatized older people in a sensitive way. 

“This research is very valuable,” said a conference attendee, a social worker who runs a day center for the elderly. “It’s critical that we translate these findings into practice.” Indeed, the researchers and additional experts on trauma and aging from other universities pointed to possible applications, such as training vulnerable aging populations to use compensatory strategies for their own benefit as well as to encourage more thoughtful views that identify resilient options in the midst of adversity.

The Herczeg Institute at Tel Aviv University fosters interdisciplinary research on aging under the joint direction of the Sackler Faculty of Medicine and the Gershon H. Gordon Faculty of Social Sciences. With experts in social and health sciences, it aims to develop and advance knowledge on aging and old age as well as to provide better coping tools for older people to improve their physical, mental and social conditions.

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Revealing the neural basis of behavioral change

TAU brain scientist Dr. Tom Schonberg finds that people’s choices can be altered in lab experiments. The question is, how?

From academic researchers to marketers, and from political strategists to psychologists, a vast array of players wants to know how to get into – and change – our minds.

Now, in a new study funded by a European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant, neuroscientist Tom Schonberg seeks to discover the underlying mechanism in the brain that determines preferences and changes in behavior.

“Our experiments have shown that people’s choices can be manipulated using a simple combination of a cue and a rapid button press, and that the change can be lasting,” says Dr. Schonberg, a member of the School of Neurobiology, Biochemistry and Biophysics, George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, and of the Sagol School of Neuroscience.

“If we could understand what’s going on in the brain when it assigns or changes preferences, we could use this understanding to effect positive behavioral change. This could lead to novel interventions for health problems such as eating and mood disorders, or addiction,” Schonberg says.

While still a post-doctoral researcher, Schonberg developed a new method of behavioral change. In a set of experiments with snacks, subjects were asked to rank the goodies: Which did they value more and which less? They were shown images of the snacks, and from time to time a picture was accompanied with a neutral auditory cue – a beep. Each time the participants heard the beep and saw the snack, they had to press a button as quickly as possible. Then the subjects were asked to choose between two snacks they initially valued equally, but only one was associated with the cue-and-button-press routine. The scientists found that at the end of the session the majority of subjects now preferred the cued snack over the non-cued snack. Moreover, they found that the preference change remained over time, even months, as revealed by a follow-up session.

Now, at his TAU lab, Schonberg has preliminary data showing he can also change preferences towards pictures of unfamiliar faces and abstract images.

Schonberg and his team are scanning subjects’ brains during the course of current experiments using fMRI at TAU’s Alfredo Federico Strauss Center for Computational Neuro-imaging. They are examining how altered choices change the brain physically over time, immediately after training and several months afterwards.

What does it all mean? Schonberg hypothesizes that very basic and low-level sensory, perceptual and motor neural processes are at play and not high-level cognitive reasoning.

The implications of Schonberg’s work for behavioral change are extensive. For example, Schonberg has begun collaborating with Prof. Yair Bar-Haim of TAU’s School of Psychological Sciences to see if this technique could be used to improve mood in people suffering from depression by enhancing their preference  for happy over sad faces.

Schonberg joined the TAU faculty two and a half years ago after completing his post-doc at UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin. He earned his PhD at TAU and is also a graduate of TAU’s prestigious Adi Lautman Program for Outstanding Students.

The ERC funding for Schonberg’s study totals 1.5 million euros over 5 years. TAU ranks 5th in winning European Research Council (ERC) grants among 172 leading European research institutions.

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