Thursday, April 28, 2016

People With Anxiety Perceive The World In A Fundamentally Different Way

People who still believe the outdated notion that mental health conditions are “all in a person’s head” have yet another reason to stop believing the myth: According to a new study in the journal Current Biology, those with anxiety perceive the world differently — and it stems from a variance in their brains.
It all comes down to the brain’s plasticity, or its ability to change and reorganize itself by forming new connections. These inherent changes in the brain dictate how a person responds to stimuli, and researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel found that people diagnosed with anxiety are less likely to be able to differentiate neutral or “safe” stimuli from threatening ones. 
The scientists found that those with anxiety experienced lasting plasticity long after an emotional experience (aka a “stimulus”) ended. This means the brain was unable to distinguish new, irrelevant situations from something that’s familiar or non-threatening, resulting in anxiety. In other words, anxious individuals tend to overgeneralize emotional experiences, whether they are threatening or not.
Most importantly, researchers noted, this reaction is not something that an anxious individual can control, because it’s a fundamental brain difference.
For the study, researchers trained individuals to associate three specific sounds with one of three outcomes: money loss, money gain or no consequence. In the next phase of the study, participants listened to approximately 15 tones and were asked to identify whether or not they’d heard them before.
The best way to “win” the tone-identifying game was for participants to not confuse or overgeneralize the new sounds with the ones they heard in the first phase of the study. The study authors found that subjects with anxiety were more likely than non-anxious subjects to think a new sound was one that they heard earlier.
This occurrence wasn’t due to an impairment in learning or hearing. It happened because they perceived the earlier tones, which were linked to an emotional experience of money loss or gain, differently than the other participants. 
Researchers also discovered that during the exercise, people with anxiety displayed differences in the amygdala, the region of the brain that’s associated with fear. The findings may explain why the disorder develops for some people and not others, according to the authors.
“Anxiety traits can be completely normal, and even beneficial evolutionarily. Yet an emotional event, even minor sometimes, can induce brain changes that might lead to full-blown anxiety,” lead researcher Rony Paz said in a statement.
The new research is a sound reminder that a person is hardly responsible for having a mental illness; surmounting evidence shows mental health conditions have genetic and physiological underpinnings. A 2015 study found that anxiety may be hereditary, while other research suggests depression may be an inflammatory disease.
However, despite this growing body of research, there’s still a sizable stigma surrounding mental illness. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 25 percent of people with a mental health disorder feel like others are understanding about their experience.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Charter School Graduates More Likely to Stay in College, Earn Higher Salarie

By Arianna Prothero on April 6, 2016 4:17 PM 

Charter school graduates in Florida were more likely stay in college and earn higher salaries than their district school peers.
That's even though attending charter schools did not have a significant impact on student's test scores, according to a study published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.
This study is significant, argue its authors, because research on charter schools has been largely focused on short-term effects, such as test scores, versus long-term—and arguably more important—outcomes such as getting college degrees and earning more money.
Researchers from Georgia State University, Vanderbilt University, and Mathematica Policy Research found that charter school graduates were 12 percent more likely to persist through their second year in college and, by the time they were in their mid-twenties, earned 12 percent more than their district school counterparts. Even when controlling for college enrollment, charter school graduates were six percent more likely to persist in college. 
The study, funded by the Joyce Foundation, also confirmed earlier findings from the Mathematica folks that charter school students are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college.
(The Joyce Foundation provides grant support for Education Week's coverage of policy efforts to improve the teaching profession.)
Using data from the Florida Department of Education on student test scores, demographics, and college enrollment, as well as employment data from the Florida Education and Training Placement Information Program, the study's primary analysis compared students that attended charter schools throughout high school to those that switched from a charter middle school to a district high school. 
Although the researchers ran several analyses to try to control for things like selection bias, they admit there are limitations to their methodology and that the findings can't necessarily be applied to charter school students in other states. But, they write: "Nonetheless, this early evidence of positive effects for these students on educational attainment and earnings in adulthood raises the question of whether charter schools' full long-term impacts on their students have been underestimated by studies that examine only test scores." 
Related stories:

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

After No Child Left Behind, 9 Things to Expect for Kids With Learning and Attention Issues

Feb 17, 2016

at the end of 2015, Congress put an end to No Child Left Behind and replaced it with a new law: the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This new law is complex—more than 1,000 pages. It will affect every public school in the country.
At the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), where I help lead advocacy, we believe ESSA is an opportunity to do better for kids with learning and attention issues. We worked hard to make sure the law protects these students and offers them more opportunities for success. Working with allies in Washington, DC, we achieved great results. Here are some of the highlights:
  • ESSA has a new grant program for literacy in schools.
  • ESSA authorizes a new, comprehensive resource center for parents and teachers on literacy and students with disabilities. (Open a PDF about the resource center.)
  • ESSA limits the number of students with disabilities who take “alternate” tests. Taking alternate tests may take students off track for graduation and future success.
  • ESSA gives parents more information about how their children are doing and more ways to get involved.
This is all good news. But because ESSA is a new law, we don’t yet know what the law’s impact will be. The government has to interpret it. Schools and teachers have to put it into practice. There are several unknowns.
To help you understand what changes the law could bring, we spoke to several experts. Each is a leader in their field and has worked closely with NCLD’s policy team in the past. We asked these experts about what to expect for kids with learning and attention issues under ESSA.
Here are the big takeaways on why this new law is important, and what you might see in your school:

  1. Learning issues are written into ESSA.
    “There’s a lot in this new law. The good thing is that many of ESSA’s programs and requirements try to address the needs of students with learning issues. For example, dyslexia is mentioned in one of the literacy programs. That’s significant.”
    Bob Cunningham, In-House Advisor to Understood
  2. You’ll probably see a new focus on literacy in schools.
    “ESSA has a focus on literacy through new programs. First, the law will create a national center on teaching reading and writing, including for students with learning disabilities. Another part of the law includes a grant program for teaching reading skills. This program’s goal is to provide evidence-based literacy instruction for all students from early childhood through grade 12.”
    Pat Latham, Board of Directors and Past President of the Learning Disabilities Association of America, an Understood founding partner
  3. There will be more attention in schools on how kids learn.
    “For too long, national education policy has focused on what gets taught, without addressing how. ESSA will help change this. The law endorses Universal Design for Learning. This powerful framework helps teachers design classroom instruction that works for all learners. That includes kids with learning and attention issues.”
    —Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Director of Learning Science at CAST, an Understood founding partner
  4. You may see more student-centered approaches in your child’s school.
    “ESSA is a landmark for school innovation. It specifically encourages states to explore and expand on personalized learning and student-centered programs. That means tailoring what students learn based on strengths, needs and interests. ESSA even offers some funding to get this work started. With time, parents may see schools being redesigned to fit a more learner-centered approach.”
    —Brian Stack, Principal of Sanborn Regional High School, Kingston, New Hampshire
  5. Standardized tests will continue, but with more flexibility for schools.
    “I know standardized tests can at times be frustrating for families. But tests are useful because they give parents information on how schools are serving students. They also help us figure out how to help struggling students. That’s why ESSA keeps in place annual testing. But the law also encourages states to get rid of duplicate tests. And there’s more discretion on what to do with test results.”
    —Martha Thurlow, Director, National Center of Educational Outcomes
  6. One big change—ESSA encourages new measures of school success.
    “Graduation rates and test performance are important. They should continue to be big factors in school accountability to make sure schools are serving all kids well. But ESSA asks states to include other measures of success for students. Measures could include things like progress toward early literacy and rigorous coursework.”
    —Kati Haycock, The Education Trust
  7. More will depend on the state where you live.
    “Under ESSA, states will design plans for holding schools accountable. So much of what will happen for children under ESSA will depend on what states decide to do. ESSA has strong rules for holding states accountable for students with disabilities (including learning and attention issues) in their plans. But states also have a good deal of flexibility. The devil clearly will be in the state-level details.”
    Tom Hehir, Former Director, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education
  8. Teacher qualifications and training will be determined by your state.
    “Teachers play the biggest role in ensuring every child gets a good education. The good news is that ESSA has some new training programs for literacy and the use of a multi-tier system of supports. But ESSA no longer requires that teachers be ‘highly qualified’ under federal law. So the challenge for parents is to understand what teachers are required to know to be certified in their state. You’ll have to ask if your child’s teacher knows how to work with kids with learning and attention issues.”
    —Margaret McLaughlin, Professor of Special Education, University of Maryland
  9. Parents will play an even bigger role.
    “With ESSA, states will design their own accountability plans. These plans are critical because they will explain how schools will help students who struggle. And that’s where parents can make a big difference: The law requires state and local officials to involve parents in this developing these plans. Now, more than ever, I encourage you to get involved!”
    —Peggy McLeod, Deputy Vice President of Education and Workforce, National Council of La Raza
    “‘If you’re not at the table, you’ll be on the menu.’ This saying is truer than ever when it comes to ESSA. Parents have to get informed and involved. And advocates and parent organizations, like the Parent Centers, are helping parent voices be heard in every state.”
    —Debra Jennings, Director, Center for Parent Information and Resources at SPAN

Sunday, April 24, 2016

To Recover Faster from Rejection, Shift Your Mindset

To Recover Faster from Rejection, Shift Your Mindset
APRIL 06, 2016
Everyone knows what rejection feels like. It’s a universal (and universally disliked) experience, but it’s one that we each experience differently. For the most part, people are pretty good at moving on with their lives — even better than they might guess. Sometimes, though, getting rejected hurts more than we expect, especially if our immediate response is to become self-critical.
So what makes one person more resilient than another in the face of rejection?
This is a popular topic in psychology, and researchers have investigated many contributing factors, such as differing attachment stylescoping mechanisms, and levels of self-esteem. But Lauren Howe, a doctoral student in social psychology at Stanford, wanted to understand why some people change how they see themselves after a rejection — and how this tendency differentiates who recovers over time and who continues to suffer.
She learned that her professor, the psychologist Carol Dweck, had also been thinking about it, and the two began exploring the psychological mechanisms that make people more likely to link rejection to the self, effectively making it worse.
Dweck is best known for her work on implicit personality theory, the idea that people have growth mindsets (i.e., they believe personality traits are malleable) or fixed mindsets (personality traits don’t change) and that these beliefs shape how people approach and make sense of their social world. Her previous research has found that people with fixed mindsets (also called entity theorists) chronically judge themselves and tend to see their outcomes as evidence of who they are and what they’re capable of. So, for example, getting a bad grade on a test leads them to think they’re not smart. People with growth mindsets (incremental theorists) see outcomes not as evidence of who they are but as evidence of what they could improve in the future and what challenges they could overcome.
Howe and Dweck conducted a series of studies to see whether the same idea holds when people are rejected. Focusing on romantic rejection, which can be especially potent in threatening the self, they predicted that those with fixed mindsets would take rejection as proof that they are flawed or undesirable. They predicted these people would start to question who they are and carry this emotional baggage with them into the future, stalling their recovery. Growth mindset people, the researchers guessed, wouldn’t see the experience as reflective of their worth. The results were recently published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
In the first study, they recruited 194 participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The researchers assessed people’s mindsets by noting how much they agreed with statements such as ”Everyone, no matter who they are, can significantly change their basic characteristics” and “The kind of person you are is something very basic about you, and it can’t be changed much.” The researchers used a continuous scale in all the studies so they wouldn’t separate people into two groups based on their beliefs. Across all the studies, there were some who agreed more with incremental views and some who agreed more with entity views.
The researchers then asked people to recall a painful romantic rejection and respond to a series of statements about the experience and its impact. They controlled for how long ago the rejection happened and how severe it was, as well as participants’ current relationship status.
They found that rejection made participants with more of a fixed mindset more likely to worry that there is something wrong with them. Compared to people with more of a growth mindset, they experienced more negative emotions, such as shame, embarrassment, anger, and frustration. They also agreed more strongly that talking about the past would harm new relationships — even though, on average, people were thinking about rejections that had happened five years ago.
The researchers conducted a second study to better measure whether rejection actually altered how fixed mindset people see themselves. They measured how people felt when looking back (“I feel kind of bad about myself when I think about being rejected by this person”; “It sometimes upsets me to be reminded of this person”) and whether people feared it happening again (“Deep down, I sometimes worry that I might never find someone who really loves me”; “I put up walls to protect myself in new relationships”).
Just as with the first study, they found that people who endorsed more of a fixed mindset felt worse, both generally and about themselves specifically, after being rejected. Stronger beliefs about personality being fixed also predicted more fear about being rejected again and greater distress when reminiscing. These people typically didn’t take positive lessons away from the experience; they simply wished it had never happened.
A third study included an open-ended essay question: “What did you take away from this rejection?” The researchers found that people with fixed mindsets used a more negative tone in their responses and were more pessimistic about future relationships.

Each of the experiments raised the question of whether these effects appear only in memorable cases, so Howe and Dweck conducted another study to rule that out. They had participants respond to one of two hypotheticals, a seemingly smaller rejection and a more significant one. One group was told to imagine how they would respond if they met someone at a party, felt a “spark,” and then later overheard the person saying that they weren’t interested. (Ouch.) The other group had to imagine a significant other of several years leaving them out of the blue after a fight. (Bigger ouch.)
The researchers found that while people generally responded more negatively to the larger rejection, people with fixed mindsets responded to both scenarios more severely than people with growth mindsets.
“We were surprised when we saw those differences emerge in the smaller condition,” Howe told me. “One reason for it might be that if someone rejects you without even getting to know you first, you might wonder if there is some quality about you that is so obviously undesirable that a virtual stranger would say, ‘No, no thanks, not interested.’”
Because these findings were correlational, Howe and Dweck conducted a fifth study to try to establish causality. They primed 121 subjects to adopt a certain mindset before thinking about a hypothetical rejection: One group read articles describing how personality traits seem set in stone after young adulthood (i.e., “3 Critical Factors That Shape Who You Are”); the second group read about how these traits can be developed anytime (“3 Key Ways to Shape Who You Are”).
You can probably guess the results. People induced to adopt fixed mindsets were more concerned that the fake rejection would change how they and others saw themselves. They reported feeling worse about themselves, and they thought rejection would happen again. This, the researchers say, suggests causal evidence that even being exposed to the idea that personality traits are fixed can make it harder for people to recover from rejection.
Two other things are worth noting from the study. First, perhaps surprisingly, no consistent gender effects appeared throughout the experiments. Second, life satisfaction was uncorrelated with implicit theories and self-esteem, suggesting that people with a more fixed mindset are not generally more discontent than others.
Of course, romantic rejection is very different from other kinds of rejection, but could these findings still apply to rejections we experience in our careers and social circles? Howe said they did think the findings could generalize more broadly, perhaps in other types of social relationships (with friends and family, for example) and in contexts that aren’t interpersonal (academic or career failures), but they’d have to conduct actual studies in those domains to know for sure.
“Imagine you’re rejected for a job that you’re really interested in. You might start asking yourself, ‘What skills do I lack? What things don’t make me a good employee? I thought I was well suited for this position, but I guess I was wrong. What does this say about me?’” Howe said. “I think it could play out similarly, but we’d have to do work to confirm that.”
It also isn’t clear whether people always have the same mindset. Howe said that some research shows it can be domain-specific — so you might have a fixed theory of intelligence and a growth theory about personality. Researchers are still studying how we develop these mindsets.
But the important thing to remember is that it seems like people can change how they think about personality traits, as the fifth study attests to. “I think a lot of us have a gut instinct to question ourselves in the face of rejection,” Howe said, “but we’ll be better off pausing and taking a moment to think about what happened that wasn’t about us. What were the situational factors that might have led to this outcome? What was going on with the timing or with the other person?”

Nicole Torres is an assistant editor at Harvard Business Review.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Study finds final year individual bonuses are counter-productive

Study finds final year individual bonuses are counter-productive
24 November 2015 Leicester, University of

Rewarding teamwork or group efforts enhances business performance
‘Not only did the best individuals emerge under group rewards but also the worst performers. They are not shirkers but self-sacrificers, whose value isn’t captured by individual performance measures. They play an important role in boosting the performance of others. You have probably run across such people in your own work groups, the nice guy who helps everyone else but whose own work may suffer. If they get sacked the group falls apart. These people don’t seem to have attracted much research attention in real groups, but they should.’
A new study by researchers in the UK and Australia has found it makes better business sense to reward team performance rather than provide individual bonuses – and that group rewards generate the top-performing individuals.
Researchers from the University of Leicester in the UK, University of Sydney and Western Sydney University in Australia carried out research that has been published in the Journal of Business Research.
Dan Ladley, Senior Lecturer in Finance in the Department of Economics at the University of Leicester; Ian F. Wilkinson, Professor of Marketing, University of Sydney; and Louise Carley Young, Professor of Marketing, Western Sydney University found group rewards can produce more cooperative, better performing groups and also better performing individuals than individual-based reward systems.
“We also established that poor performers may not be free riders or shirkers but may be essential to the effective functioning of the group. We call them self-sacrificers and believe their role is underappreciated and misunderstood,” say the researchers.
The study was inspired by theories of group versus individual selection in biology and especially experiments to breed better egg-laying hens. The norm in the industry has been to do this by breeding from the best egg-layers, which increased egg production but also produced cages of aggressive “mean bad birds” with short life spans, raising serious animal welfare concerns. William Muir tried another approach by breeding from all the hens in the best laying cages, not just the best layers. This quickly produced “kind friendly chickens” who got on well, had normal life spans and better quality eggs.
“We applied these ideas to work groups by building computer models that allowed us to consider all types of group situations,” the study authors said. By modelling group interactions as games, the researchers examined the effects of individual and group rewards for more than 14,000 games so as to mimic different types of group situations
They conclude: “Group rewards generate the top-performing individuals because of supportive group ecology, a mix of strategies that supports and sustains them. Individual rewards produce non-cooperative groups of individuals bent on exploiting each other. No strategy, like tit-for-tat dominates, and different mixes of strategies can emerge to support high performing groups.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

6 ways good parents contribute to their child’s anxiety

6 ways good parents contribute to their child’s anxiety

Kids have it hard these days.
It doesn’t seem like it when they’re playing on their $500 tech gadgets, but they do. Twenty-first century living is taking its toll, and many kids are finding it hard to cope.
The number of children dealing with anxiety has been increasing steadily for decades, with up to 25 percent of teenagers now suffering from diagnosable anxiety disorders.
I know as a parent I can be part of the problem or part of the solution. And more often than I care to admit, I’m in the wrong camp.
Your child’s anxiety is not your fault, but it’s possible that some of the parenting practices you’re most proud of are actually making things worse.
Caring too much. When your child comes home from school with tales of mean girls, aggressive boys and insensitive teachers, you feel for her, and often you let it show, but maybe you shouldn’t. Our kids feed off our emotions and get more distressed when we’re distressed. When my daughter communicates her worries to me, only to have me start worrying too, it definitely makes things worse. She needs me to be strong, but instead I inadvertently send the message that anxiety is the ‘right’ reaction to her problems. Difficult though it is, we need to keep our own anxiety in check while sympathizing with theirs. We have to be the emotional rock: the person who understands, supports and (if asked) advises, without ever showing that their problems make us feel anxious too.
Advocating too hard. We all want to stand up for our kids, but our eagerness to advocate can sometimes actually raise anxiety levels. If your child shares a school problem with you, your first instinct is often to march into the school and try and resolve it. This tells your child two things. Firstly he can’t tell you something in confidence, and secondly you don’t have faith in him to fix his own problems. Make sure your children know you will only advocate on their behalf with their full knowledge and consent. Your first priority should be to help them find a solution they can implement without your help, every time.
Compensating for weaknesses. We all want to help our children with the things they struggle with. One bad grade in math and we engage a tutor. One issue with a bully and we buy them a book about dealing with bullies. Unintentionally, though, we’re encouraging them to focus on the negative. Most of us get our confidence not from compensating for weaknesses, but on playing to our strengths. Those of us who are truly happy with our adult lives have learned to do the things we’re good at and not stress about the rest. We probably delegate or outsource the things we’re really bad at. Children can’t always avoid their weak areas, but by focusing on strengths we build self-efficacy and confidence. Next time you’re tempted to spend the weekend researching math tutors because your child is doing poorly in math, consider instead spending all weekend doing things he’s good at. His sense of confidence and competence will return. It may even carry over to his next math class.
Overplaying strengths. Yes, I know I just said focus on strengths, and we totally should. Just not to the point that our expectations cause more anxiety. When you constantly tell people your son is on track for a top college, or your daughter is going to be an Olympic gymnast, you feel like you’re building them up, but eventually the positive affirmation turns to pressure. Compliment your kids when they excel, but don’t make their excellence a reason to expect even more from them. Overly high expectations can create performance anxiety where there used to be joy and personal fulfillment.
Having great values. You’ve probably worked hard to encourage good values in your children, but values get challenged and being too attached to yours could mean your child obsesses over them. There’s been more than one tragic caseof young people committing suicide over incidents that should never have led to a loss of life. From posting nude photos to watching pornography, sometimes kids make poor choices, and the thought of family finding out can seem like a fate worse than death. Let your children know that while values are important, you understand the realities and temptations they face. Don’t create a culture where your children are too anxious to come to you and admit they messed up, or are under pressure to mess up, because they fear you’ll judge them or their friends.
Hiding your troubles. We all like to protect our children from anxiety by not worrying them with our own issues. If we’re struggling financially or fighting with our spouse, we think our children are better off not knowing. But they do know. They’re super perceptive. They just don’t know the whole story, so they blow it out of all proportion, especially if they’re already suffering from anxiety. Should we pile our own troubles on our child’s shoulders? No, but it doesn’t hurt to be honest about what our concerns are and, more importantly, what we’re doing about it. By sharing what makes us anxious and how we deal with it, we’re modelling practical ways to resolve anxiety.
Karen Banes is a freelance writer and parent with a degree in Child and Family Studies. You can see more of her work at or follow her on Twitter.