This weekend, the pPOD research team was fortunate enough to once again exhibit a research stand at the annual Imperial Festival. With Harlow’s monkeys dusted off, an excessive number of sweets purchased, and notes on attachment theory printed, the team was ready for ImpFest2017!
We started off in the very earliest years of attachment theory, guiding attendees through the Harlow days of thinking a child’s primary drive for attachment with their caregivers was food, and then moved the public on to thinking about how they themselves might have used their own senses to form attachments with their loved ones (with the help of our trusty featureless baby face, of course!). What makes the event so unique is that one minute you can be explaining attachment theory to an alumni Astrophysicist and the next explaining that very same research to a four year old!
Our very own Prof. Paul Ramchandani also gave a great talk on how our early interactions with our parents/caregivers can shape our future. In it he discussed parental sensitivity, the impact this can have on children’s developmental outcomes, and what can be done to best support parents in those first few years. Judging by the somewhat unmanageable influx of people to our stall immediately following the talk, I think it’s safe to say the public found what Paul conveyed very interesting!
With a record breaking 18,000 attendees, the highlight for me was asking every child who came to the stall what the coolest thing they’d done at the festival was. As much as a small part of me was hoping they’d all say ‘reconstructing a giant baby’s face to learn about attachment theory’, it was such a delight to hear the range and enthusiasm in their answers. From laser balloon popping, to fire tornadoes, and building marshmallow atoms, the creativity and diversity of the ground-breaking research on offer was just phenomenal. I only wish I’d had more time to browse the other stalls myself!
The pPOD research team has come away brimming with enthusiasm and ideas for the stall we can put on for ImpFest2018!
Author: Beth Barker
Back in September 2016 Healthy Start, Happy Start was thrilled to host their very own “Attachment Master Class” conference in collaboration with Noclor, (North Central London Research Consortium), as part of their “Healthy Conversation” series.
The event was a huge success with engaging presentations from Pasco Fearon and Stephen Scott, (University College London and Kings College London) on all things attachment theory and research. Marinus van IJzendoorn and Marian Bakermans-Kranenburg then impressed us with their enormous work on Video-feedback Intervention to promote Positive Parenting (VIPP-SD), used in our very own Healthy Start, Happy Start study,
We thought these presentations were too good to keep to ourselves so we have narrowed down some best-bits to share with you in the coming weeks.
Starting us off with the basics is Pasco Fearon to give us a brief explanation on what we mean by attachment. Check back with us next week when we’ll have another chunk of attachment enlightenment to get your teeth into...
A (spectacular) thunderstorm in Austin provides the perfect opportunity to muse over the 2017 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Biennial Meeting. True to form SRCD 2017 provided an inspiring offering of presentations and exchanges at the very edge of developmental science, all served up quick fire and with a rather awesome intensity. For those who might not have been before imagine an academic festival where all the headline acts are performing at the same time over the course of a 500 page programme, 5,000 teeming delegates, across a convention centre with 54 meeting rooms. To get a sense of scale check out Ailbhe Booth’s photo of the exhibition hall where ~250 posters were refreshed three times a day!
Ok enough about scale on to the meeting itself, suffice to say there’s a lot to cover, so I will focus on some of the highlights. Thursday’s invited address by Clancy Blair on his psychobiological model of self regulation was a definite standout. Many of you will be familiar with this work already but it was fantastic to listen to Blair lay out such a clear framework of one of the most nebulous constructs in developmental science. An impressive feat that also proved to be an immediately instructive one given that self regulation (and executive function) was amongst the most popular (by my count at least) topics of the meeting. I won’t even attempt to condense this (that would be dangerous; even paraphrasing feels a bit risky…) but a few points stood out:
First was Blair’s emphasis on the importance of infancy and toddlerhood as a period for the healthy development of lower order, more automatic, regulation of attention, emotion, and stress physiology in setting the stage for the development of later higher order executive function (aspects of cognition involved in planning, future directed thinking, and monitoring and adapting behaviour - or as described elsewhere the brain’s air traffic control system). The second, and crucial point that resonated is that the developmental course of self regulation is malleable, shaped by the quality of children’s early experience. And lastly that executive function can be compensatory (at least for math skills).
By way of example Blair presented findings from the the Family Life Project which demonstrate that the quality of caregiving that infants receive is reflected in the degree to which their behavioral and physiological responses to stress are attuned (measured by how distressed children were to the presentation of a mask - both in terms of overt emotional distress and cortisol levels). Or as Blair describes - parental sensitivity appears to organise children’s response to stress. And this response to stress in turn predicts later executive function.
Blair also presented his work with Cybele Raver which demonstrates that children’s early educational experiences can be modified to promote executive function and stress physiology – in this case by working with teachers to embed supports for self regulation using the Tools of the Mind programme. So what about parents? A trial underway testing the merit of the Play and Learning Strategies programme in Early Head Start (funded through the Buffering Toxic Stress Consortium) will examine whether the programme is helpful in promoting parental self regulation and by extension children’s outcomes. We can also expect an extension to FLP that will help to elucidate the early childhood roots of major health outcomes (through a National Institute of Health programme grant on Environmental influences on Child Health Outcomes). Big things to come, hopefully some in time for the next meeting!
A new addition to the 2017 meeting was the SRCD Salon providing unscripted interaction between selected panelists. And who wouldn’t want to see academic heavyweights Greg Duncan, Gary Evans and Jeanne Books-Gunn turn over live questions about the developmental effects of early exposure to poverty – one of the key themes of the meeting. I found the format surprisingly refreshing; a chance to come up for air from the deep dives of the parallel symposia. It’s great to see world class researchers bounce thoughts off each other on where the field has come from and where it’s going next. This was developmental science in broad but nonetheless expert strokes. When asked about the forces that have driven growth in the field the panel referenced sociological work on structural and systemic factors (Wilson in particular), access to longitudinal data sets, and my favourite shout out from Gary Evans going to Urie Bronfenbrenner and the importance of unpacking context. A pretty fascinating discussion about ‘zero income’ families followed. Ironically, under US policy these families miss out on a range of tax benefits that target childcare as they have no taxable income. What to do? Well Greg Duncan’s intriguing (and hopefully forthcoming) idea is to experimentally test whether dependable cash transfers to families facing poverty will provide spillover effects for child development. The panel also offered some striking caveats to prevailing ideas in the field. Evans cautioned about the weight that is given to parenting as a panacea for improving outcomes, not, it would seem, due to a lack of effectiveness, but rather that such a focus forgets that parents are also living in deprived contexts. A caveat from Brooks-Gunn concerned our tendency to overlook the heterogeneity of poverty. She quoted research from the Fragile Families study showing differential results depending on poverty level – in this case associations between telomere length (an indicator of premature aging associated with poor health outcomes) and child protection service use. Evans - drawing on Gene Brody’s work - spoke about the high cost of resilience or adaptive behaviour over time. There’s negative fallout it would seem in overcoming adversity – and the devil is in the (physiological) detail. A recommendation followed for universal screening for high or ‘toxic’ stress. Interestingly there was less agreement on the evidence for the provision, or perhaps it was just the timing, of early childhood care and education programmes as a target for intervention - for Duncan at least the jury is still out. There did seem to be some support for specific merits of universal services for example as a means of normalising access to supports and as a potential strategy for tackling increasing income segregation. A feast for thought (oh and some recommended reading no less – Kathryn J. Edin and H. Luke Shaefer’s ‘$2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America’).
And some briefer highlights from the symposia...
The symposium on mechanisms of change in early childhood interventions was another standout – it’s impressive to see researchers coming together to unravel not just whether early intervention progammes work but how they work. I caught just the end of what seems to be an exciting collaboration between Sheri Madigan and colleagues and Susana Tereno and the CAPEDP (a French psychologist-led home visiting intervention to promote infant mental health) investigators examining maternal disrupted communication (atypical and high-risk caregiving) as a mechanism for reducing disorganised attachment. Nicole Giuliani followed with a presentation on parental inhibitory control as a mechanism of change in the Filming Interactions to Nurture Development (FIND; a video-coaching parenting intervention to strengthen positive interactions) intervention. That she found a treatment effect for parental inhibition is intuitive, as the programme emphasises the importance of following the child’s lead (which often means inhibiting our own instinct to direct play), but nonetheless remarkable. The sample is small (as is often the case in imagining studies) but growing. Mary Dozier concluded the session presenting on the Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up intervention she developed to encourage nurturing care and synchronous interactions. Here coaches provide ‘in the moment’ feedback to parents of infants. Remarkably Dozier has found treatment effects at age four for children’s inhibitory control on a ‘don’t touch’ task as well as effects on vocabulary – that the effects of a brief programme delivered in infancy are sustained at age 4 is particularly impressive. Dozier also highlighted the importance of programme fidelity – which in ABC involves monitoring coaches’ use of comments and reference to core programme components.
If there was a prize for top discussant it would have to go to Megan Gunnar rounding off a stellar line up of talks on cortisol, stress and the brain and implications for socioemotional behavior - what an engaging summary delivered with lightening clarity. In summarising Mariann Howland’s work on prenatal stress and internalising outcomes Gunnar stresses that if in real estate the emphasis is “location, location, location” in development it is “timing, timing, timing”. Gunnar advises that the only way to understand timing is to map it as closely as possible with the development of neural systems; identify what specifically is developing and when exactly development is taking place. Her observations of Amanda Tarullo’s work underscored the importance of joint attention (which Tarullo showed was positively influenced by higher SES and infant directed speech and lower cortisol) as the first step in setting up our brains to process language and the need to intervene before language develops. Comments on Arianna Gard’s work (which showed that harsh parenting and neighbourhood deprivation predict greater antisocial behaviour via less amygdala reactivity to fearful facial expressions) focused on the importance of investigating differential susceptibility and elucidating the conditions that might give rise to differential neural development in response to threat. And what might the results suggest for intervention? Promote greater parental sensitivity.
Well that’s a taste of some of what was on offer over three exhilarating days in Austin. I’m looking forward to tracking the papers that will follow. And also excited about talk of a bid for a special topic meeting in coparenting research (another exciting symposium chaired by Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan that I haven’t even touched on!). For now the sun is back out in Austin with just enough time to explore this gem of a city before getting back to business.
Author: Christine O'Farrelly
Pictures: Christine O'Farrelly and google
After an enjoyable and interesting first day at the MQ Mental Health Science Meeting, the pPOD team were excited to see what the impressive line-up of day two would bring!
The first symposium of the day, chaired by Francesca Happé (King's College London) focused on developmental neurocognitive models. To begin, Edmund Sonuga-Barke (King's College London), gave a fascinating insight into extreme neuroplastic responses to extraordinary environments, and their links to disorders of impulse and attention.
Most striking to us was Edmund’s recent findings from the English and Romanian Adoptee project which looks at the outcomes of children adopted into the UK from Romania in the early 1990s. Now young adults, the most recent follow-up indicated that whilst the Romanian children adopted after the age of 6-months have made great developmental improvements, they were still up to seven times more likely to meet the criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, compared to UK-born adoptees. Thus, these disorders can go beyond heritability when young children are exposed to these extraordinary environments. The talk was concluded with an insight into prevention neuroscience and how early intervention can exploit neuroplasticity to create training effects. Alongside this, Prof. Sonuga-Barke emphasised the need for further study to fully understand the mechanisms by which neuroplasticity works when exposed to extraordinary environments.
Next, Frances Rice (Cardiff University) outlined her findings from the Early Prediction of Adolescent Depression (EPAD) study, which gave us insight into the cognitive mechanisms of change in adolescents before and after receiving preventive classroom-based interventions (e.g. CBT, CBT + behavioural activation, mindfulness based cognitive therapy). They found that those participants who received CBT + behavioural activation showed increases in reward seeking and a reduction in depressive symptoms, a finding not present in participants receiving the other therapies. This indicates that reward seeking behaviours may be a useful target for preventive psychological interventions.
To end the day’s first symposium, Graham Murray (University of Cambridge) discussed some developmental neurocognitive perspectives on ADHD and schizophrenia. Of particular interest was Graham’s outline of findings from the Northern Finland Birth Cohort study. In this research they followed up participants diagnosed with ADHD during adolescence, and examined their brain structure and memory function at age 20-24 years. Whilst only 10% of participants still met the diagnostic checklist criteria for an ADHD diagnosis, the researchers found that all participants with an ADHD diagnosis in adolescence had reduced grey matter in the caudate nucleus, with over 33% failing a memory test (compared to just 5% failure in the control group). These findings raise important questions surrounding tools used in the diagnosis of disorders such as ADHD.
Next up was the second symposium of the day, chaired by Peter Jones (University of Cambridge) which looked to bring together talks focusing on risk factors for mental illness. First up was Jean-Baptiste Pingault (University College London) whose current work explores whether bullying victimisation is causal in poor mental health outcomes, or whether other genetic and environmental factors are at play. By using data from thousands of twin pairs in longitudinal twin studies, Jean-Baptiste’s work has been able to pinpoint victimisation as a causative factor in poor mental health outcomes, highlighting an important target for interventions.
Myrna Weissman (Columbia University) then presented fascinating findings from a follow-up study which looks of the intergenerational transmission of depression. Looking across three generations, spanning thirty years and six waves of interviews, researchers found that young people who’d had a parent and grandparent diagnosed with a depression and/or anxiety disorder were three times more likely to receive a diagnosis themselves than participants without a family history of depression. Myrna stressed the necessity for researchers and clinicians to work together to break this cycle of transmission.
Following lunch was a panel discussion focusing on ‘What use is a diagnosis?’ with Sally McManus opening to provide insight into who is receiving a diagnosis, using data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey.
The panel was chaired by Stuart Hughes (BBC news) and included Prof. Miranda Wolpert (UCL), Prof. Simon Wessely (King’s College London/Royal College of Psychiatrists), Megan Haste (The Mental Health Blogger) and Prof. Ezra Susser (Columbia University). The panel was incredibly interesting, with many insightful and complex discussions had, and showed the benefits of bringing together people from across disciplines, with varying views.
The panel was live-streamed on MQ’s Facebook and the entire panel can be watched here.
Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg (Central Institute of Mental Health, Mannheim) brought a fantastic final day to a close with a talk on the social environment, its effects on the brain, and the development of mental health disorders. Andreas stressed the need to look to the environment, and how we can modify it, when thinking about preventing and treating mental disorders, such as schizophrenia. Andreas’ research has found that living in urban environments (city living), social status and migration are all factors which can alter the functioning of the amygdala and cingulate cortex, impairing an individual’s ability to deal with social stress. The focus on environmental factors impacting upon mental health drew together the complex effects of genetic and environmental factors we had heard about throughout the meeting. Currently, out of the two, environmental factors are the only influences which can be modified highlighting yet another important area of intervention.
The pPOD team were delighted to have been involved in such an enjoyable event and to have heard about the ground breaking and inspirational mental health research is taking place around the world!
By Beth Barker and Emily Pearson
Today is the third annual MQ meeting. A group of pPODers came along and were excited to hear about MQ’s work and all of the exciting mental health research taking place across the world.
Sophie Dix, Director of Research gave us a warm welcome, introducing us to MQs brilliant new “Swear campaign”, promoting the amazing plethora of work the charity are involved with, using research to break down barriers in mental health. At the heart of this was MQs multidisciplinary approach to taking on this challenge from all angles. Did you know that on average three children in every class have a diagnosable mental health disorder and only one in four of those are getting the help they need?
First up was Keynote speaker 1, Professor Louise Arseneault who shared with us her insightful work on the victims of bullying. Louise’s work focuses on the victims themselves rather that the perpetrator, finding that the victims may have certain characteristics that increase their likelihood of victimization such as maltreatment at home. She also gave evidence from her extensive work using twins of the detrimental mental health effects of bullying, accounting for many confounds including previous mental. She even shared with us work showing bullying is even implicated in a poorly regulated immune system as well as a study showing emotional distress is associated with childhood bullying as late as till 55 years old!
Next was a symposium of anxiety and related behaviors, starting with Assistant Professor Susanna Ahmari (University of Pittsburgh) guiding us through new technology being used to discover brain correlates of repetitive thoughts within OCD. Using mouse models Susanna explained how her team was able to increase obsessive grooming in mice by optogenetically stimulating connections between the Orbitofrontal Cortex and Striatum. This increased grooming persisted after stimulation and increased brain plasticity in parallel. A very exciting finding as Deep brain stimulation to the Ventromedial area currently used to reach deep brain areas to the same effect of increased plasticity may be able to be applied non-invasively using Transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Professor Hugo Critchley from the University of Sussex, showed us his novel research that uses participant’s accuracy of their own heart beat rate timing to measure interoception. Following on from work suggesting that those with conditions such as anxiety may show more discrepancy between there subjective perception and objective heartbeat he has developed therapy’s to alleviate anxiety by teaching individuals to be more accurately aware of their own bodily states, a simple but brilliantly promising therapy.
Professor Michelle Moulds (University of New South Wales) was the last speaker on this symposium. Both from work in the UK and in Australia, she has developed an innovative new transdiagnositic approach to treating repetitive thoughts within depression and anxiety, arguing that these presentations show more similarities than differences between diagnoses. From this she has developed a non-diagnosis specific measure of repetitive thoughts that cuts across disorders. Her work brings about interesting questions of the commonalities between disorders and the causes of comorbidities. Much of this will I’m sure be discussed in tomorrow’s Panel discussion “what use is a diagnosis?”, watch this space…
After a brilliant lunch we reconvened with symposium 2 on early mechanisms of mental illness. Professor Ezra Susser kicked us of with the effects of prenatal micronutrients. He presented studies on the effects of micronutrients prenatally and their relation to schizophrenia in later life, including naturalistic examples from Dutch and Chinese samples. However Susser noted that generally we do not have large enough of long enough randomized controlled trials to infer causality largely due to the difficulty of experimenting using pregnant women. Susser also stressed the importance of viewing translational science not as a linear process from basic science clinical application then implementation but rather a dynamic process where each process learns from the other. He also noted that this time of globalization was one to branch out and share knowledge- something I hope we are all contributing to over these two days!
Professor Beatrice Rico added to the debate by discussion of inhibitory circuitries related to schizophrenia. She discussed the role of altered GABA signaling in schizophrenia and her work on interneurons ran from her lab at Kings College London.
Last but not least Professor Carmen Sandi (The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne) closed with her work into the (plasticity coding) STX gene in mice. Fascinatingly STX knockout mice show reduced plasticity in the amygdala, inhibiting their freezing conditioning response. Using this finding Carmen’s team are attempting to use this as a mouse model of psychopathology, as the mice show such an increase of pathological aggression to not only their competitor males, but also to female mates and juveniles. This is important to think about how these findings are modeled onto humans and perhaps an indicator as to how this aggression can inform cycles of interpersonal violence. A final interesting observation of the purposely-bred mice was that the social hierarchy in place could vulnerability and responses to stimuli with mice with a lower social status having poorer outcomes.
Overall a fascinating and inspiring talk had by all the pPod team, with lots of food for thought! The day ended with linking in with colleagues and a huge display of posters, with Emily representing the Healthy Start, Happy Start study. Roll on day 2…..