Entries in Behavior (6)


Educational TV Can Improve Kids’ Behavior, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Young adults who spent more time in front of a TV during their childhood are significantly more likely to be arrested and exhibit aggressive behavior, a new study found.

Researchers followed more than 1,000 young people in New Zealand from birth to age 26 and monitored the amount of television they watched during the ages of 5 and 15. In addition to monitoring television habits, the researchers also monitored criminal convictions, diagnoses of antisocial personality disorder, and personality traits of the individuals.

“This is one of the largest and best studies to date to look at long term outcomes from exposure to television,” said Dr. Christakis, director of Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute, who was not involved with the study.

The more television children watched, the more likely they were to have a criminal conviction, a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder and more aggressive personality traits, the study found. The trend was seen equally in both males and females, and the researchers controlled for sex, IQ, socioeconomic status, previous antisocial behavior, and even parental control.

So does this mean your TV is turning your child into a convict? Not necessarily, caution some pediatricians.

“From this study there does seem to be an association between excessive screen time and criminality,” said Dr. Ari Brown, an Austin, Texas-based pediatrician and author of “Baby 411.” “However, [the study] cannot show evidence that the number of hours watched causes criminality. Correlation, yes. Causation, no.”

While this study highlights the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that children should watch no more than one to two hours of television each day, the study did not look at what these children were watching, a weakness of the study many point out.

“It’s hard to imagine seeing the same results if they had just watched PBS documentaries,” said Christakis. “More emphasis needs to be placed on quality, not quantity.”

Christakis is the lead author of a study published in the same journal that reveals that changing what your children watch may actually improve their behavior.

“All television is educational, but the real question is: What is it teaching?” he said.

He and his team of researchers studied 820 families with children aged 3 to 5. Half of the families were placed in the intervention group, and replaced aggressive and violent television with educational and pro-social television. The other half of the families in the control group did not change the programming their children watched. No changes were made in the amount of television the children viewed, however, parents were encouraged to watch television with their children in the intervention group. Six months later children in the intervention group demonstrated significantly less aggression and noted to be more social than the children in the control group.

As a result of the study, experts suggest watching educational television with children can actually improve their behavior.

“Children imitate what they see on screen. They imitate bad behavior, but also good behavior. Parents should take advantage of this,” said Christakis.

“It’s not just about turning off the TV, but changing the channel.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


James Holmes Gave No Indication of Violent Delusions

RJ Sangosti-Pool/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Colorado massacre suspect James Holmes gave no outward signs of mental illness or violent delusions, and mental experts said that is common among mass murderers.

Before Friday’s massacre, Holmes had no previous brushes with the law beyond a single traffic violation. Dr. Marisa Randazzo, a psychologist who studies targeted violence, told ABC’s Good Morning America that a clean criminal record is not uncommon for people who commit acts of mass violence.

“In most of these cases, these are not what you would call a psychopath or a sociopath, as hard as it may be to believe,” Randazzo said. “These are often folks who often up onto this point have been functioning fairly normally but went through a series of events, a series of losses, ended up in absolute despair or desperation.”

Other psychologists told ABC News it’s likely that Holmes was living in an alternate reality driven by delusions, which may have fueled him as he bought weapons, 6,000 rounds of ammunition and riot gear in the months before Friday’s attack.

More details will likely come as investigators delve into Holmes’ recent past. But by most estimations so far, nothing about his early life was out of the ordinary. He grew up in San Diego, was a bright student interested in science and enrolled in a neurosciences doctorate program at the University of Colorado at Denver in 2011 before withdrawing in June.

No one who knew him has said he displayed any signs of abnormality. Randazzo told GMA that doesn’t mean he isn’t suffering from mental illness.

“One thing we do know about this age group, he’s 24, is that sometimes major mental illnesses, sometimes involving delusions, will develop in this age group,” she said.

Upon his arrest shortly after the shootings on Friday morning, Holmes allegedly told police that “he was the Joker,” a law enforcement official told ABC News, and he had dyed his hair red.

ABC News reported Sunday on This Week that police also found a Batman poster and Batman mask in Holmes’ apartment.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Family Dinners Linked to Less Risky Behavior in Teens

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Family meals are getting another big thumbs-up Thursday, this time thanks to a new study examining the link between dinnertime and lower rates of risky behavior in teenagers.

"Family meals are the strongest factor that we've come across in any activity that families do," said William Doherty, a professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. "It really tops them all as a predictor and contributor of a wide range of positive behavior."

Compared to teens who ate with their families five to seven times a week, teenagers who had fewer than three family dinners a week were almost four times more likely to try tobacco, more than twice as likely to use alcohol and 2.5 times more likely to use marijuana, according to new information released by Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

Doherty, who did not take part in the study, said family dinners conveyed a sense of belonging, gave teenagers security and stability, and provided them and their parents an opportunity to communicate.

"So much of the rest of the day, kids, especially teens, are spending with their peers by themselves," Doherty said. "They have a chance for talking and connecting at family dinners."

Three-quarters of teens who reported having dinner with their family at least once a week said the interaction and the togetherness were the best part of the meal. Those who spent seven hours or less per week with their parents were twice as likely to use alcohol and twice as likely to say they expected to try drugs, compared with teens who spent 21 hours or more per week with their parents.

Previous studies have shown that family meals have many benefits.

Female adolescents who ate family dinners at least most days were less likely to initiate purging, binge-eating and frequent dieting. Children who ate breakfast with their families at least four times a week were more likely to consume fruit and vegetables.

And findings have revealed that by making family dinner a priority, families with teenagers might enhance child-parent communication and ultimately promote healthy adolescent development.

Doherty had this advice for parents and caregivers who have given up on family dinners: Start on a Sunday night.

"I recommend starting one a week. The more you do it, the better," he said. "One is better than zero. It's quality, not quantity."

Doherty urged families to turn the television off, put all cellphones away and for parents not to use the sit-down meal as an opportunity to nag or scold.

"Make it a connecting meal. It's the quality of the connecting. Just try to have a good conversation," he said. "Don't grill them about their grades."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Psych Experts: Violent Video Games Distort Kids' Health, Perceptions

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Studies have persuasively demonstrated that depictions of extreme violence in video games like Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City harm youngsters' mental health, according to pediatricians who disagreed with part of a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a California ban on video game sales to children.

However, the mental health experts agreed with the justices that ultimately, parents have a responsibility to vet and control what their children watch and play.

"The studies are actually very strong," said Dr. Laura Davies, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. She had just read a paper published this past weekend in the journal Pediatrics that found violent videos disrupted preschoolers' sleep.

"Every one of us -- child psychiatrists, behavioral pediatricians and regular pediatricians, see in our practices every day that when children (younger than 7) are exposed to violence and to trauma, they act biting, hitting, kicking, name-calling, wetting themselves, poor sleep, poor eating," Davies said.  "Older kids act out by fighting, with academic problems, social problems, bullying, anxiety, fearfulness, withdrawal from friends."

Writing for the high court's 7-2 majority, Justice Antonin Scalia agreed with a lower court that the state of California failed to prove that depictions of "killing, maiming, dismembering or sexually assaulting an image of a human being" were sufficiently harmful to young minds to justify carving out a free speech exception solely for children.

For centuries, young children have been exposed to "no shortage of gore" in Grimm's Fairy Tales, he wrote. "Cinderella's evil stepsisters have their eyes pecked out by doves.  And Hansel and Gretel (children!) kill their captor by baking her in an oven."

Davies, however, said the impact of reading Grimm's Fairy Tales on the page cannot be compared with the visual and aural assault of a violent video: "It's much more vivid and much more traumatic," she said.  On another level, though, repeatedly playing these fictional, interactive video games distorts children's concept of death, she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Anthony Weiner: Frat Boy Behavior or Deeper Problems?

Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Amid calls for his resignation, New York Rep. Anthony Weiner's political problems grow. And so do questions about the powerful Democratic congressman's risky sexting habit: Is it wayward frat boy behavior or a sign of deeper problems?

At a Monday news conference, Weiner, 46, cried and confessed to having online affairs with six women in the past three years, apologizing to his wife, Huma Abedin, 34, who is Hillary Clinton's closest aide.

Psychologists say that when impulsive habits such as sexting, masturbating and viewing online pornography are repetitive, they can signal deeper problems.

Dr. Martin Kafka, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, an affiliate of McLean Hospital, said adults who have impulse control problems with sex often have "psychiatric vulnerabilities."

Weiner's sexting had become a problem for him months before he was caught -- literally -- with his pants down. Three months ago, the Twitter group #born-freecrew warned young female followers of Weiner about his salacious messages, according to a report Wednesday in The New York Times.

The group's leader sent the crotch shot that Weiner sent to 21-year-old Washington State college student Gennette Cordova to conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who made it public. But as early as May, the group predicted he would be caught in a sex scandal. In at least two instances, according to the Times, Weiner dropped online contact with the women after they had been identified by #born-freecrew, suggesting he knew he was at risk.

Risky behavior goes hand in hand with the inability to control ones impulses, behavior that can be problematic enough to be called a psychological disorder, say experts.

Impulse control is a part of the larger biological and behavioral system known as self-regulation, according to Lawrence Aber, distinguished professor of applied psychology and public health policy at New York University.

"Our food intake and control over our sexual impulses are all part of it," he said. "It's plan-ful behavior and begins early in life and there are many parts of the brain implicated."

Impulse control or self-regulation is centered in the prefrontal cortex or the thinking part of the brain, which controls intentional behavior.

Impulse control is "self-reinforcing," Aber said. Those who learn to practice it when they are younger get better at it as adults. But, as the recent sex scandals illustrate, adult behavior can be "virtuous or vicious."

By age 5, a child should be able to delay gratification for a larger reward, rather than expect immediate gratification for a small reward, Aber said. Children vary quite a bit and much depends on the "quality of parenting," he said. But socializing techniques such as teaching them to think "cool-ly and abstractly" can also help reign in impulses.

But, in adolescence, a whole new set of impulses kick in, "from sex to drugs to rock and roll," Aber said. "There are a number of underlying biological changes with hormones and marketing consumption."

Now, with the advent of brain imaging, scientists know that the prefrontal cortex does not fully form until a person is in his or her mid-20s.

An adult is often fine for 20 or 30 years and then develops one of the degenerative conditions of aging and can lose self-regulation. Certain forms of drug use -- Parkinson's disease medications, for example -- can trigger gambling addictions. Brain lesions can also affect impulses.

Psychiatrist Kafka, who has not treated Weiner, said that those who exhibit repetitive impulse control problems -- "guys who look at porn, masturbate a lot and expose themselves" -- rather than a single incident often have an underlying psychiatric disorder.

When these men eventually get to a psychiatrist, they are diagnosed with mood disorders, attention-deficit disorder (ADD) or have abused drugs or alcohol.

Weiner was adamant that he hasn't had a physical relationship outside of his marriage and some of his constituents have said they are less concerned about his sexting habits than his lies about them.

But Kafka said compulsive sex habits cannot be explained as just rogue behavior that somehow extends late into adulthood.

"I am sure someone may differ with me," Kafka said. "But I don't think it's just a personality thing. I always see it as pathology....Usually, it's a mistreated psychiatric disorder, not a character disorder."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Can Children's Behavioral Problems be Predicted?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(BLOOMINGTON, Ind.) -- A new study suggests that certain early traits in children can be used to predict whether they will have more serious behavioral issues later on.

Researchers at Indiana University studied 10,000 children ages 4 to 12 who displayed what were called "callous-unemotional (CU) traits" as well as conduct problems and antisocial behavior.

The study, published in Abnormal Psychology, found that children who had been assessed by their teachers as having high CU traits between the ages of 7 and 12 were more likely to display behaviors such as hyperactivity and emotional problems after the age of 12.

Researchers suggest that this information could be used for early intervention in children who display both high CU traits and conduct problems to stop further issues from developing with age.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio