OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Improving child-teacher interactions can reduce preschoolers’ stress levels

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A school-based intervention that promotes warm and caring interactions between a teacher and child can reduce the child’s stress in the classroom, a new study has found.

The intervention was designed for teachers of preschool-aged children and focused on fostering close teacher-child relationships through one-on-one play. Children who participated in the intervention showed reduced levels of the hormone cortisol, an indicator of stress, said Bridget Hatfield, an assistant professor in Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and lead author of the study.

Researchers believe it is the first time a study has examined the relationship between a teacher-child intervention and a child’s cortisol levels in an early childhood education setting.

The findings highlight the importance of the relationship between child and teacher, and underscore the value of warm and caring interactions, including one-on-one play time between a child and his or her teacher, Hatfield said.

“The big message here is that positive relationships between teachers and students matter,” she said. “What a teacher does in the classroom, the way they behave, their positivity and supportiveness, has an enormous impact on the children and their health.”

The findings were published recently in the journal Prevention Science. The co-author of the paper is Amanda Williford of the University of Virginia. The research was supported in part by grants from the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and the American Psychological Association.

About 61 percent of children under the age of five spend time in formal childcare and education settings such as preschool. Past research has shown that this setting may increase children’s stress, which in turn can lead to disruptive classroom behavior.

Children who have frustrating or difficult relationships with their teachers also have shown decreased academic success in kindergarten and their challenging behaviors may increase in intensity as they get older.

“If a child can’t develop a healthy stress response system in early childhood, it limits their ability to develop strong school-readiness skills,” Hatfield said. “That’s why these early teacher-child relationships are so important.”

Hatfield and Williford wanted to see if an intervention designed to improve child-teacher interactions could reduce stress levels in children with challenging behaviors.

In all, 70 teachers and 113 children participated in the study. They were divided into three groups: one group was designated as “business as usual” and the children did not participate in any special activities; one group participated in a “child time” intervention; and one group participated in an intervention called “Banking Time.”

In the child time intervention, the child and teacher spent time playing one-on-one but the teacher was not given any specific guidance or instructions from a consultant for the play period.

Banking Time is a much more formal intervention, designed to foster sensitive, responsive interactions between a teacher and a child, creating a relationship the child and teacher can use as a resource during times of challenge in the classroom.

“When you ‘bank time’ with a child and that relationship, you’re building equity,” Hatfield said. “Then if a conflict arises, you can make a withdrawal.”

To build that relationship, the teachers and children participating in the study had one-on-one play sessions. Consultants directed the teachers in key elements of the program: allowing the child to lead the play sessions, carefully observing and narrating the child’s behavior, describing the child’s positive and negative emotions, and being available as an emotional resource.

Using saliva samples that were assayed for cortisol, researchers found that children whose teachers participated in the Banking Time intervention showed declines in cortisol levels during the school day compared to those in the business as usual group.

Children in the child time intervention also showed some benefits from the one-on-one time, but they were not as significant. Hatfield said additional research is needed to better understand the effects of the Banking Time intervention and what, in particular, is having the positive impact on the teacher-child relationship.

“Is it one thing, or a combination?” she asked. “We know there is something meaningful about that one-on-one time within Banking Time and we want to know more about how we may be able to incorporate that into classrooms every day.”

It may difficult for preschool teachers and early childhood educators to spend 15 minutes a week in one-on-one play with each child in their class, Hatfield said, but even small, positive, one-on-one interactions could have a valuable impact over time.

“Spending even five minutes, once a week in a one-on-one with a child can help you get to know them, what they think and what they might be interested in,” she said. “That investment could pay off during a challenging time later on. It’s the quality of the time that matters.”

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Bridget Hatfield, 541-737-6438, Bridget.hatfield@oregonstate.edu

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Bridget Hatfield

Bridget Hatfield

Parenting classes benefit all, especially lower-income families

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Parenting education can improve the skills of every mom and dad and the behavior of all children, and it particularly benefits families from low-income or otherwise underserved populations, a new study from Oregon State University suggests.

Researchers examined a sample of more than 2,300 mothers and fathers who participated in parenting education series in the Pacific Northwest between 2010 and 2012. The series, designed to support parents of children up to 6 years old, typically lasted nine to 12 weeks and consisted of one one-hour session per week led by a parent education facilitator. There was no fee for participants. 

The study, part of a growing partnership between the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative to increase access to parenting education for all families, may remove some of the stigma attached to parenting education, which has historically been associated with court orders for parents who’ve run afoul of child-protective laws.

“Parenting education works across the board,” said John Geldhof, an OSU assistant professor of behavioral and health sciences. “All parents can benefit. The way people typically learn parenting is from their parents and from books, and often times what they’ve learned is out of date and not the best practices for today. All parents – high income, low income, mandated, not mandated – can benefit from evidence-based parenting education.”

Neglectful or otherwise ineffective parenting strategies, which can be heightened by economic strain, can put children in jeopardy. While many parenting practices can lead to favorable outcomes in children, research indicates that the optimal combination usually features high levels of support and monitoring and the avoidance of harsh punishment. Those positive outcomes include higher grades, fewer behavior problems, less substance use, better mental health and greater social competence.

Findings of the OSU research, recently published in Children and Youth Services Review, indicate that parent education series serving predominantly lower-income parents resulted in greater improvements in their skills and their children’s behaviors compared to series serving higher-income parents.

“The results provide preliminary evidence that parenting education may be most effective when it targets underserved populations,” said lead author Jennifer Finders, a graduate student in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. “Another thing that’s exciting - the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative classes that are offered are general in content, and we’re seeing evidence that they’re being adapted for diverse families. This suggests that the local parenting educators are implementing the programs with fidelity and also with flexibility.”

Finders called the results “really great preliminary findings.”

“Now we need to better understand the mechanisms that underlie the findings so we can tailor programs to specific families in exciting ways for research and for practice,” she said. “This highlights the need for future research that continues to involve the Oregon Parenting Education Collaborative and other researchers at OSU and elsewhere. We think parents are gaining knowledge of child development, tools for dealing with the stresses of parenting, and social networks.”

The collaborative includes among its leadership Shauna Tominey, assistant professor of practice and parenting education specialist at OSU’s Hallie E. Ford Center for Healthy Children & Families, part of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. The parenting education series the collaborative offers are delivered at no cost to the parents.

“Given that the gap is widening between the white, middle-class population of children and children belonging to the growing low-income and Latino populations, examining the relative impact of parenting education programs across these diverse populations is essential,” Finders said. “We think parenting education can have the greatest impact by adapting existing curricula to be culturally relevant and sensitive to diverse children and families’ needs.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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John Geldhof, Ph.D.

John Geldhof

Recovering Latina breast cancer patients report big gaps in 'survivorship' care

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Breast cancer patients in one of the United States’ largest and fastest-growing ethnic minority groups are likely to experience numerous gaps in care following their primary treatment, research from Oregon State University suggests.

Seventy-four Latina women who’d had breast cancer participated in the “survivorship” care research, recruited through support groups and health fairs. The subjects, ages 30 to 75, took part in semi-structured focus groups that used a question guide crafted by a task force of academic researchers and community partners such as the American Cancer Society. Approximately half of the women were low-income, uninsured or publicly insured.

“Results indicate numerous gaps and unmet needs in Latinas’ survivorship care experiences, including problems with finances, continuity of care, unmet needs for information, and symptom management,” said Carolyn Mendez-Luck, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and one of the authors of the study. 

The California Breast Cancer Research Program provided primary funding for the research. Results were recently published in Public Health Nursing. 

Optimal survivorship care, according to the Institute of Medicine, includes the prevention of recurrence, new cancer and late effects of cancer treatment; the monitoring or surveillance for cancer and medical, mood and social issues; interventions for the effects of cancer and its treatment; and coordination among specialists and primary care providers to ensure all health needs are met.

“Many survivors experience persisting symptoms including fatigue, pain, depression and sleep disturbance, but until recent years, survivorship has been relatively neglected in education, clinical practice and research,” Mendez-Luck said.

People of Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Central and South American descent comprise 17.6 percent of the U.S. population, and about 10 percent of the women in the Hispanic/Latino population will develop breast cancer at some point in their lifetime.

Latina women are more likely to be diagnosed at later stages than non-Hispanic whites and also face linguistic and cultural barriers to diagnosis and treatment, including modesty; spiritual beliefs that cancer is God’s punishment; de-prioritizing their own health care in favor of their roles as mother and wife; and passivity in interactions with health care providers out of respect for their authority.

In addition, there are often financial hurdles - more than 25 percent of Latina women live in poverty and lack health insurance.

“Understanding the cultural context in which women receive care is important,” Mendez-Luck said.

Women in the study sample expressed confusion and anxiety associated with a lack of information regarding future surveillance and treatment once primary care concluded. Many were unsure who was to be in charge of their treatment in the future, what the right schedule was for follow-up examinations, what self-care activities were recommended, and what to expect regarding their physical and psychological well-being.

“Among the women in our focus groups, survivorship care plans were scarce,” Mendez-Luck said. “The vast majority of participants reported never having heard of them, or associated them with a completely different meaning - making a plan for how their families could carry on after they were gone.”

The research also showed that depending on the person, “survivor” could have negative or positive connotations.

“Negative perceptions included feelings that being identified as a cancer survivor was depressing, victimizing and stigmatizing,” Mendez-Luck said. “Also, that thinking about the cancer could potentially contribute to an increased likelihood of a recurrence, either by ‘tempting fate’ or from the stress brought on by negative thinking.”

Positive views, the professor noted, included feeling special, strong, and blessed by God. Many survivors felt they had a special purpose for living, often including a mission to serve others.

“A survivorship care plan is meant to be this living document for you and your care providers, a document a patient can follow through this entire process of what’s going on with the cancer and what she can do to stay healthy and reduce the chances that the cancer will return,” Mendez-Luck said. “It makes the patient truly a partner in her own care with health providers. But that’s not happening, clearly, at least not for these women. There’s an enormous opportunity there for improvement.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Carolyn Mendez-Luck

Carolyn Mendez-Luck

Policy changes needed for promoting physical activity in group home settings

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Increased physical activity for group home residents and the potentially huge health care savings that could come with it hinge on people who run the homes making health-promoting behaviors a priority.

Physical inactivity and high rates of chronic conditions are public health concerns for people with intellectual disabilities, said postdoctoral scholar Alicia Dixon-Ibarra of the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences. Few health promotion programs, she added, target residential settings like group homes, where many individuals with intellectual disabilities live.

Obesity is rising steadily among people with intellectual disabilities, with prevalence at least 1.5 times higher than that of the general population. Addressing weight-related health issues through physical activity promotion is the focal point of multiple national initiatives, but despite that only 30 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities meet physical activity guidelines.

Dixon-Ibarra studied 18 residents, 22 staff members and 14 program coordinators from five different group homes in the Pacific Northwest. Each home was given a program designed to help residents and staff work together to set physical activity goals and include time in their schedules for trying to reach them.

The study showed that when a home’s top leadership allowed the program to be an option rather than a requirement, staff did not regularly make the effort to work with residents to create possibilities for physical activity.

Results were recently published in Evaluation and Program Planning.

In Dixon-Ibarra’s research, each group home was provided with a health-promotion program called “Menu-Choice,” designed to assist staff in including physical activity goals in residents’ schedules.

The program included weekly scheduling sheets, plus a calendar on which residents could display images depicting their activities. There was also a binder of resources for staff to learn about physical activity; to get examples of activities for residents with different abilities; to gather information about goal setting; and to gain knowledge about guidelines relating to specific disabilities.

“The overall intent of the program was to intervene at an environmental level,” Dixon-Ibarra said. “It’s evident that policy-level change in the group home setting is needed to promote active lifestyles.”

That’s because the staff members, who play a huge role in how residents spend their time, often looked at working with residents on Menu-Choice as an extra, optional duty. Staff turnover and lack of time were other barriers to Menu-Choice implementation, as was the fact that 79 percent of the program coordinators were themselves overweight or obese and not exercise oriented.

“One of the main goals is that health education can be part of staff orientation training,” Dixon-Ibarra said. “When you apply for the job you know that encouraging physical activity and nutrition is part of the job description, and you have that direction from the agency level and the coordinator level. I would also promote that group home agencies mandate the use of health-promotion programs and allocate resources to help staff and residents pursue physical activity and other health-promoting behaviors.” 

With that direction, staff turnover and/or indifference to physical activity won’t be able to negatively affect health-promotion programs nearly as much.

“Success definitely depends on staff involvement,” Dixon-Ibarra said. “Staff being motivated to pursue physical activity with residents is so important. Every staff member needs to be trained in how to incorporate activity in residents’ schedules and how to encourage residents. You can’t make someone be physically active, but you can make it a health-promoting environment where residents are encouraged to choose to be active if they want to be.”

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Alicia Dixon-Ibarra

Marine incentives programs may replace 'doom and gloom' with hope

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Incentives that are designed to enable smarter use of the ocean while also protecting marine ecosystems can and do work, and offer significant hope to help address the multiple environmental threats facing the world’s oceans, researchers conclude in a new analysis.

Whether economic or social, incentive-based solutions may be one of the best options for progress in reducing impacts from overfishing, climate change, ocean acidification and pollution, researchers from Oregon State University and Princeton University say in a new report published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

And positive incentives – the “carrot” – work better than negative incentives, or the “stick.”

Part of the reason for optimism, the researchers report, is changing awareness, attitudes and social norms around the world, in which resource users and consumers are becoming more informed about environmental issues and demanding action to address them. That sets the stage for economic incentives that can convert near-disaster situations into sustainable fisheries, cleaner water and long-term solutions.

“As we note in this report, the ocean is becoming higher, warmer, stormier, more acidic, lower in dissolved oxygen and overfished,” said Jane Lubchenco, the distinguished university professor in the College of Science and advisor in marine studies at Oregon State University, lead author of the new report, and U.S. science envoy for the ocean at the Department of State.

“The threats facing the ocean are enormous, and can seem overwhelming. But there’s actually reason for hope, and it’s based on what we’ve learned about the use of incentives to change the way people, nations and institutions behave. We believe it’s possible to make that transition from a vicious to a virtuous cycle. Getting incentives right can flip a disaster to a resounding success.”

Simon A. Levin, the James S. McDonnell distinguished university professor in ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton University and co-author of the publication, had a similar perspective.

“It is really very exciting that what, until recently, was theoretical optimism is proving to really work,” Levin said. “This gives me great hope for the future.”

The stakes are huge, the scientists point out in their study.

The global market value of marine and coastal resources and industries is about $3 trillion a year; more than 3 billion people depend on fish for a major source of protein; and marine fisheries involve more than 200 million people. Ocean and coastal ecosystems provide food, oxygen, climate regulation, pest control, recreational and cultural value.

“Given the importance of marine resources, many of the 150 or more coastal nations, especially those in the developing world, are searching for new approaches to economic development, poverty alleviation and food security,” said Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, a postdoctoral scholar working with Lubchenco.  “Our findings can provide guidance to them about how to develop sustainably.”

In recent years, the researchers said in their report, new incentive systems have been developed that tap into people’s desires for both economic sustainability and global environmental protection. In many cases, individuals, scientists, faith communities, businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments are all changing in ways that reward desirable and dissuade undesirable behaviors.

One of the leading examples of progress is the use of “rights-based fisheries.” Instead of a traditional “race to fish” concept based on limited seasons, this growing movement allows fishers to receive a guaranteed fraction of the catch, benefit from a well-managed, healthy fishery and become part of a peer group in which cheating is not tolerated.

There are now more than 200 rights-based fisheries covering more than 500 species among 40 countries, the report noted. One was implemented in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper commercial fishery, which was on the brink of collapse after decades of overfishing. A rights-based plan implemented in 2007 has tripled the spawning potential, doubled catch limits and increased fishery revenue by 70 percent.

“Multiple turn-around stories in fisheries attest to the potential to end overfishing, recover depleted species, achieve healthier ocean ecosystems, and bring economic benefit to fishermen and coastal communities,” said Lubchenco.  “It is possible to have your fish and eat them too.”

A success story used by some nations has been combining “territorial use rights in fisheries,” which assign exclusive fishing access in a particular place to certain individuals or communities, together with adjacent marine reserves. Fish recover inside the no-take reserve and “spillover” to the adjacent fished area outside the reserve. Another concept of incentives has been “debt for nature” swaps used in some nations, in which foreign debt is exchanged for protection of the ocean.

“In parallel to a change in economic incentives,” said Jessica Reimer, a graduate research assistant with Lubchenco, “there have been changes in behavioral incentives and social norms, such as altruism, ethical values, and other types of motivation that can be powerful drivers of change.”

The European Union, based on strong environmental support among its public, has issued warnings and trade sanctions against countries that engage in illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. In the U.S., some of the nation’s largest retailers, in efforts to improve their image with consumers, have moved toward sale of only certified sustainable seafood.

Incentives are not a new idea, the researchers noted. But they emphasize that their power may have been under-appreciated.

“Recognizing the extent to which a change in incentives can be explicitly used to achieve outcomes related to biodiversity, ecosystem health and sustainability . . .  holds particular promise for conservation and management efforts in the ocean,” they wrote in their conclusion.

Funding was provided by OSU and the National Science Foundation.

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

lubchenco@oregonstate.edu

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Catch share program

Precise nerve stimulation via electrode implants offers new hope for paralysis patients

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Patients with spinal cord injuries might one day regain use of paralyzed arms and legs thanks to research that demonstrates how limbs can be controlled via a tiny array of implanted electrodes.

The work focused on controlling electrical stimulation pulses delivered to peripheral nerve fibers. When a patient is paralyzed, one of the possible causes is damage to the spinal cord, which along with the brain makes up the central nervous system. The brain is working, and so are motor and sensory nerves in the peripheral nervous system, but electrical signals can’t flow between those nerves and the brain because of the spinal cord injury.

That communication problem is what researchers sought to address, through experiments that involved transmitting precisely controlled electrical pulses into nerves activating plantar-flexor muscles in an ankle of an anesthetized cat.

V John Mathews, professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the Oregon State University College of Engineering, lead researcher Mitch Frankel, then a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, and three other researchers, all faculty members at Utah, conducted the study. Findings were recently published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Researchers sent the pulses using an optimized PIV controller – proportional-integral-velocity – and the cat’s nerves received them via a 100-electrode array whose base measured just 16 square millimeters; it’s known as the Utah Slanted Electrode Array, named for where it was developed and the angled look produced by the electrode rows’ differing heights.

Thanks to specific electrodes being able to activate the right nerve fibers at the right times, the controller made the cat’s ankle muscles work in a smooth, fatigue-resistant way.

The results suggest that someday a paralyzed person might be equipped with a wearable, smartphone-sized control box that would deliver impulses to implanted electrodes in his or her peripheral nervous system, thus enabling at least some level of movement.

“Say someone is paralyzed and lies in bed all day and gets bed sores,” Mathews said. “Early versions of this technology could be used to help the person get up, use a walker and make a few steps. Even those kinds of things would have an enormous impact on someone’s life, and of course we’d like people to do more. My hope is in five or 10 years there will be at least elemental versions of this for paralyzed persons.”

While this particular study focused on helping the paralyzed, a related research area involves amputees: neuroprostheses that can be controlled by thought based on decoding what goes on electrically inside a person’s brain when he or she wants to, for example, move his or her arm or leg.

“We can learn from the brain what the intent is and then produce the signals to make the movement happen,” Mathews said. “Another way to get the control information is from the peripheral nerves,” via electromyography, a diagnostic procedure for evaluating muscle and nerve health.

Generally, Mathews said, an electromyogram can produce the necessary control information.

Putting sensors in a person’s brain, either by deep brain implant or just inside the cranium, is another way to crack the intent code. Electroencephalography – electrode plates attached to the scalp that upload the brain’s electrical activity to a computer – can be used as well.

“There are a lot of things going on right now in the prosthetic arena,” Mathews said. 

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Utah Slanted Electrode Array

Rockfish siblings shed new light on how offspring diffuse and disperse

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A splitnose rockfish’s thousands of tiny offspring can stick together in sibling groups from the time they are released into the open ocean until they move to shallower water, research from Oregon State University shows.

The study conducted in the OSU College of Science sheds new light on how rockfish, a group of multiple species that contribute to important commercial and recreational fisheries in the Northwest, disperse through the ocean and “recruit,” or take up residence in nearshore habitats. Previously it was believed rockfish larvae dispersed chaotically to wherever currents carried them.

“When you manage populations, it’s really important to understand where the young are going to and where the young are coming from – how populations are connected and replenished,” said Su Sponaugle, a professor of integrative biology based at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. “This research helps us better understand what’s possible about offspring movement. We don’t know fully by what mechanisms the larvae are staying together, but these data are suggestive that behavior is playing a role.”

The findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Primary funding came from the Hatfield Marine Science Center’s Mamie L. Markham Research Award.

The discovery of “spatial cohesion” among the larvae came via the collection of newly settled rockfish in a shallow nearshore habitat off the central Oregon coast. Nearly 500 juvenile fish that had started out up to six months earlier as transparent larvae at depths of a few hundred meters were collected and genetically analyzed, with the results showing that 11.6 percent had at least one sibling in the group.

“That’s much higher than we would have expected if they were randomly dispersing,” Sponaugle said.

Bearing live young – a female can release thousands of able-to-swim larvae at a time – and dwelling close to the sea floor in the benthic zone, rockfishes make up a diverse genus with many species.

Adult splitnose rockfish live in deep water – usually 100 to 350 meters – but juveniles often settle in nearshore habitats less than 20 meters deep after spending up to a year in the open sea. Taking into account dynamic influences such as the California Current, siblings recruiting to the same area suggest they remained close together as larvae rather than diffusing randomly and then reconnecting as recruits.

“This totally changes the way we understand dispersal,” said lead author Daniel Ottmann, a graduate student in integrative biology at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. “We’d thought larvae were just released and then largely diffused by currents, but now we know behavior can substantially modify that.”

Splitnose rockfish range from Alaska to Baja California and can live for more than 100 years. Pelagic juveniles – juveniles in the open sea – often aggregate to drifting mats of kelp, and the large amount of time larvae and juveniles spend at open sea is thought to enable them to disperse great distances from their parental source.

“This research gives us a window into a stage of the fishes’ life we know so little about,” added Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, an assistant professor of integrative biology at OSU’s Corvallis campus. “We can’t track the larvae out there in the ocean; we can’t look at their behavior early and see where they go. But this genetic technique allows us to look at how they disperse, and it changes the conversation. Now that we know that siblings are ending up in the same places, we can consider how to more effectively manage and protect these species.”

Because larval aggregation shapes the dispersal process more than previously thought, Ottmann said, it highlights the need to better understand what happens in the pelagic ocean to affect the growth, survival and dispersal of the larvae.

“Successful recruitment is critical for the population dynamics of most marine species,” he said. “Our findings have far-reaching implications for our understanding of how populations are connected by dispersing larvae.”

In addition, Grorud-Colvert adds, there’s the simple and substantial “gee whiz” factor of the findings.

“These tiny little fish, a few days old, out there in the humongous ocean, instead of just going wherever are able to swim and stay close together on their epic journey,” she said. “These tiny, tiny things, sticking together in the open ocean – it’s cool.”

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Curiosity can predict employees’ ability to creatively solve problems, research shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Employers who are looking to hire creative problem-solvers should consider candidates with strong curiosity traits, and personality tests may be one way to tease out those traits in prospective employees, new research from Oregon State University shows.

People who showed strong curiosity traits on personality tests performed better on creative tasks and those with a strong diversive curiosity trait, or curiosity associated with the interest in exploring unfamiliar topics and learning something new, were more likely to come up with creative solutions to a problem, the researchers found.

The findings contribute to a growing body of evidence suggesting that testing for curiosity traits may be useful for employers, especially those seeking to fill complex jobs, said Jay Hardy, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Business and lead author of the study.

As workplaces evolve and jobs become increasingly dynamic and complex, having employees who can adapt to changing environments and learn new skills is becoming more and more valuable to organizations’ success, he said.

“But if you look at job descriptions today, employers often say they are looking for curious and creative employees, but they are not selecting candidates based on those traits,” said Hardy, whose research focuses on employee training and development. “This research suggests it may be useful for employers to measure curiosity, and, in particular, diversive curiosity, when hiring new employees.”

The findings were published recently in the journal Personality and Individual Differences. Co-authors are Alisha Ness of University of Oklahoma and Jensen Mecca of Shaker Consulting Group.

Past research has shown that curiosity is a strong predictor of a person’s ability to creatively solve problems in the workplace. But questions remain about how, why and when curiosity affects the creative process, Hardy said. The latest research helps to pinpoint the type of curiosity that best aids creative problem-solving.

Diversive curiosity is a trait well-suited to early stage problem-solving because it leads to gathering a large amount of information relevant to the problem. That information can be used to generate and evaluate new ideas in later stages of creative problem-solving. Diversive curiosity tends to be a more positive force.

On the other hand, people with strong specific curiosity traits, or the curiosity that reduces anxiety and fills gaps in understanding, tend to be more problem-focused. Specific curiosity tends to be a negative force.

For the study, researchers asked 122 undergraduate college students, to take personality tests that measured their diversive and specific curiosity traits.

They then asked the students to complete an experimental task involving the development of a marketing plan for a retailer. Researchers evaluated the students’ early-stage and late-stage creative problem-solving processes, including the number of ideas generated. The students’ ideas were also evaluated based on their quality and originality.

The findings indicated that the participants’ diversive curiosity scores related strongly to their performance scores. Those with stronger diversive curiosity traits spent more time and developed more ideas in the early stages of the task. Stronger specific curiosity traits did not significantly relate to the participants’ idea generation and did not affect their creative performance.

“Because it has a distinct effect, diversive curiosity can add something extra in a prospective employee,” Hardy said. “Specific curiosity does matter, but the diversive piece is useful in more abstract ways.”

Another important finding of the research, Hardy noted, is that participants’ behavior in the information-seeking stage of the task was key to explaining differences in creative outcome. For people who are not creative naturally, a lack of natural diversive curiosity may be overcome, in part, by simply spending more time asking questions and reviewing materials at the early stages of a task, he said.

“Creativity to a degree is a trainable skill,” he said. “It is a skill that is developed and can be improved. The more of it you do, the better you will get at it.”

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Jay Hardy, 541-737-3016, jay.hardy@oregonstate.edu

Chronically ill women underusing online self-care resources, study shows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Barriers to internet use may be preventing chronically ill middle-aged and older women from being as healthy as they otherwise could be, new research from Oregon State University suggests.

The study conducted by researchers from the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences and the University of Georgia analyzed data from hundreds of women age 44 and older with at least one chronic condition and found that 35 percent of them didn’t use the internet at all. Among those who did, fewer than half used it to learn from the experiences of other chronic-disease patients; fewer than 20 percent took part in online discussions regarding their conditions.

Self-care, including the use of online resources, is an important component in managing chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, arthritis, asthma, high blood pressure, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, depression and anxiety. Effective management of these types of conditions delays or prevents them from becoming debilitating, maintaining quality of life for the patient and saving health care dollars.

The research showed the potential for improved condition management by getting online resources into the hands of more patients.

“We want people to be able to optimize their health,” said researcher Carolyn Mendez-Luck, an assistant professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences at OSU.

Among the 418 women participating in the study, internet use for self-care varied depending on factors that included age, the specific condition or conditions a patient had, education level and ethnic background.

“It really seemed to be the lower-resourced individuals who weren’t using the internet and thus online resources,” Mendez-Luck said. “If you’re older, if you’re a member of a minority group, if you’re less educated, if you’re not working, all of those things work against you and impede your use of the internet; that’s what this research suggests.”

The women in the study all completed, via telephone, the National Council on Aging Chronic Care Survey and all had one or more chronic conditions. Support for the research also came from Atlantic Philanthropies, the California Healthcare Foundation, and the Center for Community Health Development. Results were recently published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

The study featured two parts. The first analyzed data in terms of sociodemographics, disease types and healthcare management associated with internet use, and the second focused on the 251 internet-using women to identify the online self- care resources they use and for what purposes.

About 31 percent of the women in the study were 65 and older; 30 percent had three or more chronic conditions; and 65 percent said they used the internet.

“A significantly larger proportion of older women reported multiple chronic conditions, and a significantly smaller proportion of older women reported using the internet or relying on it for help or support,” Mendez-Luck said. “A significantly larger proportion of non-internet users reported needing help learning what to do to manage their health conditions and needing help learning how to care for their health conditions.”

Mendez-Luck says understanding how women with chronic conditions use the internet, or why they don’t, can inform targeted efforts to increase internet availability, to educate patients about online resources, and to tailor internet-based materials to self-care needs. Women tend to live longer than men and also tend to be particularly affected by chronic diseases.

“The number of people living with chronic conditions for longer durations is growing,” Mendez-Luck said. “Complex patients, especially individuals with multiple chronic conditions, present enormous challenges to healthcare providers and a significant financial burden to the healthcare system. This situation is likely to become more critical as the number of Americans living to advanced ages increases in the next few decades.”

Self-care behaviors are important in managing chronic disease, Mendez-Luck noted. Without effective management, chronic conditions can diminish individuals’ capacity to care for themselves as well as thwart caregivers’ efforts.

“We discovered that a significantly larger proportion of internet-using women with diabetes and depression reported needing help in both learning what to do to manage their health conditions and how to better care for their health, compared with women with other health conditions,” Mendez-Luck said. “This finding highlights the notion that internet resources are not a one size fits all situation; it really does depend on the condition.”

Older women represent the chronic-conditions group with the most potential for gains in using online resources for disease self-management.

“There’s an opportunity for sure,” Mendez-Luck said, noting that one method for improvement might be as simple as a physician, nurse or dietitian taking a moment to talk to patients about using the internet and how it can benefit them.

“The fact that older women in general use the internet at lower rates, I think that’s not surprising,” Mendez-Luck said. “We need to give them a chance to get connected to community resources like libraries and senior centers that try to do education to dispel that fear or discomfort older women might have regarding technology. And more research needs to be done to determine how to tailor that online information in a way that meets their needs.”

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Carolyn Mendez-Luck

Carolyn Mendez-Luck

Bacteria discovery offers possible new means of controlling crop pest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A bacterium common in insects has been discovered in a plant-parasitic roundworm, opening up the possibility of a new, environmentally friendly way of controlling the crop-damaging pest.

The worm, Pratylenchus penetrans, is one of the “lesion nematodes” -- microscopic animals that deploy their mouths like syringes to extract nutrients from the roots of plants, damaging them in the process. This particular nematode uses more than 150 species as hosts, including mint, raspberry, lily and potato.

The newly discovered bacterium is a strain in the genus Wolbachia, one of the world’s most widespread endosymbionts – organisms that live within other organisms. Wolbachia is present in roughly 60 percent of the globe’s arthropods, among them insects, spiders and crustaceans, and also lives in nematodes that cause illness in humans.

Postdoctoral scholar Amanda Brown in the Oregon State University Department of Integrative Biology was the lead author on the study, and recently accepted an assistant professor position at Texas Tech. Findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Depending on the host species, Wolbachia can be an obligate mutualist – the bacteria and the host need each other for survival – or a reproductive parasite that manipulates the host’s reproductive outcomes in ways that harm the host and benefit the bacteria. Parasitic Wolbachia can cause its host populations to heavily skew toward female.

In the case of the crop-pest nematode, Pratylenchus penetrans, that Brown and her colleagues studied, the bacteria-host relationship appears to not be one of obligate mutualism – many examples of non-infected worms have been found, meaning the worm doesn’t rely on Wolbachia to survive.

But more study is needed to determine the exact nature of the relationship, said Dee Denver, an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology in the College of Science.

Whatever the relationship, simply discovering Wolbachia in Pratylenchus penetrans opens up the potential for managing the roundworm’s population via biocontrol rather than environment-damaging fumigants, such as methyl bromide, that are being phased out by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“We can use what’s already infecting them against them,” Denver said.

Nematode biocontrol would involve releasing Wolbachia-infected worms into farm fields whose worm populations weren’t infected. From there, a couple of situations, both favorable to the crops, might arise:

  •  The bacterium could hinder the worms’ ability to reproduce;
  •  It also might force the worm to devote energy to dealing with the bacterium, effectively distracting it from being as damaging to the crops as it otherwise would be.

Wolbachia is already being used as a biocontrol strategy in Colombia and Brazil, where infected mosquitoes are being released in an effort to control the Zika, dengue and malaria viruses. Mosquitoes are a vector for those diseases, but Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes pass the bacteria to their offspring, who lose their ability to transmit the diseases. Wolbachia also can interfere with the mosquitoes’ ability to reproduce at all.

“We can see where all of that goes and learn from it to help our decision making on how the strategy might get deployed to control the population of plant-parasitic nematodes,” Denver said. “One big thing with nematodes is the load. Many crops have some, but once you get above certain thresholds, fields go down and there are economic losses.”

In addition to the potential for an environmentally safe way to deal with a crop pest, the research is noteworthy for providing genomic evidence that nematodes, not arthropods, were the original Wolbachia hosts. The strain that OSU researchers discovered – known as wPpe – proved to be the earliest diverging Wolbachia, meaning the bacteria adapted to arthropods and then later evolved to reinvade nematodes.

“Were they originally reproductive parasites or play-nice mutualists?” Dee said. “These are outside the range of better-studied Wolbachia, so we don’t know, but we have preliminary data and we think they’re reproductive parasites.”

Another unanswered question: How widespread is Wolbachia among plant-parasitic nematodes?

“There are thousands of nematode species infecting plants,” Denver said. “Wolbachia has always been thought of as an arthropod thing, an insect thing. It was kind of a serendipitous discovery for us. We were sequencing genomes from nematodes for the purpose of understanding nematodes, and the mapping went to Wolbachia.”

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Pratylenchus penetrans

Pratylenchus penetrans