Saturday, October 3, 2020

Sexual orientation change therapies: Not efficacious in altering sexual orientation, & are associated with more depression, relationship dysfunction, and increased homonegativity

A systematic review of the efficacy, harmful effects, and ethical issues related to sexual orientation change efforts. Amy Przeworski  Emily Peterson  Alexandra Piedra. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, October 1 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) are practices intended to eliminate same‐sex attraction. We systematically review the literature on the efficacy of SOCE and discuss ways in which SOCE violate ethical guidelines for working with LGBQ clients. Existing literature indicates that SOCE are not efficacious in altering sexual orientation. Studies concluding otherwise often contain methodological limitations, such as biased recruitment or a retrospective design, that weaken the validity or prevent the generalizability of results. Many studies report negative outcomes associated with SOCE, such as depression, relationship dysfunction, and increased homonegativity. SOCE‐oriented therapies also violate the American Psychological Association's (APA) ethical guidelines for working with LGBQ populations. In contrast, affirming therapies are efficacious, consistent with APA guidelines, and are associated with positive outcomes for LGBQ clients.

Sadness is a common symptom in the general population; it is an intermediate state on a continuum from well-being to major depressive disorder

Sadness and the continuum from well-being to depressive disorder: a replication study in a representative US population sample. Sarah Tebeka et al. Journal of Psychiatric Research, October 3 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:


Objective: Sadness is a common symptom in the general population. We tested the hypothesis that sadness is an intermediate state on a continuum from well-being to major depressive disorder (MDD).

Methods: Using data from The National Epidemiologic Study of Alcohol and Related Conditions III (NESARC-III), a large and representative US population sample, we assessed the prevalence of sadness, its sociodemographic and clinical correlates, using three non-overlapping groups: (i) non-depressed sad participants, (ii) non-sad non-depressed participants and (iii) depressed participants. We estimated sensitivity and specificity of sadness.

Results: Sadness was frequent in the general population 34.3%), and present in almost all participants with MDD (99.6%). Sad (N=4,593) and MDD participants (N=4,593) and 7,889 respectively) shared common sociodemographic characteristics. Compared to controls, sad and MDD participants presented more psychiatric disorders, including anxiety, substance use, psychotic, eating and personality disorders. Sadness was an intermediate state, sad individuals reporting more psychiatric disorders than controls, but less than participants with MDD. Sadness demonstrated a very high sensitivity (99.6 %), with a good specificity (83.8%) for MDD.

Limitations: The NESARC assessed sadness over lifetime, which may involve memorization bias.

Conclusion: Our study confirms the existence of a depressive continuum. Sadness is frequent in general population, and shares correlates with MDD. We have also shown a continuum where sadness is an intermediate state between well-being and psychiatric disorders. With high sensitivity and specificity, sadness appears as a clear MDD prodrome and at-risk state, and may be a symptom of a transdiagnostic distress process.

Key words: Anxiety/Anxiety disordersBipolar disorderDepressionEating disordersEpidemiologySubstance Use Disorders

Rats & mice show comparable levels of emotional contagion, & an equivalent contagion response to familiar and unfamiliar conspecifics

Towards a unified theory of emotional contagion in rodents—A meta-analysis. Julen Hernandez-Lallement, Paula Gómez-Sotres, Maria Carrillo. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, October 3 2020.


• Rats and mice show comparable levels of emotional contagion, however, only mice strain-specific differences in emotional contagion response.

• Rats and mice show an equivalent contagion response to familiar and unfamiliar conspecifics.

• Prior experience with an emotional inducing stimulus significantly increases fear contagion response in rats but not in mice.

• Social testing condition influences the level of contagion: animals tested alone show reduced contagion compared to animals tested in a group.

Abstract: Here we leverage 80 years of emotional contagion research in rodents and perform the first meta-analysis on this topic. Using 457 effect sizes, we show that, while both rats and mice are capable of emotional contagion, there are differences in how various factors modulate empathy in these species: 1) only mice show strain-specific differences in emotional contagion response; 2) although rats and mice have equivalent contagion response to familiar and unfamiliar individuals, our results show that familiarity length is negatively correlated with level of contagion in rats only; 3) prior experience with emotional stimuli almost doubles fear contagion response in rats while no changes are detected in pre-exposed mice; 4) both mice and rats tested alone show comparable reduced contagion compared to animals tested in a group; 5) emotional contagion is reduced in animals from both species missing one sensory modality compared to situations where all sensory modalities are recruited during emotional contagion. Lastly, we report similar patterns of brain activation during emotional contagion in rats and mice.

Keywords: Emotional contagionMeta-analysisRodentsEmpathy

4. Conclusion and limitations

4.1. Updating current models of emotional contagion

While a high number of reviews attempting to summarize the literature on emotional contagion in rodents were published in recent years (Keysers and Gazzola, 2016Meyza et al., 2016Keum and Shin, 2016Sivaselvachandran et al., 2016Mogil, 2012Lukas and de Jong, 2016Keum and Shin, 2019), one article in particular went one step further and proposed a classification of experimental approaches used in the field (Panksepp and Panksepp, 2013a). This classification distinguished a variety of phenomenon such as contagion, social analgesia, social buffering, social priming, behavioral matching and social transfer. In the current meta-analysis, we updated and simplified this classification based on our revised inclusion criteria for studies measuring emotional contagion: ‘a study measuring a behavioral response associated with (indirectly -in absence of- and directly -in presence of others-) the emotional cues of other individuals’. This means that all the phenomena mentioned above, per our definition, fall under the emotional contagion umbrella. One illustrative example is the case of social buffering, where a distressed animal shows reduced fear when paired with a neutral non-distressed conspecific. In these cases, we considered the observed phenomenon as emotional contagion from an animal in a neutral emotional state to one in a fearful state. This approach allowed us to unify different paradigms, and seemingly diverse approaches on rodent empathy into a single model. Our classification had additional key differences with the classification proposed by Panskepp & Panksepp (Panksepp and Panksepp, 2013a): 1) contagion can occur without the direct presence of an individual (e.g., through a cotton boll soaked with urine of a fearful animal); 2) emotional contagion paradigms consist of three phases: pre-exposure, emotional transfer and measure of emotional contagion; 3) the term emotional transfer refers to the point in time in which the emotional state from one individual is contaged to another (measurement time could happen during or after emotional transfer); 4) measurements of emotional contagion had to recruit an emotional observable response; if they failed to do so (such as memory effects), they were not considered direct measurements of emotional contagion but rather secondary processes related to emotional contagion. All the studies included in the current meta-analysis fall under this classification.

4.2. Limitations

While we strived to reduce the number of arbitrary decisions that needed to be made (by devising a clear methodology and procedures in the decision process), inevitably, we did encounter difficult choices at different stages of the process. In particular, for each study, we were confronted with interpreting whether the reported data was a direct measure of emotional contagion, or rather a secondary process triggered by emotional contagion. The lack of clear definitions and unity in the field made it challenging in deciding which data was indeed relevant for this meta-analysis. In order to guide our decisions, we elaborated a framework through which each study was pipelined to take a decision on whether the effect size reflected emotional contagion-related data. For instance, research performed on social transmission of taste aversion can be arguably included in the emotional contagion field, since, typically in these paradigms, one animal undergoes an aversive emotion (taste), which is thereafter transmitted to a naïve conspecific through interactions. However, these publications were not included in this meta-analysis due to the fact that the aversive emotion experienced by the demonstrator was often not measured and quantified, nor was the actual transfer of emotion. Similar issues were encountered in studies where emotional contagion was used as a tool, rather than a measure, to study how observing the distress of others affected cognitive abilities later in time, such as memory and learning (Nowak et al., 2013Ito et al., 2015a). Albeit these are important effects of emotional contagion in other neural processes and behaviors, they are not a direct measurement of emotional contagion, and as such were excluded from the main analysis.

However, we find it important to emphasize the caveats of our approach by pointing out other missing aspects of the emotional contagion literature. For instance, the filters used in this study failed to capture articles on mother-pup interaction and the emotional transfer inherent to such social systems (Moriceau and Sullivan, 2006Barr et al., 2009). Future meta-analytic work on this topic could increase their search filter range to include such studies and encompass even more variability in rodent emotional contagion.

It should also be noted that our filters might have failed to include articles where similar processes were studied but other wording was used. It is notable that rodent emotional contagion is a controversial topic (Balter, 2011) and several studies have framed their results in terms of stress-related processes instead of emotional contagion (Breitfeld et al., 2015Zalaquett and Thiessen, 1991Mackay-Sim and Laing, 1981). While we believe that the high number of effect sizes and studies included in this meta-analysis already allow for careful conclusions to be drawn, future endeavors should carefully increase the granularity of their filters to encompass studies that investigated similar processes under a different framework.

Another limitation of our work is the low number of effect sizes present in some distributions. For instance, the low number of effect sizes reported in females makes it difficult to conclude on the results reported here, that is, that sex does not modulate emotional contagion. Similar parsimony should be used when interpreting effect sizes reported in different strains. For instance, the differences reported between CD-1 and CF-1 mice, two very close strains, are quite surprising. One likely explanation for this (and other) differences might lie in the experimental paradigm used, which differed between strains. These discrepant results suggest that additional, more granular variables should be added to future meta-analysis. For instance, an attempt at classifying experimental paradigms to identify contexts and situations where emotional contagion might be more salient would allow to associate differences in effect sizes to experimental manipulations rather than to species, strains or other parameters.

This meta-analysis revealed that, although, emotional contagion can occur in response to both positive and negative emotions, as already noted by (Panksepp and Panksepp, 2013c), to date nearly all studies investigating emotional contagion in rodents use negative stimuli to trigger emotional transfer, which could be due to the fact that in rodent empathy research negative reinforcers are traditionally used. This observation stresses the need to use positive reinforcers to study the other side of rodent empathy, as already performed in some studies (Willuhn et al., 2014bKashtelyan et al., 2014bLichtenberg et al., 2018), and more generally in the field of prosocial behavior (Lichtenberg et al., 2018Márquez et al., 2015Hernandez-Lallement et al., 2016b2020). A promising avenue would lie in studies that directly compare the effects of positive and negative reinforcers, although we acknowledge that developing comparable positive and negative stimulus is a challenge given the higher saliency and reinforcing power of negative stimuli. On the other hand, it is important to consider the possibility, that the under reporting of studies using positive stimuli could be due to lack of effect of this type of stimuli and bias to report null effects.

A final limitation that we encountered was the incomplete reporting of information, namely, the methods section. We noticed that some variables more likely to not be properly reported such as age and number of days that observers and demonstrators were related to each other, with 13 % and 21 % of overall missing values per category respectively. In addition, our quantitative analysis suggested that randomization, blinding and sample size calculations are seldom reported (and/or done) in studies in the field, which overall reduces the results quality.

4.3. Conclusion

Overall, this is the first meta-analysis and systematic review conducted to date on the field of rodent emotional contagion. In this meta-analysis we develop an umbrella definition of emotional contagion that covers a large rage of studies investigating this response. We also developed a classification model that allowed us to unify a range of existing paradigms used to investigate emotional contagion. Within this model we identified key parameters that have a modulatory effect on emotional contagion and that can be used for optimizing the design of future studies in the field. However, we underscore that many differences reported here should be taken cautiously since the lack of effect sizes and major differences in experimental paradigms could still account for effects we report in this meta-analysis. We also identify a range of brain regions that can be used as targets for further to further our understanding of the neural mechanisms of emotional contagion. Lastly, this meta-analysis also identifies gaps in knowledge and potential research areas of interest.

Italy: War, Socialism and the Rise of Fascism

War, Socialism and the Rise of Fascism: An Empirical Exploration. Daron Acemoglu, Giuseppe De Feo, Giacomo De Luca, Gianluca Russo. NBER Working Paper No. 27854, September 2020.

Abstract: The recent ascent of right-wing populist movements in many countries has rekindled interest in understanding the causes of the rise of Fascism in inter-war years. In this paper, we argue that there was a strong link between the surge of support for the Socialist Party after World War I (WWI) and the subsequent emergence of Fascism in Italy. We first develop a source of variation in Socialist support across Italian municipalities in the 1919 election based on war casualties from the area. We show that these casualties are unrelated to a battery of political, economic and social variables before the war and had a major impact on Socialist support (partly because the Socialists were the main anti-war political movement). Our main result is that this boost to Socialist support (that is “exogenous” to the prior political leaning of the municipality) led to greater local Fascist activity as measured by local party branches and Fascist political violence (squadrismo), and to significantly larger vote share of the Fascist Party in the 1924 election. We document that the increase in the vote share of the Fascist Party was not at the expense of the Socialist Party and instead came from right-wing parties, thus supporting our interpretation that center-right and right-wing voters coalesced around the Fascist Party because of the “red scare”. We also show that the veterans did not consistently support the Fascist Party and there is no evidence for greater nationalist sentiment in areas with more casualties. We provide evidence that landowner associations and greater presence of local elites played an important role in the rise of Fascism. Finally, we find greater likelihood of Jewish deportations in 1943-45 and lower vote share for Christian Democrats after World War II in areas with greater early Fascist activity.