Blood pressure app downloaded 100,000 times proves inaccurate, study shows

Blood pressure

flickr photo by Waifer X shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

A blood pressure app that has been downloaded over 100,000 has been shown to be unreliable, according to a study by John Hopkins University, with just a 20% accuracy rate.

The ‘Instant Blood Pressure’ app claimed to provide an accurate and instant measure of blood pressure when the user placed a SMART phone to their chest.

Results of a study of 85 volunteers using the app under the guidance of health professionals showed that the app missed the warning signs in eight out of ten patients who had high blood pressure.  Continue reading


Prisoners’ Penfriends improves chance of rehabilitation, study shows


flickr photo by Muffet shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

A recent study of Prisoners’ Penfriends – a charitable scheme that runs a volunteer pen pal programme in 52 prisons – has shown that having a pen pal can contribute to prisoner wellbeing and increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation.

Researchers Prof Jackie Hodgson and Juliet Horne from Warwick University analysed the impact of the scheme and found that the simple act of being written to and having someone to write back to provided a cheap yet effective method of maintaining moral.

In addition, pen pals could provide an early warning of a prisoner’s decline in mental health. Pen pal confidents became aware of the state of mind of their prison pen pal and were able to alert prison authorities to any increasing depression or risk of suicide.

Professor Jackie Hodgson, leading researcher, commented to Warwick Press:

“We found that something as simple as a pen pal relationship can lead to tangible benefits for prisoners. Given the recent rise in prison violence and suicides, increased prison overcrowding and the current resource pressures on the prison system, letter-writing seems an extremely valuable way to provide greater support for prisoners, based on genuine relationships of care and trust, at remarkably little cost.”

Typical pen pal

The study found that the typical prisoner was male, serving a long term sentences and before the pen pals scheme, had ‘little or no contact with anyone outside of prison’. The effect of having a pen pal helped to reduce their sense of isolation, provided a different focus from their daily routine in prison and also ‘raised their hopes for being outside of prison’.

The Prisoners’ Penfriends scheme matches volunteers with prisoners and delivers post via a PO box to ensure confidentiality. Volunteers are advised to use a fictitious name and exclude personal details such as address and family names to maintain anonymity when writing. Before being matched to a pen pal, volunteers must to agree to follow strict guidelines to ensure relationship boundaries are maintained. All ingoing and outgoing letters are read by prison staff.

The pen pal scheme however has proven to be a life changing relationship for many, with very little cost to implement. One prisoner wrote of his pen friend:

‘He is very helpful and caring and very understanding. He makes me feel like I can achieve things in life. It’s made me want to be a better man when released and achieve my dreams if possible.’

Figures and interesting stats

  • Nearly all prisoners said they intended to remain pen pals for the length of their sentence.
  • The longest pen pal relationship so far has been nine years.
  • The scheme has seen 16,000 letters being sent.

What volunteers say 
What prisoners say 

‘Imagining more than just a prisoner: the work of Prisoners’ Penfriends’.

For more information on the Prisoners’ Penfriends scheme and to sign up to be a volunteer pen pal visit or email directly.

The Ethical Care-bot and the need for ‘presence’


A robot to care for the elderly is a very real prospect.

With advancements in technology, and the possible connectivity of everyday items or ‘The Internet of Things’, the idea of a robotic companion to assist the elderly is not as futuristic as it first appears.

The technology is here, and now too is an approved set of ethics.

Professor Tom Sorell, Politics and Philosophy Professor at Warwick University and member of Accompany – a project behind the creation of robot carer ‘Car-O-bot3’ – has defined six values that will set the ethical tone of the relationship between robot and human. Continue reading

Stress in Young America: Why the US is on Red Alert


A study conducted over 7 years to measure stress and its impact across America has reported that more young Americans than ever before are suffering from a level of stress considered to be beyond their capacity to cope.

Young Americans were also found to be more likely to deal with stress with negative coping strategies, such as:

  • smoking
  • drinking
  • sleeping
  • overeating

Continue reading

From Elite to Average: Social Mobility Takes 800 Years

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Class structure in the UK evolves so slowly that it can take 800 years before social change occurs within elite families, according to recent research by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

The research was conducted by analysing surnames and how these names were distributed over centuries. Using educational status in England from 1170 to 2012, researchers analysed 27 generations over 30 years to detect the range of social status change as only 0.75-0.85. Continue reading

The Unbearable Lightness of Being Rejected: Rebuffs Inspire Creativity

rejectedSurprisingly, researchers have found that social rejection can have a positive effect on independent people – rejectees are more creative after the experience of being shunned.

Science has traditionally shown rejection to have a negative cognitive effect but according to new research by John Hopkins University and Cornelly University, this is only for those who strongly value being part of a group.

For those with a strong “independent self-concept,” research shows that rejection can actually inspire creativity.
The paper “Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought?” published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, is the first to study rejection in those who are not dependant on group approval. Independent types view social rejection as a “validation,” says Sharon Kim, lead author of the study, adding:

Rejection confirms for independent people what they already feel about themselves – that they’re not like others. For such people, that distinction is a positive one leading them to greater creativity.”

Rejection has the opposite effect on those who do need to belong to a group. Typically, group rejection has been understood to negatively affect cognitive ability and cause anxiety and distress. This study, the first to look at the positive side of being rejected, goes against the media perception of rejection, says Sharon Kim.

We’re seeing in society a growing concern about the negative consequences of social rejection, thanks largely to media reports about bullying that occurs at school, in the workplace, and online. Obviously, bullying is reprehensible and produces nothing good. What we tried to show in our paper is that exclusion from a group can sometimes lead to a positive outcome when independently-minded people are the ones being excluded.” Sharon Kim

The unique research turns rejection on its head, with practical implications for business. Managers who want to employ imaginative thinkers and maximise creativity may want to take a second look at the unconventional job candidate – a traditionally easy target for rejection. Inventiveness is a valuable asset to an organisation, and all sorts of people are needed to ensure success, not just team players.

In the long term, a creative person with an “independent self-concept” would thrive on rejection, says Kim. Where repeated rebuffs would discourage someone who values inclusion, the slights could have the opposite effect on the independent thinker and continually recharge their creativity.

The independent person could see a successful career trajectory, in contrast with the person who is inhibited by social rejection.” Sharon Kim.


“Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought?”

Image credit: with thanks to RGB Freestock contributer, Sundesigns

Childhood Maltreatment Reduces Fear Circuit Connectivity, Study Shows

Circuit board imageA study by the University of Wisonsin – one of the first to examine altered fear circuitry connectivity in  relation to childhood maltreatment – has found significant evidence of changes to brain circuit connectivity in response to childhood abuse.

The findings, published in PNAS, hope to further the understanding of the commonly accepted link between childhood abuse and internalising disorders such as depression developing in adolescence and adulthood.

Childhood maltreatment has long been identified as a major risk factor in developing depression later in life, yet little is known about the alteration of connectivity of the brain’s fear circuitry – an important candidate mechanism linking abuse and the development of internalising disorders.

To examine the inner workings of fear circuitry researchers used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to detect the resting state functionality of brain connectity. The resting state is a method of exploring the brain’s functional organization and to examine if it is altered in cases of neurological or psychiatric disease.

64 young participants in a longitudinal community study were studied to link:

  • experiences of maltreatment during childhood
  • the resting state of functional brain connectivity
  • evidence of the development of internalising symptoms

Results showed that connectivity of fear circuitry in the brain is significantly affected by experiences of maltreatment. Both males and females showed reduced connectivity in the fronto-hippocampal area (hippocampus-subgenual cingulate) yet only females showed evidence of additional altered connectivity within the fronto-hippocampal area and also the lower prefrontal -amygdala (amydala- subgenual).

The hippocampus – named after its visual resemblance to the sea horse (hippo meaning “horse” and kampus meaning “sea monster”) is a major component of the brain and plays an important role in processing information from short-term memory to long-term memory.

Study highlights:

  • lower hippocampussubgenual cingulate resting- states functional connectivity in both adolescent females and males (also known as area 25 )
  • lower function in the amygdala subgenual cingulate resting state-functional connectivity in females only
  • resting-state functional connectivity mediated the association of maltreatment during childhood with adolescent internalizing symptoms

Maltreatment in childhood, even at the lower severity levels found within a community sample, may alter the regulatory capacity of the brain’s fear circuit and lead to increased internalizing symptoms by late adolescence. Neuropsychologist and lead researcher, Dr Herringa, said:

Findings highlight the importance of fronto-hippocampal connectivity for both sexes in internalizing symptoms following mal- treatment in childhood. The impact of maltreatment during childhood on both frontoamygdala and hippocampal connectivity in females may help explain their higher risk for internalizing disorders such as anxiety and depression.”


PNAS document: Childhood maltreatment is associated with altered fear circuitry and increased internalizing symptoms by late adolescence

Image credit: with thanks to RGB Freestock Cris DeRaud