Research from biology and psychology has shown that the prenatal period is sensitive to the environment and critical for later development. While the effects of toxins such as alcohol and nicotine on the fetus are well documented, the effect of maternal stress is more difficult to assess. The main reason is unobserved selectivity. Women who experience or report high levels of stress may be different from those who don’t in ways that affect their pregnancies, making it impossible to disentangle the effect of stress from its common correlates. The question is important because stress is widespread, stratified along socioeconomic and racial lines, and may be a central mechanism for the noxious effect of poverty or discrimination on children. We examine the effect of maternal stress and address the unobserved selectivity problem in a recent ASR article.
With an estimated 1 out of every 68 children in the US (CDC, 2014) and 1 out of every 100 children in the UK (NAS, 2014) diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), it is clear that ASD now poses a substantial health burden. Although these statistics are striking, they are taken from the top two countries producing ASD research publications. The US and the UK are two countries of many, and both are prominent developed nations—what is the global prevalence of ASD beyond the US and the UK? As of 2012, only a few studies have investigated prevalence in middle-income countries and no prevalence estimates have been reported for low-income countries, resulting in an incomplete global prevalence figure. Continue reading
It has become increasingly obvious that suicide attempts and deaths have both social and psychological causes. Though people in general are more familiar with the idea that psychological problems, such as depression, can put someone at risk of suicide, exposure to messages about suicide through our personal relationships or through the media also can increase an individual’s vulnerability to attempting suicide by making suicide seem like more of an option. Comedian Robin Williams’ suicide – and comments made online about his tragic passing and amazing life - illustrated the tension between our seemingly-innate desire to talk about and make sense of why people take their own life and the danger that irresponsible reporting or romanticizing comments may pose. Continue reading