Do You Treat Each of Your Children Differently?



“That’s not fair,” is a complaint many parents often hear. Handling the sentiment expressed by a child that their treatment is not the same as a sibling’s is a common conundrum of parenthood. But while the frequency of such instances might suggest their triviality, a recent study provides evidence that differential treatment employed by parents might not be just a petty claim and that its effects might be more significant than expected.

Dr. Alexander Jensen, a professor in the School of Family Life at BYU, recently published the study in The Journal of Gerontology. JenseJensen, Alexn found that the practice of differential treatment by parents is correlated  with how their parents currently treat them.


To be Like or not to be Like, That is the Question

In other words, Jensen hypothesized that current parents who experience  preferential treatment of one sibling over another, or who perceive such treatment, would either:

  • treat each of their children differently
  • treat each of their children the same, in contradiction to their own experience or perceptions. In other words, those who are exposed to preferential treatment would, in contrast, use little to no preferential treatment with their own children.


Jensen found that some parents do, in fact, treat their children differentially. Not only that, he found that such treatment often correlated with the age of the current parent. In other words:

  • Middle-aged parents tended to model the patterns of differential treatment that their fathers exhibited.
  • Middle-aged men who experienced differential treatment from their parents in recent years tended to exhibit lower differential treatment toward their own children.
  • Differential treatment tended to be more evident when it was done tangibly (e.g., financially) as opposed to intangibly (e.g.: emotionally).

adult familyPast research done by other scholars indicated that when parents treated each of their children differently, they fostered feelings of injustice, competition, and comparison among siblings, with both favored and less favored offspring exhibiting poorer mental health and experiencing less supportive familial relationships as a result.

“Because of these longstanding implications,” says Jensen, “it is critical to discover the reasons why parents treat their children differently.”

Additionally, he says: “It is possible that as families develop and grow and siblings move into middle adulthood, their individual and separate lives pull them in different directions and thus they may be less aware of discrepant treatment based on communication or emotional closeness. But, differences based on money and practical support may still be apparent despite their diverging lives from their siblings. Alternately, it is possible that parents truly may be trying to meet the divergent needs of their offspring who are sometimes in seemingly different life stages and in need of varying levels of support.”

Why does it matter?

While many previous studies have looked at other causal factors, Jensen’s research was the first to look at the cross-generational aspects of preferential treatment in parenting. Understanding the causes of differential treatment could help to better decrease its usage and the negative effects it will on children and families in the future.

Featured photos courtesy of Flickr.


PAMs: Better Treatment for Alzheimer’s?


Alzheimer’s disease is the sixth leading cause of death in America, and one of the most expensive, costing us 172 billion dollars annually. We know that there is no cure, yet. But is there a way to slow its progression? A new type of substance is being tested for its effectiveness could eventually serve as a treatment for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases. It’s called a PAM.

What are PAMs?

Positive Alosteric Modulators (PAMs) offer a new kind of solution to an old problem: aging brains with weakening inter-cellular communication. PAMs may help strengthen communication at weakening synapses within the brain. And they would do so in a unique way.

BYU PhD neurology student Doris Jackson provides a simple analogy to explain how PAMs function. “The receptor on a neuron is like a door. And a substance called an agonist is like the key that opens the door; while an antagonist locks the door, or blocks the neurotransmitters.” This opening and closing of doors is how cells communicate. If you have a neurologically degenerative disease like Alzheimers, you have unhealthy connections between neurons, meaning the “doors” have moved farther apart, making it more difficult for signals to pass through. “A lot of pharmacological drugs just add more agonists to the system (i.e. more keys that open the door),” says Jackson. “So more doors are opening; even when they’re not normally supposed to open.” PAMs, however, do not act as a key. They don’t open doors, rather, they open them wider, or keep them open longer.



“When we use PAMs,” says Jackson, “We’re keeping the normal opening and closing of the doors the same. All of that is functioning normally, but we allow a greater response to occur.” So PAMs may allow for a more natural, and potentially more effective treatment for ailments in the brain. 



PAMS and the Bigger Picture of Alzheimer’s Research

PAMs have shown lots of potential for becoming a part of Alzheimer’s treatment medications in the future, although studies are still in the preliminary stages. They are also being used to differentiate between different subtypes of receptors—which may lead to the creation of medications with less severe side effects.

Jackson, along with Marcel Killpack Hall, a lead researcher on a student team studying PAMs at BYU, presented their findings at our recent Mary-Lou Fulton Mentored Research Conference, taking first place in the division of Neuroscience.

“Currently,” says the Alzheimer’s Association, “there are five FDA-approved Alzheimer’s drugs that treat the symptoms of Alzheimer’s—temporarily helping memory and thinking problems in about half of the people who take them. But these medications do not treat the underlying causes of Alzheimer’s. In contrast, many of the new drugs in development aim to modify the disease process itself, by impacting one or more of the many wide-ranging brain changes that Alzheimer’s causes.”

The possible implications of this Jackson and Hall’s mentored research are exciting to consider, especially in light of the increased body and momentum of research into predicting and treating Alzheimer’s disease.


Have you or anyone you know been affected by Alzheimer’s? What do you think about this research?





Sculpted by the Creator



“As Michelangelo saw the potential within the block of marble, God sees the divinity within us,” said one our newest Brigham Young University FHSS graduates Ashley LeBaron at our recent graduation ceremonies. Her comparison of slabs of marble with graduating students who now have their ” hammers and chisels” in hand, so to speak, and who are seeking direction in their lives, was very apt.

When students graduate from college, they’re often surrounded by choices and changes. She encouraged graduates to seek heavenly help in determining the direction of their futures. “God has the power to direct and perfect [your] lives,” Ashley reminded them, saying that it is [your] duty to “hand over the hammer and chisel to [Him]. Consecration, [or the act of dedicating service or worship to God], is the key to sanctification. Graduates need to make a conscious choice to “relinquish control of [their] lives and offer [themselves] to His care.”

To some, her advice may seem self-evident. Indeed, it can be easy to forego control of one’s life and simply react to the obstacles thrown across one’s path. But doing so while truly submitting oneself to the process of becoming a work of art requires more than passiveness, it requires a “faith-filled consecration.”

Sometimes the careful chisels of the Creator can be painful. Just as with Michelangelo, the production of treasured works of art would often take time and great effort.  “It is very probable that our lives will not go according to our plan. If consecrated, though, they can go according to God’s perfect plan.”

Indeed, her comments echoed those of C.S. Lewis, another great artist, whom she quoted:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.


As a family history major, art history minor, and valedictorian who once struggled to decide her direction, she bore witness to the many times in God had sanctified her life-changing choices. He was able to “make much more of my life than I ever could,” she said.


Feature photo courtesy of flickr.


Upcoming Youth Family History Camp at BYU

Conference organizers invite youth ages 14-18 to come to attend a five-day camp at BYU to be taught the fundamentals of family history research, gain hands on experience, and acquire an understanding of the importance of this work.

Catered to Young People

“We are thrilled to see so many family history enthusiasts among the youth. When we kept seeing steady growth in the number of teenage participants at the conference we decided it was time to give them a conference experience of their own. This year will be the second year for the myFamily History Youth Camp,” said Alisse Frandsen, from BYU Conferences and Workshops.

The camp will build upon the success of last year’s first annual conference, which included the attendance of sixty two young people from around the world. One of the favorite activities, which will be continued this year, was the trip to Salt Lake City to tour the Family History Library, Temple Square, the Church History Library and The Discovery Center at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The Discovery Center particularly can show campers a new side to family history work that they may not have known existed. The booths are high-tech, uniqu,e and very interactive. They’re perfect for young people whose “fingers have been trained to text and tweet to accelerate and advance the work of the Lord…” as Elder Bednar said in a recent conference. 

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A BYU Experience

The camp offers a genuine BYU experience for youth. There will be a lot of fun involved, including a combined dance with Especially for Youth, free time to spend playing ping pong or bowling with new friends, amazing counselors, and a pizza party. Prior experience with family history research is not a requirement to attend.


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Goal of the Camp

Camp organizers hope that participants will leave the camp prepared to serve as family history consultants, if called to do so. They also hope that the camp will help participants be independently motivated to continue working on their own family history and to inspire and assist those around them.

“The Church puts a lot of emphasis on family history work,” John Best, conference organizer, told the Daily Universe. “We’re just glad to assist them in helping people find better ways to find their ancestors.”

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What To Do Now

Watch the video below to hear from last year’s youth attendees and see some of the activities. Follow the conference on Instagram and Facebook to view more photos and posts from last year and to see new posts as this year’s camp gets closer. Visit to register!

Photos Courtesy of MyFamily History Youth Camp Photographers 2015


Your Gut Might Make You Anxious, Says Research

The connection between gut microbiota and obesity that recent research has revealed is exciting, but obesity is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg of physical and mental conditions that gut microbiota influence. Dr. Laura C. Bridgewater, professor of Microbiology and Molecular Biology in BYU’s College of Life Sciences and a presenter at our recent gerontology conference, explained that the microbes and bacteria that live in our guts have also been shown to be connected to anxiety.

anxiety-1156225_1920 from pixabay

From Bold to Timid

“There’s good evidence in mice that gut bacteria can directly impact anxiety,” Bridgewater said. Researchers who swapped gut microbiota between bold mice and timid mice found that, over time, their personalities changed. They put mice on a platform and timed how long it took them to get down. After the gut microbiota transfer, the bold mice became more afraid and took longer to get down, while the timid mice got down much faster.

During a sabbatical at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, Dr. Bridgewater worked with Professor Liping Zhao, a leading researcher in gut microbiota. “His lab had worked on gut microbiota, obesity, heart disease and metabolic syndrome,” said Bridgewater. “They hadn’t done any behavioral studies before…so when I came, we started working on this question [of gut microbiota and its link to anxiety] and we got some pretty interesting results.”

elevated plus maze plus open field maze siegh-res-f500x301
Image Source

Bridgewater and her colleagues were interested in seeing the effects of diet, stress and gender. They tested these effects on mice. The research lasted for 136 days. At specific checkpoints throughout that time, the researchers tested for three things:

  • the composition of the gut microbiota
  • anxiety levels
  • overall activity

The latter two were measured through behavioral testing. The testing for
anxiety included an open field test and an elevated plus maze, like the one above.

Movements of the mice were digitally tracked and analyzed. More anxiety was reflected by increased time spent in the walled arms of the maze and on the outer edges of the open field test (not in the open arms and exposed middle). This was determined because when mice were given anti-anxiety drugs, they spent more time in the dangerous areas of the maze and in the middle of the open field test.

Does Diet or Gender Have Anything to do With It?

At day zero, initial testing was done and recorded. Afterwards, the mice were placed on two different diets. Half of the mice were put on a high fat diet (60% fat), while the other half ate a normal chow diet. Testing was completed again at day 81. The researchers made an interesting observation at this point:

The high fat diet increased anxiety in males, but not in females. The diet seemed to have very little impact or no impact on the female’s anxiety levels.

The researchers then added the variable of stress. The mice were exposed to chronic unpredictable mild stress every day for two and a half weeks. This included things like predator sounds, damp bedding, lights on all night, lights off all day, etc. After another round of behavioral testing, the researchers observed that:

After the stress, the females showed a lot more anxiety, but the male’s patterns hadn’t changed much from the previous round of testing.

The researchers also found that male activity levels only decreased from the high fat diet, not the stress, whereas females decreased activity based on the stress, not the diet.

Impact on the Gut Microbiota

They also found that diet made the biggest difference in the gut microbiota. Seeing as it affected the behavior of each gender differently, Bridgewater observed, “There is something inherently different about males and females that are on the same diet and experiencing the same thing.”

After stress, the composition of the female gut microbiota looked more like the mice that had been on the high fat diet all along. At day zero, the gut microbiota of all the female mice were very similar. By day 81, there was a dramatic difference between gut microbiota of mice on the normal chow diet compared to the high fat diet.  On day 136, after the stress, the difference between the groups decreased and they began to resemble each other again. “You don’t see that in the male group after the stress. Their gut microbiota didn’t change very much after the stress,” Bridgewater said.

The researchers came away with this understanding: when it comes to increased anxiety, females seem to be more vulnerable to the stress, but resistant to the high fat diet. The males are just the opposite.

The Biology Behind It

When you look at the biology behind it, the connection isn’t actually that surprising, Bridgewater explained. A few studies have shown that gut bacteria can influence the brain by producing neurotransmitters such as GABA, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. In addition, the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the human body, connects the brain to the digestive tract.

The implications of the findings made by Doctors Bridgewater and Zhao, as well as other corroborative studies are exciting, as other researchers begin to investigate the connection in humans and the effect of pre- and pro-biotics.


All images courtesy of Pixabay.

What Young Adults Think Influences When They Transition to Adulthood


Graduating from college is still one of the most visible markers of the transition to adulthood, but it’s not the only one. Brian J. Willoughby, a professor in our School of Family Life, co-authored a study that revealed that a young adult’s approach to marriage and family could impact when, if at all, specific adult roles are realized.

The study, published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues, recognizes that marriage can be, of course, another major indicator of adulthood. Ashley Wade Puriri, a recently-graduated FHSS alum, accomplished both benchmarks in less than two years. She met her husband playing soccer when mutual friends invited them to a game. They’ve been married for almost 18 months and moved to New Zealand after Ashley’s graduation from Brigham Young University last week.

She says: “being married has re-shaped my goals and approach to career and family,” Puriri says. “It introduced possibilities that I did not think about before I was married.” Like her, many others in similar circumstances find themselves re-assessing their priorities upon marriage.


As such, the purpose of the study was to “investigate the relative prioritizing of anticipated career and family roles among young adults in the context of other behaviors and attitudes related to the transition to adulthood.” Not surprisingly, they found that:

“ways of viewing adult roles correspond to…attitudes and behaviors related to those roles that reflect subjective meanings pertaining to the roles. Furthermore, the attitudes and behaviors potentially influence the likelihood of the adult roles being realized. As a sample of single, young adults, it is expected that the participants were developmentally preoccupied with establishing their social, adult identities (Arnett2000); and as (mostly white) college students they likely believed their current circumstances afforded them numerous career and relationship options (Arnett 2004).”

Young adults reassess their roles and the order of importance they give them as their worldviews and circumstances expand to include other people. Puriri says her transition to adulthood evolved with her marriage and affects, in a positive way, her career decisions.

“Everything now is focused on both of our successes and personal happiness,” Puriri says. “A big part of our marriage is supporting each other in our respective goals.”


Study: Siblings Can Make you Happier

Think back to your childhood, and if siblings are presently on your mind, you most likely have either a reminiscent smile on your face or some emotional pain in your heart. Perhaps both. Like it or not, the siblings you grew up with shaped your life in some significant way. A new study, put forth by BYU‘s School of Family Life, reveals a unique link between altruism, adolescents, and their sibling relationships.

According to the Laura Padilla-Walker, one of the study‘s co-authors, a good, affectionate sibling relationship makes teens more likely to be sympathetic toward others. Without the opportunities for sharing and compromise that siblings provide, adolescents, particular boys, were less likely to gain a propensity for understanding the needs of others.

An only child may be at a disadvantage.

The study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Research,  also showed that siblings affect each other even more than a best friend. “This was the first siblings study to control for all these other important relationships,” said Padilla-Walker. “We can say that siblings are uniquely important, which is encouraging.”

Learning about how our siblings shape us provides an incentive for parents to have multiple children, and do their best to make sure those relationships are positive.

It should be noted, however, that the study also found some potentially unfavorable results of sibling relationships. Sibling hostility was positively associated with adolescents’ depression, meaning that the more hostile a sibling, the higher the likelihood of a depressed teen. Further, it was found that boys, if part of a hostile sibling relationship, were more likely to  lash out at others, be aggressive, etc.

We see, then, that an affectionate relationship has long-lasting positive consequences. A hostile one can lead to depression and bad relationships later in life. So what can a parent do? If there are multiple children in the home, the best thing to do is promote a unified family relationship – one in which compromise is required, and affection is encouraged.

  • Consider drafting a family mission statement. A “bigger-picture” outlook or a common family goal  can provide a framework for teaching children to be good to each other. When a conflict between siblings arises, don’t see it as something that simply needs to be terminated, but rather as an opportunity to teach good behavior along with the “why” of what you are doing: trying to build a loving, cohesive family. There are a plethora of ideas on Pinterest on how to draft and present such a statement.

“The absence of conflict does not mean the presence of affection,” says Dr. Padilla-Walker. “It’s okay if siblings fight; but help them get through that and have other positive interactions.”

  • In an only child household, parents will best help their children by placing them in situations where they can interact with others. Give them opportunities to work things out between their friends.
  • Teach them to be kind, to share, to see things from others’ point of view. While the ideal setting of an affectionate sibling relationship will not be continuously available, there are still ways to teach the same principles and give them the same sort of positive interactive experiences.
  • Provide opportunities for dynamic, fun family activities.
  • Teach your children how to appropriately articulate their feelings, even when annoyed. The book Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al. can aid in this process.

Contributors to the study: Laura Padilla-Walker | James Harper | Alex Jensen

Feature photo courtesy of Flickr.

What things have you done to encourage sibling happiness today?

“There’s Nothing Better Than Research That You’re Passionate About,” Says Steele.

“If you find what you love to research, stick with it! There’s nothing better than diving into research that you are passionate about,” says Emily Steele, first year master’s student in our social work program, and recent first place category winner of the 2016 Fulton Conference.
Her words come from personal experience. “I participated in the conference once or twice as an undergraduate student, but this was my first time as a graduate student,” said Steele.”I felt different about it this time, because I had spent a lot more time and energy on the project that I presented this year.”

Research Helping Veterans

Her research project was inspired by the need to create more accessible and effective treatment programs for combat related trauma in military veterans. Her poster was titled: “Warrior Camp: An Equine-Assisted Psychotherapy Program for Combat Trauma in Military Veterans.”
Warrior Camp
All Rights Reserved. Warrior Camp.
She conducted a program evaluation of a fairly new, unique treatment program called Warrior Camp, a clinical treatment program designed to heal trauma, prevent suicide, support force preservation, and enhance resilience, based in New York City, NY. The program offers different treatments to address the vast array of symptoms that military veterans experience due to combat trauma (PTSD, depression, mortal injury, dissociative experiences, etc.). One of those treatments is the opportunity for veterans to interact with horses in a variety of activities, including grooming, feeding, walking, and playing games, Both a licensed therapist and horse professional conduct EAP.
“This type of treatment model has never been used before [at Warrior Camp], yet the program results indicate statistically significant decreases in maladaptive trauma symptoms for the participants of the program,” explained Steele. “This provides preliminary evidence that this unique treatment model offers promising results for military veterans suffering from combat related trauma.”

Research Helping Practice

Steele understands that research and clinical practice go hand in hand. “I think that as social workers, we tend to shy away from the research all together because we just want to be doing clinical work with people the entire time. However, if we don’t incorporate evidence-based treatments into our practice, our clinical work cannot be deemed valid or reliable.”

Research is Better With a Mentor

Social Work professor David Wood has been Steele’s research mentor. Steele said she has loved working with him because he gives her enough freedom to take the reigns of the project, but offers helpful direction when she needs it. “I have learned so much throughout this research project and about what I am truly capable of, and I have Dave to thank for that,” she said.

Research Helps You Determine Your Passions

Steele encourages all students to get involved with research. She said,
“Becoming involved in research early on in your undergraduate years is the best thing you can do to determine what your goals and passions are. If research isn’t for you, then at least you’ve figured it out early on!”
Seeing all of the research that other students are doing is one of Steele’s favorite parts of the Fulton Conference. “I think BYU is very unique in that it allows and encourages its undergraduate students to become involved with research on a rigorous level.” She feels that her own research experiences will help her in her future practice and career by allowing her to evaluate and critique research and clinical techniques to provide the best treatment for her clients.
Her poster, which garnered her $300 as first place winner in the graduate-level social work category, is on display on the ninth floor of the Kimball Tower at BYU.

 If you could research anything, what would it be?

Featured image via Flickr.