Five Ways to Keep Cognition Strong Later In Life


“When we talk about cognitive aging, we focus on the decline part but late life is a time of gains and losses,” Marsiske said at the 26th annual Russell B. Clark Gerontology Conference. “We have areas of functioning that decline and we have areas that function and stay strong. There are losses but benefits of experience. For example, vocabulary skills grow.”


As an individual ages, their cognitive functions deteriorate. Symptoms of this deterioration include memory loss, trouble planning or problem solving, and social withdrawal.  Brain diseases like Alzheimers have similar patterns of dementia.  Dr. Marsiske spoke about “an arsenal” to combat the consequences of the aging process, specific solutions to keep cognition strong later in life:

1. Continue your education: learn to play the piano, or take an independent study class.

2. Play video games: His research demonstrates that older adults experience “flow,” an optimal psychological state said to occur when people are able to meet the challenges of a given task or activity with appropriate skills and accordingly feel a sense of well-being, mastery, and heightened self-esteem, by playing video games. Higher levels of engagement are experienced with games that provide clear goals and immediate feedback to players.

3.  Spot train your brain: seek to understand your daily medication dosing patterns or use a bus schedule to plan a trip.

4. Combat negative moods: be familiar with the symptoms of depression or anxiety, identify when you are experiencing them, and keep handy those things that make you happy.

5. Engage: participate in life, as opposed to just “being on a rocking chair.” See what opportunities your local senior, recreation, or community center offer.

Dementia is a fear for many people all over the world. Research shows that there is an increase in dementia internationally with advancing age. Marsiske says that even though the majority of people will not experience dementia, rates continue to grow. One of the things that causes cognitive aging, he says, is disuse.

Dr. Michael Marsiske is Associate Professor in the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology at the University of Florida. He received his PhD from the Pennsylvania State University in 1992 in Human Development and Family Studies. He followed this with a postdoctoral felllowship in Psychology and Human Development at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and Education in Berlin from 1992 to 1995. Prior to joining the University of Florida in 2000, Dr. Marsiske was an Assistant Professor of Gerontology and Psychology at Wayne State University.


The Golden Rule for Better Government: Treat Women Better

Many Americans believe that in their lifetime they will live to see a female commander-in-chief. It’s possible that one will be elected in the 2016 presidential elections. The fact remains, however, that most populations around the world have not witnessed a powerful female head of state. Most citizens arguably want the same thing: a government that works for them. New research from the political science department shows that gender roles significantly matter. It also shows how gender-based treatment makes a difference.

treat women well


An August 2015 study published in the American Political Science Review by Donna Lee Bowen and Perpetua Lynne Nielsen showed a distinct correlation between poor government and poor treatment of women. The professors explored the “micro-level processes that link clan predominance with dysfunctional syndromes of state behavior. Clans typically…are characterized by extreme subordination of women effected through marriage practices.”  In addition, the researchers noted that “particular types of marriage practices give rise to particular types of political orders and may be fiercely guarded for just this reason.”

Professors Bowen and Nielsen’s research demonstrates that the stability of governments is tied to the autonomy of women in marital unions. Their study, titled Clan Governance and State Stability: The Relationship Between Female Subordination and Political Order, concludes that the existence of powerful clans tend to undermine the possibility of a functional, capable state.

“Clan governance is a useful predictor of indicators of state stability and security, and we probe the value added by its inclusion with other conventional explanatory variables often linked to state stability and security,” according to the researchers’ abstract report.

The study also found that one can predict the effectiveness of government based on the extent of oppression women experienced in marriage. “These findings suggest it may be difficult to construct a more egalitarian—or more secure—society where households are profoundly inegalitarian between the sexes,” state the authors.  “We [can] elicit much through the lens of gender, not just about women as such, but about attitudes towards civic tolerance and governance more broadly”

What does this suggest, then, for governments looking to improve their strength and cohesion? More than the dissolution of the power of agnatic, or male-only, lineages, or the promotion of literacy and education, the provision of free health care, an emphasis on industrial production or on a more equitable distribution of wealth, the improvement of the situation of women as a whole in marriage relationships is what is most likely to improve governmental quality.

The study has received worldwide attention on Twitter. You can read more about their results in the American Political Science Review.

I Seek Dead People: Family History Education


Brigham Young University-Provo is known for several things: being the number one stone-cold sober school, being the largest private religious university in America, and having the only four-year degree program for Family History–Genealogy. In the United States of America, Western Europe, Asia and elsewhere, no other university offers a Bachelor of Arts in this major that educates students in both history and genealogy.

At the recent RootsTech Conference, BYU had a presence, with representation from the Harold B. Lee Library Special Collections unit, the Center for Family History and Genealogy and the Family History Technology Lab as well as the Family History program.

Family History Coordinator and BYU History Professor Amy Harris, who supervises the program’s recruitment and curriculum standards says an event like RootsTech helps raise the profile and recognition of BYU’s commitment to genealogy research and education. “It’s my hope that BYU becomes more associated with high-quality genealogy and family history education and that BYU gets recognition as a major player in the genealogy community,” Harris says.

The Family History program, which receives support and funding on both the department level and college level and from donors, employs 40 students in the CFHG research lab and sends students domestic and abroad for hands-on field research and mentored student learning.

Students at the Center for Family History and Genealogy are currently seeing the migration and impact of their work for people’s use.  In partnership with LDS Church Historic Sites, students are identifying residents of Nauvoo, Illinois, from 1839 to 1846. Each resident, to the extent possible, has records trailing from birth to death. All this data is free and accessible for curious minds and researchers into the history of the Nauvoo community.

The findings can be located on FamilySearch’s Family Tree. Complete research logs along with other discoveries are just within a mouse-click reach. Learn more about the Nauvoo Community Project that is dedicated to academic genealogical research.

The Family History and Technology Research Lab also has multiple projects on the line like Relative Finder that allows you to uncover how you are related to your everyday associates: co-workers, prophets, historical figures…you name it. FHTR is always developing the latest in creative, fun applications for family history, so keep checking!


The Realities of Trauma: Hope for Victims of Traumatic Brain Injury

Trauma appears to touch nearly everyone, from veterans in the post 9/11 era, to mothers, children, and people in your neighborhood. In fact, there seems to be no shortage of trauma-related events. Fifty-two percent of of combat veterans who served in the post 9/11 wars said they had suffered emotionally traumatic or distressing experiences while in the military, according to a Pew Research Center study.

The November 2015 Social Work Conference, sponsored by BYU’s School of Social Work, the Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair, and the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences, brought speakers and specialists to discuss the newest data for and share ways to care for those dealing with trauma.

As defined by the School of Social Work, trauma is most accurately characterized as the emotional response to a disturbing or distressing event that an individual experience. It’s a difficult subject, but one about which faculty and mental health professionals were able to provide a variety of treatment options and inspiring success stories. There is hope for those who’ve suffered trauma.

Traumatic Brain Injuries

It is estimated that there are about 1.7 million for people each year who suffer from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Fifty-two thousand people will die as a result of their injury. About 1.4 million people with TBI’s are admitted to and released from ER’s each year. Veterans from past wars are at increased risk for dementia from traumatic brain injuries are being added to long lists at Veteran Administration hospitals. The biggest causes of TBI are:

  1. Transportation/Motor Vehicle accidents (ex: alcohol/boating)
  2. Falls (elderly 65+ and young children)
  3. Assaults/guns (leading to open head trauma)
  4. Sports/ recreations (boxing/soccer)

Soccer-playing female athletes sustain the most head injuries because of contact with other players (usually on the ground). Field actions may lead to whiplash or an elbow to the head. Some research has found that neck strength is an indicator for concussions. For men, after football, the second biggest cause of TBI is ice hockey, followed by wrestling and rugby. For children who are younger than age 14, they most likely suffer TBI after falling or playing sports. For those older than that, the leading cause is motor vehicle accidents.

Michael Larson, associate professor of psychology at BYU, reported that there is a huge need for skilled people, such as neuropsychologists, to examine traumatic brain injuries (TBI) more closely . TBI is the leading cause of death and disability for adolescents in America and results in emotional and cognitive difficulties, particularly because the brain’s frontal lobe is not fully developed until age 24. Brain injury before then can result in poorer inhibition and less mature decision-making. It can also have other effects:

Common Behavioral Changes:

  • Irritability
  • Impulsiveness
  • Poor ability to manage social relationships
  • Low motor coordination

As such, it is important to educate caregivers, such as family members, to recognize those changes and know how help a victim who is experiencing them. A common treatment for TBI victims is psychotherapy. Michael Twohig, an associate professor at Utah State University, focuses on Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), or treatments for social behavior (a form of psychotherapy). He suggested that therapists instruct clients in the practice of diffusing thoughts, during which an individual allows thoughts to play out as just thoughts and envisions them as words in his or her head. He said that if you change the context in which you experience those thoughts, they can be easier to handle.

He shared the story of a recent exchange he had with his  10-year old son while they were driving  and witnessed an injured man on the ground. They saw the man lying down in a bloody mess and his son asked him questions about the situation and said, “Dad, I can’t get that image out of my head.” Twohig instructed his son to “find a place for those events in his head:”

“These are thoughts in your head. It’s chatter that’s up there. Your mind will throw out things that you like and things you don’t like but don’t forget it’s just your mind putting things in your head. It’s okay to have inappropriate pictures in your head like from a horror movie… You don’t need to make it go away,  it’s stuff about the event, you just kind of have to wait around with it.”

Although Towhig admits this isn’t necessarily the solution, he says its a way to handle the trauma. To educate yourself more on this topic and other clinical practice methods, visit resources from the Association for Contextual Behavior Science.

Click here to find conference video.

Feature image of brain courtesy of Flickr.



Geographer’s Guide: Constraints & Blessings

Photo by Fran Djoukeng
Photo by Fran Djoukeng

Ever heard of a Navy Community Planner? GIS Specialist? Or even Mapping, Graphics, and Media Associate? Jobs like these belong to geographers. Besides unique traveling opportunities, surveying, sampling and performing mapping projects, geographers just look at situations differently.

Geographers have a systemic method for analyzing any given situation. Their work is pretty applicable to the unfolding of world events–especially the recent international conflicts. Using a geographer’s mindset can help in understanding the regional dramas shaping global trends.

Think of a Middle Eastern nation. A geographer would evaluate a situation in the Middle East from both singular perspectives (ex: anthropological, economical) and geo-political constraints, according to professor of geography at Brigham Young University, Perry Hardin. Geo-political constraints are conditions that have potential consequences: they can favor a society’s progress or become problematic for a population’s welfare.

Different countries possess different geo-political constraints. “When you think about the Islamic State carving out an area for themselves in northeast Syria, the fact that they are not going to have any kind of access to the Mediterranean Sea gives them some geo-political constraints that they are going to have to deal with, if the state survives, for the rest of their lives,” Hardin says.

What are the geopolitical constraints on Japan? China has geo-political constraints. Everybody has geo-political constraints and those may not be viewed in the same way by a geographer or a political scientist or an anthropologist.

Photo by Fran Djoukeng
Photo by Fran Djoukeng
Common geo-political constraints that civilizations or nations confront are:
  • navigability of waterways
  • the impact of terrain on transportation and the potential for inexpensive transportation
  • availability of energy resources compared to what actual needs are
  • natural boundaries between potential enemies
  • climate and soil

Constraints & Blessings

Hardin says France, for example, does not have a lot of geo-political challenges, except that it’s always been next to the hostile country of Germany. France has coastlines to the North and South and does not have a hostile friend to the West. It’s in good shape, geo-politically speaking. “Through history, it’s had hostile people to the East and there’s been the Northern European plane that permits France’s enemies to come into France without a lot of natural boundaries to prevent them from doing that,” Hardin explains.

Similarly, Hardin says the United States is also blessed because of oceans to the east and the west.  Like France, the United States has a country to the North that agrees with them in terms of political viewpoints. “America has countries to the south pretty much the same way. America has no neighboring enemies,” Hardin says. “We don’t have to spend a lot of our wealth fortifying those borders.That is not a geo-political constraint, that is a blessing.”

Compare that situation to a country such as South Korea, which has China to their West and North Korea to the East. Even now, South Korea is not friends with Japan to the East. “They’ve been an invasion route for centuries for people like the Japanese wanting to invade China,” Hardin says. “Those are constraints that they have to live with and concern themselves with. Part of the budget of South Korea goes into defense because of those constraints.”

Spatial Context

Geography as the study of physical or cultural earth phenomena in their spatial contexts treats location as an important thing. History, in contrast, looks at things through time. Geography looks at things through space.

Photo by Fran Djoukeng

Hardin, who has worked in locations across Central America, Europe, and East Asia counts Singapore among his favorite countries for its clean and safe environment and cultural components. Other FHSS faculty members specializing in geography are busy mapping phenomena.

The geography department, which uses Geographic Information Systems, offers GIS as one emphasis among six. Any good geographer, Hardin says, must appreciate a landscape and ask relevant questions about its impact on things and people and even how people impact the landscape. A typical geographer is always asking more.

When a geographer takes a trip across the country or they go on an airplane trip, they are looking out the window and they are asking questions constantly: “Oh look at this. Why is this railroad junction here? Who does it serve?” Instead of them sleeping in the back or watching television they look at the landscape. – Perry Hardin


 What is your favorite way to engage with the terrain around you?

BYU Social Work Conference to Focus on Trauma and Mental Health Treatment Awareness​​​


Advances with mental health treatment have come a long way. Yet, a recent Pew Research Center study concluded that only 19 percent of Americans believe the nation is making progress in tackling mental health diseases. Brigham Young University’s Annual Social Work Conference strives to bridge the gap between those affected by mental health issues and treatments for them. It approaches its tenth year next month and centers on trauma and mental health treatment.  The one-day conference on November 6, 2015 includes speakers who are therapists, psychologists and clinicians. Conference organizers say that the objectives for the annual Conference are to help people

1) Understand the challenges faced by trauma victims, both short term and long term

2) Improve understanding of how to treat and work with those who are struggling with negative side effects of traumatic experiences

3) Recognize the long term effects of trauma and how it impacts the individual’s development, including childhood trauma

4) Create an awareness of trauma related issues within the community and how to protect vulnerable children and families

5) Understand the effect of trauma on the family unit and interpersonal relationships.

Director of the School of Social Work, Gordon Limb, says the goal of the Conference is to “get people more information, knowledge, and skills in how to effectively treat trauma in their work.”

Trauma is our emotional response to a disturbing or distressing event.

                                                                 –Gordon Limb, Director, School of Social Work

The impetus for the conference focus came through expert opinion and strong recommendations. “As we have talked with supervisors of student internships and members of the Social Work Advisory Council, among others, the issue of trauma came up as number one over and over again,” Limb says.

Limb says that most mental health agencies in which students work in are dealing with trauma-related issues. All students participating in the graduate program are required to participate in two internships.

This year, in addition to the usual format of plenary speakers and break-out sessions, the conference also offers a self-care element. “Given that the nature of trauma is a very sensitive topic, participants have the option of entertainment or self-care during lunch,” Limb explains.

Conference organizers say the purpose “is to not only shed light on this topic, but to provide an understanding of how to care for, and meet the needs of those who deal with trauma.” Sponsors for the Conference include the School of Social Work, The Marjorie Pay Hinckley Endowed Chair ​in Social Work and the Social Sciences and the BYU College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.

Trauma Conference flyer for website

The event is free to the public. Visit to get more information or to register. Guests may register at the Varsity Theater in the Wilkinson Center the morning of, if capacity has not yet been reached.

Trauma and Mental Health Treatment

8:30 AM to 4:00 PM

BYU Wilkinson Center

New Economics Professor Brings Experience from the United Kingdom

Stovall, John jpg

A firm goes bankrupt. What is a fair way to divide the liquidated value of the firm amongst its creditors? This is the type of question that keeps John Stovall, a new BYU FHSS faculty member, up at night. He deals in social choice theory, a conceptual framework for analyzing individual opinions, preferences, and interests, and how they affect social welfare and collective decision-making processes. He brings to his new position a wealth of knowledge on the subject.

Other areas of his research explore the behavioral implications of temptation. He comes to us from the Department of Economics at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, and has also spent time at the University of Oxford and Boston University.

Dr. Stovall received his PhD and MA in Economics from the University of Rochester, and BS in Mathematics from BYU.

Pornography and Impulsivity

Most Americans agree that internet pornography is harmful.  A 2006 study is one of many that shows a correlation between consumption of material depicting nonviolent sexual activity and an increase in aggressive behavior by the consumer of that material. BYU FHSS student Bonnie Petersen took a closer look at that relationship between pornography and depression as a part of the 2015 Mentored Student Research Conference .

Her study, “YOU WATCHED WHAT?! Does the Type of Pornography Influence Depression?,” found that “while viewing hardcore pornography, softcore pornography, and sexual content significantly predicts depression, impulsivity may act as a mediating variable.”  In other words, she found that pornography consumption and aggressive behavior were also connected with impulsivity; the less one views pornography, the less impulsive one is likely to be. She suggests that when clinicians work with people dealing with pornography addiction, special attention should be placed on impulsive behavior, since addressing that may be more effective in alleviating depression than in addressing pornography viewing.

The Definition of Pornography

For the study, the word pornography was broken into categories and defined explicitly for participants. Four to five items were then combined into each category of the following:

  • hardcore pornography: (explicit videos of homosexual and heterosexual intercourse, masturbation, three-way sex, etc.)
  • softcore pornography: (written descriptions of sex, photos of nude men/women, photos of intercourse (genetalia not shown)
  • sexual content: (swimsuit magazines, suggestive photos not containing full nudity)

91-Fulton_BonnieYoung (7)

Furthermore, religious activity may protect adolescents from intentional and accidental exposure to pornography.  Social science research confirms that when concerning pornography, sex and age are important predictors of the likelihood of pornography use, regardless of technological context. A 2013 study titled Adolescent religiousness as a protective factor against pornography use in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, found that for accidental pornographic viewing, “the only indirect effects were from religious internalization through self-regulation and social control, and from religious involvement through social control.”

HITS for Human Data Gathering

To gather research data for her study on the link between impulsivity and pornography, Petersen used Amazon Turk, a site that enables individuals and businesses to coordinate the use of human intelligence to perform “hits,” or human intelligence tasks, that computers are currently unable to do. She supplied a survey to an international sample of 387 men and 262 women to measure viewing patterns of pornography.  

Petersen, mentored by assistant professor of Family Life Brian Willoughby, analyzed the data using SPSS software and performed statistical analyses of hierarchical regression models. To further add to her research, Petersen said she would evaluate the role of self-perception of pornography addiction and evaluate how that interacts with the relationship of pornography use and depression. As an undergraduate student, Petersen majored in history with an emphasis in Mormon history.

Do Your Own Research

Now in her first year as a graduate student in the master’s program for Marriage and Family Therapy, Petersen has some advice for students pursuing research of any kind:

  1. Approach your research question with an open mind. She says she was “surprised to find what we found!”
  2. Do thorough prep work. “Understand the existing scholarship and see where your own research fits in with that.”
  3. Work with a mentor who is willing to be patient. “Dr. Willoughby has been an incredible mentor. He was willing to teach me step by step. I’m grateful for his patience with me!”

What kinds of interesting research have you done?

History and the Digital Age: Boon or Bane?

Mass communication has come a long way since Gutenberg’s printing press. History is now being recorded in 140 characters, thanks to Twitter. But the job for historians in this digital age has advantages and disadvantages, said FHSS associate Brigham Young University history professor Christopher Hodson.  “In a lot of ways the Internet has transformed the possibilities for our research. We can do things faster. We can be more accurate,” he says. But there’s a catch. We’re at a crossroads of sorts.

Boon…or Bane?

One of the advantages the internet provides historians and its students is the much-widened breadth of available data. Places like the National Archives in the United States, the British Library, and L’archives Nationales in France are starting to digitize documents that are healthy enough to withstand the digitization process. Sources like Evan’s American Bibliography, is an online database that makes accessing historical documents easy and efficient. It’s a database of everything published on a printing press, excluding newspapers, between 1639 and 1820. The primary documents are keyword searchable and super accessible to both scholars and students.

history in digital age
Photo credit: Pratt Library

“We are getting more eyes on more different types of topics and that can only be good for the way we pursue scholarship,” Hodson said. The database links on BYU’s library website is a fantastic resource with lots and lots of information. For example, there is a database of early American newspapers. There is no better way for students and historians alike to get a sense of the texture of life in the eighteenth century than to read the newspaper.

Even with the endless options for historical hunting in the new age, there is a downside to all of this. “If students become too reliant on digital databases and sources, they forget to read the books. This is a problem for us [educators] and one we have to combat in our classes,” Hodson said.

“It’s great to be able to look things up online. Everybody uses Google and Wikipedia and those things are fine so long as you don’t ask them to do things they aren’t capable of doing. They aren’t capable of the deep proper research and that you get in actual scholarship.”

Since everything does come back at some point to print, the other problem, according to Hodson, is the inability to discriminate among digital sources. “All websites look alike. There’s a sense that if it’s on the internet, it must be okay. That really isn’t true.”

Could You Be a Historian?

Prof. Hodson; Photo by Cheryl C. Fowers/BYU Copyright BYU PHOTO 2007 All Rights Reserved
Prof. Hodson; Photo by Cheryl C. Fowers/BYU
Copyright BYU PHOTO 2007
All Rights Reserved

Hodson says its important to be discerning about what you are looking at and understand the difference between good and bad scholarship. For example, a peer-reviewed article that appears in a scholarly journal or book is different than a post in someone’s blog.

For those looking for the difference between a great historian and an average one, we asked Professor Hudson what skills a historian for our time should have. Here are the top three tips for a novice historian:

  • Learn how to write clearly, and recognize that ability in what you read: Whether you are going to be a historian or going into a field related to history, it’s crucial to be able to process some information and analyze it clearly in writing.
  • Remember how to read deeply: Our brains, if we spend a lot of time on the internet, become less habituated to sitting down and reading a book and thinking about it contemplatively. Hodson recommends reading “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” and thinking about its application, or lack there-of, in your life.
  • Maintain an active imagination: It may seem counter-intuitive for a historian to have an imagination because they have traditionally been bound by traditional sources. To an extent, everything a historian does is held in check by what people in the past wrote down. But, the best historians and the best people who use history in their fields are able to use their own creativity to make interpretative connections between sources that might seem like they don’t have anything to do with each other. Imagination separates great historians from lesser historians.

What are your on-line go-to resources for historical information?