1. Study suggests exercise can help with depression prevention

    October 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of New South Wales press release:

    A landmark study led by the Black Dog Institute has revealed that regular exercise of any intensity can prevent future depression — and just one hour can help.

    Published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the results show even small amounts of exercise can protect against depression, with mental health benefits seen regardless of age or gender.

    In the largest and most extensive study of its kind, the analysis involved 33,908 Norwegian adults who had their levels of exercise and symptoms of depression and anxiety monitored over 11 years.

    The international research team found that 12 percent of cases of depression could have been prevented if participants undertook just one hour of physical activity each week.

    “We’ve known for some time that exercise has a role to play in treating symptoms of depression, but this is the first time we have been able to quantify the preventative potential of physical activity in terms of reducing future levels of depression,” said lead author Associate Professor Samuel Harvey from Black Dog Institute and UNSW.

    “These findings are exciting because they show that even relatively small amounts of exercise — from one hour per week — can deliver significant protection against depression.

    “We are still trying to determine exactly why exercise can have this protective effect, but we believe it is from the combined impact of the various physical and social benefits of physical activity.

    “These results highlight the great potential to integrate exercise into individual mental health plans and broader public health campaigns. If we can find ways to increase the population’s level of physical activity even by a small amount, then this is likely to bring substantial physical and mental health benefits.”

    The findings follow the Black Dog Institute’s recent Exercise Your Mood campaign, which ran throughout September and encouraged Australians to improve their physical and mental wellbeing through exercise.

    Researchers used data from the Health Study of Nord-Trøndelag County (HUNT study) — one of the largest and most comprehensive population-based health surveys ever undertaken — which was conducted between January 1984 and June 1997.

    A healthy cohort of participants was asked at baseline to report the frequency of exercise they participated in and at what intensity: without becoming breathless or sweating, becoming breathless and sweating, or exhausting themselves. At follow-up stage, they completed a self-report questionnaire (the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) to indicate any emerging anxiety or depression.

    The research team also accounted for variables which might impact the association between exercise and common mental illness. These include socio-economic and demographic factors, substance use, body mass index, new onset physical illness and perceived social support.

    Results showed that people who reported doing no exercise at all at baseline had a 44% increased chance of developing depression compared to those who were exercising one to two hours a week.

    However, these benefits did not carry through to protecting against anxiety, with no association identified between level and intensity of exercise and the chances of developing the disorder.

    According to the Australian Health Survey, 20 percent of Australian adults do not undertake any regular physical activity, and more than a third spend less than 1.5 hours per week being physically active. At the same time, around 1 million Australians have depression, with one in five Australians aged 16-85 experiencing a mental illness in any year.

    “Most of the mental health benefits of exercise are realised within the first hour undertaken each week,” said Associate Professor Harvey.

    “With sedentary lifestyles becoming the norm worldwide, and rates of depression growing, these results are particularly pertinent as they highlight that even small lifestyle changes can reap significant mental health benefits.”


  2. Anxious moms may give clues about how anxiety develops

    October 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Moms may be notorious worriers, but babies of anxious mothers may also spend more time focusing on threats in their environment, according to a team of researchers.

    In a study, researchers used eye-tracking technology to measure how long babies spent looking at happy, neutral and angry faces. They found that the babies with anxious moms had a harder time looking away from an angry face — which they could view as a threat — than babies whose moms were not anxious.

    Koraly Pérez-Edgar, professor of psychology at Penn State, said the findings — recently published in the journal Emotion — could help give clues about which children are at risk for developing anxiety later in life.

    “Once we learn more about the pathways to anxiety, we can better predict who’s at risk and hopefully help prevent them from needing treatment later on,” Pérez-Edgar said. “Treatment is difficult for the child and parent, it’s expensive and it doesn’t always work. If we can prevent anxiety from developing, that’s a whole lot better. Let’s find out which kids are at the highest risk and intervene.”

    Previous research has found that focusing too much on threat could potentially increase anxiety, and some forms of therapy focus on turning attention away from threat as a way to lower anxiety.

    “Paying too much attention to threat, even as infants, could possibly set up this cycle. The more you fixate on threat, the more opportunity you have to see the world as a threatening place, which could help lead to more anxiety,” Pérez-Edgar said. “Additionally, we think that risk factors in biology and potentially mom’s anxiety could also make that more likely.”

    To examine the relationship between a mother’s anxiety and her baby’s attention to threat, a research team led by Pérez-Edgar; Kristin Buss, professor of psychology at Penn State; and Vanessa Lobue, assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University, recruited 98 babies between the ages of 4 and 24 months.

    The babies’ mothers answered questions about their anxiety levels, and the babies were placed in front of a screen that was equipped with an eye tracker — a strip that ran along the bottom of the monitor and followed the movement of the babies’ irises using infrared.

    As each baby focused on the screen, their gaze was measured while happy, neutral and angry faces appeared one at a time. Once the baby was focused on a face, a second image was flashed in their peripheral vision to distract them.

    “By the time you’re a few months old, a reflex develops where you’ll automatically turn and look if something pops up in your peripheral vision,” Pérez-Edgar said. “This became a conflict for the babies, because they were focused on the face but then had this reflex to turn and look.”

    The researchers found that the more anxious a baby’s mother was, the more time her baby spent looking at the angry faces before turning to look at the image in their peripheral vision. This suggests that the babies with anxious moms had a harder time disengaging from a potential threat in their environment.

    Additionally, the researchers found that the age of the baby did not matter. The babies with anxious moms spent a longer time looking at the angry face whether they were four or 24 months old, suggesting a potential genetic element.

    “It doesn’t seem like the babies are learning to pay more attention to threat from their anxious moms. If that were true, the older babies might have more trouble turning away because they’ve been around their moms longer than the younger babies,” Pérez-Edgar said. “This seems to suggest that there may be a shared genetic or biological component.”

    Pérez-Edgar said the results give powerful clues about where to keep looking to learn more about how anxiety develops in children. In a future study, Pérez-Edgar, Buss and Lobue will take a closer look at how mother’s anxiety affects babies over time, instead of at one instance.


  3. Study looks at psychological impacts of natural disasters on youth

    October 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Miami press release:

    Children’s mental state plays an important factor in their developmental growth. After recent storms devastated parts of the U.S. — Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Irma in Florida and the Caribbean and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico — all contributing to massive evacuations of children and families, which children need more attention or support services in the aftermath of these storms and the related stressors that come with surviving and witnessing the destructive power of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane?

    Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Pediatrics at the University of Miami, Annette M. La Greca, is fully aware of children’s reaction to trauma. Her research focuses on the impact of disasters on youth since Hurricane Andrew struck South Florida in 1992.

    La Greca, in collaboration with her UM graduate student, BreAnne Danzi, has been evaluating how best to define post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in children. This line of research will help to quickly identify the children who need support services post-disaster. La Greca’s research has also identified key aspects of the post-disaster environment that facilitate children’s recovery.

    “The good news is that most children are resilient, even after a very devastating storm,” said La Greca. However, children have different ways of expressing distress than adults.

    In a paper entitled, “Optimizing clinical thresholds for PTSD: Extending the DSM-5 preschool criteria to school-age children,” recently published in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, La Greca and Danzi examined how well the “preschool” definition of PTSD identifies school-aged children with significant distress after a major hurricane.

    According to the study, 327 children (ages 7-11) from six elementary schools in Galveston, Texas, which were directly in the path of Hurricane Ike, a Category 2 storm that made landfall in September 2008, participated. They found that the preschool definition of PTSD identifies more distressed children than the typical “adult-based” definition. Thus, the preschool definition may be useful when screening elementary school-age children (ages 7-11) for PTSD-risk.

    Additional research by La Greca and colleagues also found that two-thirds of children who are initially distressed after a disaster recover naturally over the course of the school year. Children who recover report having more social support from friends and family, fewer life stressors in the disaster’s aftermath and more positive coping skills than those who remain chronically distressed.

    “We now know from research that some children who endured a stressful evacuation or experienced scary or life-threatening events during the storm are at risk for a poor recovery over time,” she said. “Children who need extra support include those who report feeling anxious or depressed, as well as stressed, and who lack social support from friends and family. They also have multiple stressors to deal with after the storm. All of those factors contribute to poor recovery and less resilience.”

    Based on these findings, La Greca and colleagues developed a workbook, After the Storm, for parents to help their children cope after a hurricane (available for a free download at http://www.7-dippity.com/other/op_storm.html

    ). The guide has been widely used after Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike.The workbook addresses ways to help most children recover, such as having a normal routine, staying connected to friends and family, eating healthy, exercising, resuming leisure activities, proper sleep and avoiding media or online coverage of aftermath damage and distress. La Greca added that helping others in need and identifying things to be grateful for can also help to maintain a positive perspective.

    “There is no doubt that hurricanes and other extreme weather events can be stressful for children and for adults,” said La Greca. “But as with many stressful experiences, a little extra support can go a long way.”


  4. Study suggests that being in a good mood for your flu jab may boost its effectiveness

    October 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Nottingham press release:

    New research by a team of health experts at the University of Nottingham has found evidence that being in a positive mood on the day of your flu jab can increase its protective effect.

    Flu vaccination is estimated to only be effective in 17-53% of older adults compared to 70-90% of younger people. With the onset of winter and so-called ‘flu season’, the research is likely to be of interest to everyone having their autumn flu jab.

    This new Nottingham-based study is the first to examine several psychological and behavioural factors that have been shown to affect how well vaccinations work. The researchers set out to understand which factor, or combination of factors has the greatest impact on the ability of vaccinations to protect against disease.

    The team measured negative mood, positive mood, physical activity, diet and sleep three times a week over a 6 week period in a group of 138 older people due to have their flu jab. Then they examined how well the jab was working by measuring the amount of influenza antibody in the blood at 4 weeks and 16 weeks after the vaccination.

    The results showed that of all of the factors measured, only positive mood over the 6 week observational period predicted how well the jab worked – with good mood associated with higher levels of antibody. In fact, when the researchers looked at influences on the day of vaccination itself, they found an even greater effect on how well it worked, accounting for between 8 and 14% of the variability in antibody levels.

    Professor Kavita Vedhara, from the University’s Division of Primary Care, said: “Vaccinations are an incredibly effective way of reducing the likelihood of catching infectious diseases. But their Achilles heel is that their ability to protect against disease is affected by how well an individual’s immune system works. So people with less effective immune systems, such as the elderly, may find vaccines don’t work as well for them as they do in the young.

    “We have known for many years that a number of psychological and behavioural factors such as stress, physical activity and diet influence how well the immune system works and these factors have also been shown to influence how well vaccines protect against disease.”

    The study, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, was unusual in that, by chance, the vaccination that participants received was identical to the one they had received in the previous year. This has happened only once before since the turn of the century. As a result, the researchers found that participants had very high levels of antibody – and therefore protection – for two out of three of the viruses present in the vaccination, even before they were vaccinated.

    This so-called ‘ceiling effect’ meant that this study was unlikely to see further large increases in antibody levels for these two viruses and therefore was unlikely to reveal an effect of psychological and behavioural factors. As a result the team focused its analyses on the one strain which was the least ‘immunogenic’ i.e. the strain with low levels of antibody prior to vaccination.

    The researchers say the approach of focusing on individual viral strains is not uncommon, but recommend that future research is best conducted in the context of a vaccination with more novel viral strains to further confirm the positive mood effect on vaccination.

    The project was funded by National Institute for Health Research School for Primary Care Research (NIHR SPCR) and the Medical Research Council (MRC).


  5. Study suggests abusive bosses may feel good – but only for a while

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    Being a jerk to your employees may actually improve your well-being, but only for a short while, suggests new research on abusive bosses co-authored by a Michigan State University business scholar.

    Bullying and belittling employees starts to take its toll on a supervisor’s mental state after about a week, according to the study, which is published in the Academy of Management Journal.

    “The moral of the story is that although abuse may be helpful and even mentally restorative for supervisors in the short-term, over the long haul it will come back to haunt them,” said Russell Johnson, MSU associate professor of management and an expert on workplace psychology.

    While numerous studies have documented the negative effects of abusive supervision, some bosses nevertheless still act like jerks, meaning there must be some sort of benefit or reinforcement for them, Johnson said.

    Indeed, the researchers found that supervisors who were abusive felt a sense of recovery because their boorish behavior helped replenish their mental energy and resources. Johnson said it requires mental effort to suppress abusive behavior — which can lead to mental fatigue — but supervisors who act on that impulse “save” the mental energy that would otherwise have been depleted by refraining from abuse.

    Johnson and colleagues conducted multiple field and experiments on abusive bosses in the United States and China, verifying the results were not culture-specific. They collected daily survey data over a four-week period and studied workers and supervisors in a variety of industries including manufacturing, service and education.

    The benefits of abusive supervision appeared to be short-lived, lasting a week or less. After that, abusive supervisors started to experience decreased trust, support and productivity from employees — and these are critical resources for the bosses’ recovery and engagement.

    According to the study, although workers may not immediately confront their bosses following abusive behavior, over time they react in negative ways, such as engaging in counterproductive and aggressive behaviors and even quitting.

    To prevent abusive behavior, the researchers suggest supervisors take well-timed breaks, reduce their workloads and communicate more with their employees. Communicating with workers may help supervisors by releasing negative emotions through sharing, receiving social support and gaining relational energy from their coworkers.

    Co-authors are Xin Qin from Sun Yat-sen University, Mingpeng Huang from the University of International Business and Economics, Qiongjing Hu from Peking University and Dong Ju from Communication University of China.


  6. Study suggests midlife depression may stem from tension with mothers and siblings

    September 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Iowa State University press release:

    Relationships with our mothers and siblings change as we become adults and start our own families, but the quality of those relationships still has an effect on our well-being, particularly at midlife.

    A new study led by Iowa State University researcher Megan Gilligan found that tension with our mothers and siblings, similar to our spouses, is associated with symptoms of depression. The research, published in the journal Social Sciences, found all three relationships have a similar effect and one is not stronger than another.

    “Family scholars have focused a lot on the relationship we have with our spouse,” said Gilligan, an assistant professor of human development and family studies. “There is this assumption that as you go through your life course, you leave these other relationships with your parents and siblings behind, but you don’t. You carry those with you.”

    The relationship between mothers and daughters is even more significant. The research shows tension between mothers and adult children was a stronger predictor of depression for daughters than it was for sons. However, gender did not make a difference in relationships with spouses and siblings. Gilligan says this makes sense based on her previous research.

    “We know that mothers and daughters in adulthood have the closest relationships and also the most conflictual. These are really intense relationships,” she said. “Later in life, adult children start providing more care to their parents, and daughters in particular are often caregivers for their mothers.”

    Midlife is key to findings

    Midlife is often characterized as stable and uneventful, but in reality, it is a time of change and transition for many people, Gilligan said. For example, adult children may be leaving the house and aging parents start requiring more care. Additionally, researchers know that midlife adults often react more strongly to family conflict than older adults do.

    While there is a great deal of research on young families and family dynamics later in life, there is a gap at midlife, Gilligan said. Given the potential for greater conflict with mothers or siblings related to these midlife changes, it is important to understand the consequences of negative relationships on our psychological well-being.

    “Midlife is a time when siblings are often coming back together as they prepare and navigate care for parents,” she said. “For that reason, it’s a pivotal time when these family relationships might be experiencing more tension, more strain, more discord.”

    Professionals should consider whole family

    The research team used data collected through the Within-Family Differences Study. Their analysis included 495 adult children within 254 families. For a majority of families, multiple siblings participated in the study. Researchers measured depressive symptoms and tension among family members through survey questions. They controlled for race, gender and education.

    In the paper, Gilligan and her colleagues explained that they expected all three relationships would predict depressive symptoms, but the effect would vary depending on the salience of the relationship. The fact that they found no significant difference between spouses, mothers and siblings is important to note, especially for practitioners. Gilligan says instead of focusing solely on a romantic partner or spouse, marriage and family therapists should ask about other sources of family stress.

    “These findings show that we are navigating other family relationships at the same time and we’re not experiencing them in isolation; we’re experiencing them simultaneously,” Gilligan said. “The stress people are experiencing may be the result of a romantic partner or spouse. However, it could also be that they’re fighting with their siblings or they’re experiencing a lot of tension with their mother even though they are 50 years old.”


  7. Study suggests you can ‘pick up’ a good or bad mood from your friends

    September 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    New research suggests that both good and bad moods can be ‘picked up’ from friends, but depression can’t.

    A team led by the University of Warwick has examined whether friends’ moods can affect an individual therefore implying that moods may spread across friendship networks.

    The team analysed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health which incorporates the moods and friendship networks of US adolescents in schools. Their paper Spreading of components of mood in adolescent social networks has been published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The team’s findings imply that mood does spread over friendship networks, as do various different symptoms of depression such as helplessness and loss of interest. However they also found that they also found that the effect from lower or worse mood friends was not strong enough to push the other friends into depression.

    Using mathematical modelling they found that having more friends who suffer worse moods is associated with a higher probability of an individual experiencing low moods and a decreased probability of improving. They found the opposite applied to adolescents who had a more positive social circle.

    Public health statistics researcher Rob Eyre led the study. He said: “We investigated whether there is evidence for the individual components of mood (such as appetite, tiredness and sleep) spreading through US adolescent friendship networks while adjusting for confounding by modelling the transition probabilities of changing mood state over time.

    “Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion.

    “Previous studies have found social support and befriending to be beneficial to mood disorders in adolescents while recent experiments suggest that an individual’s emotional state can be affected by exposure to the emotional expressions of social contacts.

    “Clearly, a greater understanding of how changes in the mood of adolescents are affected by the mood of their friends would be beneficial in informing interventions tackling adolescent depression.”

    The World Health Organisation has estimated that depression affects 350 million people across the world, impacting on individual’s abilities to work and socialise and at worse leading to suicide. This study’s findings emphasise the need to also consider those who exhibit levels of depressive symptoms just below those needed for a diagnosis of actual depression when designing public health interventions.

    The study also helps confirm that there is more to depression than simply low mood. At the individual level, these findings imply that following the evidence-based advice for improving mood, e.g. exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress, can help a teenager’s friends as well as themselves. Whilst for depression, friends do not put an individual at risk of illness so a recommended course of action would be to show them support.

    Their conclusions link in to current policy discussions on the importance of sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms and could help inform interventions against depression in senior schools

    Co-author, professor Frances Griffiths of Warwick Medical School said: “The results found here can inform public health policy and the design of interventions against depression in adolescents. Sub-threshold levels of depressive symptoms in adolescents is an issue of great current concern as they have been found to be very common, to cause a reduced quality of life and to lead to greater risk of depression later on in life than having no symptoms at all.

    “Understanding that these components of mood can spread socially suggests that while the primary target of social interventions should be to increase friendships because of its benefits in reducing of the risk of depression, a secondary aim could be to reduce spreading of negative mood.”


  8. Managing negative emotions can help pregnant smokers quit

    September 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    A new study by scientists in the University at Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions has shown that pregnant smokers are more likely to quit if they can learn to manage negative emotions that lead to smoking.

    Smoking during pregnancy is a matter of serious concern, says Clara Bradizza, PhD, senior research scientist at RIA.

    “It’s well-documented that smoking cigarettes while pregnant leads to a range of negative health effects on fetuses, including increased risk of low birth weight and preterm delivery, and greater rates of asthma and learning disabilities,” she says.

    The research involved 70 pregnant women who wanted to quit smoking and reported smoking in response to stress, anger and anxiety. “These women use smoking as a way to manage their negative feelings,” Bradizza says. “Many experience poverty, insecure housing and unemployment, along with the stress of pregnancy, which increases negative emotions. All these factors make it more difficult to quit.”

    Half of the women took part in a smoking cessation program consisting of emotion regulation treatment (ERT) combined with standard cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), while the others received CBT and a control treatment consisting of health and lifestyle education.

    “ERT is an exposure-based therapy where counselors help participants imagine stressful situations that elicit strong urges or cravings to smoke, and then allow them to experience these feelings in session, without smoking. The women were also taught mindfulness skills and effective ways to cope with urges to smoke,” Bradizza says.

    The women who took part in the ERT program showed significantly higher rates of smoking cessation, with 23 percent remaining smoke-free two months after beginning ERT treatment, compared to none in the control group. They also reported feeling more confident they could remain abstinent from smoking. In addition, the women in the ERT program who did not quit smoking showed improvement, as they smoked less than half the number of cigarettes daily as those in the control group.

    Because smoking cessation medications such as Chantix (varenicline) are not recommended for use in pregnancy, there is a greater reliance on behavioral treatments to help pregnant smokers quit. Bradizza plans a larger trial of the ERT program to help further develop a new approach that is critically needed to help pregnant women quit.


  9. British study suggests significant incidence of depression in 14-year-old girls

    by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    New research shows a quarter of girls (24%) and one in 10 boys (9%) are depressed at age 14.

    Researchers from the University of Liverpool and University College London analysed information on more than 10,000 children born in 2000-01 who are taking part in the Millennium Cohort Study.

    At ages 3, 5, 7, 11 and 14, parents reported on their children’s mental health. Then, when they reached 14, the children were themselves asked questions about their depressive symptoms.

    Based on the 14-year-olds reporting of their emotional problems, 24 per cent of girls and 9 per cent of boys suffer from depression.

    Family income

    The research, published with the National Children’s Bureau, also investigated links between depressive symptoms and family income. Generally, 14-year-olds from better-off families were less likely to have high levels of depressive symptoms compared to their peers from poorer homes.

    Parents’ reports of emotional problems were roughly the same for boys and girls throughout childhood, increasing from 7 per cent of children at age 7 to 12 per cent at age 11. However, by the time they reached early adolescence at age 14, emotional problems became more prevalent in girls, with 18 per cent having symptoms of depression and anxiety, compared to 12 per cent of boys.

    Behaviour problems, such as acting out, fighting and being rebellious decreased from infancy to age 5, but then increased to age 14. Boys were more likely than girls to have behaviour problems throughout childhood and early adolescence.

    As 14-year-olds’ own reports of their emotional problems were different to their parents’, this research highlights the importance of considering young people’s views on their own mental health.

    ‘Worryingly high’

    The lead author, Dr Praveetha Patalay from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, said: “In recent years, there has been a growing policy focus on children’s mental health. However, there has been a lack of nationally representative estimates of mental health problems for this generation.

    “In other research, we’ve highlighted the increasing mental health difficulties faced by girls today compared to previous generations and this study further highlights the worryingly high rates of depression.”

    Professor Emla Fitzsimons, Director of the Millennium Cohort Study, said: “These stark findings provide evidence that mental health problems among girls rise sharply as they enter adolescence; and, while further research using this rich data is needed to understand the causes and consequences of this, this study highlights the extent of mental health problems among young adolescents in the UK today.”

    ‘Crisis point’

    Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children’s Bureau, said: “This study of thousands of children gives us the most compelling evidence available about the extent of mental ill-health among children in the UK. With a quarter of 14-year-old girls showing signs of depression, it’s now beyond doubt that this problem is reaching crisis point.

    “Worryingly there is evidence that parents may be underestimating their daughters’ mental health needs. Conversely, parents may be picking up on symptoms in their sons, which boys don’t report themselves. It’s vital that both children and their parents can make their voices heard to maximise the chances of early identification and access to specialist support.

    “The new research also suggests that signs of depression are generally more common among children from poorer families. We know that mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum and as the government prepares to publish its plans to improve children’s wellbeing, it must address the overlap with other aspects of disadvantage.”


  10. People who view their relationships as supportive may confidently strive for growth

    September 26, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    If you’re one of those lucky individuals with high motivation and who actively pursues personal growth goals, thank your family and friends who support you.

    People who view their relationships as supportive may confidently strive for growth, new University of Michigan research shows.

    U-M researchers used data from samples from the United States and Japan to determine if personal growth is an outcome of an individual’s traits or the positive relationships they have with others.

    In Study 1, about 200 participants were randomly assigned to one of three relationship conditions: supportive, nonsupportive and neutral. In the two main conditions, some had to consider a person in their life with whom they felt comfortable (or not) and did not worry (did worry) about being abandoned by them. The neutral group had to consider an acquaintance for whom they did not have strong feelings.

    Participants read a hypothetical scenario in which they had to choose between a higher-paying job with high familiarity (Company A) or a lower-paying job that required learning that would help their long-term career development (Company B).

    Among those in the supportive relationship condition, 65 percent selected Company B, whereas 40 percent of those in the nonsupportive condition chose the same company. Fifty percent of the neutral group picked Company B.

    Participants who thought about a supportive person were more willing to choose a job that promoted personal growth, even at lower pay, in part because they had more self-confidence, the study indicated.

    Studies 2 and 3 analyzed people’s perceptions of the support received from family and friends to determine personal growth tendencies in two cultures.

    Using data from the Survey of Midlife Development in the United States, more than 3,800 participants in Study 2 rated the support received from family and friends. The questions included: “How much does your family (do your friends) really care about you?” and “How much can you open up to them if you need to talk about your worries?” They also rated their willingness to develop their potential and grow as a person, as well as self-confidence.

    People who reported their relationships to be supportive had a greater willingness to grow personally and felt more self-confident, the study showed. The results were similar in the data from the Survey of Midlife Development in Japan, which sampled about 1,000 people.

    The more supportive people judged their relationships to be, the higher their personal growth tendencies, even in a culture that puts more emphasis on the collective rather than the individual,” said David Lee, the study’s lead author who obtained his doctorate in psychology at U-M.

    Overall, the findings support the “I-through-We” perspective, which means the social tendency to connect with others, and the individual tendency to strive and grow as individuals, are not mutually exclusive and may augment and magnify each other.

    “In other words, relationships do not necessarily conflict with but help sustain one’s personal growth,” said Oscar Ybarra, U-M professor of psychology and of management and organizations.

    The findings thus address both the importance of distinguishing yourself from others by fulfilling personal goals, but also being a good group member by fulfilling social obligations and cultivating supportive relationships.

    Building positive social connections with others should put people in a good position to receive social support that is instrumental to personal growth, as well as allowing people to strike a balance between two fundamental values: to strive and connect,” said Lee, who is now a postdoctoral fellow at Ohio State University.