1. Emotional intelligence helps make better doctors

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Loyola University Health System press release:

    Among the qualities that go into making an excellent physician is emotional intelligence.

    Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

    Emotional intelligence plays a big role in determining a physician’s bedside manner. It helps make patients more trusting, which in turn leads to better doctor-patient relationships, increased patient satisfaction and better patient compliance. Emotional intelligence also can help make physicians more resilient to the stresses of the profession and less likely to experience burnout.

    Loyola University Medical Center is among the centers that are studying emotional intelligence in physicians as a way to improve patient care and physicians’ well-being. In a new study for example, Loyola researchers report that physicians-in-training scored in the high range of emotional intelligence.

    The young physicians as a group had a median score of 110 on an emotional intelligence survey, which is considered in the high range. (The average score for the general population is 100.) The physicians scored the highest in the subcategories of impulse control (114), empathy (113) and social responsibility (112) and lowest in assertiveness (102), flexibility (102) and independence (101).

    The study by Ramzan Shahid, MD, Jerold Stirling, MD, and William Adams, MA, is published in the Journal of Contemporary Medical Education. Dr. Shahid is an associate professor and director of the pediatric residency program. Dr. Stirling is professor and chair of Loyola’s department of pediatrics. Mr. Adams is a biostatistician in the health sciences division of Loyola University Chicago.

    There have been previous studies of emotional intelligence among physicians, but most studies have not included pediatric residents. To address this need, the Loyola study enrolled 31 pediatric and 16 med-peds residents at Loyola. (A resident is a physician who, following medical school, practices in a hospital under the supervision of an attending physician. A pediatric residency lasts three years. A med-peds residency, which combines pediatrics and internal medicine, lasts four years.)

    The residents completed the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0, a validated 133-item online survey that assesses emotional intelligence skills.

    Residents in their third and fourth years of training scored higher in assertiveness (109) than residents in their first and second years (100). This could be related to the acquisition of new knowledge and skills and increased self-confidence as residents progress in their training.

    But first- and second-year residents scored higher in empathy (115.5) than third- and fourth-year senior residents (110). “One could hypothesize: Does a resident’s level of assertiveness increase at the cost of losing empathy?” the authors wrote.

    There were no differences in emotional intelligence composite scores between males and females or between pediatric and med-peds residents.

    The study is titled, “Assessment of emotional intelligence in pediatric and med-peds residents.”

    Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be taught. “Educational interventions to improve resident emotional intelligence scores should focus on the areas of independence, assertiveness and empathy,” the authors wrote. “These interventions should help them become assertive but should ensure they do not lose empathy.”

    The Loyola pediatrics and med-peds residents recently went through an emotional intelligence educational program that consisted of four hours of workshops. Initial data show the intervention has increased residents’ emotional intelligence scores, including the subcomponents related to stress management and wellness.


  2. Couples may miss cues that partner is hiding emotions, study suggests

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Washington University in St. Louis press release:

    Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,” said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University. “They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

    Titled “Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships,” Eldesouky’s presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

    Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one’s emotions.

    It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

    Other findings include:

    • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
    • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
    • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
    • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

    Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.

    Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.

    In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

    “Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

    “How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added. “This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”


  3. Combating negative emotions with self-guided positive imagery

    March 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Flashbacks of scenes from traumatic events often haunt those suffering from psychiatric conditions, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). “The close relationship between the human imagery system and our emotions can cause deep emotional perturbations,” says Dr Svetla Velikova of Smartbrain in Norway. “Imagery techniques are often used in cognitive psychotherapy to help patients modify disturbing mental images and overcome negative emotions.” Velikova and her team set out to see if such techniques could become self-guided and developed at home, away from the therapist’s chair.

    Healthy people are also emotionally effected by what we see and the images we remember. Velikova explains, “if we visually remember an image from an unpleasant interaction with our boss, this can cause an increased level of anxiety about our work and demotivation.” There is great interest in ways to combat such everyday negative emotional responses through imagery training. But she warns, “this is a challenging task and requires a flexible approach. Each day we face different problems and a therapist teaches us how to identify topics and strategies for imagery exercises.”

    To find out if we can train ourselves to use imagery techniques and optimize our emotional state, Velikova and co-workers turned to 30 healthy volunteers. During a two-day workshop the volunteers learnt a series of imagery techniques. They learnt how to cope with negative emotions from past events through imagery transformation, how to use positive imagery for future events or goals, and techniques to improve social interactions and enhance their emotional balance in daily life. They then spent the next 12 weeks training themselves at home for 15-20 minutes a day, before attending another similar two-day workshop.

    Velikova compared the results of participant psychological assessment and brain activity, or electroencephalographic (EEG), measurement, before and after the experiment. “The psychological testing showed that depressive symptoms were less prominent. The number of those with subthreshold depression, expressing depressive symptoms but not meeting the criteria for depression, was halved. Overall, volunteers were more satisfied with life and perceived themselves as more efficient” she explains.

    Following analysis, the EEG data showed significant changes in the beta activity in the right medial prefrontal cortex of the brain. Velikova notes that this region is known to be involved in imaging pleasant emotions and contributing to the degree of satisfaction with life. There were also changes in the functional connectivity of the brain, including increased connectivity between the temporal regions from both hemispheres, which Velikova attributes to enhanced coordination of networks linked to processing of images. She concludes, “this combination of EEG findings also suggests a possible increase in the activity of GABA (gamma -aminobutyric acid), well known for its anti-anxiety and antidepressant properties.”

    Velikova and co-workers’ results indicate that self-guided emotional imagery training has great potential to improve the everyday emotional wellbeing in healthy people. The team is now further exploring how the approach affects the cognitive function of healthy people. With minimal professional intervention, this technique could be developed to be a cost-effective aid for those with subthreshold depression. It could also be promoted by businesses to help improve workforce morale and drive up productivity.


  4. Study discusses use of virtual worlds to help young people develop real world skills

    December 7, 2011 by Sue

    From the Economic and Social Research Council (UK) press release:

    New research suggests that far from disengaging young people from real life, virtual worlds can provide unique environments that can help them learn and negotiate new situations.

    Academics on the Inter-Life project, which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), developed 3D ‘Virtual Worlds’ (private islands) to act as informal communities that allow young people to interact in shared activities using avatars.  The avatars are three-dimensional characters controlled by the participants.  Virtual Worlds offer the possibility of realistic, interactive environments that can go beyond the formal curriculum. They can enable young people to develop skills which are used in real world settings, such as organisational and cognitive skills.

    The project involved young people undertaking creative activities like film-making and photography, and encouraged them to undertake project activities with the virtual environments.  The students had to learn to cope with many scenarios in their island, as well as participate in the online communities over several months. Throughout the project, the researchers encouraged new forms of communication, including those used in online gaming.

    The project’s lead researcher, Professor Victor Lally, said: “We demonstrated that you can plan activities with kids and get them working in 3D worlds with commitment, energy and emotional involvement, over a significant period of time.”

    It’s a highly engaging medium that could have a major impact in extending education and training beyond geographical locations,” Professor Lally added. “3D worlds seem to do this in a much more powerful way than many other social tools currently available on the internet. When appropriately configured, this virtual environment can offer safe spaces to experience new learning opportunities that seemed unfeasible only 15 years ago.

    The findings represent an early opportunity to assess the social and emotional impact of 3D virtual worlds. So far, there has been little in depth research into how emotions, social activities and thinking processes in this area can work together to help young people learn.

    The Inter-Life project is part of the Technology Enhanced Learning research programme and aims to narrow the gap between young people’s experience of learning and the dominance of technologies in their everyday lives.

    “The applications are enormous” said Professor Lally. “You can now create multiple science simulations or field trip locations, for example, using 3D world ‘hyper-grids’ that allow participants to ‘teleport’ between a range of experiments or activities. This enables the students to share their learning through recording their activities, presenting graphs about their results, and use voting technologies to judge attitudes and opinions from others. It can offer new possibilities for designing exciting and engaging learning spaces.”

    “This kind of 3D technology has many potential applications wherever young people and adults wish to work together on intensive tasks,” he added. “It could be used to simulate training environments, retail contexts and interview situations – among many other possibilities. These virtual worlds have potential uses in education, and also a wide range of other social and academic applications.


  5. Study shows that maltreated children show same pattern of brain activity as combat soldiers

    December 5, 2011 by Sue

    From the University College London press release:

    Children exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat, new research has shown.

    In the first functional MRI brain scan study to investigate the impact of physical abuse and domestic violence on children, scientists at UCL in collaboration with the Anna Freud Centre, found that exposure to family violence was associated with increased brain activity in two specific brain areas (the anterior insula and the amygdala) when children viewed pictures of angry faces.

    Previous fMRI studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations have shown the same pattern of heightened activation in these two areas of the brain, which are associated with threat detection. The authors suggest that both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to be ‘hyper-aware’ of danger in their environment.

    However, the anterior insula and amygdala are also areas of the brain implicated in anxiety disorders. Neural adaptation in these regions may help explain why children exposed to family violence are at greater risk of developing anxiety problems later in life.

    Dr Eamon McCrory, lead author from the UCL Division of Psychology and Language Sciences and the Anna Freud Centre, said: “We are only now beginning to understand how child abuse influences functioning of the brain’s emotional systems. This research is important because it provides our first clues as to how regions in the child’s brain may adapt to early experiences of abuse in the home.”

    Dr McCrory added: “All the children studied were healthy and none were suffering from a mental health problem. What we have shown is that exposure to family violence is associated with altered brain functioning in the absence of psychiatric symptoms and that these alterations may represent an underlying neural risk factor. We suggest these changes may be adaptive for the child in the short term but may increase longer term risk”.

    In the study, which is published in the journal Current Biology, 43 children had their brains scanned using an fMRI scanner. 20 children who had been exposed to documented violence at home were compared with 23 matched peers who had not experienced family violence. The average age of the maltreated children was 12 years old and they had all been referred to local social services in London.

    When the children were in the scanner they were presented with pictures of male and female faces showing sad, calm or angry expressions. The children had only to decide if the face was male or female – processing the emotion on the face was incidental. As described, the children who had been exposed to violence at home showed increased brain activity in the anterior insula and amygdala in response to the angry faces.

    Professor Peter Fonagy, Chief Executive of the Anna Freud Centre and professor of psychology at UCL, said: “Dr McCrory’s groundbreaking research has undoubtedly taken us an important step closer to understanding the devastation which exposing children to violence can leave in its wake.  His exciting findings confirm the traumatic effects these experiences have on brain development.

    Professor Fonagy added: “The report should energize clinicians and social workers to double their efforts to safeguard children from violence. By helping us understand the consequences of maltreatment the findings also offer fresh inspiration for the development of effective treatment strategies to protect children from the consequences of maltreatment.”

    Dr McCrory said: “Even though we know that maltreatment represents one of the most potent environmental risk factors associated with anxiety and depression, relatively little is known how such adversity ‘gets under the skin’ and increases a child’s later vulnerability.”

    “The next step for us is to try and understand how stable these changes are. Not every child exposed to family violence will go on to develop a mental health problem; many bounce back and lead successful lives. We want to know much more about those mechanisms that help some children become resilient.”