1. Study suggests stress faced by emergency call handlers damaging to long term health

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    During this innovative study, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Dundee, Anglia Ruskin University and Kingston University/St George’s, University of London investigated areas that impacted on the psychological health of call handlers.

    Previous research on how stress affects healthcare workers is largely focused on frontline staff i.e. paramedics and firefighters, however little is known on the impact on call handlers who make critical decisions in assessing what type of emergency response is required.

    Examining 16 studies from across the world, researchers identified key factors which cause operatives stress and potentially impact on their psychological health. Exposure to traumatic and abusive calls was found to negatively affect call handlers, because although they are not physically exposed to emergency situations, evidence demonstrated that they experienced trauma vicariously. In one study, participants reported experiencing fear, helplessness or horror in reaction to 32 per cent of the different types of calls that they received.

    A key stressor for call handlers was a lack of control over their workload due to the unpredictability of calls and a lack of organisational recognition of the demands of managing their assignments. One study reported that ambulance call handlers felt out of control of their workload after returning from rest breaks, which led them not taking scheduled breaks, leading to exhaustion. A lack of high quality training in dealing with pressurised calls was identified by some handlers as contributing to stress levels, with police call handlers in one study showing concern about their performance in handling fluid situations such as robberies in progress or suicidal callers, in case they did not make the correct decisions.

    Co-author of the paper Mark Cropley, Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said:

    “Call handlers across different emergency services consistently reported their job as highly stressful, which in turn affects their psychological health. This undoubtedly impacts on their overall wellbeing, leading to increased sickness and time away from work, putting additional strain on the service and their colleagues.

    “Although handlers are not experiencing trauma first-hand the stress that they experience when responding to such calls should not be overlooked.”

    Co-author Professor Patricia Schofield, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Call handlers are the front line of emergency care but are often overlooked when it comes to studies about stress affecting the police, fire and ambulance services. This study finds evidence that staff are at risk of burnout, due to high workload, inadequate training and a lack of control.

    “It’s important that these staff are considered and interventions made to ensure that they can cope with their workload — these people make vital decisions which affect lives.”

    Co-author Professor Tom Quinn from Kingston University & St George’s, University of London, said:

    “Most people probably don’t recognise the stressful conditions under which emergency call centre staff work. Now that we have explored and summarised the evidence to identify the challenges these important staff face, we plan to develop and test interventions to reduce the burden on them and improve their wellbeing.”


  2. Study suggests reasons why head and face pain causes more suffering

    November 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    Hate headaches? The distress you feel is not all in your — well, head. People consistently rate pain of the head, face, eyeballs, ears and teeth as more disruptive, and more emotionally draining, than pain elsewhere in the body.

    Duke University scientists have discovered how the brain’s wiring makes us suffer more from head and face pain. The answer may lie not just in what is reported to us by the five senses, but in how that sensation makes us feel emotionally.

    The team found that sensory neurons that serve the head and face are wired directly into one of the brain’s principal emotional signaling hubs. Sensory neurons elsewhere in the body are also connected to this hub, but only indirectly.

    The results may pave the way toward more effective treatments for pain mediated by the craniofacial nerve, such as chronic headaches and neuropathic face pain.

    “Usually doctors focus on treating the sensation of pain, but this shows the we really need to treat the emotional aspects of pain as well,” said Fan Wang, a professor of neurobiology and cell biology at Duke, and senior author of the study. The results appear online Nov. 13 in Nature Neuroscience.

    Pain signals from the head versus those from the body are carried to the brain through two different groups of sensory neurons, and it is possible that neurons from the head are simply more sensitive to pain than neurons from the body.

    But differences in sensitivity would not explain the greater fear and emotional suffering that patients experience in response to head-face pain than body pain, Wang said.

    Personal accounts of greater fear and suffering are backed up by functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), which shows greater activity in the amygdala — a region of the brain involved in emotional experiences — in response to head pain than in response to body pain.

    “There has been this observation in human studies that pain in the head and face seems to activate the emotional system more extensively,” Wang said. “But the underlying mechanisms remained unclear.”

    To examine the neural circuitry underlying the two types of pain, Wang and her team tracked brain activity in mice after irritating either a paw or the face. They found that irritating the face led to higher activity in the brain’s parabrachial nucleus (PBL), a region that is directly wired into the brain’s instinctive and emotional centers.

    Then they used methods based on a novel technology recently pioneered by Wang’s group, called CANE, to pinpoint the sources of neurons that caused this elevated PBL activity.

    “It was a eureka moment because the body neurons only have this indirect pathway to the PBL, whereas the head and face neurons, in addition to this indirect pathway, also have a direct input,” Wang said. “This could explain why you have stronger activation in the amygdala and the brain’s emotional centers from head and face pain.”

    Further experiments showed that activating this pathway prompted face pain, while silencing the pathway reduced it.

    “We have the first biological explanation for why this type of pain can be so much more emotionally taxing than others,” said Wolfgang Liedtke, a professor of neurology at Duke University Medical Center and a co-author on Wang’s paper, who is also treating patients with head- and face-pain. “This will open the door toward not only a more profound understanding of chronic head and face pain, but also toward translating this insight into treatments that will benefit people.”

    Chronic head-face pain such cluster headaches and trigeminal neuralgia can become so severe that patients seek surgical solutions, including severing the known neural pathways that carry pain signals from the head and face to the hindbrain. But a substantial number of patients continue to suffer, even after these invasive measures.

    “Some of the most debilitating forms of pain occur in the head regions, such as migraine,” said Qiufu Ma, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, who was not involved in the study. “The discovery of this direct pain pathway might provide an explanation why facial pain is more severe and more unpleasant.”

    Liedtke said targeting the neural pathway identified here can be a new approach toward developing innovative treatments for this devastating head and face pain.


  3. Study suggests brain activity buffers against worsening anxiety

    November 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Duke University press release:

    Boosting activity in brain areas related to thinking and problem-solving may also buffer against worsening anxiety, suggests a new study by Duke University researchers.

    Using non-invasive brain imaging, the researchers found that people at-risk for anxiety were less likely to develop the disorder if they had higher activity in a region of the brain responsible for complex mental operations. The results may be a step towards tailoring psychological therapies to the specific brain functioning of individual patients.

    “These findings help reinforce a strategy whereby individuals may be able to improve their emotional functioning — their mood, their anxiety, their experience of depression — not only by directly addressing those phenomena, but also by indirectly improving their general cognitive functioning,” said Ahmad Hariri, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. The results are published Nov. 17 in the journal Cerebral Cortex.

    Previous findings from Hariri’s group show that people whose brains exhibit a high response to threat and a low response to reward are more at risk of developing symptoms of anxiety and depression over time.

    In the current work, Hariri and Matthew Scult, a clinical psychology graduate student in the department of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, wanted to investigate whether higher activity in a region of the brain called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex could help shield these at-risk individuals from future mental illness.

    “We wanted to address an area of understanding mental illness that has been neglected, and that is the flip side of risk,” Hariri said. “We are looking for variables that actually confer resiliency and protect individuals from developing problems.”

    The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is our brain’s “executive control” center, helping us focus our attention and plan complex actions. It also plays a role in emotion regulation, and well-established types of psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, engage this region of the brain by equipping patients with strategies to reframe or re-evaluate their emotions.

    The team drew on data from 120 undergraduate students who participated in the Duke Neurogenetics Study. Each participant completed a series of mental health questionnaires and underwent a type of non-invasive brain scan called functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while engaged in tasks meant to activate specific regions of the brain.

    The researchers asked each participant to answer simple memory-based math problems to stimulate the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Participants also viewed angry or scared faces to activate a region of the brain called the amygdala, and played a reward-based guessing game to stimulate activity in the brain’s ventral striatum.

    Scult was particularly interested in “at-risk” individuals with the combination of high threat-related activity in the amygdala and low reward-related activity in the ventral striatum. By comparing participants’ mental health assessments at the time of the brain scans, and in a follow-up occurring on average seven months later, he found that these at-risk individuals were less likely to develop anxiety if they also had high activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

    “We found that if you have a higher functioning dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the imbalance in these deeper brain structures is not expressed as changes in mood or anxiety,” Hariri said.

    The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is especially skilled at adapting to new situations, the researchers say. Individuals whose brains exhibit the at-risk signatures may be more likely to benefit from strategies that boost the brain’s dorsolateral prefrontal activity, including cognitive behavioral therapy, working memory training, or transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

    But, the researchers warn, the jury is still out on whether many brain-training exercises improve the overall functioning of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, or only hone its ability to complete the specific task being trained. Additional studies on more diverse populations are also needed to confirm their findings.

    “We are hoping to help improve current mental health treatments by first predicting who is most at-risk so that we can intervene earlier, and second, by using these types of approaches to determine who might benefit from a given therapy,” Scult said.


  4. Study suggests hair cortisol levels predict which mothers are more likely to suffer postpartum depression

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Granada press release:

    Researchers from the University of Granada (UGR), who belong to the Brain, Mind and Behavior Research Center (CIMCYC, from its abbreviation in Spanish) and the Faculty of Psychology, have proven that cortisol levels (a steroid hormone secreted as a response to stress) present in the hair of pregnant women during the first or third trimesters of pregnancy may indicate which of them are more likely to suffer postpartum depression.

    Their work, published in the PLoS ONE journal, showed that hair cortisol levels in women who developed postpartum depression were higher throughout pregnancy than those seen in women who hadn’t developed it, being that difference statistically more significant during the first and third trimesters.

    The UGR researchers carried out their study doing a follow-up on 44 pregnant women throughout the whole gestation period and after giving birth. Each trimester the mothers underwent a series of tests that evaluated their stress and psychopathological symptoms while simultaneously taking hair samples from which the researchers extracted the cortisol corresponding to the last three months.

    The following days after labor the researchers evaluated the mothers’ emotional state in order to assess who among them had developed postpartum depression.

    Quarterly psychopathological symptoms

    Additionally, the results of the study showed that the participants which developed postpartum depression showed higher levels of somatization during the first trimester. During the second trimester they showed higher levels of somatization, obsession-compulsion, depression and anxiety, and during the third trimester they showed higher levels of somatization and pregnancy-specific stress. Therefore, all those symptoms along with higher levels of cortisol would be indicators of a future postpartum depression.

    As María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, lead researcher of the project says, the consequences of those results are very important in the prevention of postpartum depression, “since they show that there are various altered psychological and hormonal variables throughout the whole gestation period in comparison to those women who will not suffer postpartum depression. Detecting those differences is the key to anticipate the psychological state of the mother as well as the consequences for the baby that said state could mean.”

    This study belongs to the GESTASTRESS research project, in the research excellence framework of the Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. Its primary goal has been to assess the effects of psychological stress on the mother throughout the whole gestation period as well as on birth variables, and on the baby’s stress and neurodevelopment.


  5. Researchers teach computer to recognize emotions in speech

    November 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the National Research University Higher School of Economics press release:

    Experts of the Faculty of Informatics, Mathematics, and Computer Science at the Higher School of Economics have created an automatic system capable of identifying emotions in the sound of a voice. Their report was presented at a major international conference – Neuroinformatics-2017. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-66604-4_18

    For a long time, computers have successfully converted speech into text. However, the emotional component, which is important for conveying meaning, has been neglected. For example, for the same question ‘Is everything okay?’, people can answer ‘Of course it is!’ with different intonations: calm, provoking, cheerful, etc. And the reactions will be completely different.

    Neural networks are processors connected with each other and capable of learning, analysis and synthesis. This smart system surpasses traditional algorithms in that the interaction between a person and computer becomes more interactive.

    HSE researchers Anastasia Popova, Alexander Rassadin and Alexander Ponomarenko have trained a neural network to recognize eight different emotions: neutral, calm, happy, sad, angry, scared, disgusted, and surprised. In 70% of cases the computer identified the emotion correctly, say the researchers.

    The researchers have transformed the sound into images – spectrograms – which allowed them to work with sound using the methods applied for image recognition. A deep learning convolutional neural network with VGG-16 architecture was used in the research.

    The researchers note that the programme successfully distinguishes neutral and calm tones, while happiness and surprise are not always recognized well. Happiness is often perceived as fear and sadness, and surprise is interpreted as disgust.


  6. Study suggests exercise may be beneficial to mental health regimen

    November 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    More mental health providers may want to take a closer look at including exercise in their patients’ treatment plans, a new study suggests.

    Michigan State University and University of Michigan researchers asked 295 patients receiving treatment at a mental health clinic whether they wanted to be more physically active and if exercise helped improve their mood and anxiety. They also asked if patients wanted their therapist to help them become more active.

    Eighty-five percent said they wanted to exercise more and over 80 percent believed exercise helped improve their moods and anxiety much of the time. Almost half expressed interest in a one-time discussion, with many participants also wanting ongoing advice about physical activity with their mental health provider.

    The study is now published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry.

    Physical activity has been shown to be effective in alleviating mild to moderate depression and anxiety,” said Carol Janney, lead author of the study and an MSU assistant professor of epidemiology. “Current physical activity guidelines advise at least 30 minutes, five days a week to promote mental and physical health, yet many of those surveyed weren’t meeting these recommendations.”

    More than half of the participants said their mood limited their ability to exercise, which Janney said provides an opportunity for physicians and therapists in clinics to offer additional support.

    “Offering physical activity programs inside the mental health clinics may be one of many patient-centered approaches that can improve the mental and physical health of patients,” Janney said.

    Marcia Valenstein, senior author and professor emeritus in psychiatry at U-M, agreed.

    “Mental health treatment programs need to partner with fitness programs to support their patients’ willingness to exercise more,” she said. “This support might come from integrating personal trainers into mental health clinics or having strong partnerships with the YMCA or other community recreational facilities.”

    Both Valenstein and Janney said that psychiatrists and other providers might discuss with patients the general need to exercise, but few actually sit down with patients and create a comprehensive exercise plan for them or regularly make sure they are adhering to a specific goal.

    “Mental health providers such as psychiatrists and therapists may not have the necessary training to prescribe physical activity as part of their mental health practice,” Janney said. “But by teaming up with certified personal trainers or other exercise programs, it may help them prescribe or offer more recommendations for physical activity in the clinic setting.”

    Results also showed that over half of the patients surveyed showed interest in getting help from a personal trainer and were willing to pay a bit extra, but that the topic of physical activity was rarely discussed by their physician.

    “This is a missed opportunity,” Valenstein said. “If we can make it easier for both therapists and their patients to have easier access to physical activity services, then we are likely to help more patients reduce their depression and anxiety.”

    Once the effectiveness of this approach is proven, she added, health insurers might consider moving in the direction of covering services that help people exercise.

    “Several insurers already do this for diabetes prevention, so it’s not out of the question.”


  7. Study suggests optimists and happy people are healthier overall

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Research shows that optimists and happy people are healthier overall, enjoying lower blood pressure and less depression and anxiety, among other measures.

    However, data on the effect of weight and Body Mass Index on physical and mental health are rare — especially among college students, who suffer high rates of anxiety and depression and often neglect physical self-care and exercise.

    To that end, researchers from the University of Michigan and Fudan University in China set out to learn the extent to which BMI and positive outlook affect the physical and mental health of college students in China’s Fudan University.

    They found that a positive outlook and BMI both contributed significantly to good health, said Weiyun Chen, associate professor of health and fitness at the U-M School of Kinesiology.

    Researchers asked 925 students to rate four indicators of psychological well-being: hope, gratitude, life satisfaction and subjective happiness. They also calculated students’ BMI based on self-reported body weight and height. To assess physical and mental health, researchers asked students various questions about their sleep quality and how often they felt healthy, energized, worthless, fidgety, anxious or depressed.

    Chen said that taken together, the four psychological variables and BMI accounted for 41 percent of the total variance in health. Individually, subjective happiness had the most significant impact, followed by hope, and then BMI.

    By themselves, gratitude and life satisfaction didn’t influence overall health. Also, interestingly, BMI was correlated with physical and overall health, but not with hope, gratitude, life satisfaction or mental health.

    In light of the intense academic pressure Chinese college students face, especially at elite institutions like Fudan, Chen said she was surprised by how many students rated themselves happy and healthy. This could point to China’s emphasis on well-being in schools.

    “They have structured, organized physical educations classes,” Chen said. “It’s not just fitness, it’s a variety of things so you can meet different people’s needs. They realized that emphasizing only academics isn’t good for overall health, and that they needed to emphasize the wellness part.”

    These numbers might look different for college students in the U.S., where two of three adults are overweight or obese, and 17 percent of youth ages 2-19 are considered obese, according to the CDC.

    By contrast, 714 Fudan students, or 77.2 percent, were classified as normal body weight, while only 83 students were overweight, and just 5 students were obese, with 123 students considered underweight.

    “Over the past 20 years, the United States has shrunk physical education in elementary school and in college,” Chen said. “In China, especially in the past decade, they have started to emphasize physical education, and they are taking a holistic, whole person approach.”

    Chen said the findings suggest that universities should creatively design wellness programs and centers that dynamically integrate body, mind and spirit into a seamless unit.

    The study has several limitations: all students were recruited from one university, and the results cannot be generalized; the research design prevented establishing causal effects; and the study did not account for gender differences.


  8. UK study suggests sports psychologists working with elite footballers may suffer fear and uncertainty

    by Ashley

    From the University of Exeter press release:

    Sports psychologists have to cope with “fear and uncertainty”, job insecurity and long working hours when working with elite footballers, research shows.

    The experts are being increasingly used to give teams a competitive edge, but they have to face the pressure of losing their job when the football managers they work with are sacked or move, as well as long working hours and the constant need to prove themselves and to please others.

    The study, carried out with a psychologist who worked with a Premier League team, also suggests clubs are using sports psychologists who are untrained and unqualified and this could be dangerous for players. It warns there are few job opportunities for sports psychology and no structured career path.

    The profession is relatively new, but sport and exercise psychologists are now regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council in the UK. The role of a sports psychologist is diverse, but it typically includes working with athletes, coaches, and teams to enhance performance or support athletes who are injured, stressed or having difficulties managing their emotions. They also help sportsmen and women to better communicate, develop leadership skills, build confidence and find motivation and make the transition to a different career. Psychologists can be based in universities or with directly with teams or players.

    The research gives a rare glimpse into the working life of a sports psychologist in the English Premier League. “John”, who co-authored with study with academics from the University of Exeter and University of Portsmouth, is in his mid-30s and had worked for over a decade as a sports psychologist within the English Premier League (EPL) and the higher echelons of English County Cricket.

    John described how the role of a sports medic or psychologist can be incredibly rewarding when the team wins. But it is also precarious, and they often don’t benefit from job security or statutory entitlements because of their links with managers and coaches, who themselves often dismissed with no notice. Managers and coaches usually bring their own, trusted, staff with them when they move from role to role, as well as their own practices and regime. This means there can be a high turnover of medics and psychologists in clubs, and the job is highly competitive.

    John described how the changeover in managers could be “very volatile and unpleasant”. He had seen five managers come and go in five years.

    “This brings fear and uncertainty because any time there’s change you don’t know whether your face is going to fit. A lot of people will not believe that psychology has a place and that’s not a reflection on you or your capabilities, it’s just that they don’t want it in their team, or say they do and just sideline you. Or they have their own people, or a friend or a psych who they’ve used before, so you’re always at the mercy of one person’s attitude or perception, their team and their networks. All of this adds to the precarious nature of the work. You do the best you can to survive and hopefully thrive as well.”

    John described sometimes having to “hide” what he did. He worked with two coaches who didn’t believe in sports psychology. They wouldn’t let him speak to any of their players but he was able to work with players as part of a programme designed to support them off-field. Once the coaches saw this was successful they allowed him to carry out more sports psychology work.

    John helped professional sportspeople to improve their performance, develop and secure a place in the first team and helping them with issues or crises. He used different techniques, including one-to-one sessions with players to help them regulate their emotions and concentrate and set goals. He has now left club football for a more secure career in performance research and consultancy.

    John said: “It’s a life decision that you make to be fully involved in a team. You live and breathe what happens to them. You do whatever it takes. Everything must be done now, it’s a very instant culture and if you can do something to help the team win the next game then you need to do it. Ultimately it consumes your whole life and makes you vulnerable to change because you’re invested in it.”


  9. Significant financial stress associated with 13-fold higher odds of having a heart attack

    November 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the European Society of Cardiology press release:

    Significant financial stress is associated with a 13-fold higher odds of having a heart attack, according to research presented at the 18th Annual Congress of the South African Heart Association.

    The SA Heart Congress 2017 is being held from 9 to 12 November in Johannesburg.

    “The role of psychosocial factors in causing disease is a neglected area of study in South Africa, perhaps because there are so many other pressing health challenges such as tuberculosis and HIV,” said lead author Dr Denishan Govender, associate lecturer, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

    “The INTERHEART study showed that psychosocial factors are independently associated with acute myocardial infarction (heart attack) in Africa but as far as we are aware there are no other published local data,” said last author Professor Pravin Manga, professor of cardiology, University of the Witwatersrand.

    This study included 106 patients with acute myocardial infarction who presented to a large public hospital in Johannesburg. A control group of 106 patients without cardiac disease was matched for age, sex and race. All participants completed a questionnaire about depression, anxiety, stress, work stress, and financial stress in the previous month. The Likert scale was used to grade the experience of each condition.

    Regarding financial stress, patients were graded with no financial stress if they were coping financially; mild financial stress if they were coping financially but needed added support; moderate financial stress if they had an income but were in financial distress; and significant financial stress if they had no income and at times struggled to meet basic needs.

    Levels of psychosocial conditions were compared between groups and used to calculate associations with having a heart attack.

    Self-reported stress levels were common, with 96% of heart attack patients reporting any level of stress, and 40% reporting severe stress levels. There was a three-fold increased risk of myocardial infarction if a patient had experienced any level of depression (from mild to extremely severe) in the previous month compared to those with no depression.

    Both work stress and financial stress were associated with a higher risk of acute myocardial infarction. The odds of myocardial infarction was 5.6 times higher in patients with moderate or severe work stress compared to those with minimal or no stress. Patients with significant financial stress had a 13-fold higher odds of having a myocardial infarction.

    Dr Govender said: “Our study suggests that psychosocial aspects are important risk factors for acute myocardial infarction. Often patients are counselled about stress after a heart attack but there needs to be more emphasis prior to an event. Few doctors ask about stress, depression or anxiety during a general physical and this should become routine practice, like asking about smoking. Just as we provide advice on how to quit smoking, patients need information on how to fight stress.”

    Professor Manga said: “There is growing recognition that many developing countries are experiencing an increasing prevalence of chronic diseases of lifestyle such as myocardial infarction, and South Africa is no exception. Our study shows that psychosocial aspects are an area of cardiovascular prevention that deserves more attention.”

    Dr David Jankelow, Chairman of the SA Heart 2017 Congress, commented: “We know that the depressed cardiac patient is at greater risk. We as clinicians need to identify them much earlier, so that they can be referred for appropriate intervention. Cardiac rehabilitation together with counselling and reassurance will play an important role as well.”

    Professor Fausto Pinto, ESC immediate past president and course director of the ESC programme in South Africa, said: “Psychosocial factors including stress at work, depression and anxiety contribute to the risk of developing cardiovascular disease and having a worse prognosis. European prevention guidelines say that psychosocial risk factor assessment should be considered in people with, or at high risk of, cardiovascular disease to identify possible barriers to lifestyle change or adherence to medication.”


  10. Study suggests short nature intervention can bring out the best in people

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus press release:

    Is it any wonder that most happiness idioms are associated with nature? Happy as a pig in muck, happy as a clam, happy camper.

    A UBC researcher says there’s truth to the idea that spending time outdoors is a direct line to happiness. In fact, Holli-Anne Passmore says if people simply take time to notice the nature around them, it will increase their general happiness and well-being.

    Passmore, a PhD psychology student at UBC’s Okanagan campus, recently published research examining the connection between taking a moment to look at something from the natural environment and personal well-being. A recent study involved a two-week ‘intervention’ where participants were asked to document how nature they encountered in their daily routine made them feel. They took a photo of the item that caught their attention and jotted down a short note about their feelings in response to it.

    Other participants tracked their reactions to human-made objects, took a photo and jotted down their feelings, while a third group did neither. Passmore explains that examples of nature could be anything not human built: a house plant, a dandelion growing in a crack in a sidewalk, birds, or sun through a window.

    “This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness,” Passmore says. “This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.”

    Passmore, who studies wellness, says she was ‘overwhelmed’ not only by the response of her 395 study participants — more than 2,500 photos and descriptions of emotions were submitted — but also by the impact that simply noticing emotional responses to nearby nature had on personal well-being. And their prosocial orientation — a willingness to share resources and the value they placed on community.

    There is scientific documentation that people who live in greenspaces generally seem to be happier, and may live longer than those who don’t. Passmore is taking that research further. This study is one of a series by a research team in UBC Okanagan’s psychology department known as the “Happy Team” which is providing evidence that nature can increase happiness.

    “The difference in participants’ well-being their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature — was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group.”