1. Study suggests stress behaviours may have evolved to lessen aggression

    September 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    Scratching is more than an itch — when it is sparked by stress, it appears to reduce aggression from others and lessen the chance of conflict.

    Scratching can be a sign of stress in many primates, including humans.

    Research by Jamie Whitehouse from the University of Portsmouth, is the first to suggest that these stress behaviours can be responded to by others, and that they might have evolved as a communication tool to help social cohesion.

    The research, published in Scientific Reports, raises the question whether human scratching and similar self-directed stress behaviours serve a similar function.

    Jamie said: “Observable stress behaviours could have evolved as a way of reducing aggression in socially complex species of primates. Showing others you are stressed could benefit both the scratcher and those watching, because both parties can then avoid conflict.”

    The research team conducted behavioural observations of 45 rhesus macaques from a group of 200, on the 35-acre island of Cayo Santiago, Puerto Rico. The team monitored the naturally occurring social interactions between these animals over a period of eight months.

    The researchers found that scratching in the monkeys was more likely to occur in times of heightened stress, such as being close to high-ranking individuals or to non-friends.

    Stress scratching significantly lowered the likelihood of a scratching monkey being attacked.

    The likelihood of aggression when a high ranking monkey approached a lower ranking monkey was 75 per cent if no scratching took place, and only 50 per cent when the lower ranking monkey scratched.

    Scratching also reduced the chance of aggression between individuals who did not have a strong social bond.

    Jamie said: “As scratching can be a sign of social stress, potential attackers might be avoiding attacking obviously stressed individuals because such individuals could behave unpredictably or be weakened by their stress, meaning an attack could be either risky or unnecessary.

    “By revealing stress to others, we are helping them predict what we might do, so the situation becomes more transparent. Transparency ultimately reduces the need for conflict, which benefits everyone and promotes a more socially cohesive group.”

    The researchers expect the findings will lead to a better understanding of stress and the evolution of stress in humans as well as how we manage stress in captive animals.


  2. Study finds active ingredient in sugarcane may help with stress-related insomnia

    September 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Tsukuba press release:

    Everyone empirically knows that stressful events certainly affect sound sleep. Scientists in the Japanese sleep institute found that the active component rich in sugarcane and other natural products may ameliorate stress and help having sound sleep.

    In today’s world ever-changing environment, demanding job works and socio-economic factors enforces sleep deprivation in human population. Sleep deprivation induces tremendous amount of stress, and stress itself is one of the major factors responsible for sleep loss or difficulty in falling into sleep. Currently available sleeping pills does not address stress component and often have severe side effects. Sleep loss is also associated with certain other diseases including obesity, cardiovascular diseases, depression, anxiety, mania deficits etc.

    The research group led by Mahesh K. Kaushik and Yoshihiro Urade of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (WPI-IIIS), University of Tsukuba, found that octacosanol reduces stress and restores stress-affected sleep back to normal.

    Octacosanol is abundantly present in various everyday foods such as sugarcane (thin whitish layer on surface), rice bran, wheat germ oil, bee wax etc. The crude extract is policosanol, where octacosanol is the major constituent. Policosanol and octacosanol have already been used in humans for various other medical conditions.

    In the current study, authors made an advancement and investigated the effect of octacosanol on sleep regulation in mildly stressed mice by oral administration. Octacosanol reduced corticosterone level in blood plasma, which is a stress marker. The octacosanol-administered mice also showed normal sleep, which was previously disturbed due to stress. They therefore claim that the octacosanol mitigates stress in mice and restores stress-affected sleep to normal in mice. The sleep induced by octacosanol was similar to natural sleep and physiological in nature. However, authors also claimed that octacosanol does not affect sleep in normal animals. These results clearly demonstrated that octacosanol is an active compound that has potential to reduce stress and to increase sleep, and it could potentially be useful for the therapy of insomnia caused by stress. Octacosanol can be considered safe for human use as a therapy, because it is a food-based compound and believed to show no side effects.

    Octacosanol/policosanol supplements are used by humans for functions such as lipid metabolism, cholesterol lowering or to provide strength. However, well-planned clinical studies need to be carried out to confirm its effect on humans for its stress-mitigation and sleep-inducing potentials. “Future studies include the identification of target brain area of octacosanol, its BBB permeability, and the mechanism via which octacosanol lowers stress,” Kaushik says.


  3. Study suggests shared custody equals less stress for children

    September 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Stockholm University press release:

    Children who live full time with one parent are more likely to feel stressed than children in shared custody situations. The benefit holds regardless of the level of conflict between the parents or between parent and child. These are the results of a new study from Stockholm University’s Demography Unit.

    “The explanation may be that children, who spend most of the time away from one parent, lose resources like relatives, friends and money. Previous research has also shown that children may worry about the parent they rarely meet, which can make them more stressed,” says Jani Turunen, researcher in Demography at Stockholm University and Centre for research on child and adolescent mental health at Karlstad University.

    The fact that children who live full time with one parent are worse psychologically than children in shared physical custody has been previously shown, but this study is the first to look specifically at stress. Shared physical custody is not to be confounded with shared legal custody. Shared legal custody only gives both parents the legal right to decisions about the child’s upbringing, school choices, religion, and so on. Shared physical custody means that the child actually lives for equal, or near equal, time with both parents, alternating between separate households.

    The data for this study are from the Surveys of Living Conditions in Sweden, ULF, from 2001-2003, combined with registry data. Sweden is a country that is often considered a forerunner in emerging family forms and behaviors like divorce, childbearing and family reconstitution.

    “This means that the results of this study are relevant to today’s situation in many European countries, since their situation today might be comparable to the one in Sweden 15 years ago,” says Jani Turunen.

    In the survey, a total of 807 children with different types of living arrangements answered to questions about how often they experience stress and how well, or badly, they get along with their parents. The parents have answered how well they get along with their former partner.

    The study shows that children living with only one of the parents have a higher likelihood of experiencing stress several times a week, than children in shared physical custody. This generally applies even if the parents have a poor relationship, or if the children don’t get along with either of them.

    “There has previously been a concern that shared physical custody could be an unstable living situation, that can lead to children becoming more stressed. But those who pointed to it earlier have built their concerns on theoretical assumptions, rather than empirical research,” says Jani Turunen.

    What probably makes children in shared physical custody less stressed is that they can have an active relationship with both their parents, which previous research has shown to be important for the children’s well-being. The relationship between the child and both of its parents becomes stronger, the child finds the relationship to be better and the parents can both exercise more active parenting.

    “In other words, living with both parents does not mean instability for the children. It’s just an adaptation to another housing situation, where regular relocation and a good contact with both parents equals to stability,” says Jani Turunen.


  4. Burdens of spousal caregiving alleviated by appreciation

    September 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    The fact that spouses often become caregivers for their ailing partners is quite common in American life — and few roles are more stressful.

    Yet helping behaviors, which are at the core of caregiving, typically relieve stress, according to Michael Poulin, an associate professor in the University at Buffalo Department of Psychology.

    When discussing spousal care, the draining demands of caregiving and the uplifting effects of helping stand in apparent contrast to one another.

    But recent research shows that the time caregivers spend actively helping a loved one can improve the caregiver’s sense of well-being — and now, Poulin, an expert in empathy, human generosity and stress, is part of a research team that has published a study exploring why that’s the case.

    Their research points to the specific conditions necessary to alleviate the burdens of spousal caregiving.

    Spending time attempting to provide help can be beneficial for a caregiver’s mental and physical well-being, but only during those times when the caregiver sees that their help has made a difference and that difference is noticed and recognized by their partner,” he says.

    “These conclusions are important because we know that spousal caregiving is an enormous burden, emotionally, physically and economically,” he says. “If we can find ways for community resources to help create those conditions we might be able to make a difference in the lives of millions of people.”

    The findings of the study, led by Joan Monin, Yale School of Public Health, Stephanie Brown, Stony Brook University, Kenneth Langa, University of Michigan, and Poulin, appear in the American Psychological Association’s journal Health Psychology.

    Poulin says more than 30 years of research shows that being a caregiver is among the most stressful, emotionally burdensome and physically demanding roles a person can take on. Spouses who are caregivers show decreased immune function, increased signs of physiological stress and are at greater risk for physical and mental illness.

    Yet other studies, including much of Poulin’s own research, suggest that the act of providing help to somebody is typically stress-relieving and is associated with better emotional and physical well-being.

    “The problem is that when you’re a caregiver, not all of your time is spent helping,” says Poulin. “Sometimes all you can do is witness the person’s state while being passively on duty.”

    But previous research confirmed that the act of helping in this context was associated with improving the caretakers’ well-being, a finding that was true even when general caregiving was broken downs into tasks, like feeding or bathing.

    “This is what we wanted to get at,” says Poulin. “We knew that something about being helpful is good in these circumstances. But why? Is it just being active? Is doing something better than doing nothing? Or is it that doing something to improve another person’s well-being is what matters?”

    The research team conducted two studies with spouses caring for partners with chronic pain.

    In the first study, 73 participants reported caregiving activity and their accompanying emotions in three-hour intervals. This allowed the researchers to look at the amount of help given and how much that help pleased the spouse and subsequently affected the caregiver.

    The second study involved 43 caregivers who completed a diary at the end of the day that detailed the help they provided and the appreciation they received.

    The findings suggest that spouses caring for a partner feel happier and report fewer physical symptoms when they believe their help is appreciated.

    “Importantly, this study adds to a growing body of evidence showing that it is important to target emotional communication between spouses in daily support interactions to improve psychological well-being in the context of chronic conditions and disability,” the authors write in their paper.

    It’s an important point to consider, not just today, but for the future, notes Poulin.

    “As the baby boomers continue to age, this phenomenon of spousal caregiving will continue to increase,” he says.


  5. Severe stress behind self-perceived memory problems

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Gothenburg press release:

    Stress, fatigue, and feeling like your memory is failing you. These are the symptoms of a growing group of patients studied as part of a thesis at Sahlgrenska Academy. Result — They may need help, but they are rarely entering the initial stages of dementia.

    “We are seeing a growing number of people who are seeking help because of self-perceived cognitive problems, but have no objective signs of disease despite thorough investigation,” says Marie Eckerström, doctoral student at the Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology and licensed psychologist at the Memory Unit of Sahlgrenska University Hospital.

    The influx of this particular group of patients, which currently represents one-third of the individuals who come to the unit, has increased the need for knowledge of who they are. In her work, Marie Eckerström followed a few hundred of them, both women and men, over an average of four years.

    They are usually highly educated professionals who are relatively young in this context, between the ages of 50 and 60. When tested at the hospital, their memory functions are intact. But, in their everyday environment where they are under pressure to constantly learn new things, they think things just are not working right.

    The correlation between self-perceived memory problems and stress proved to be strong. Seven out of ten in the group had experiences of severe stress, clinical burnout, or depression.

    “We found that problems with stress were very common. Patients often tell us they are living or have lived with severe stress for a prolonged period of time and this has affected their cognitive functions to such an extent that they feel like they are sick and are worried about it. In some cases, this is combined with a close family member with dementia, giving the patient more knowledge but also increasing their concern,” says Marie Eckerström.

    The memory unit investigates suspicions of the early stages of dementia in those who seek help. Research is conducted in parallel to this.

    “We primarily investigate suspected dementia. If we are able to rule this out, then the patient does not remain with us. But, there are not so many places such patients can turn and they seem to fall between the cracks.”

    Perceived memory problems are common and may be an early sign of future development of dementia. For those in the studied group who also had deviating biomarkers in their cerebrospinal fluid (beta-amyloid, total-tau and phospho-tau), the risk of deteriorating and developing dementia was more than double. However, the majority demonstrated no signs of deterioration after four years.

    “These individuals have no objective signs of dementia. The issue instead is usually stress, anxiety or depression,” says Marie Eckerström.

    One out of ten with only self-perceived memory problems developed dementia during the investigated period. According to Marie Eckerström, this is a higher percentage than the population in general, but is still low.

    “It is not a matter of just anyone who has occasional memory problems in everyday life. It is more a matter of individuals who sought medical attention to investigate whether they are developing serious problems,” states Marie Eckerström.


  6. Brain activity may be predictor of stress-related cardiovascular risk

    September 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Heart Association press release:

    The brain may have a distinctive activity pattern during stressful events that predicts bodily reactions, such as rises in blood pressure that increase risk for cardiovascular disease, according to new proof-of-concept research in the Journal of the American Heart Association, the Open Access Journal of the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association.

    The new research, the largest brain-imaging study of cardiovascular stress physiology to date, introduced a brain-based explanation of why stress might influence a person’s heart health.

    “Psychological stress can influence physical health and risk for heart disease, and there may be biological and brain-based explanations for this influence,” said Peter Gianaros, Ph.D., the study’s senior author and psychology professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

    To help understand the brain-body link between stress and health, researchers conducted mental stress tests and monitored blood pressure and heart rates during an MRI procedure. The mental tests were designed to create a stressful experience by having research volunteers receive negative feedback while they were making time-pressured responses to computer challenges.

    Research participants — 157 men and 153 women — were 30 to 51 years old and part of the Pittsburgh Imaging Project, an ongoing study of how the brain influences cardiovascular disease risk. As expected, the mental stress tests increased blood pressure and heart rate in most of the volunteers compared to a non-stress baseline period.

    Using machine-learning, researchers determined that a specific brain activity pattern reliably predicted the size of the volunteers’ blood pressure and heart rate reactions to the mental stress tests.

    The brain areas that were especially predictive of stress-related cardiovascular reactions included those that determine whether information from the environment is threatening and that control the heart and blood vessels through the autonomic nervous system.

    The study was based on a group of middle-aged healthy adults at low levels of risk for heart disease, so the findings may not be applicable to patients with existing heart disease. Also, brain imaging does not allow researchers to draw conclusions about causality.

    “This kind of work is proof-of-concept, but it does suggest that, in the future, brain imaging might be a useful tool to identify people who are at risk for heart disease or who might be more or less suited for different kinds of interventions, specifically those that might be aimed at reducing levels of stress,” Gianaros said. “It’s the people who show the largest stress-related cardiovascular responses who are at the greatest risk for poor cardiovascular health and understanding the brain mechanisms for this may help to reduce their risk.”


  7. Study suggests way of dealing with exam stress

    September 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Royal Holloway London press release:

    New research from Royal Holloway, University of London, published in Cognition and Emotion suggests that adopting a ‘this too shall pass’ attitude and mentally projecting themselves into the future could help teenagers deal with stressful situations.

    With results day looming, stressed teens should imagine themselves several years in the future. Such mental projection could help teens deal with stress, reminding them that no matter what happens, their current situation is only temporary.

    The power of mental time travel

    “Our research suggests that telling young people to picture themselves far into the future, where a stressful situation like results day is long gone, is an effective way to help them cope. Much like an adult in a traffic jam, or being forced to sit through a meeting they’d rather not be in, imagining a point after the situation is over can be an effective stress reliever,” said Dr Catherine Sebastian from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway.

    “We had thought that adolescents may be less able to control their emotions using this strategy, either because they have less experience with stressful situations, or because they have less of an idea of what their future will look like,” explains Dr Saz Ahmed, also from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway.

    “However, our findings show that this assumption is wrong,” continues Dr Sebastian. “When you ask teens to think about an issue in the long term, they are more than capable of looking at a problem in context – as a small part of their lives. Their current situation may be stressful but with a little guidance they are able to see the blue skies beyond the storm.”

    Looking forward, not back

    The researchers asked young people aged 12-22 to think about a set of specific scenarios. Some were negative, like failing an exam, and some were neutral, like a room being painted. When thinking about the negative scenarios, adolescents were more effective at reducing their stress levels when looking into the distant future (between one and ten years) than when looking into the near future (days, weeks or months), or just reacting naturally. Those who chose to project themselves further ahead in time seemed to be more successful in reducing their distress, suggesting that the length of time chosen is important – it’s not just a case of simply distracting yourself from the present moment.

    “We have known for a long time that distancing – mentally placing yourself further away from a situation that you’re in – works for adults as a coping strategy for stress, but what we’ve now shown is that this also works for young people,” explained Dr Ahmed. “Next, we are interested in understanding more about adolescents who may be less effective in managing strong emotions, for example those who react aggressively to frustrations and setbacks..”


  8. Stress heightens fear of threats from the past

    August 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Texas at Austin press release:

    Recognizing threats is an essential function of the human mind — think “fight or flight” — one that is aided by past negative experiences. But when older memories are coupled with stress, individuals are likely to perceive danger in harmless circumstances, according to a paper published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The findings by researchers from Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin, New York University and McGill University shed light on fear generalization, a core component of anxiety and stress-related disorders.

    “The human mind uses cues to danger learned over time for self-defense, but certain circumstances can cause people to misidentify those cues,” said Joseph Dunsmoor, lead study author and assistant professor of psychiatry at Dell Med. “Our research reveals that stress levels and the amount of time since an adverse event promote this type of overgeneralization.”

    Dunsmoor conducted the research as a postdoc in the lab of Elizabeth Phelps, professor of psychology and neural science at New York University (NYU). Ross Otto, assistant professor of psychology at McGill University, also worked on the study as a postdoc at NYU.

    Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — which affects about 8 million adults every year — is one disorder characterized by the inability to discriminate threat from safety. Fear is triggered by harmless stimuli such as a car backfiring because they serve as reminders of trauma. By understanding how the mind identifies and responds to such triggers, scientists can develop better treatments for mental illnesses and disorders.

    “These findings provide important laboratory data that helps explain why PTSD symptoms are often exacerbated during times of stress, and how repeated stress and trauma in the battlefield may lead to increased risk for PTSD,” said Suzannah Creech, an associate professor of psychiatry at Dell Medical School, who was not involved in the study, but has spent her career working with veterans recovering from trauma.

    “The research may help improve PTSD treatment outcomes for veterans in part by helping us understand how we may be able to prevent it in the first place,” she said.

    In the study, the researchers tested the effects of stress and time on a person’s ability to correctly identify a cue associated with a negative outcome. Study participants heard two tones with one followed by a shock, set by the participant at the level of “highly annoying but not painful.” Then, researchers played tones in the range of the two frequencies and gauged participants’ expectations of shock by self-report and data on skin responses that indicate emotional arousal. When testing the range of tones, half of the participants were methodically primed to have higher cortisol levels through an arm ice bath, and half received a control arm bath with room temperature water.

    Researchers performed the test on two groups. One group took the shock expectancy test immediately after the initial shock. The second group took the test 24 hours after the initial shock. Both groups underwent the stress/control priming activity just before the shock expectancy test.

    When tested immediately after the initial shock, stress level did not significantly affect the participants fear of shock and accuracy in identifying the associated tone. However, when tested 24 hours later, stress level did heighten participants’ fear response and negatively impacted their ability to identify the tone associated with shock. The group tested 24 hours later without raised cortisol levels only had slightly heightened fear responses and retained the ability to identify the associated tone.

    “The effects of stress and memory on how humans generalize fear is largely unexamined,” Dunsmoor said. “This study provides new data that will help us care for people with disordered patterns of fear and worry.”


  9. Being bullied may dramatically affect sleep

    by Ashley

    From the McLean Hospital press release:

    New research from McLean Hospital neuroscientists shows in an animal model that being bullied can have long-term, dramatic effects on sleep and other circadian rhythm-related functions, symptoms that are characteristic of clinical depression and other stress-induced mental illnesses. The researchers, however, also found that it may be possible to mitigate these effects with the use of an experimental class of drugs that can block stress.

    “While our study found that some stress-related effects on circadian rhythms are short-lived, others are long-lasting,” said William Carlezon, PhD, chief of the Division of Basic Neuroscience and director of the Behavioral Genetics Laboratory at McLean Hospital and senior author of the study. “Identifying these changes and understanding their meaning is an important step in developing methods to counter the long-lasting effects of traumatic experiences on mental health.”

    Stress is known to trigger psychiatric illnesses, including depression and PTSD, and sleep is frequently affected in these conditions. Some people with stress disorders sleep less than normal, while others sleep more than normal or have more frequent bouts of sleep and wakefulness.

    To demonstrate the effects of bullying, the researchers used an animal model simulating the physical and emotional stressors involved in human bullying — chronic social defeat stress.

    For this procedure, a smaller, younger mouse is paired with a larger, older, and more aggressive mouse. When the smaller mouse is placed into the home cage of the larger mouse, the larger mouse instinctively acts to protect its territory.

    In a typical interaction lasting several minutes, the larger mouse chases the smaller mouse, displaying aggressive behavior and emitting warning calls. The interaction ends when the larger mouse pins the smaller mouse to the floor or against a cage wall, establishing dominance by the larger mouse and submission by the smaller mouse.

    The mice are then separated and a barrier is placed between them, dividing the home cage in half. A clear and perforated barrier is used, enabling the mice to see, smell, and hear each other, but preventing physical interactions. The mice remain in this arrangement, with the smaller mouse living under threat from the larger mouse, for the rest of the day. This process is repeated for 10 consecutive days, with a new aggressor mouse introduced each day.

    To collect data continuously and accurately, researchers outfitted the smaller mice with micro-transmitters that are akin to activity trackers used by people to monitor their exercise, heart rate, and sleep. These mice micro-transmitters collected sleep, muscle activity, and body temperature data, which revealed that the smaller mice experienced progressive changes in sleep patterns, with all phases of the sleep-wake cycle being affected. The largest effect was on the number of times the mice went in and out of a sleep phase called paradoxical sleep, which resembles REM (rapid eye movement) sleep in humans, when dreams occur and memories are strengthened. Bullied mice showed many more bouts of paradoxical sleep, resembling the type of sleep disruptions often seen in people with depression. Bullied mice also showed a flattening of body temperature fluctuations, which is also an effect seen in people with depression.

    “Both the sleep and body temperature changes persisted in the smaller mice after they were removed from the physically and emotionally threatening environment, suggesting that they had developed symptoms that look very much like those seen in people with long-term depression,” said Carlezon. “These effects were reduced, however, in terms of both intensity and duration, if the mice had been treated with a kappa-opioid receptor antagonist, a drug that blocks the activity of one of the brain’s own opioid systems.”

    Carlezon explained that these findings not only reveal what traumatic experiences can do to individuals who experience them, but also that we may someday be able to do something to reduce the severity of their effects.

    “This study exemplifies how measuring the same types of endpoints in laboratory animals and humans might hasten the pace of advances in psychiatry research. If we can knock out stress with new treatments, we might be able to prevent some forms of mental illness.”

    The detailed findings of this study are available in the August 9, 2017 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

    McLean Hospital is the largest psychiatric affiliate of Harvard Medical School and a member of Partners HealthCare. For more information about McLean, visit mcleanhospital.org or follow the hospital on Facebook or Twitter.


  10. How pronouns can be used to build confidence in stressful situations

    August 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    You’re preparing for a major presentation. Or maybe you have a job interview. You could even be getting ready to finally ask your secret crush out on a date.

    Before any potentially stressful event, people often engage in self-talk, an internal dialogue meant to moderate anxiety.

    This kind of self-reflection is common, according to Mark Seery, a University at Buffalo psychologist whose new study, which applied cardiovascular measures to test participants’ reactions while giving a speech, suggests that taking a “distanced perspective,” or seeing ourselves as though we were an outside observer, leads to a more confident and positive response to upcoming stressors than seeing the experience through our own eyes. The findings, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology with co-authors Lindsey Streamer, Cheryl Kondrak, Veronica Lamarche and Thomas Saltsman, illustrate how the strategic use of language in the face of tension helps people feel more confident.

    “Being a fly on the wall might be the way to put our best foot forward,” says Seery, an associate professor in UB’s Department of Psychology and an expert on stress and coping. “And one way to do that is by not using first-person pronouns like ‘I’. For me, it’s saying to myself, ‘Mark is thinking this’ or ‘Here is what Mark is feeling’ rather than ‘I am thinking this’ or ‘Here is what I’m feeling.’

    “It’s a subtle difference in language, but previous work in other areas has shown this to make a difference — and that’s the case here, too.” Seery says most everyone engages in self-talk, but it’s important to understand that not all self-talk is equally effective when contemplating future performance. We can either self-distance or self-immerse.

    For the study, researchers told 133 participants that a trained evaluator would assess a two-minute speech on why they were a good fit for their dream job. The participants were to think about their presentation either with first-person (self-immersing) or third-person pronouns (self-distancing).

    While they delivered their speeches, researchers measured a spectrum of physiological responses (how fast the heart beats; how hard it beats; how much blood the heart is pumping; and the degree to which blood vessels dilated or constricted), which provided data on whether the speech is important to the presenter and the presenter’s level of confidence.

    “What this allows us to do is something that hasn’t been shown before in studies that relied on asking participants to tell researchers about their thoughts and feelings,” says Seery. “Previous work has suggested that inducing self-distancing can lead to less negative responses to stressful things, but that can be happening because self-distancing has reduced the importance of the event.

    “That seems positive on the face of it, but long-term that could have negative implications because people might not be giving their best effort,” says Seery. “We found that self-distancing did not lead to lower task engagement, which means there was no evidence that they cared less about giving a good speech. Instead, self-distancing led to greater challenge than self-immersion, which suggests people felt more confident after self-distancing.”

    Seery points out that some of the most important moments in life involve goal pursuit, but these situations can be anxiety provoking or even overwhelming.

    Self-distancing may promote approaching them with confidence and experiencing them with challenge rather than threat.”