1. Study suggests recurring nightmares could reflect daily frustrations

    December 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    People who are frustrated because their basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness and feeling competent are not met are more likely to have a recurring bad dream and to analyze their dreams negatively. This is according to Netta Weinstein of the University of Cardiff in the UK, who is lead author of an article on dreams published in Springer’s journal Motivation and Emotion.

    Dreams and their interpretation have been investigated since the days of Jung and Freud. However, the research done by Weinstein’s team is the first to explore whether people’s daily frustration or fulfilment of psychological needs plays out in their dreams.

    The researchers conducted two studies. In the first, 200 people were asked to reflect on their most common recurring dream. The second study analyzed the entries that 110 people made over a period of three days in “dream diaries.” This was done to explore whether experiences related to psychological needs in waking life are related to the deeper level of processing that dreams provide, and that so-called “bad” dreams might be “left-overs” of poorly or even unprocessed daily experiences.

    Waking-life psychological need experiences are indeed reflected in our dreams,” says Weinstein.

    The results from both studies show that frustrations and emotions associated with specific psychological needs influence the themes that will occur in people’s dreams. Participants whose so-called psychological needs were not met, either more enduringly or on a day-to-day basis, felt more frustrated. They reported having more negative dream themes such as frightening dreams, or ones in which sad or angry emotions surfaced. When asked to interpret their own dreams, they tended to do so using more negative words. Participants whose psychological needs were met were more likely to describe their dreams positively.

    “Negative dream emotions may directly result from distressing dream events, and might represent the psyche’s attempt to process and make sense of particularly psychologically challenging waking experiences,” explains Weinstein.

    People who were frustrated with their daily situation tended to have recurring dreams in which they were falling, failing or being attacked. According to Weinstein, recurring dreams may be more sensitive to distressing psychological experiences that a person still needs to process.

    “Researchers and theorists have argued that recurring dreams challenge people to process the most pressing problems in their lives, and these may be thought to result from their failure to adapt to challenging experiences. As such, dream content may be more affected by enduring need-based experiences,” says Weinstein.


  2. Study looks at what gives poetry its aesthetic appeal

    December 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    New psychology research points to the factors that explain why we find particular poems aesthetically pleasing — results that enhance our understanding of “why we like what we like.”

    “People disagree on what they like, of course,” explains Amy Belfi, a postdoctoral fellow in New York University’s Department of Psychology at the time of the study and the study’s lead author. “While it may seem obvious that individual taste matters in judgments of poetry, we found that despite individual disagreement, it seems that certain factors consistently influence how much a poem will be enjoyed.”

    The study, which appears in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, also included G. Gabrielle Starr, president of Pomona College and dean of NYU’s College of Arts and Science at the time of the research, and Edward Vessel, a research scientist in the Department of Neuroscience at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany. Belfi is now an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological Science at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

    Aesthetics, the underpinnings of what we find appealing or not, play an important role in our everyday lives — from deciding what to wear in the morning to choosing what to listen to during your commute. However, little is known about how we make these judgments.

    The researchers sought to answer an age-old question — “Why do we like what we like?” — by gauging what we find aesthetically pleasing in poetry.

    To do this, the team had more than 400 participants read and rate poems of two genres — haiku and sonnet — with the aim of understanding the factors that best predicted the aesthetic appeal of the poems. After reading each poem, participants answered questions about the poem’s vividness (“How vivid is the imagery evoked from this poem?”), emotional arousal (“How relaxing or stimulating is this poem?”), emotional valence (“How positive or negative is the content of this poem?” — e.g, a poem about death might be negative, while a poem about beautiful flowers might be positive), and aesthetic appeal (“How enjoyable or aesthetically appealing did you find this poem?”).

    Their results showed that vividness of mental imagery was the best predictor of aesthetic appeal — poems that evoked greater imagery were more pleasing. Emotional valence also predicted aesthetic appeal, though to a lesser extent; specifically, poems that were found to be more positive were generally found to be more appealing. By contrast, emotional arousal did not have a clear relationship to aesthetic appeal.

    Notably, readers did not at all agree on what poems they found appealing, an outcome that supports the notion that people have different tastes; nonetheless, there is common ground — vividness of imagery and emotional valence — in what explains these tastes, even if they vary.

    “The vividness of a poem consistently predicted its aesthetic appeal,” notes Starr, author of Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience (MIT Press). “Therefore, it seems that vividness of mental imagery may be a key component influencing what we like more broadly.”

    “While limited to poetry,” she adds, “our work sheds light into which components most influence our aesthetic judgments and paves the way for future research investigating how we make such judgments in other domains.”

    The verses (111 haiku and 16 sonnets) were drawn from The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa, translated by Robert Haas (Ecco Press), and Haiku: The Last Poems of an American Icon, by Richard Wright (Arcade). The sonnets are American and English works by a diverse range of poets, from John Davies (“The hardness of her heart and truth of mine”) to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“The Tides”), Claude McKay (“Dawn in New York”), Catherine Chandler (“Henslow’s Sparrow”), and others; they range from the 16th century to the current decade.


  3. Study examines screen time addiction in youth

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    It’s a familiar sight in the majority of young families: young children bent over a screen for hours, texting or gaming, lost in a digital world.

    Many parents worry, how much screen time is too much?

    But a recent study found that may be the wrong question. The findings suggest that how children use the devices, not how much time they spend on them, is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction. This held true after researchers controlled for screen time.

    “Typically, researchers and clinicians quantify or consider the amount of screen time as of paramount importance in determining what is normal or not normal or healthy or unhealthy,” said lead author Sarah Domoff, who did the research while a postdoctoral research fellow at University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development.

    “Our study has demonstrated that there is more to it than number of hours. What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity.”

    Much research exists on adolescents and screen use, but Domoff said that to her knowledge this is the first tool in the United States that measures screen media addiction in children ages 4-11. She believes it will be a valuable tool for parents, clinicians and researchers.

    Some of the warning signs include: if screen time interferes with daily activities, causes conflict for the child or in the family, or is the only activity that brings the child joy.

    Kids who use media in unhealthy ways have problems with relationships, conduct and other emotional symptoms, Domoff said. The study didn’t examine whether the emotional and behavior problems or the media addiction came first.

    Domoff, a research faculty affiliate at U-M’s Center for Human Growth and Development, is now an assistant professor of psychology at Central Michigan University. Other study authors include: U-M’s Kristen Harrison, Ashley Gearhardt, Julie Lumeng and Alison Miller; and Douglas Gentile of Iowa State State University.


  4. Mothers of teens with autism report higher levels of stress, but optimism can be a buffer

    December 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Riverside press release:

    Anyone who has ever survived being a teenager should be well aware that parenting a teenager can be no easy feat. But factor in a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or intellectual disability (ID), and you’ll likely have the recipe for a unique set of challenges to the entire family unit.

    According to autism expert Jan Blacher, a distinguished professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Riverside, the effects of those challenges went largely understudied for years while medical professionals blamed mothers of children diagnosed with ASD for their kids’ disorders.

    Beginning in the 1950s, doctors turned to psychiatrist Leo Kanner’s “refrigerator mother” theory as evidence that a lack of maternal warmth could essentially cause autism. It wasn’t until the mid-1960s when psychologist Bernard Rimland, among others, began to discredit Kanner’s theory, instead popularizing the idea that autism could be rooted in neurological development, or even genetics.

    Decades later, the race to find autism-linked genes continues. But it doesn’t yet benefit families of kids with ASD, said Blacher and her research colleague, UCLA’s Bruce L. Baker.

    Within those families, the impacts of raising children with autism hit mothers especially hard, resulting in what Blacher and Baker refer to as “collateral effects.”

    In a study recently published online in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, the researchers found that mothers of teenagers with ASD or ID reported higher levels of stress and other negative psychological symptoms — think depression or anxiety — than mothers of teenagers with typical development, or TD.

    Those levels climbed even higher when teenagers with ASD or ID also showed signs of clinical-level disruptive behavior disorders.

    To find out how such disorders affected mothers, Blacher and Baker surveyed 160 13-year-olds and their families. Eighty-four of the study’s teenage participants were classified as having typical development, or TD; 48 as having ASD; and 28 as having ID.

    As the director of UCR’s SEARCH (Support, Education, Advocacy, Resources, Community, and Hope) Family Autism Resource Center, Blacher works with kids of all ages with ASD. She said this study, however, is special because it focuses on a pool of adolescents who are the same age.

    “Usually when studies have looked at the impacts of autism on families, the children involved have reflected wide ranges of ages,” she said. “Here, we’ve eliminated the variance related to developmental stage.”

    Blacher and Baker first assessed mothers and their 13-year-olds during in-person visits at their research site, and later asked mothers to complete separate questionnaires privately to measure youth behavior problems and parental well-being.

    “ASD group mothers scored highest on each of the two distress indicators,” the researchers wrote, adding that ASD group mothers’ levels of stress and psychological symptoms did not differ significantly from those of ID group mothers.

    The findings harken back to research demonstrating that parents of children with ASD have reported levels of stress consistent with those of individuals who experience post-traumatic stress disorder.

    What’s more, mothers’ levels of parenting-related stress and other psychological symptoms were amplified by the presence of one or more clinical-level behavior disorders, Blacher and Baker said.

    “The most common disruptive behavior disorder is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, but children with autism can also show signs of oppositional defiant disorder, depression, and anxiety,” Blacher said. “The disorders that are most disruptive to parents are those we describe as ‘acting out’ disorders and involve behaviors like not following rules, hitting, screaming, arguing, lashing out, and breaking things.”

    Still, the researchers emphasized that parents who face childrearing challenges need not resign themselves to lifetimes of mounting stress. The mothers they studied who demonstrated more resilience had one thing in common: an optimistic outlook on life.

    Using the Life Orientation Test, which assesses individuals’ optimism or pessimism, Blacher and Baker found that mothers who were more optimistic — believing that good rather than bad things would happen to them — experienced fewer negative impacts associated with parenting a child with ASD or ID and comorbid behavior disorders.

    In those cases, a more positive outlook on life became a buffer against parenting-related stressors.

    “It’s in the face of stress when optimism really becomes important,” Blacher said. “A mom that has a high level of optimism is going to be able to better weather stress and be better prepared mentally for the challenges ahead.”


  5. Study suggests preschool program helps boost skills necessary for academic achievement

    December 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Penn State press release:

    Children growing up in poverty face many challenges, but a preschool program that aims to improve social and emotional skills may help increase their focus and improve learning in the classroom, according to researchers.

    Researchers observed two groups of children from preschool through third grade. One group participated in the Head Start REDI (Research-based, Developmentally Informed) program and the other did not. Each year, the researchers measured the students’ executive function (EF) — skills that help children focus, control their impulses, remember details, and other skills essential in the classroom.

    Karen Bierman, Penn State Evan Pugh Professor of Psychology, said that while most children seemed to benefit from the REDI program, it was the children that started out with the lowest executive function that benefited the most.

    “We saw a bit of an improvement in EF skills after REDI ended at the end of preschool, but the bigger effects emerged over time in the children that started out with lower EF,” Bierman said. “We think that the social and emotional skills they built in the program boosted the EF in this group of kids, which in turn helped them engage in the classroom and benefit cognitively.”

    The researchers — who published their findings in the journal Psychological Science — said executive function skills are critical for all students, but they tend to be lower in children that grow up in poverty. Bierman said that if students are low in executive function and can’t regulate their behavior in the classroom and focus on their schoolwork, it’s hard for them to learn.

    “Some people describe executive functions as the neural architecture for learning,” Bierman said. “They help you organize and focus your attention, support your working memory, and promote your self-control. They help you stop and think through something. EF is governed by the prefrontal cortex, which grows very rapidly during the preschool years. So preschool is a great opportunity to work on these skills.”

    The REDI program was developed at Penn State as a way to build upon the existing Head Start program, which provides preschool education to low-income children. The REDI program aims to improve social and emotional skills, as well as early literacy and listening skills, by incorporating stories, puppets and other activities that introduce concepts like understanding feelings, cooperation, friendship skills and self-control skills.

    The researchers suggested that REDI’s focus on these skills would also help strengthen executive function. They recruited 356 children for the study, with 192 participating in the REDI program and 164 participating in a traditional Head Start curriculum.

    As the children moved from preschool through third grade, the researchers checked in each year and measured executive function and academic performance. In addition to comparing the REDI students to the control group, they also noted the differences in children that started with high, medium and low executive function within the REDI program.

    After analyzing the data from all five years and across all groups, the researchers found that the children in the low executive function group showed more growth in EF than the control group. The researchers also saw better reading fluency and language arts and math performance in the third grade in the lower executive function group compared to the control group.

    “We saw that this enriched preschool intervention can really have long-term academic benefits, especially, in this case, for kids who were at highest risk for having school difficulties because of their low executive function,” Bierman said. “The greatest benefits for the larger group of children were in the area of social and behavioral adjustment when they moved into elementary school. And for the kids with lower executive function, we also saw improved academic skills.”

    Bierman said she believes that boosting executive function in the kids that needed it most, gave them the skills to participate and focus in the classroom.

    In the future, the researchers said they want to continue following the children in the study as they move into middle and high school to continue measuring the lasting effects of the REDI program.

     


  6. Study suggests microblogging may help reduce negative emotions for people with social anxiety

    December 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Society for Consumer Psychology press release:

    Have you ever wanted to tell someone about a tough day at work or scary medical news, but felt nervous about calling a friend to share what’s going on?

    Findings from a new study suggest that people who feel apprehensive about one-on-one interactions are taking advantage of a new form of communication that may help regulate emotions during times of need: online social networks. The study is available online in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    “When people feel badly, they have a need to reach out to others because this can help reduce negative emotions and restore a sense of well-being,” says Eva Buechel, a professor in the business school at the University of South Carolina. “But talking to someone face-to-face or on the phone might feel daunting because people may worry that they are bothering them. Sharing a status update on Facebook or tweet on Twitter allows people to reach out to a large audience in a more undirected manner.”

    Sharing short messages to an audience on a social network, called microblogging, allows people to reach out without imposing unwanted communication on someone who might feel obligated to respond. Responses on online social networks are more voluntary. To test whether people are more likely to microblog when they feel socially apprehensive, Buechel asked participants in one group to write about a time when they had no one to talk to at a party, while the control group wrote about office products.

    Then she asked the participants who had an online social network account to log in and spend two minutes on their preferred social network. When the time ended, she asked people if they had microblogged. The results showed that those who had been led to feel socially apprehensive were more likely to microblog.

    To explore who is more likely to microblog, Buechel conducted another experiment in which one group of participants watched a clip from the movie “Silence of the Lambs,” while the control group watched clips of pictures from space. Then they answered questions about how likely they were to express themselves in three different forms of communication: microblogging, in person or direct message (a private online message to an individual). Finally, she asked people to answer a series of questions that measured their level of social anxiety in a variety of situations.

    Buechel discovered that people who were higher on the social apprehension scale were more likely to microblog after they had experienced negative emotions (as a result of watching the “Silence of The Lambs” clip). People who were low on the social apprehension scale, however, were more interested in sharing face-to-face or via direct message after watching the scary clip.

    “There is a lot of research showing that sharing online is less ideal than having communication in person, but these social networks could be an important communication channel for certain individuals who would otherwise stay isolated,” she says.

    She acknowledges that there is a danger for those who start to rely on social media as their only form of communication, but when used wisely, microblogging can be a valuable means of buffering negative emotions though social interaction.


  7. Study suggests Twitter can reveal our shared mood

    by Ashley

    From the University of Bristol press release:

    In the largest study of its kind, researchers from the University of Bristol have analysed mood indicators in text from 800 million anonymous messages posted on Twitter. These tweets were found to reflect strong patterns of positive and negative moods over the 24-hour day.

    Circadian rhythms, widely referred to as the ‘body clock’, allows people’s bodies to predict their needs over the dark and light periods of the day. Most of this circadian activity is regulated by a small region in the hypothalamus of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is particularly sensitive to light changes at dawn and dusk, and sends signals through nerves and hormones to every tissue in the body.

    The research team looked at the use of words relating to positive and negative emotions, sadness, anger, and fatigue in Twitter over the course of four years. The public expressions of affect and fatigue were linked to the time they appeared on the social platform to reveal changes within the 24-hours. Whilst previous studies have shown a circadian variation for positive and negative emotions the current study was able to differentiate specific aspects of anger, sadness, and fatigue.

    Lead author and machine learning researcher Dr Fabon Dzogang, in collaboration with neuroscientist and current British Neuroscience Association President, Professor Stafford Lightman from Bristol Medical School: THS, and Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence from the Department of Engineering Mathematics, have found distinct patterns of positive emotions and sadness between the weekends and the weekdays, and evidence of variation of these patterns across the seasons.

    Dr Fabon Dzogang, research associate in the Department of Computer Science, said: “Our research revealed strong circadian patterns for both positive and negative moods. The profiles of anger and fatigue were found remarkably stable across the seasons or between the weekdays/weekend. The patterns that our research revealed for the positive emotions and sadness showed more variability in response to these changing conditions, and higher levels of interaction with the onset of sunlight exposure. These techniques that we demonstrated on the social media provide valuable tools for the study of our emotions, and for the understanding of their interaction within the circadian rhythm.”

    Stafford Lightman, Professor of Medicine and co-author, added: “Since many mental health disorders are affected by circadian rhythms, we hope that this study will encourage others to use social media to help in our understanding of the brain and mental health disorders.”


  8. Study examines which adolescents benefit most from sleep interventions

    December 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    In a recent study of adolescents, the benefits of cognitive-behavioral sleep interventions were greatest among individuals with higher levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms. The results, which are published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, were consistent across genders.

    “We know there is a strong link between emotional problems, like anxiety and depression, and sleep problems. In the past some researchers and clinicians have thought that these emotional problems might interfere with sleep improvement treatments, but our results with adolescents show that the opposite is the case,” said senior author Dr. Nicholas Allen, of the University of Oregon. “Those with higher levels of emotional problems were actually more likely to benefit from sleep interventions. This opens up new opportunities to use sleep improvement as a way to address mental health.”


  9. Study suggests different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses

    December 2, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BMJ press release:

    Different types of alcohol elicit different emotional responses, but spirits are most frequently associated with feelings of aggression, suggests research published in the online journal BMJ Open.

    To explore the potential emotional factors underpinning alcohol preference the researchers drew on anonymised responses to the world’s largest online survey of legal and illicit drug and alcohol use among adults (Global Drug Survey or GDS).

    The GDS, which is provided in 11 languages, includes specific questions on alcohol consumption and the feelings associated with drinking beer, spirits, and red or white wine when at home or when out.

    The emotions included are energised, relaxed, sexy, confident and tired, aggressive, ill, restless, and tearful.

    The final analysis included the responses of just under 30,000 18 to 34 year olds from 21 countries who had drunk each of the specified types of alcohol within the past year, and who had filled in all the relevant sections of the questionnaire.

    Their answers showed that they attributed different emotions to different types of alcohol.

    Spirits were the least likely to be associated with feeling relaxed (20%); red wine was the most likely to elicit this feeling (just under 53%) followed by beer (around 50%).

    Drinking spirits was also more likely to draw out negative feelings than all the other types of alcohol. Nearly a third (30%) of spirit drinkers associated this tipple with feelings of aggression compared with around 2.5 per cent of red wine drinkers.

    But spirits were more likely to elicit some positive feelings than either beer or wine. Over half (around 59%) of respondents associated these drinks with feelings of energy and confidence. And more than four out of 10 (42.5%) associated them with feeling sexy.

    Responses differed by educational attainment, country of origin, and age, with the youngest age group (18-24) the most likely to associate any type of alcohol with feelings of confidence, energy and sexiness when drinking away from home.

    The responses also differed by gender and category of alcohol dependency. Women were significantly more likely than men to associate each feeling–except for aggression–with all types of alcohol.

    But men were significantly more likely to associate feelings of aggression with all types of alcohol, as were those categorised as heavy/dependent drinkers, who were six times more likely to do so than low risk drinkers.

    And heavy drinkers were more likely to select any drink that was associated for them with feelings of aggression and tearfulness when at home or when out.

    These findings suggest that dependent drinkers may rely on alcohol to generate the positive emotions they associate with drinking, as they were five times more likely to feel energised than low risk drinkers, say the researchers.

    This is an observational study so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. And the researchers emphasise that there are likely to be many factors involved in the feelings elicited by alcohol, including advertising, when and where alcohol is drunk, and the alcohol content of different drinks.

    But they conclude: “Understanding emotions associated with alcohol consumption is imperative to addressing alcohol misuse, providing insight into what emotions influence drink choice between different groups in the population.”

    Around 3.3 million deaths and around one in 20 cases of ill health and injury around the globe are directly attributable to alcohol.

    *And co-author Professor Mark Bellis comments: “For centuries, the history of rum, gin, vodka and other spirits has been laced with violence. This global study suggests even today consuming spirits is more likely to result in feelings of aggression than other drinks.

    “In the UK, a litre of off-licence spirits can easily be bought for £15 or less, making a double shot only 75 pence. Such prices can encourage consumption at levels harmful to the health of the drinker and through violence and injuries also represent a risk to the people around them.”


  10. Study suggests many cancer survivors are living with PTSD

    November 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Wiley press release:

    A recent study showed approximately one-fifth of patients with cancer experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) several months after diagnosis, and many of these patients continued to live with PTSD years later. Published early online in CANCER, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Cancer Society, the findings highlight the need for early identification, careful monitoring, and treatment of PTSD in cancer survivors.

    Although PTSD is primarily known to develop in individuals following a traumatic event such as a serious accident or natural disaster, it can also occur in patients diagnosed with cancer. Because PTSD in cancer has not been explored thoroughly, Caryn Mei Hsien Chan, PhD, of the National University of Malaysia, and her colleagues studied 469 adults with various cancer types within one month of diagnosis at a single oncology referral center. Patients underwent additional testing after six months and again after four years.

    Clinical evaluations revealed a PTSD incidence of 21.7% at 6-months follow-up, with rates dropping to 6.1% at 4-years follow-up. Although overall rates of PTSD decreased with time, roughly one-third of patients initially diagnosed with PTSD were found to have persistent or worsening symptoms four years later.

    “Many cancer patients believe they need to adopt a ‘warrior mentality’, and remain positive and optimistic from diagnosis through treatment to stand a better chance of beating their cancer. To these patients, seeking help for the emotional issues they face is akin to admitting weakness,” said Dr. Chan. “There needs to be greater awareness that there is nothing wrong with getting help to manage the emotional upheaval — particularly depression, anxiety, and PTSD — post-cancer.”

    Dr. Chan also stressed that many patients live in fear that their cancer may come back, and they may think the cancer has returned with every lump or bump, pain or ache, fatigue or fever. In addition, survivors might skip visits to their oncologists or other physicians to avoid triggering memories of their past cancer experience. This can lead to delays in seeking help for new symptoms or even refusal of treatment for unrelated conditions.

    The researchers’ study also found that, compared with patients with other cancer types, patients with breast cancer were 3.7 times less likely to develop PTSD at six months, but not at four years. This may be because, at the referral center studied, there is a dedicated program that provides support and counselling, focusing mostly on breast cancer patients within the first year of cancer diagnosis.

    “We need psychological evaluation and support services for patients with cancer at an initial stage and at continued follows-up because psychological well-being and mental health — and by extension, quality of life — are just as important as physical health,” said Dr. Chan.