Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

Psychology News & Resources

Multi-Taskers may Muddle More!

The people who multitask the most are the ones who are worst at it. That’s the surprising conclusion of researchers at Stanford University, who found multitaskers are more easily distracted and less able to ignore irrelevant information than people who do less multitasking.

“The huge finding is, the more media people use the worse they are at using any media. We were totally shocked,” Clifford Nass, a professor at Stanford’s communications department, said in a telephone interview.

MultitaskingThe researchers studied 262 college undergraduates, dividing them into high and low multitasking groups and comparing such things as memory, ability to switch from one task to another and being able to focus on a task. Their findings are reported in Tuesday’s edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When it came to such essential abilities, people who did a lot of multitasking didn’t score as well as others, Nass said.

Still to be answered is why the folks who are worst at multitasking are the ones doing it the most.

It’s sort of a chicken-or-egg question.

“Is multitasking causing them to be lousy at multitasking, or is their lousiness at multitasking causing them to be multitaskers?” Nass wondered. “Is it born or learned?”

In a society that seems to encourage more and more multitasking, the findings have social implications, Nass observed. Multitasking is already blamed for car crashes as several states restrict the use of cell phones while driving. Lawyers or advertisers can try to use irrelevant information to distract and refocus people to influence their decisions.

In the study, the researchers first had to figure out who are the heavy and light multitaskers. They gave the students a form listing a variety of media such as print, television, computer-based video, music, computer games, telephone voice or text, and so forth.

The students were asked, for each form of media, which other forms they used at the same time always, often, sometimes or never.

The result ranged from an average of about 1.5 media items at the low end to more than four among heavy multitaskers.

Then they tested the abilities of students in the various groups.

For example, ability to ignore irrelevant information was tested by showing them a group of red and blue rectangles, blanking them out, and then showing them again and asking if any of the red ones had moved.

The test required ignoring the blue rectangles. The researchers thought people who do a lot of multitasking would be better at it.

“But they’re not. They’re worse. They’re much worse,” said Nass. The high media multitaskers couldn’t ignore the blue rectangles. “They couldn’t ignore stuff that doesn’t matter. They love stuff that doesn’t matter,” he said.

Perhaps the multitaskers can take in the information and organize it better? Nope.

“They are worse at that, too,” Nass said.

“So then we thought, OK, maybe they have bigger memories. They don’t. They were equal” with the low multitaskers, he added.

Finally, they tested ability to switch from one task to another by classifying a letter as a vowel or consonant, or a number as even or odd. The high multitaskers took longer to make the switch from one task to the other.

This particularly surprised the researchers, considering the need to switch from one thing to another in multitasking.

“They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing,” lead author Eyal Ophir said. “The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds.”

The next step is to look into what multitaskers are good at and see if the difference between high and low multitaskers is one of “exploring” versus “exploiting” information.

“High multitaskers just love more and more information. Their greatest thrill is to get more,” he said. On the other hand, “exploiters like to think about the information they already have.”

The research was funded by Stanford Major Grant, Volkswagen Grant, Nissan Grant and an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

August 28, 2009 Posted by | Cognition, Social Psychology, stress | , | Leave a comment

A Change by Itself is NOT as Good as a Proper Holiday: Don’t Just Sit There…Go Somewhere!

Just having a break from work is not enough suggests new research, it is activities in the open air which have the strongest restorative effects on our mental states.

Everyone gets down sometimes – it’s only natural. It would be more unusual never to be depressed. The idea that depression is an on-off condition with a purely chemical foundation is a myth no psychologist would endorse. The causes of depression can be many and widespread. But one cause many of us have to cope with is work.

One of the main weapons against stress building up from work is going on vacation. Holidays are a firmly established way of allowing the mind and body to recuperate. In  research, however, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, Hartig, Catalano and Ong (2007) find that all holidays are not created equal.

Getting out in the openfield

The lead author of this paper, Terry Hartig, lives and works in Sweden, a country well known for its long, dark winters. As such, the Swedes know the importance of getting out in the sunshine, when it finally arrives. There is even a law requiring employers to provide four consecutive weeks of holiday in the summer. And it’s actually this law that is crucial to Hartig et al’s findings.

Hartig and colleagues suggest that being stuck indoors on vacation can limit mental recuperation. On the other hand, when able to roam outdoors, we can exert ourselves at a favourite sport or simply linger in the park. Psychologically, beautiful scenery can distract us from our troubles, help us forget our normal stressful environments and reconnect us to nature.

This is a nice theory that is intuitively attractive and plausible. The problem is how to test it scientifically.

Anti-depressant prescriptions and the weather

Hartig et al. decided to use the number of SSRI anti-depressants prescribed between 1991 and 1998 as a proxy for the general level of depression in the population of Sweden. They then looked for correlations between the weather and the amount of anti-depressants prescribed, which they duly found.

Wait, though, there’s a problem with this. Perhaps people are simply happier when the weather is warmer? It would then follow there would be an association between anti-depressant prescriptions and temperature.

Hartig et al. anticipated this problem. They remove the variation in anti-depressant prescriptions associated with the general change in monthly mean temperature from the equation. Then they get a really interesting finding. Now there’s only a correlation between temperature and anti-depressant medications in one month: July. There’s no similar effect even for the adjacent months of June or August.

How can that be explained? Why would the relationship only occur in July?

Why July is unusual

Here is the authors’ reasoning. In Sweden people take most of their holiday in July at the centre of the period stipulated by law (from 1 June to 31 August). A survey found it is over 90%. This means that during July they have the highest likelihood of being free to enjoy outdoor pursuits. On average, the rest of the year they will be working, so even if the weather is unseasonably warm in May, for example, they won’t be able to take advantage of it.

The reasoning goes, then, that if the weather is bad in July people are stuck indoors. This means they are unable to fully recuperate mentally before returning to work. Alternately, if the weather is good in July people are, on average, mentally rested and have less need for medication.

Remember that this explanation relies on averaging out many people’s behaviour across nine years. Obviously not everyone requires anti-depressants to get through a spell of bad weather. Similarly some people require them whatever the weather. But think about it in terms of the people who are slipping across the boundary of requiring/asking for medication. Then the authors’ explanation makes sense.

Happiness is…

I know this study falls into the category of telling us something we already know. But it does so in rather an ingenious way that takes advantage of Swedish vacation patterns. Also, we can’t be reminded often enough that we should take every opportunity to get out in the open air.

Truly, happiness is looking out across fresh fields, gazing at a distant tree, feeling the sun on your back and the wind brushing your skin.

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August 25, 2009 Posted by | depression, Exercise, Health Psychology, Resilience, stress | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Teenage Girls and Bullying Part II: What does it Look Like & What Can We Do?

The friendships women experience in their youth are some of the closest they will have in their lifetime. While these relationships can provide girls with wonderful support and encouragement when they are growing up, they can also be a source of great tension. The importance that girls place on these friendships can lead them to either become distressed over a perceived lack of friends or to accept poor treatment from these ‘friends’. This article will examine the practice of bullying amongst girls.9780156027342-crop-325x325

Until relatively recently, little was written about the negative aspects of girls’ friendships. There appeared to be almost a reluctance to acknowledge that women could be responsible for inflicting pain on other women. The publication of Rachel Simmons‘ Odd Girl Out and Rosalind Wilson’s Queen Bees and Wannabes in 2002, generated discussion on the topic and with it a move towards recognising that girls participate in their own form of bullying.

Whereas bullying amongst boys tends to involve physical or verbal abuse, girls participate in quite different methods. They typically rely on exclusion or the threat of exclusion, creating and perpetuating rumours, non-verbal gestures such as facial expressions and the sabotaging of others’ relationships. Rachel Simmons proposes that girls use these strategies because in our society it is less socially acceptable for them to display physical aggression (1). Girls are expected to be nurturing, kind, quiet and nice to others. Physical aggression is seen as unfeminine. These social expectations result in girls’ aggression being channelled into non-physical, indirect forms.

Bullying occurs predominantly in late primary school or in the first years of secondary school (2). It appears that girls bully for a range of reasons. Some girls may themselves be the subject of bullying or abuse from others. In these cases, becoming a bully may provide them with a release for the emotions they are experiencing. It also provides them with an opportunity to feel powerful and in control. Other girls bully as a way of gaining or maintaining popularity, to relieve boredom, because they believe everyone does it or simply because they think it is fun.

Girls may learn bullying behaviours from their parents, older siblings as well as their peers. Such behaviours are also featured in the television shows, movies and magazines popular with this audience. For example, gossiping, backstabbing, spreading rumours or revealing someone’s secrets form many of the storylines in The O.C. and are actively encouraged in reality shows like Big Brother. If many of the female relationships that girls are presented include elements of bullying this type of behaviour becomes normalised, as just part of ‘being a girl’.

There are two distinct targets of bullying amongst girls, the ‘outsider’ and a member of an immediate circle of friends. The ‘outsider’ is often perceived by her female peers as being different in some way. This difference may relate to a girl’s physical attributes, intellectual level, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or socio-economic background. She is generally ostracised by the vast majority of her peers with anyone wanting to be friends made aware that they will also become the subject of bullying. The ‘outsider’ may not just be shunned by people her own age but also by those younger or older than her. As a result she may feel incredibly isolated and alone. Her sense of self worth may become eroded to the extent that she contemplates suicide.

As the ‘outsider’s’ exclusion is so pronounced it is more likely to be recognised by teachers at school who may be able to address the situation to some degree. For example, if the behaviour toward the ‘outsider’ is racially motivated the teacher can reinforce with students the seriousness of making racist remarks. Unfortunately, teachers are not always skilled and/or supported to deal with bullying. Some may dismiss the experience of bullying as simply ‘part of growing up’. In some instances, the teacher may also perceive the ‘outsider’ to be different and participate in the bullying themselves to a degree.

The second target is the girl who is bullied within a circle of friends. Although she may not experience the complete isolation of the ‘outsider’ her experience of being bullied can also be emotionally damaging. The friendship group typically includes one girl in particular who has the majority of the power within the group. Her popularity may be due to attractiveness, wealth or sporting ability. One other member of the group is usually her best friend. The rest of the group consists of girls who want to be the friends of the most popular girl and her best friend. Their status in the group is often precarious, being completely dependent on the other two girls’ current opinion of them. Usually one or two of these girls is selected to be the current ‘favourites’. The remaining girls, therefore, are at risk of becoming the current target for bullying from the rest of the group.

In some cases, the popular girl is not directly involved in the bullying herself. Her power over the others in the group results in them carrying out the bullying on her behalf as a way of proving their loyalty to her. Often the cruelest behaviour comes from one of the girls chosen as a current favourite. As her position is only temporary (she has been the target in the past and will be in the future) she makes the most of her elevated status.

The bullying is often subtle and is largely based on the threat of exclusion from the group. The girl who is targeted may not be invited to social events or is given the silent treatment. Personal details she shared with the popular girls when she was a ‘favourite’ may be disclosed (eg. the name of a boy she likes) or rumours started about her. Her every behaviour, what she says, what she wears, is put under intense scrutiny with any faux pas taken as further evidence she should not really be in the group. The reason for her becoming the target is often not made obvious to her. Not being aware of what she has done leaves the girl scrutinising her own behaviour in an attempt to discover (and rectify) the wrongdoing.

The bullying is often done in a way that makes it difficult for the target to confront the other girls about it. For example, the rest of the group may offer to do her make-up for her before they attend a party. When they deliberately make her look unattractive it is hard for her to challenge them. If she suggests they have not done a good job they will disagree, trying to convince her she looks beautiful. Her complaints may also cause her to say she is ungrateful or ‘up herself’. As a result, the target may begin to question her own beliefs or outlook. She may think to herself, “Maybe the make-up isn’t really that bad”. If she refuses to attend the party she risks being excluded from the friendship group permanently. If she goes to the party she not only risks public humiliation but her compliance may be a further source of irritation to the other girls.

The more popular girls’ power relies on exclusive friendships. If the target has other friends, the threat of being 9780749924379-crop-325x325expelled from this particular friendship group will be less of a concern. To ensure their position of power the popular girls will often actively discourage any friendships outside the immediate friendship group. This might be achieved by ridiculing any activities a girl participates in that do not include members of the immediate group (ie. band, sporting team, part time work). Existing friendships may be deliberately sabotaged through the spread of gossip or rumours (eg. telling a girl’s outside friend/s that she said something negative about them). The result is limited opportunities for the girl to form other friendships (and therefore keeping them dependent on the immediate friendship group).

When a girl is the target of her friendship group’s bullying she will typically feel worried and anxious as well as alone. Having the people she admires and thinks of as her friends turn on her can be devastating. But why would someone tolerate this kind of behaviour towards them? It seems that for some girls belonging to a friendship group is of such importance they are willing to be part of a group that is damaging than not be in one at all (3). As the target of bullying within the group changes the girls can also choose to overlook the times they are bullied for those when they are a favourite.

The bullying that occurs within a circle of friends often goes unnoticed by both parents and teachers. Unlike with the ‘outsider’ where the girl’s aloneness often alerts people to a problem, the girl being bullied by those in an immediate friendship group appears to belong to a social group. For example, during lunch breaks and in class she has other girls she sits together with rather than being on her own. The alternation between being the target and being a chosen favourite also makes detection difficult.


Communicating via the internet or mobile phone plays an important role in young women’s lives. Unfortunately, these technology platforms are also being used in bullying. Cyberbullying includes the use of email, mobile phone, text messaging, instant messaging and websites to bully others (4). Cyberbullying is a concern as it increases the length of time the target can be bullied for. Previously, a girl might have been targeted during school but upon arriving home she found some relief. The use of technologies like text messaging and emails, however, means the bullying is extended way beyond the school gates. The ease with which one can set up an email address with an invented name or a website also provides the bullies with a greater degree of anonymity. This anonymity can result in the escalation of bullying as there is less chance they will be detected. The bully may set up a website containing false, derogatory information about the target and email others the site address. If the site has been created within Yahoo or the equivalent it may be difficult for the target to have it removed. For those being bullied, the use of a platform like a website is incredibly distressing as the scale of humiliation is potentially far greater-anyone in the world with internet access can view the site.

Technology also provides girls with an extremely effective method of exclusion. Whispers may have been used in the past, but exclusion can now take the form of sending a text message to everyone but the target or not sharing the password to an instant messaging group. As friendship groups typically communicate for considerable periods of time after school, the target can feel very left out and anxious about what is being discussed in her absence.

Short and long term consequences of bullying

Previously, bullying was often thought of as part of growing up, to be endured and even as something that was ‘character building’. Little sympathy tended to be given to those who were bullied. It is now recognised, however, that bullying is not an acceptable practice and that it can have both short and long term effects.

In the short term, bullying can seriously impact on a girl’s academic success. She may start to miss school in an effort to avoid the bullying that is occurring. When she attends it is difficult for her to focus adequately on her school work. A girl who is being bullied might develop physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches and nausea, which can all interfere with her learning capabilities. If academic achievement is one of the triggers for being bullied a girl may also deliberately under-achieve to fit in. In addition, choosing subjects based on what their friends are doing rather than what might be required for their desired career can seriously limit a girl’s potential.

The need to prove she is part of the group may lead to a girl’s participation in illegal activities such as under-age drinking, illicit drug taking, shoplifting or vandalism. She may also behave uncharacteristically, doing things she knows are irresponsible and that her parent/s have warned her about (eg. getting into a car driven by a drunk driver, going to a house when she doesn’t know the occupants).

In the long term, bullying can impact on the way girls perceive themselves and their relationships with others. Most obviously, girls who have experienced bullying have low self esteem and lack in confidence. They are also at higher risk of anxiety disorders, depression and self-harm (5). They may find it difficult to establish friendships with women in their adult life, preferring male friendships. The behaviours that a girl experiences in her friendship group may also place her at greater risk of domestic violence. Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out comments: “if we do not teach girls early on to know and resist these dynamics, we may be permitting the groundwork to be laid for violence in their adult lives” (6). As in the friendship group, a woman in a violent relationship begins to distrust her own judgment (ie. maybe her partner does really love her) and focuses on her possible wrongdoings as a way of avoiding future conflict. She is also discouraged from maintaining contact with others (family and friends). The threat of exclusion (in this case ending the relationship) is used by her partner as a means of control.

Bullying is not restricted to childhood/adolescence as the same behaviours are often carried through into workplaces. Workplace bullying appears to be more common in the fields of health and community services, education and public administration. At particular risk are those who are casual or temporary workers and those in apprenticeships and trainee positions (7).


The first step is recognising the seriousness of bullying amongst girls and not dismissing it as a ‘rite of passage’. There are a number of different strategies which schools and parents can put in place to reduce the risk of bullying.


Schools can develop a policy on bullying which includes the forms of bullying utilised by girls (exclusion, rumours etc). The policy should describe the types of behaviours that will not be accepted and clearly outline the process for making a complaint about such behaviours. The development of a school bullying policy should be supported by education on the topic for staff, students and parents. The topic of bullying can also be incorporated into the school’s curriculum. For example, students could be asked to read fiction in which bullying is an aspect or to write a play incorporating a storyline on bullying. Banning or limiting the use of mobile phones and email during school hours can help reduce the incidence of cyberbullying. The ‘Bullying. No Way!’ website (see websites section) provides a ‘strategies map’ to assist schools in developing a safer, more inclusive school community.


Some parents may be oblivious to their daughter being the subject of bullying. This is particularly the case if it is coming from within her friendship group. Signs to look out for are mood changes (sadness, irritability, anger, withdrawal), change in academic performance, reluctance to attend school or other events with peers and ill health (headaches, stomach aches, nausea). When a parent discovers their daughter is being bullied they may react in a number of ways. Some parents find it difficult to comprehend and, therefore, the solutions they offer appear simplistic. For example, the advice to ‘find some new friends’ seems like an obvious solution to a parent but it merely demonstrates to their daughter they do not really understand the situation. Other parents may actually feel a sense of embarrassment that their daughter is unpopular. Their advice may tend to blame the daughter for the bullying (eg. “If you just lost some weight…”).

Rachel Simmons suggests the best thing a parent can do is to actively listen to their daughter (8). Finding out what she is being subjected to, the people involved, length of time it has been going on and to whom, if anyone, has she spoken about it, is a good start. Parents can then ask their daughter if they have any strategies of their own and what role they wish them to play. Some girls might just require someone to talk to while others might want their parents to approach a trusted teacher or the school.

It is also helpful if parents try to understand and empathise with their daughter’s need to fit in. This is often difficult for parents as they perceive it as a threat to their daughter’s individuality. Even though they may disagree with people being judged by what their wear or how they style their hair this does not stop it from being a reality in their daughter’s life. As Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees and Wannabes, explains: “Adolescence is a beauty pageant. Even if your daughter doesn’t want to be a contestant, others will look at her as if she is. In Girl World, everyone is automatically entered” (8). This does not mean, however, that parents should give in to their daughter’s every whim. Rather, it means not dismissing their desires as foolish (“Who would pay that for a pair of jeans!”) and not always judging their choices by your criteria (yes, the other pair of shoes might last longer but longevity is not a high priority with adolescent girls). Efforts should be made to accommodate at least some of their requests. If cost is an issue parents can suggest for their daughter to get a part-time job, share the expense or request they do extra chores for a period of time.

A further strategy to reduce the likelihood of bullying is to encourage a daughter’s involvement in activities attended by girls other than those in her immediate friendship group. If she is the subject of bullying from her friendship group her interaction with other peers will provide her with an alternative perspective (ie. not everyone dislikes her). If some of her needs can be fulfilled from other peer relationships she will feel less dependent on the immediate friendship group.

Lastly, parents should remember that their own behaviour may model bullying tactics. If they say things about people behind their back, share gossip and give their partner the silent treatment they are suggesting that these behaviours are legitimate and acceptable.


Bullying. No way!

This website was established by Education Queensland in collaboration with school authorities from the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments and Catholic and independent sectors. The website enables school communities, individual students, carers and staff to exchange ideas and useful strategies to combat bullying, violence, harassment and discrimination.

Kids Helpline
1800 55 1800

Kids Helpline is a free, confidential and anonymous, 24-hour telephone and online counselling service specifically for young people aged between five and 18. Bullying is the fourth most common reason young people seek help from Kids Helpline. In addition to providing counselling support, Kids Helpline’s website has a section on bullying which includes strategies and further sources of information


  1. Simmons, R. Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls Melbourne: Schwartz 2002; 20-21
  2. Kids Helpline. Infosheet 7: Bullying [website] date accessed: 14 January 2005.
  3. Simmons, R. Ibid; 54
  4. Belsey, B. [website] date accessed: 14 January 2005
  5. Kids Helpline. Bullying-Everybody’s Business [website] date accessed: 19 January 2005
  6. Simmons, R. Ibid; 161
  7. Queensland Government. Report of the Queensland Government Workplace Bullying Taskforce Report [website] date accessed: 12 January 2005; 16
  8. Simmons, R. Ibid; 232
  9. Wiseman, R. Queen Bees and Wannabes London: Piatkus 2002; 77

Source Queensland Health


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August 17, 2009 Posted by | Adolescence, Bullying, Child Behavior, Resilience, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Decline of Civilty:Guest Appearance on 96.5 FM’s Talking Life

Last Sunday night I took part in a discussion on the Decline of Civility as a part of the panel on Peter Jan965_logoetzki’s terrific “Talking Life” radio program on which I have been a regular guest over its nine year history. The other guest was Ken Francis from the Australian Families Association. It was a terrific program with some fascinating discussion and phone calls.

Peter Janetzki

Peter Janetzki

A podcast of the entire show and recent shows can be found here or by clicking on the 96.5 logo.You can listen to the podcast from your browser or with iTunes, The show streams live every Sunday night  from from 8-10pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (GMT+10) and you can listen by going to the 96.5 website @ and clicking on the home page media player.


August 12, 2009 Posted by | Child Behavior, Parenting, Resilience, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Talking to Your Child About What’s in The News

My experience is that many children, particularly those who have generalised anxiety can become quite distressed by exposure toseemingly innocuous exposure to events that are a part of everyday life.

9781572245822-crop-325x325Although news gleaned from television, radio, or the Internet often is a positive educational experience for kids, problems can arise when the images presented are violent or the stories touch on disturbing topics. While we worry about our childrens’ exposure to violence and sexual content in movies, on the internet, and on tv, we need to remember that news programs shpw often live and real images and media from real events which are often distressing and increasingly graphic.

News about a natural disaster, such as the devastating earthquake in China or cyclone in Myanmar, could make kids worry that something similar is going to hit home, or fear a part of daily life — such as rain and thunderstorms — that they’d never worried about before.

Reports on natural disasters, child abductions, homicides, terrorist attacks, and school violence can teach kids to view the world as a confusing, threatening, or unfriendly place.

How can you deal with these disturbing stories and images? Talking to your kids about what they watch or hear will help them put frightening information into a reasonable context.

How Kids Perceive the News

Unlike movies or entertainment programs, news is real. But depending on a child’s age or maturity level, he or she may not yet understand the distinctions between fact and fantasy. By the time kids reach 7 or 8, however, what they see on TV can seem all too real. For some youngsters, the vividness of a sensational news story can be internalized and transformed into something that might happen to them. A child watching a news story about a bombing on a bus or a subway might worry, “Could I be next? Could that happen to me?”Natural disasters or

stories of other types of devastation can be personalized in the same manner. A child in Massachusetts who sees a house being swallowed by floods from a hurricane in Louisiana may spend a sleepless night worrying about whether his home will be OK in a rainstorm. A child in Chicago, seeing news about an attack on subways in London, might get scared about using public transportation around town. TV has the effect of shrinking the world and bringing it into our own living rooms.

By concentrating on violent stories, TV news also can promote a “mean-world” syndrome and give kids an inaccurate view of what the world and society are actually like.

Talking About the News


To calm children’s fears about the news, parents should be prepared to deliver what psychologists call “calm, unequivocal, but limited information.” This means delivering the truth, but only as much truth as a child needs to know. The key is to be as truthful yet as inexplicit as you can be. There’s no need to go into more details than your child is interested in. Although it’s true that some things — like a natural disaster — can’t be controlled, parents should still give kids space to share their fears. Encourage them to talk openly about what scares them.

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August 5, 2009 Posted by | anxiety, Child Behavior, Parenting, Resilience, stress | , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Borderline Personality Disorder: What’s with the Name & Just What Is It?

I have had a number of requests by email and on Twitter about Borderline Personality Disorder, its name, its presentation, its treatment and its psycho-genesis. Below is a brief post which I think covers most of these questions in outline form. I am open to suggestions as to which, if any areas readers would like to discuss in more detail. A small collection of books on BPD which I recommend to patients, carers, significant others and counsellors can be found here, most with reader reviews. I would be happy to hear of others, and I will also add a few more over the next few days.

What’s with the name?51RzQ0P9lvL

The term “borderline” was first used by early psychiatrists to describe people who were thought to be on the “border” between diagnoses. At the time, the system for diagnosing mental illness was far less sophisticated than it is today, and “borderline” referred to individuals who did not fit neatly into the two broad categories of mental disorder: psychosis or neurosis.

Today, far more is known about BPD, and it is no longer thought of as being related to psychotic disorders (and the term “neurosis” is no longer used in our diagnostic system). Instead, BPD is recognized as a disorder characterized by intense emotional experiences and instability in relationships and behavior.

Many experts are now calling for BPD to be renamed, because the term “borderline” is outdated and because, unfortunately, the name has been used in a stigmatizing way in the past. Suggestions for the new name have included: “Emotion Dysregulation Disorder,” Unstable Personality Disorder,” and “Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious mental illness characterized by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self-image, and behavior. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long-term planning, and the individual’s sense of self-identity. Originally thought to be at the “borderline” of psychosis, people with BPD suffer from a disorder of emotion regulation. While less well known than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), BPD is more common, affecting 2 percent of adults, mostly young women.1 There is a high rate of self-injury without suicide intent, as well as a significant rate of suicide attempts and completed suicide in severe cases.2,3 Patients often need extensive mental health services, and account for 20 percent of psychiatric hospitalizations.4 Yet, with help, many improve over time and are eventually able to lead productive lives.


While a person with depression or bipolar disorder typically endures the same mood for weeks, a person with BPD may experience intense bouts of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last only hours, or at most a day.5 These may be associated with episodes of impulsive aggression, self-injury, and drug or alcohol abuse. Distortions in cognition and sense of self can lead to frequent changes in long-term goals, career plans, jobs, friendships, gender identity, and values. Sometimes people with BPD view themselves as fundamentally bad, or unworthy. They may feel unfairly misunderstood or mistreated, bored, empty, and have little idea who they are. Such symptoms are most acute when people with BPD feel isolated and lacking in social support, and may result in frantic efforts to avoid being alone.

41yVtFwvk2LPeople with BPD often have highly unstable patterns of social relationships. While they can develop intense but stormy attachments, their attitudes towards family, friends, and loved ones may suddenly shift from idealization (great admiration and love) to devaluation (intense anger and dislike). Thus, they may form an immediate attachment and idealize the other person, but when a slight separation or conflict occurs, they switch unexpectedly to the other extreme and angrily accuse the other person of not caring for them at all. Even with family members, individuals with BPD are highly sensitive to rejection, reacting with anger and distress to such mild separations as a vacation, a business trip, or a sudden change in plans. These fears of abandonment seem to be related to difficulties feeling emotionally connected to important persons when they are physically absent, leaving the individual with BPD feeling lost and perhaps worthless. Suicide threats and attempts may occur along with anger at perceived abandonment and disappointments.

People with BPD exhibit other impulsive behaviors, such as excessive spending, binge eating and risky sex. BPD often occurs together with other psychiatric problems, particularly bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and other personality disorders.


Treatments for BPD have improved in recent years. Group and individual psychotherapy are at least partially effective for many patients. Within the past 15 years, a new psychosocial treatment termed dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) was developed specifically to treat BPD, and this technique has looked promising in treatment studies.6 Pharmacological treatments are often prescribed based on specific target symptoms shown by the individual patient. Antidepressant drugs and mood stabilizers may be helpful for depressed and/or labile mood. Antipsychotic drugs may also be used when there are distortions in thinking.7

Recent Research Findings

Although the cause of BPD is unknown, both environmental and genetic factors are thought to play a role in predisposing patients to BPD symptoms and traits. Studies show that many, but not all individuals with BPD report a history of abuse, neglect, or separation as young children.8 Forty to 71 percent of BPD patients report having been sexually abused, usually by a non-caregiver.9 Researchers believe that BPD results from a combination of individual vulnerability to environmental stress, neglect or abuse as young children, and a series of events that trigger the onset of the disorder as young adults. Adults with BPD are also considerably more likely to be the victim of violence, including rape and other crimes. This may result from both harmful environments as well as impulsivity and poor judgement in choosing partners and lifestyles.

NIMH-funded neuroscience research is revealing brain mechanisms underlying the impulsivity, mood instability, aggression, anger, and negative emotion seen in BPD. Studies suggest that people predisposed to impulsive aggression have impaired regulation of the neural circuits that modulate emotion.10 The amygdala, a small almond-shaped structure deep inside the brain, is an important component of the circuit that regulates negative emotion. In response to signals from other brain centers indicating a perceived threat, it marshals fear and arousal. This might be more pronounced under the influence of drugs like alcohol, or stress. Areas in the front of the brain (pre-frontal area) act to dampen the activity of this circuit. Recent brain imaging studies show that individual differences in the ability to activate regions of the prefrontal cerebral cortex thought to be involved in inhibitory activity predict the ability to suppress negative emotion.11

Serotonin, norepinephrine and acetylcholine are among the chemical messengers in these circuits that play a role in the regulation of emotions, including sadness, anger, anxiety, and irritability. Drugs that enhance brain serotonin function may improve emotional symptoms in BPD. Likewise, mood-stabilizing drugs that are known to enhance the activity of GABA, the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter, may help people who experience BPD-like mood swings. Such brain-based vulnerabilities can be managed with help from behavioral interventions and medications, much like people manage susceptibility to diabetes or high blood pressure.7

Future Progress

Studies that translate basic findings about the neural basis of temperament, mood regulation, and cognition into clinically relevant insights which bear directly on BPD represent a growing area of NIMH-supported research. Research is also underway to test the efficacy of combining medications with behavioral treatments like DBT, and gauging the effect of childhood abuse and other stress in BPD on brain hormones. Data from the first prospective, longitudinal study of BPD, which began in the early 1990s, is expected to reveal how treatment affects the course of the illness. It will also pinpoint specific environmental factors and personality traits that predict a more favorable outcome. The Institute is also collaborating with a private foundation to help attract new researchers to develop a better understanding and better treatment for BPD.


1Swartz M, Blazer D, George L, Winfield I. Estimating the prevalence of borderline personality disorder in the community. Journal of Personality Disorders, 1990; 4(3): 257-72.

2Soloff PH, Lis JA, Kelly T, Cornelius J, Ulrich R. Self-mutilation and suicidal behavior in borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 1994; 8(4): 257-67.

3Gardner DL, Cowdry RW. Suicidal and parasuicidal behavior in borderline personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 1985; 8(2): 389-403.

4Zanarini MC, Frankenburg FR. Treatment histories of borderline inpatients. Comprehensive Psychiatry, in press.

5Zanarini MC, Frankenburg FR, DeLuca CJ, Hennen J, Khera GS, Gunderson JG. The pain of being borderline: dysphoric states specific to borderline personality disorder. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 1998; 6(4): 201-7.

6Koerner K, Linehan MM. Research on dialectical behavior therapy for patients with borderline personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2000; 23(1): 151-67.

7Siever LJ, Koenigsberg HW. The frustrating no-mans-land of borderline personality disorder. Cerebrum, The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 2000; 2(4).

8Zanarini MC, Frankenburg. Pathways to the development of borderline personality disorder. Journal of Personality Disorders, 1997; 11(1): 93-104.

9Zanarini MC. Childhood experiences associated with the development of borderline personality disorder. Psychiatric Clinics of North America, 2000; 23(1): 89-101.

10Davidson RJ, Jackson DC, Kalin NH. Emotion, plasticity, context and regulation: perspectives from affective neuroscience. Psychological Bulletin, 2000; 126(6): 873-89.

11Davidson RJ, Putnam KM, Larson CL. Dysfunction in the neural circuitry of emotion regulation – a possible prelude to violence. Science, 2000; 289(5479): 591-4.

Bernstein, PhD, David P., Iscan, MD, Cuneyt, Maser, PhD, Jack, Board of Directors, Association for Research in Personality Disorder, & Board of Directors, International Society for the Study of Personality Disorders. “Opinions of personality disorder experts regarding the DSM-IV Personality Disorders classification system.” Journal of Personality Disorders, 21: 536-551, October 2007.

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August 4, 2009 Posted by | Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Intimate Relationshps, Personality Disorder | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t Panic! Time Management Tips for High School & College Students

High School and College years cannot be forgotten easily. Why? Because it is one of the hardest and the toughest stage in a person’s life. It entails lots of preparations and adjustments.

College life is full of challenges. College students are faced of mountainous confrontations and obstacles that must be faced. These students must work hard to prove not only to themselves but to other people that they are worthy of getting into college and finishing successfully.

To do and accomplish all the challenges and dares that are facing the college students, proper time management is necessary. College student should know how to manage time properly and how to consume time for worthy things.

9781876451530-crop-325x325The ability to manage and schedule time wisely makes college life easier. Missing important deadlines and appointments may cause difficulty and complications to both the academic and social life of the student. These things can also result to guilt, anxiety, stress, frustrations and other negative feelings.

The following are some of the tips for college students on how to manage time their time successfully.

• Learn how to prioritize. Prioritization is one of the most important aspects of time management. Proper prioritization of engagements and responsibilities is very necessary. There are too many college students that are ignorant and do not know how to set prioritization. This can often lead to procrastinations.

• Make use of ‘to do list’. This does not necessarily mean making a schedule. This is only listing the things that are important to be done. List things according to their importance.

• Stop being a perfectionist. Nothing is perfect. God created no perfect things and individuals. When you try to be perfect, you are only setting your self up for defeat. Many difficult and hard tasks lead to avoidance and procrastinations.

• Set goals. Setting goal is good in managing the time of college students. You should set goals that are not only attainable but should also be challenging.

• Try to combine several activities. Trying to combine many several activities in one sitting. Example of these are the following:

when watching a sit-com, try to compute your bills in between commercials; when taking a shower, list in your mind the things that are needed to be done; while you are commuting on the way to school, listen to taped notes. These things can save you some of your time that could have been set aside for other things.

• Survey your personal time. Making personal time survey help in estimating how much time is consumed and spent in many typical activities. This is very important if you are wanting to manage your time properly. Do these by tracking the time you spent for a day or a week. This gives you an idea on how much time you are consuming in different activities and things. This will also allow you to realize and identify the time wasters.

• Make a daily schedule to be followed. There are many different styles of time schedules that you can use. Try to make use of the time schedule that can fit into your personality. The common styles of time scheduling are through engagement books, cards, a piece of poster board tacked to a wall and many other styles. Once you are know what style to use, construct it soon. Put in the time schedule all the things that are necessary, including your personal needs.

• Take some notes and review them before the end of the day. This will help identify the things that you have done properly and the things that you have failed to do. This can help you develop proper time management skills.

• You should learn how to say no. There is nothing wrong in saying no in some instances and cases. For example, somebody invited you to watch a movie at a time when you have got something to do. Leave out the movie and prioritize your task. You can do that later on.

Learning proper time management for college students is very important. Learning these things early on will prepare them for the life that lay ahead of them. These will be their tool in achieving the life they are dreaming of.


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August 3, 2009 Posted by | Adolescence, anxiety, Resilience, stress | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Exercise and Mood: Healthy Activity Can Help Beat Depression and Anxiety

It is very likely that you have heard your medical practitioner, psychologist or counsellor talk about the benefits of exercise to help get on top of your depression or anxiety.
Here is a repost of an article which discusses some recent examples of these principles in practice, as well as summaries of some recent studies. (Read while jumping up and down on the spot for no less than 15 minutes!)
When Gaetano Vaccaro meets with depressed patients at Moonview Sanctuary, he sometimes moves part of the session outside, taking a walk while talking. The result: “People’s state of mind can shift.”
Depression can spawn a spiral of lethargy and hopelessness, so that the last thing someone wants to do is exercise. But regular, moderate physical activity may lessen depression symptoms as much as some medications.

“On its own, exercise do51D856AGVHL._SS500_es appear to have significant effects in terms of elevating mood,” says Dr. Andrew Leuchter, professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior. Physical activity, he adds, is often used to augment treatments such as medication and cognitive behavioral therapy. “If people are on medication or in treatment and haven’t had a complete recovery from depression, exercise is useful in getting them all the way there.” Exercise affects the brain in several ways. “People with depression tend to become somewhat inert, and they don’t engage in their usual activities, and exercise gets people back to their usual level of activity,” Leuchter says. That can prompt an upward cycle, inspiring people to return to work and connect again with friends and family, ultimately providing motivation to stay on course. Such connections are crucial for depressed people.

“The psychological benefits make a big difference from my perspective,” says James Blumenthal, professor of medical psychology at Duke University in Durham, N.C. “People have a greater sense of being in control. They feel better about themselves and have more self-confidence.”

A physical change can instigate a mental change, says Vaccaro, director of development at Moonview Sanctuary, a psychological treatment center in Santa Monica. “When you’re getting somebody to move and getting them to change a pattern in their life, just that little bit of pattern change can relate to a mood change, and they start to see themselves as a person who is active, not just a couch potato. They change their perception.” There may be direct physical effects on the brain as well. The treatment center encourages exercise — yoga in particular — as a way to manage many types of mood disorders. Besides having a strong mind-body connection, “yoga is something that can be modified to someone’s activity level and is something they can do throughout their life,” Vaccaro says.

Mood elevation

Several studies illustrate the benefits of exercise.In one, published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine in 2007, 202 men and women with major depression were randomly assigned to participate in a supervised exercise program in a group setting, do home-based exercise, take an antidepressant medication or take a placebo pill. After 16 weeks, 41% were in remission, meaning they no longer had major depressive disorder. Those who were in the exercise and medication groups tended to have higher remission rates than the placebo group.

Another study examined how much cardiovascular exercise was needed to see changes in mood among those with mild to moderate major depressive disorder. The 80 men and women who took part in the research were randomly placed in four exercise groups that varied in the number of calories burned and the frequency of the activity. A placebo group did flexibility exercises three days a week. Those in the group that exercised at moderate intensity three to five days a week for about 40 minutes (consistent with public health recommendations) showed the biggest decrease in depressive symptoms compared with those who exercised less, or just did stretching.

The 2005 study appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Other pieces of the puzzle are still missing, however. Scientists aren’t sure what changes happen in the brain — and why — when people exercise. Many scientists and physicians believe that exercise increases levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter thought to be linked to mood regulation. However, most of the studies supporting this have been done on animals. “It’s hard to quantify it in humans for a number of reasons,” Leuchter says. “We don’t entirely understand exactly why patients get depressed in the first place. We have theories, but it’s hard to know in individual cases. And we don’t have a good way of looking at [changes] in the brain.” Scientists do know that exercise causes an increase in blood flow to the brain and raises the amount of energy the brain uses. And even though the link between blood flow and mood isn’t known, Leuchter says, “the brain in general seems to be in a healthier state.”

Activity is key

Exercise may be key in fighting depression, but no generic prescription fits everyone. Overall health and exercise history factor into what kind of regimen might be prescribed. “If someone was a runner, I’d get them back to running,” Leuchter says. “If not, I’m not going to have the goal of turning someone into a major athlete. I’d simply want to get them active, and even walking around the block might be good.” Those who aren’t currently in treatment for depression should consult with a physician before exercising to make sure they have no underlying health problems. Patients who are on medication or in therapy for depression shouldn’t consider exercise a substitute for either treatment. “The key,” Blumenthal says, “is really maintenance. You have to do it on an ongoing basis. You should find something you enjoy, but doing something is better than nothing.”


August 1, 2009 Posted by | anxiety, depression, Exercise, therapy | , , , , , , | 2 Comments