Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

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Weight Loss Goes Sci-Fi: Using Virtual Reality To Lose Weight?

The University of Houston’s Tracey Ledoux, assistant professor of health and human performance, is using an innovative approach to studying food addictions in hopes of finding strategies to assess and treat them.

“There is a growing body of research that shows that consumption of palatable food stimulates the same reward and motivation centers of the brain that recognized addictive drugs do,” Ledoux said. “These cravings are related to overeating, unsuccessful weight loss and obesity.”

Ledoux and Professor Patrick Bordnick, director of the UH Graduate College of Social Work‘s Virtual Reality Lab, will use virtual environments to try to induce food cravings. Bordnick’s body of research has focused on addictive behaviors and phobias and has used virtual reality as a tool to assess and treat them.

In this new investigation, participants will wear a virtual reality helmet to enter a “real -world” restaurant, complete with all the sights, sounds and smells. A joystick will allow them to walk to a buffet, encounter waitstaff and other patrons.

“Virtual reality will allow us to identify food and food-related stimuli of the built, home, school and social environment that cue food cravings, which has public policy, public health and clinical treatment implications,” Ledoux said. “Our study is innovative because it provides a very effective, cost-efficient tool that can be used to increase our understanding of food cravings.”

Ledoux is recruiting normal-weight women who do not have dietary restrictions or are trying to lose weight. Participants will be invited to two appointments, which may last between 30 minutes and an hour, and will receive a small compensation plus a chance to win a Kindle e-reader. For more information contact Tracey Ledoux at 713-743-1870 or TALedoux@uh.edu.

“Obesity is a pervasive and intractable problem with significant public health and economic costs in our society,” she said. “Finding the elements that promote overeating is critical for reversing the dangerous obesity trend.”

Source: Medicalnewstoday
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June 27, 2011 Posted by | Addiction, anxiety, brain, Cognition, Eating Disorder, Exercise, Health Psychology, Identity, research | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Now That I’ve Got Your Attention: What Gets Your Attention?

Source: Association for Psychological Science.

Once we learn the relationship between a cue and its consequences—say, the sound of a bell and the appearance of the white ice cream truck bearing our favorite chocolate cone—do we turn our attention to that bell whenever we hear it? Or do we tuck the information away and marshal our resources to learning other, novel cues—a recorded jingle, or a blue truck?

Psychologists observing “attentional allocation” now agree that the answer is both, and they have arrived at two principles to describe the phenomena. The “predictive” principle says we search for meaningful—important—cues amid the “noise” of our environments. The “uncertainty” principle says we pay most attention to unfamiliar or unpredictable cues, which may yield useful information or surprise us with pleasant or perilous consequences.

Animal studies have supplied evidence for both, and research on humans has showed how predictiveness operates, but not uncertainty. “There was a clear gap in the research,” says Oren Griffiths, a research fellow at the University of New South Wales, in Australia. So he, along with Ameika M. Johnson and Chris J. Mitchell, set out to demonstrate the uncertainty principle in humans.

“We showed that people will pay more attention to a stimulus or a cue if its status as a predictor is unreliable,” he says. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers investigated what is called “negative transfer”—a cognitive process by which a learned association between cue and outcome inhibits any further learning about that cue. We think we know what to expect, so we aren’t paying attention when a different outcome shows up—and we learn that new association more slowly than if the cue or outcome were unpredictable. Negative transfer is a good example of the uncertainty principle at work.

Participants were divided into three groups, and administered the “allergist test.” They observed “Mrs. X” receiving a small piece of fruit—say, apple. Using a scroll bar they predicted her allergic reaction, from none to critical. They then learned that her reaction to the apple was “mild.” Later, when Mrs. X ate the apple, she had a severe reaction which participants also had to learn to predict.

The critical question was how quickly people learned about the severe reaction. Unsurprisingly, if apple was only ever paired with a severe reaction, learning was fast. But what about if apple had previously been shown to be dangerous (i.e. produce a mild allergic reaction)? In this case, learning about the new severe reaction was slow. This is termed the “negative transfer” effect. This effect did not occur, however, when the initial relationship between apple and allergy was uncertain — if, say, apple was sometimes safe to eat. Under these circumstances, the later association between apple and severe allergic reaction was learned rapidly.

Why? “They didn’t know what to expect from the cue, so they had to pay more attention to it,” says Griffiths. “That’s because of the uncertainty principle.”

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June 22, 2011 Posted by | brain, Cognition, Identity, research | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Do Big People Need “Blankies” Too ?

Who is willing to admit that they still have what some psychological theories call a “transitional object“. Think it over after reading this and you will probably  be surprised…

Source: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer

When Kaitlin Lipe was 6 months old, someone gave her a Puffalump. The stuffed pink cow is more than two decades old now, but Lipe, 24, a social media manager in New York, can’t part with Puff. She gets comfort wrapping her arms around the childhood toy without all the meowing that comes from her real cat or the sassy comments she might get from her boyfriend.

“She is a reminder of my childhood, has always been a comfort to me, and is in every way a symbol for the happier times in life,” Lipe told LiveScience.

Lipe isn’t alone in her affection for what psychologists call a “security” or “transitional” object. These are objects that people feel a bond with, despite the fact that the relationship is, by definition, one-sided.

And while it may not be the social norm for grown-ups to lug around teddy bears, adults regularly become attached to inanimate objects in a manner similar to a child’s grip on a security blanket, researchers say.

Plush security

There are no precise numbers on how many people carry a love for their childhood blankie into adulthood, but a survey of 6,000 British adults by the hotel chain Travelodge in August found that 35 percent admitted to sleeping with stuffed animals.

The survey is perhaps not the most scientific, but the phenomenon of adults with security objects is “a lot more common than people realize,” University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood told LiveScience. Hood has studied people’s sentimental attachments to objects, and he said the studies never lack for participants.

“We’ve had no problem finding adults, especially females, who have their child sentimental objects with them,” Hood said.

A 1979 study by psychologist and security object expert Richard Passman, now retired from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, found that around 60 percent of kids are attached to a toy, blanket, or pacifier during the first three years of life. Until kids reach school age, there is no gender difference in attachment, but girls tend to pull ahead around age 5 or 6, probably because of social pressure on boys to put away soft toys, Hood said.

Until the 1970s, psychologists believed that these attachments were bad, reflecting a failing by the child’s mother.

But research by Passman and others began to contradict that notion. One study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology in 2000, for example, found that kids who had their beloved blankets with them at the doctor’s office experienced less distress, as measured by blood pressure and heart rate. Apparently, security blankets really do live up to their name.

Even as the need for a security object fades, the attachment may linger. One small study of 230 middle-school students, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child Psychiatry in 1986, found that while 21 percent of girls and 12 percent of boys still used their security object at age 13 or 14, 73 percent of the girls and 45 percent of the boys still knew where the object was.

The essence of an object

 

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So why might grown-ups harbor affection for a ratty old blanket or well-worn stuffed dog? Part of the reason is probably nostalgia, Hood said, but there seems to be a deep emotional attachment to the objects as well.

It’s called “essentialism,” or the idea that objects are more than just their physical properties.

Consider: If someone offered to replace a cherished item, like your wedding ring, with an exact, indistinguishable replica, would you accept? Most people refuse, Hood said, because they believe there is something special about their particular ring. It’s the same reason we might feel revulsion at wearing a shirt owned by a murderer. Objects are emotional.

Belief in essentialism starts early. In a 2007 study published in the journal Cognition, Hood and his colleagues told 3– to 6-year-old children that they could put their toys in a “copy box” that would exchange them for duplicates. The kids didn’t care whether they played with originals or duplicates of most toys, but when offered the chance to duplicate their most cherished item, 25 percent refused. Most of those who did agree to duplicate their beloved toy wanted the original back right away, Hood reported. The kids had an emotional connection to that blanket, or that teddy bear, not one that looked just like it.

Even in adulthood, those emotions don’t fade. In a study published in August 2010 in the Journal of Cognition and Culture, Hood and his fellow researchers asked people to cut up photographs of a cherished item. While the participants cut, the researchers recorded their galvanic skin response, a measure of tiny changes in sweat production on the skin. The more sweat, the more agitated the person.

The results showed that participants had a significant stress response to cutting up pictures of their beloved item compared with cutting up a picture of a valuable or neutral item. People even became distressed when researchers had them cut up a picture of their cherished item that was blurred past recognition.

Mine, mine, mine

Researchers know little about what’s going on in the brain to bond us to certain objects. Hood is now using brain imaging to investigate what goes on when people watch videos of what looks like their cherished objects being destroyed.

However, studies on marketing and purchasing decisions suggest that our tendency to love objects goes beyond the soft and cuddly. [World’s Cutest Baby Animals]

A 2008 study in the Journal of Judgment and Decision Making revealed that people who held onto a mug for 30 seconds before bidding for it in an auction offered an average of 83 cents more for it than people who held the mug for 10 seconds.

The effect is even greater when the item is fun to touch, said Suzanne Shu, a professor of behavioral sciences in the school of management at the University of California, Los Angeles. She’s done studies finding that people get more attached to a pen with a “nice, smooshy grip” than an identical, gripless pen.

The findings seem to be an extension of what’s called the “endowment effect,” or people’s tendency to value things more when they feel ownership over it, Shu said.

“Part of the story of what happens with touch is it almost becomes an extension of yourself,” she said. “You feel like it’s more a part of you, and you just have this deeper attachment to it.”

Whether this touch-based attachment might relate to the love people feel for snuggly childhood teddy bears, no one yet knows. But human relationships to objects can certainly be long-running and deep.

“She’s been there for me when I’ve been sick, when I’ve been lonely and when I really needed a hug and no one was around,” Lipe said of her stuffed cow, citing the characters from Pixar’s Toy Story movies: “She’s the Woody and Buzz to my adulthood, really, a reminder of my past and definitely a connection to my family.”
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October 17, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, anxiety, brain, Identity, Resilience, stress | , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Under Pressure: Why We “Choke” At The Critical Moment

A star golfer misses a critical putt; a brilliant student fails to ace a test; a savvy salesperson blows a key presentation. Each of these people has suffered the same bump in mental processing: They have just choked under pressure.

Credit: and Source: ScienceDaily

It’s tempting to dismiss such failures as “just nerves.” But to University of Chicago psychologist Sian Beilock, they are preventable results of information logjams in the brain. By studying how the brain works when we are doing our best — and when we choke — Beilock has formulated practical ideas about how to overcome performance lapses at critical moments.

“Choking is suboptimal performance, not just poor performance. It’s a performance that is inferior to what you can do and have done in the past and occurs when you feel pressure to get everything right,” said Beilock, an associate professor in psychology.

Preventing choking in sports Some of the most spectacular and memorable moments of choking occur in sports when the whole world is watching. Many remember golfer Greg Norman’s choke at the 1996 U.S. Masters. Norman had played brilliantly for the first three days of the tournament, taking a huge lead. But on the final day, his performance took a dive, and he ended the Masters five shots out of first place.

Choking in such cases happens when the polished programs executed by the brains of extremely accomplished athletes go awry. In “Choke,” Beilock recounts famous examples of these malfunctions in the context of brain science to tell the story of why people choke and what can be done to alleviate it.

Thinking too much about what you are doing, because you are worried about losing the lead (as in Norman’s case) or worrying about failing in general, can lead to “paralysis by analysis.” In a nutshell, paralysis by analysis occurs when people try to control every aspect of what they are doing in an attempt to ensure success.

Unfortunately, this increased control can backfire, disrupting what was once a fluid, flawless performance.

“My research team and I have found that highly skilled golfers are more likely to hole a simple 3-foot putt when we give them the tools to stop analyzing their shot, to stop thinking,” Beilock said. “Highly practiced putts run better when you don’t try to control every aspect of performance.” Even a simple trick of singing helps prevent portions of the brain that might interfere with performance from taking over, Beilock’s research shows.

Preventing choking on tests and in business The brain also can work to sabotage performance in ways other than paralysis by analysis. For instance, pressure-filled situations can deplete a part of the brain’s processing power known as working memory, which is critical to many everyday activities.

Beilock’s work has shown the importance of working memory in helping people perform their best, in academics and in business. Working memory is lodged in the prefrontal cortex and is a sort of mental scratch pad that is temporary storage for information relevant to the task at hand, whether that task is doing a math problem at the board or responding to tough, on-the-spot questions from a client. Talented people often have the most working memory, but when worries creep up, the working memory they normally use to succeed becomes overburdened. People lose the brain power necessary to excel.

One example is the phenomenon of “stereotype threat.” This is when otherwise talented people don’t perform up to their abilities because they are worried about confirming popular cultural myths that contend, for instance, that boys and girls naturally perform differently in math or that a person’s race determines his or her test performance.

Beilock’s research is the basis of her new book, “Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting it Right When You Have To,” published Sept. 21 by Simon and Schuster, Free Press.

In Choke, Beilock describes research demonstrating that high-achieving people underperform when they are worried about confirming a stereotype about the racial group or gender to which they belong. These worries deplete the working memory necessary for success. The perceptions take hold early in schooling and can be either reinforced or abolished by powerful role models.

In one study, researchers gave standardized tests to black and white students, both before and after President Obama was elected. Black test takers performed worse than white test takers before the election. Immediately after Obama’s election, however, blacks’ performance improved so much that their scores were nearly equal with whites. When black students can overcome the worries brought on by stereotypes, because they see someone like President Obama who directly counters myths about racial variation in intelligence, their performance improves.

Beilock and her colleagues also have shown that when first-grade girls believe that boys are better than girls at math, they perform more poorly on math tests. One big source of this belief? The girls’ female teachers. It turns out that elementary school teachers are often highly anxious about their own math abilities, and this anxiety is modeled from teacher to student. When the teachers serve as positive role models in math, their male and female students perform equally well.

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Meditation and practice can help Even when a student is not a member of a stereotyped group, tests can be challenging for the brightest people, who can clutch if anxiety taps out their mental resources. In that instance, relaxation techniques can help.

In tests in her lab, Beilock and her research team gave people with no meditation experience 10 minutes of meditation training before they took a high-stakes test. Students with meditation preparation scored 87, or B+, versus the 82 or B- score of those without meditation training. This difference in performance occurred despite the fact that all students were of equal ability.

Stress can undermine performance in the world of business, where competition for sales, giving high-stakes presentations or even meeting your boss in the elevator are occasions when choking can squander opportunities.

Practice helps people navigate through these tosses on life’s ocean. But, more importantly, practicing under stress — even a moderate amount — helps a person feel comfortable when they find themselves standing in the line of fire, Beilock said. The experience of having dealt with stress makes those situations seem like old hat. The goal is to close the gap between practice and performance.

A person also can overcome anxiety by thinking about what to say, not what not to say, said Beilock, who added that staying positive is always a good idea.

“Think about the journey, not the outcome,” Beilock advised. “Remind yourself that you have the background to succeed and that you are in control of the situation. This can be the confidence boost you need to ace your pitch or to succeed in other ways when facing life’s challenges.”

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September 27, 2010 Posted by | anxiety, Books, brain, Cognition, Positive Psychology, research, Resilience | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Type A B C’s Of How Your Personality Effects Your Health

Could your personality kill you—or might it make you live longer? Could it give you heart disease, or protect you from illness? Could it push you toward or away from doctor appointments?

Credit: Angela Haupt , health.usnews.com

Personality traits play a distinct role in determining how healthy we are, psychologists say. “Everything is related to everything else. How stressed or angry you are, and how you interact with the world, is contingent in large part on your personality style,” says Michael Miller, editor in chief of the Harvard Mental Health Letter. “And that is going to have an enormous impact on your health.”

Here’s a look at common personality types and traits and how each can help or hurt your health (sometimes both):

Hostile
One of the aspects of the impatient, hard-charging Type A personality that is known to increase heart disease risk is hostility. Hostile people eat and smoke more and exercise less than other personality types, says Redford Williams, head of behavioral medicine at Duke University Medical Center and author of Anger Kills. They’re likelier to be overweight in middle age and have higher cholesterol and blood pressure. Williams’s past research suggests hostile people are also more likely to develop irregular heart rhythms, and to die before reaching their 50s. Most of these problems can be traced back to elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol, as well as increased inflammation in the walls of the coronary arteries, which leads to a greater risk of heart attack.

No personality is set in stone, however, and Type A’s can be taught how to take the edge off their hostility. Hostile heart patients who attend workshops that teach coping skills, for instance, have a lower incidence of depression and healthier blood pressure than Type A’s who don’t go. The key, Williams says, is learning how to communicate more clearly and how to control anger and other negative emotions. He suggests asking yourself four questions when you get angry: Is this issue truly important? Is what I’m feeling appropriate to the facts? Can I modify the situation in a positive way? Is taking such action worth it? Meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can damp hostility with a layer of calm.

Impulsive
Because Type A personalities are defined by competitiveness, a drive to succeed, and a sense of urgency, they are prone to take risks and act without thinking, neither of which is likely to improve health. Non-Type A’s can be impulsive, too. Such people are often not as well-grounded as others, says Robin Belamaric, a clinical psychologist in Bethesda, Md.: “They’ll look at an opportunity that comes along and say, ‘Hmm, that sounds like fun,’ whereas another, more thoughtful person, will say, ‘I’m going to pass, because I’m not sure it’s the best idea.’ ”

Relaxed
If you’re a Type B, you roll with the punches. You’re relaxed, take life a day a time, and handle stress without cracking. That translates to a higher quality of life and lower likelihood of heart disease—less anxiety strengthens the immune system. The more we chill, the better off we are, says Miller: “You don’t want to get locked into a stressful, tense state of mind.” Over the long term, he adds, relaxing and managing stress effectively will lengthen your life, help your heart and gastrointestinal system, and just make you feel better overall.

Extrovert
People who are outgoing, involved in their communities, and have strong social connections reap health benefits. An analysis of 148 studies published in the online journal PLoS medicine in July found that on average, adults enrolled in a study with many close friendships were 50 percent likelier to survive until their study ended than were those with few friendships. And a 2009 study published in Perspectives in Psychological Science suggests that social support leads to improved coping skills, healthy behavior, and adherence to medical regimens. Bonding with others also reduces stress and improves the immune system—so making friends and getting involved becomes, in effect, a well-being tonic.

What drives at least some of the health benefits goes beyond biology, Miller says. “It may have to do with the fact that when you’re around people, you think, ‘Oh, Martha has gone for her mammogram—that reminds me, I should, too.’ ”

Eager to please
People-pleasers—Type C’s—are conforming, passive, and want to accommodate. That can be a good thing when it comes to patient compliance: They’re more likely to take the right medicines in the right doses at the right times, for instance—once they see a doctor, that is. Making and following through on appointments can be challenging for Type C’s, who tend to accept their fate as inevitable and fall readily into hopelessness and helplessness. That means others must push them to take care of themselves. “They may be less likely to maintain their health on their own,” Belamaric says. “If they develop a problem, they may just complain about it, hoping somebody says, ‘I have a good doctor, I’ll make you an appointment.’ ”

Some Type C’s may be so mired that they don’t seek medical attention—even when it’s clearly necessary—and slough off preventive behaviors, like watching what they eat. “If they get a serious diagnosis, they may be passive, throw their hands up, and say, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do about it, anyway. If it’s my time, it’s my time,’ ” Belamaric says.

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Stressed and distressed
Type D’s—D is for distressed—dwell on negative emotions and are afraid to express themselves in social situations. Compared to more optimistic sorts, a Type D may face three times the risk for future heart problems, according to a recent study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. Type D’s also face a higher likelihood of compulsive overeating and substance abuse. “If you’re a person who is prone to depression or anxiety, or if you’re overly self-critical, there’s more of a chance of turning to gratifying behavior to feel better,” Miller says.

Optimistic versus pessimistic
Optimism “heavily influences physical and mental health,” concluded a study published in May in the journal Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health after researchers followed more than 500 males for 15 years. The rate of heart-related deaths was 50 percent lower among optimists than among pessimists. “Optimists have a higher quality of life, and they may be more resilient in the way they deal with stress,” Miller says. “So if a problem comes along, they’re able to handle it better, and they become less symptomatic.” Glass-half-empty types harbor little hope for the future and tend more toward depression and anxiety disorders.

But there’s a catch for those at the extreme end of the optimism spectrum: They think of themselves as impervious to risks. Extreme optimists who smoke are the best examples. They believe they won’t develop lung cancer. Why give up smoking to prevent a nonexistent risk?

The “self-healing personality”
That is the name Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California-Riverside, attaches to people who are curious, secure, constructive, responsive, and conscientious. These traits translate to enthusiasm for life, emotional balance, and strong social relationships. “Positive emotions buffer hormonal responses to stress,” says Friedman, who studies the relationship between personality and longevity. Self-healers, he says, “have healthier behavior patterns: more physical activity, a better diet, and less smoking and substance abuse.”

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September 24, 2010 Posted by | Acceptance and Commitment Thaerapy, brain, Cognition, Health Psychology, Identity, Personality Disorder, stress | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Have The Time Of Your Life” Or “Beat It”: The Dance Moves That Make Men Attractive

The key dance moves that make men attractive to women have been discovered by psychologists at Northumbria University.

Credit: Medical News Today:

Using 3D motion-capture technology to create uniform avatar figures, researchers have identified the key movement areas of the male dancer’s body that influence female perceptions of whether their dance skills are “good” or “bad”.

The study, led by psychologist Dr Nick Neave and researcher Kristofor McCarty, has for the first time identified potential biomechanical differences between “good” and “bad” male dancers. Its findings are published in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters on Wednesday 8th September.

Dr Neave believes that such dance movements may form honest signals of a man’s reproductive quality, in terms of health, vigour or strength, and will carry out further research to fully grasp the implications.

Researchers, at Northumbria’s School of Life Sciences, filmed 19 male volunteers, aged 1835, with a 3-D camera system as they danced to a basic rhythm. Their real-life movements were mapped onto feature-less, white, gender-neutral humanoid characters, or avatars, so that 35 heterosexual women could rate their dance moves without being prejudiced by each male’s individual level of physical attractiveness.

The results showed that eight movement variables made the difference between a “good” and a “bad” dancer. These were the size of movement of the neck, trunk, left shoulder and wrist, the variability of movement size of the neck, trunk and left wrist, and the speed of movement of the right knee.

Female perceptions of good dance quality were influenced most greatly by large and varied movements involving the neck and trunk.

Dr Neave said: “This is the first study to show objectively what differentiates a good dancer from a bad one. Men all over the world will be interested to know what moves they can throw to attract women.

“We now know which area of the body females are looking at when they are making a judgement about male dance attractiveness. If a man knows what the key moves are, he can get some training and improve his chances of attracting a female through his dance style.”

Kristofor McCarty said: “The methods we have used here have allowed us to make some preliminary predictions as to why dance has evolved. Our results clearly show that there seems to be a strong general consensus as to what is seen as a good and bad dance, and that women appear to like and look for the same sort of moves.

“From this, we predict that those observations have underlying traits associated with them but further research must be conducted to support such claims.”

Dr Neave and Kristofor McCarty also worked with fellow Northumbria researchers Dr Nick Caplan and Dr Johannes Hönekopp, and Jeanette Freynik and Dr Bernhard Fink, from the University of Goettingen, on the landmark study.

Sources: Northumbria University, AlphaGalileo Foundation.

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September 20, 2010 Posted by | brain, Health Psychology, Intimate Relationshps, Marriage, Sex & Sexuality, Technology | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Don’t Say “Don’t Panic”: How To Help Someone With A Panic Disorder

Credit: From , former About.com Guide

The Experience of Recurring Panic Attacks

To understand panic disorder with agoraphobia, we must first talk about panic attacks. Sudden and recurring panic attacks are the hallmark symptoms of panic disorder. If you have never had recurring panic attacks, it may be hard to understand the difficulties your friend or loved one is going through. During a panic attack, the body’s alarm system is triggered without the presence of actual danger. The exact cause of why this happens is not known, but it is believed that there is a genetic and/or biological component.

Sufferers often use the terms fear, terror and horror to describe the frightening symptoms of a full-blown panic attack. But even these frightening words can’t convey the magnitude of the consuming nature of panic disorder. The fear becomes so intense that the thought of having another panic attack is never far from conscious thought. Incessant worry and feelings of overwhelming anxiety may become part of your loved one’s daily existence.

These Intense Symptoms Must Mean Something…Something Terrible

At the onset of panic disorder, your loved one may be quite certain they are suffering from a heart condition or other life-threatening illness. This may mean trips to the nearest emergency room and intensive testing to rule out physical disease. But, even when he or she is assured that these symptoms are not life-threatening, it does little to put his or her mind at ease. The feelings experienced during panic attacks are so overwhelming and uncontrollable, sufferers are convinced they are going to die or are going crazy.

A New Way of Life Emerges: Fear and Avoidance

So frightening are the symptoms of panic disorder, that your loved one may go to any and all lengths to avoid another attack from occurring. This may include many avoidant types of behavior and the development of agoraphobia. But, despite the efforts to avoid another panic episode, the attacks continue without rhyme or reason. There is no place to escape, and the sufferer becomes a prisoner of an insidious and illogical fear. Without appropriate treatment, your loved one may become so disabled that he or she is unable to leave his or her home at all.

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Self Image Is Redefined

At times, we’ve all experienced nervousness, anxiousness, fear and, perhaps, even terror or horror. But in the midst of a catastrophic event, we understand these symptoms. Once the event is over, so, too, are the symptoms. But, imagine reliving these symptoms over and over again, without any warning or explanation.

This type of fear is life-changing. As abilities become inabilities, things once taken for granted, like going to into a store, become anxiety-filled events. Some enjoyable activities, like going to concerts or movies, may be avoided altogether. It is not uncommon for sufferers to experience a sense of shame, weakness and embarrassment as their self-image is redefined by fear.

Panic disorder is not just being nervous or anxious. Panic disorder is not just about the fear, terror and horror experienced during a full-blown panic attack because it does not end when the panic subsides. It is a disorder that is quick to invade and can alter one’s very essence, redefine one’s abilities and take over every aspect of one’s life.

Your Role As A Support Person

As a support person, you can play an important role in your loved one’s recovery process. Understanding what panic disorder is, and what it is not, will help you on this journey. Author Ken Strong provides a lot of information for supporting a person with panic disorder in his book, Anxiety:The Caregivers, Third Edition.

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September 10, 2010 Posted by | anxiety, brain, Cognition, depression, research, stress | , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Feeling Stuck? 10 Important Tips For Changing Your Life

Credit: excerpted from psychologytoday.com

Self-change is tough, but it’s not impossible, nor does it have to be traumatic, according to change expert Stan Goldberg, Ph.D. Here, he lays out the 10 principles he deems necessary for successful change. [………]Many of us want to change but simply don’t know how to do it. After 25 years of researching how people change, I’ve discovered 10 major principles that encompass all self-change strategies. I’ve broken down those principles and, using one example—a man’s desire to be more punctual—I demonstrate strategies for implementing change in your own life.

All Behaviors Are Complex

Research by psychologist James O. Prochaska, Ph.D., an internationally renowned expert on planned change, has repeatedly found that change occurs in stages. To increase the overall probability of success, divide a behavior into parts and learn each part successively.

Strategy: Break down the behavior

Almost all behaviors can be broken down. Separate your desired behavior into smaller, self-contained units.

He wanted to be on time for work, so he wrote down what that would entail: waking up, showering, dressing, preparing breakfast, eating, driving, parking and buying coffee—all before 9 a.m.

Change Is Frightening

We resist change, but fear of the unknown can result in clinging to status quo behaviors—no matter how bad they are.

Strategy: Examine the consequences

Compare all possible consequences of both your status quo and desired behaviors. If there are more positive results associated with the new behavior, your fears of the unknown are unwarranted.

If he didn’t become more punctual, the next thing he’d be late for is the unemployment office. There was definitely a greater benefit to changing than to not changing.

Strategy: Prepare your observers

New behaviors can frighten the people observing them, so introduce them slowly.

Becoming timely overnight would make co-workers suspicious. He started arriving by 9 a.m. only on important days.

Strategy: Be realistic

Unrealistic goals increase fear. Fear increases the probability of failure.

Mornings found him sluggish, so he began preparing the night before and doubled his morning time.

Change Must Be Positive

As B.F. Skinner’s early research demonstrates, reinforcement-not punishment-is necessary for permanent change. Reinforcement can be intrinsic, extrinsic or extraneous. According to Carol Sansone, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Utah, one type of reinforcement must be present for self-change, two would be better than one, and three would be best.

Strategy: Enjoy the act

Intrinsic reinforcement occurs when the act is reinforcing.

He loved dressing well. Seeing his clothes laid out at night was a joyful experience.

Strategy: Admire the outcome

An act doesn’t have to be enjoyable when the end result is extrinsically reinforcing. For instance, I hate cleaning my kitchen, but I do it because I like the sight of a clean kitchen.

After dressing, he looked in the mirror and enjoyed the payoff from his evening preparation: He looked impeccable.

Strategy: Reward yourself

Extraneous reinforcement isn’t directly connected to the act or its completion. A worker may despise his manufacturing job but will continue working for a good paycheck.

Whenever he met his target, he put $20 into his Hawaii vacation fund.

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Being Is Easier Than Becoming

In my karate class of 20 students, the instructor yelled, “No pain, no gain,” amid grueling instructions. After four weeks, only three students remained. Uncomfortable change becomes punishing, and rational people don’t continue activities that are more painful than they are rewarding.

Strategy: Take baby steps

In one San Francisco State University study, researchers found that participants were more successful when their goals were gradually approximated. Write down the behavior you want to change. Then to the right, write your goal. Draw four lines between the two and write a progressive step on each that takes you closer to your goal.

The first week, he would arrive by 9:20 a.m., then five minutes earlier each subsequent week until he achieved his goal.

Strategy: Simplify the process

Methods of changing are often unnecessarily complicated and frenetic. Through simplicity, clarity arises.

Instead of waiting in line at Starbucks, he would buy coffee in his office building.

Strategy: Prepare for problems

Perfect worlds don’t exist, and neither do perfect learning situations. Pamela Dunston, Ph.D., of Clemson University, found cueing to be an effective strategy.

His alarm clock failed to rouse him, so for the first month he’d use a telephone wake-up service.

Slower Is Better

Everything has its own natural speed; when altered, unpleasant things happen. Change is most effective when it occurs slowly, allowing behaviors to become automatic.

Strategy: Establish calm

Life is like a stirred-up lake: Allow it to calm and the mud will settle, clearing the water. The same is true for change.

To make mornings less harried, he no longer ran errands on his way to work.

Strategy: Appreciate the path

Author Ursula LeGuin once said, “It’s good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” Don’t devise an arduous path; it should be as rewarding as the goal.

He enjoyed almost everything involved in being punctual. The coffee could be better, but it was a small price to pay.

Know More, Do Better

Surprise spells disaster for people seeking change. Knowing more about the process allows more control over it.

Strategy: Monitor your behaviors

Some therapists insist on awareness of both current and desired behaviors, but research suggests it’s sufficient to be aware of just the new one.

In a journal, he recorded the time taken for each step of work preparation.

Strategy: Request feedback

A study in the British Journal of Psychology found that reflecting on personal experiences with others is key to successful change. But because complimenting new behavior implies that the observer disliked the old one, it can make observers feel uncomfortable. If, for example, you were once demeaning to people, few would now say, “It’s nice talking with you since you stopped being a jerk.” Give the observer permission, suggests Paul Schutz, Ph.D., of the University of Georgia, and you will receive feedback.

Every Friday he asked a friend how well he was doing with his time problem.

Strategy: Understand the outcome

Success is satisfying, and if you know why you succeeded or failed, similar strategies can be applied when changing other behaviors.

Every morning, he analyzed why he did or did not arrive to work on time.

Change Requires Structure

Many people view structure as restrictive, something that inhibits spontaneity. While spontaneity is wonderful for some activities, it’s a surefire method for sabotaging change.

Strategy: Identify what works

Classify all activities and materials you’re using as either helpful, neutral or unhelpful in achieving your goal. Eliminate unhelpful ones, make neutrals into positives and keep or increase the positives.

After evaluating his morning routine, he replaced time-consuming breakfasts with quick protein drinks.

Strategy: Revisit your plan regularly

Review every day how and why you’re changing and the consequences of success and failure. Research by Daniel Willingham, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, showed that repetition increases the probability of success.

Each night he reviewed his plan, smiled and said, “Hawaii, here I come.”

Strategy: Logically sequence events

According to behavior expert Richard Foxx, Ph.D., a psychology professor at Penn State University at Harrisburg, it’s important to sequence the aspects associated with learning a new behavior in order of level of difficulty or timing.

He completed all bathroom activities, then ate breakfast.

Practice Is Necessary

Practice is another key approach to change, suggests one study on changing conscious experience published recently in the British Journal of Psychology. I’ve found that the majority of failures occur because this principle is ignored. Practice makes new behaviors automatic and a natural part of who we are.

Strategy: Use helpers

Not all behaviors can be learned on your own. Sometimes it’s useful to enlist the help of a trusted friend.

When even the telephone answering service failed to wake him up, he asked his secretary to call.

Strategy: Practice in many settings

If you want to use a new behavior in different environments, practice it in those or similar settings. Dubbing this “generalization,” psychologists T.F. Stokes and D.M. Baer found it critical in maintaining new behaviors.

During the first week he would try to be punctual for work. The following week, he would try to be on time for his regularly scheduled tennis game.

New Behaviors Must Be Protected

Even when flawlessly performed, new behaviors are fragile and disappear if unprotected.

Strategy: Control your environment

Environmental issues such as noise and level of alertness may interfere with learning new behaviors. After identifying what helps and what hinders, increase the helpers and eliminate the rest.

Having a nightcap before bed made it difficult to wake up in the morning, so he avoided alcohol after 7 p.m.

Strategy: Use memory aides

Because a new behavior is neither familiar nor automatic, it’s easy to forget. Anything that helps memory is beneficial.

He kept a list in each room of his apartment describing the sequence of things to be done and the maximum allowable time to complete them.

Small Successes Are Big

Unfortunately, plans for big successes often result in big failures. Focus instead on a series of small successes. Each little success builds your reservoir of self-esteem; one big failure devastates it.

Strategy: Map your success

Approach each step as a separate mission and you’ll eventually arrive at the end goal.

For each morning activity he completed within his self-allotted time limit, he rewarded himself by putting money into his Hawaii-getaway fund.

The process of changing from what you are to what you would like to become can be either arduous and frustrating or easy and rewarding. The effort required for both paths is the same. Choose the first and you’ll probably recycle yourself endlessly. Apply my 10 principles, and change, once only a slight possibility, becomes an absolute certainty. The choice is yours.

Stan Goldberg, Ph.D., is a private speech therapist (www.speechstrategies.com), a change consultant and the author of four books on change.

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August 31, 2010 Posted by | brain, Cognition, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Health Psychology, Positive Psychology | , , , | 6 Comments

And They All Lived Together In a Little Row Boat…Clap! Clap!: How Clapping Games Improve Cognition And Motor Skills In Children

BEER-SHEVA, ISRAEL, April 28, 2010 – A researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) conducted the first study of hand-clapping songs, revealing a direct link between those activities and the development of important skills in children and young adults, including university students.

“We found that children in the first, second and third grades who sing these songs demonstrate skills absent in children who don’t take part in similar activities,” explains Dr. Idit Sulkin a member of BGU’s Music Science Lab in the Department of the Arts.

“We also found that children who spontaneously perform hand-clapping songs in the yard during recess have neater handwriting, write better and make fewer spelling errors.”

Dr. Warren Brodsky, the music psychologist who supervised her doctoral dissertation, said Sulkin’s findings lead to the presumption that “children who don’t participate in such games may be more at risk for developmental learning problems like dyslexia and dyscalculia.

“There’s no doubt such activities train the brain and influence development in other areas.  The children’s teachers also believe that social integration is better for these children than those who don’t take part in these songs.”

As part of the study, Sulkin went to several elementary school classrooms and engaged the children in either a board of education sanctioned music appreciation program or hand-clapping songs training – each lasting a period of 10 weeks.

“Within a very short period of time, the children who until then hadn’t taken part in such activities caught up in their cognitive abilities to those who did,” she said.  But this finding only surfaced for the group of children undergoing hand-clapping songs training. The result led Sulkin to conclude that hand-clapping songs should be made an integral part of education for children aged six to 10, for the purpose of motor and cognitive training.

During the study, “Impact of Hand-clapping Songs on Cognitive and Motor Tasks,” Dr. Sulkin interviewed school and kindergarten teachers, visited their classrooms and joined the children in singing. Her original goal, as part of her thesis, was to figure out why children are fascinated by singing and clapping up until the end of third grade, when these pastimes are abruptly abandoned and replaced with sports.

“This fact explains a developmental process the children are going through,” Dr. Sulkin observes.  “The hand-clapping songs appear naturally in children’s lives around the age of seven, and disappear around the age of 10.  In this narrow window, these activities serve as a developmental platform to enhance children’s needs — emotional, sociological, physiological and cognitive. It’s a transition stage that leads them to the next phases of growing up.”

Sulkin says that no in-depth, long-term study has been conducted on the effects that hand-clapping songs have on children’s motor and cognitive skills.  However, the relationship between music and intellectual development in children has been studied extensively, prompting countless parents to obtain a “Baby Mozart” CD for their children.

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Nevertheless, the BGU study demonstrates that listening to 10 minutes of Mozart music (.i.e., the ‘Mozart Effect’) does not improve spatial task performance compared to 10 minutes of hand-clapping songs training or 10 minutes of exposure to silence.

Lastly, Sulkin discovered that hand-clapping song activity has a positive effect on adults: University students who filled out her questionnaires reported that after taking up such games, they became more focused and less tense.

“These techniques are associated with childhood, and many adults treat them as a joke,” she said.  “But once they start clapping, they report feeling more alert and in a better mood.”

Sulkin grew up in a musical home.  Her father, Dr. Adi Sulkin, is a well-known music educator who, in the 1970s and 1980s, recorded and published over 50 cassettes and videos depicting Israeli children’s play-songs, street-songs, holiday and seasonal songs, and singing games targeting academic skills.

“So quite apart from the research experience, working on this was like a second childhood,” she noted.

Source: American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

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May 1, 2010 Posted by | ADHD /ADD, brain, Child Behavior, Cognition, Education, Exercise, Parenting, research | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

All By Myself…The Tyranny of The Loneliness Epidemic

Credit Dr Ronald Pies, M.D. via psychcentral.com

The recent controversy over the still-developing DSM-5 — that compendium of mental disorders the media love to call, inappropriately, “The Bible of Psychiatry” –has gotten me thinking about loneliness. Now, thankfully, nobody has seriously proposed including loneliness in the DSM-5. Indeed, loneliness is usually thought of as simply an unpleasant part of life — one of the “slings and arrows” that pierce almost all of us from time to time. Loneliness, in some ways, remains enmeshed in a web of literary and cultural clichés, born of such works as Nathaniel West’s darkly comic novel, Miss Lonelyhearts, and the Beatles’ whimsical anthem, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

But loneliness turns out to be a serious matter. And as psychiatry debates the diagnostic minutiae of DSM-5, all of us may need to remind ourselves that millions in this country struggle against the downward tug of loneliness. Yet even among health care professionals, few seem aware that loneliness is closely linked with numerous emotional and physical ills, particular among the elderly and infirm.

It’s easy to assume that loneliness is simply a matter of mind and mood. Yet recent evidence suggests that loneliness may injure the body in surprising ways. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine studied the risk of coronary heart disease over a 19-year period, in a community sample of men and women. The study found that among women, high degrees of loneliness were associated with increased risk of heart disease, even after controlling for age, race, marital status, depression and several other confounding variables. (In an email message to me, the lead author, Dr. Rebecca C. Thurston, PhD, speculated that the male subjects might have been more reluctant to acknowledge their feelings of loneliness).

Similarly, Dr. Dara Sorkin and her colleagues at the University of California, Irvine, found that for every increase in the level of loneliness in a sample of 180 older adults, there was a threefold increase in the odds of having heart disease. Conversely, among individuals who felt they had companionship or social support, the likelihood of having heart disease decreased.

The young, of course, are far from immune to loneliness. Researchers at Aarhus University in Denmark studied loneliness in a population of adolescent boys with autism spectrum disorders (an area of great controversy in the proposed DSM-5 criteria). More than a fifth of the sample described themselves as “often or always” feeling lonely—a finding that seems to run counter to the notion that those with autism are emotionally disconnected from other people. Furthermore, the study found that the more social support these boys received, the lower their degree of loneliness. We have no cure for autism in adolescents–but the remedy for loneliness in these kids may be as close as the nearest friend.

And lest there be any doubt that loneliness has far ranging effects on the health of the body, consider the intriguing findings from Dr. S.W. Cole and colleagues, at the UCLA School of Medicine. These researchers looked at levels of gene activity in the white blood cells of individuals with either high or low levels of loneliness. Subjects with high levels of subjective social isolation—basically, loneliness — showed evidence of an over-active inflammatory response. These same lonely subjects showed reduced activity in genes that normally suppress inflammation. Such gene effects could explain reports of higher rates of inflammatory disease in those experiencing loneliness.

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Could inflammatory changes, in turn, explain the correlation between loneliness and heart disease? Inflammation is known to play an important role in coronary artery disease. But loneliness by itself may be just one domino in the chain of causation. According to Dr. Heather S. Lett and colleagues at Duke University Medical Center, the perception of poor social support — in effect, loneliness — is a risk factor for development, or worsening, of clinical depression. Depression may in turn bring about inflammatory changes in the heart that lead to frank heart disease. This complicated pathway is still speculative, but plausible.

Loneliness, of course, is not synonymous with “being alone.” Many individuals who live alone do not feel “lonely.” Indeed, some seem to revel in their aloneness. Perhaps this is what theologian Paul Tillich had in mind when he observed that language “… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone.” Conversely, some people feel “alone” or disconnected from others, even when surrounded with people.

Let’s admit that not everybody is capable of experiencing the “glory of being alone” or of transforming loneliness into “solitude.” So what can a socially-isolated person do to avoid loneliness and its associated health problems? Joining a local support group can help decrease isolation; allow friendships to form; and give the lonely person an opportunity both to receive and to provide help. This reciprocity can bolster the lonely person’s ego and improve overall well-being. Support groups geared to particular medical conditions can also help reduce disease-related complications. Although there are always risks in going “on line” to find support, Daily Strength appears to be a legitimate and helpful website for locating support groups of all types, including those for loneliness. Psych Central also provides opportunities to exchange ideas and “connect” with many individuals who feel isolated or alone. For those who feel lonely even in the midst of friends, individual psychotherapy may be helpful, since this paradoxical feeling often stems from a fear of “getting close” to others.

No, loneliness is not a disease or disorder. It certainly shouldn’t appear in the DSM-5 — but it should be on our minds, as a serious public health problem. Fortunately, the “treatment” may be as simple as reaching out to another human being, with compassion and understanding.

Ronald Pies MD is a psychiatrist affiliated with Tufts University School of Medicine and SUNY Upstate Medical University. He is also Editor-in-Chief of Psychiatric Times and author of Everything Has Two Handles: The Stoic’s Guide to the Art of Living. . Disclosure information for Dr. Pies may be found at www.psychiatrictimes.com

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April 29, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, anxiety, Aspergers Syndrome, Books, brain, depression, diagnosis, Health Psychology, Identity, mood, Pain, self harm, stress | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment