Peter H Brown Clinical Psychologist

Psychology News & Resources

TV For Toddlers: “The Wiggles” Or The Wobbles?

Want kids who are smarter and thinner? Keep them away from the television set as toddlers. A shocking study from child experts at the Université de Montréal, the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center and the University of Michigan, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, has found that television exposure at age two forecasts negative consequences for kids, ranging from poor school adjustment to unhealthy habits.

View Abstract Here

“We found every additional hour of TV exposure among toddlers corresponded to a future decrease in classroom engagement and success at math, increased victimization by classmates, have a more sedentary lifestyle, higher consumption of junk food and, ultimately, higher body mass index,” says lead author Dr. Linda S. Pagani, a psychosocial professor at the Université de Montréal and researcher at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center.

The goal of the study was to determine the impact of TV exposure at age 2 on future academic success, lifestyle choices and general well being among children. “Between the ages of two and four, even incremental exposure to television delayed development,” says Dr. Pagani.

A total of 1,314 kids took part in the investigation, which was part of the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development Main Exposure. Parents were asked to report how much TV their kids watched at 29 months and at 53 months in age. Teachers were asked to evaluate academic, psychosocial and health habits, while body mass index (BMI) was measured at 10 years old.

“Early childhood is a critical period for brain development and formation of behaviour,” warns Dr. Pagani. “High levels of TV consumption during this period can lead to future unhealthy habits. Despite clear recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggesting less than two hours of TV per day — beyond the age of two — parents show poor factual knowledge and awareness of such existing guidelines.”

According to the investigation, watching too much TV as toddlers later forecasted:

  • a seven percent decrease in classroom engagement;
  • a six percent decrease in math achievement (with no harmful effects on later reading);
  • a 10 percent increase in victimization by classmates (peer rejection, being teased, assaulted or insulted by other students);
  • a 13 percent decrease in weekend physical activity;
  • a nine percent decrease in general physical activity;
  • a none percent higher consumption of soft drinks;
  • a 10 percent peak in snacks intake;
  • a five percent increase in BMI.

“Although we expected the impact of early TV viewing to disappear after seven and a half years of childhood, the fact that negative outcomes remained is quite daunting,” says Dr. Pagani. “Our findings make a compelling public health argument against excessive TV viewing in early childhood and for parents to heed guidelines on TV exposure from the American Academy of Pediatrics.”

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Since TV exposure encourages a sedentary lifestyle, Dr. Pagani says, television viewing must be curbed for toddlers to avoid the maintenance of passive mental and physical habits in later childhood: “Common sense would have it that TV exposure replaces time that could be spent engaging in other developmentally enriching activities and tasks which foster cognitive, behavioral, and motor development.”

“What’s special about this study is how it confirms suspicions that have been out there and shown by smaller projects on one outcome or another. This study takes a comprehensive approach and considers many parental, pediatric and societal factors simultaneously,” she adds.

This research was funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The article, published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, was authored by Linda S. Pagani, Caroline Fitzpatrick and Tracie A. Barnett of the Université de Montréal and its affiliated Sainte-Justine University Hospital Research Center in Canada in collaboration with Eric Dubow of the University of Michigan in the United States.

Source: Sciencedaily

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May 8, 2010 Posted by | ADHD /ADD, Books, Child Behavior, Cognition, Education, Parenting, Resilience, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Should I Tell Or Not? Mood Disorders & The Workplace

Credit: Therese J. Borchard via psychcentral

Just when I think our world has moved a baby step in the right direction regarding our understanding of mental illness, I get another blow that tells me otherwise. For example, awhile back I quoted an intelligent woman who wrote an article in a popular women’s magazine about dating a bipolar guy when she was bipolar herself. She recently discovered that she had jeopardized a job prospect because the article came up — as well as all those who referenced it, like Beyond Blue — when you Googled her name. So she requested everyone who picked up that article to go back and change her real name to a pseudonym.

Because talking about bipolar disorder in the workplace is pretty much like singing about AIDS at the office a hundred years ago or maybe championing civil rights in the 60s.

I totally get why this woman created a pseudonym. Trust me, I entertained that possibility when I decided to throw out my psychiatric chart to the public. It’s risky. Extremely risky. Each person’s situation is unique, so I can’t advise a general “yes ” or “no.” As much as I would love to say corporate America will embrace the person struggling with a mood disorder and wrap him around a set of loving hands, I know the reality is more like a bipolar or depressive being spit upon, blamed, and made fun of by his boss and co-workers. Because the majority of professionals today simply don’t get it.

Not at all.

They don’t get it even though the World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, mental illness will be the second leading cause of disability worldwide, after heart disease; that major mental disorders cost the nation at least $193 billion annually in lost earnings alone, according to a new study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health; that the direct cost of depression to the United States in terms of lost time at work is estimated at 172 million days yearly.

I realize every time I publish a personal blog post — one in which I describe my severe ruminations, death thoughts, and difficulty using the rational part of my brain — I jeopardize my possibilities for gainful employment in the future. I can pretty much write off all government work because, from what I’ve been told, you have to get a gaggle of people to testify that you have no history of psychiatric illnesses (and, again, all it takes is one Google search to prove I’m crazy).

It’s totally unfair.

Do we penalize diabetics for needing insulin or tell people with disabling arthritis to get over it? Do we advise cancer victims to use a pseudonym if they write about their chemo, for fear of being labeled as weak and pathetic? That they really should be able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and heal themselves because it’s all in their heads?

But I don’t want to hide behind a pseudonym. I use my real name because, for me, the benefit of comforting someone who thinks they are all alone outweighs the risk of unemployment in the future. Kay Redfield Jamison did it. She’s okay. So is Robin Williams. And Kitty Dukasis. And Carrie Fisher. Granted all four of those people have talent agents ready to book them as speakers for a nice fee.

In their book, Living with Someone Who’s Living with Bipolar Disorder Chelsea Lowe and Bruce M. Cohen, MD, Ph.D., list the pros and the cons of going public with a mood disorder. I’m paraphrasing a little bit, but here are the pros:

  • There’s nothing disgraceful about the condition, any more than there would be about cancer or heart disease.
  • Carrying a secret is an enormous burden. Sharing it lightens it.
  • The more people who know and are looking out for you, the more likely you’ll be able to get help before the problems turn serious.
  • Sharing the information lessons the burden on your partner.
  • Lots of people have psychiatric issues; maybe your boss or family member does too.
  • Taking about the diagnosis is an opportunity to educate others.

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The authors suggest telling your employer under these circumstances:

  • If you are taking a new medication and may need time for adjustment.
  • If your schedule doesn’t allow for regular, restful sleep–which is an important factor in controlling the disorder–or if you need to request certain adjustments to your schedule, like telecommuting.
  • If you need to be hospitalized or take a leave of absence.
  • If the disorder is affecting your behavior or job performance.
  • If you need to submit benefit claims through your employer rather than the insurance company, or if your employer requires medical forms for extended absences.

And the cons:

  • Prejudice and stigma about psychiatric disorders are still common in our society. A disclosure of bipolar disorder [or any mental illness] will inevitably color your employer’s and coworkers’ perceptions of his job performance: “Did Jerry miss that meeting because the bus was late, or because he was off his meds?” Potential problems include discrimination, stigmatization, fear and actual job loss.
  • You can’t un-tell a secret.
  • Your chances for promotion could be hurt.
  • The employer is under no obligation to keep your condition secret.
  • Discrimination is illegal but difficult to prove.
  • You could be written off as “crazy.”

It’s Tricky! What are your thoughts?

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May 3, 2010 Posted by | anxiety, Books, depression, Education, General, mood | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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

Brain Training Or Just Brain Straining?: The Benefits Of Brain Exercise Software Are Unclear

You’ve probably heard it before: the brain is a muscle that can be strengthened. It’s an assumption that has spawned a multimillion-dollar computer game industry of electronic brain-teasers and memory games. But in the largest study of such brain games to date, a team of British researchers has found that healthy adults who undertake computer-based “brain-training” do not improve their mental fitness in any significant way.

Read The Original Research Paper (Draft POF)

The study, published online Tuesday by the journal Nature, tracked 11,430 participants through a six-week online study. The participants were divided into three groups: the first group undertook basic reasoning, planning and problem-solving activities (such as choosing the “odd one out” of a group of four objects); the second completed more complex exercises of memory, attention, math and visual-spatial processing, which were designed to mimic popular “brain-training” computer games and programs; and the control group was asked to use the Internet to research answers to trivia questions.

All participants were given a battery of unrelated “benchmark” cognitive-assessment tests before and after the six-week program. These tests, designed to measure overall mental fitness, were adapted from reasoning and memory tests that are commonly used to gauge brain function in patients with brain injury or dementia. All three study groups showed marginal — and identical — improvement on these benchmark exams.

But the improvement had nothing to do with the interim brain-training, says study co-author Jessica Grahn of the Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge. Grahn says the results confirm what she and other neuroscientists have long suspected: people who practice a certain mental task — for instance, remembering a series of numbers in sequence, a popular brain-teaser used by many video games — improve dramatically on that task, but the improvement does not carry over to cognitive function in general. (Indeed, all the study participants improved in the tasks they were given; even the control group got better at looking up answers to obscure questions.) The “practice makes perfect” phenomenon probably explains why the study participants improved on the benchmark exams, says Grahn — they had all had taken it once before. “People who practiced a certain test improved at that test, but improvement does not translate beyond anything other than that specific test,” she says.

The authors believe the study, which was run in conjuction with a BBC television program called “Bang Goes the Theory,” undermines the sometimes outlandish claims of many brain-boosting websites and digital games. According to a past TIME.com article by Anita Hamilton, HAPPYneuron, an example not cited by Grahn, is a $100 Web-based brain-training site that invites visitors to “give the gift of brain fitness” and claims its users saw “16%+ improvement” through exercises such as learning to associate a bird’s song with its species and shooting basketballs through virtual hoops. Hamilton also notes Nintendo’s best-selling Brain Age game, which promises to “give your brain the workout it needs” through exercises like solving math problems and playing rock, paper, scissors on the handheld DS. “The widely held belief that commercially available computerized brain-training programs improve general cognitive function in the wider population lacks empirical support,” the paper concludes.

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Not all neuroscientists agree with that conclusion, however. In 2005, Torkel Klingberg, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, used brain imaging to show that brain-training can alter the number of dopamine receptors in the brain — dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in learning and other important cognitive functions. Other studies have suggested that brain-training can help improve cognitive function in elderly patients and those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but the literature is contradictory.

Klingberg has developed a brain-training program called Cogmed Working Memory Training, and owns shares in the company that distributes it. He tells TIME that the Nature study “draws a large conclusion from a single negative finding” and that it is “incorrect to generalize from one specific training study to cognitive training in general.” He also criticizes the design of the study and points to two factors that may have skewed the results.

On average the study volunteers completed 24 training sessions, each about 10 minutes long — for a total of three hours spent on different tasks over six weeks. “The amount of training was low,” says Klingberg. “Ours and others’ research suggests that 8 to 12 hours of training on one specific test is needed to get a [general improvement in cognition].”

Second, he notes that the participants were asked to complete their training by logging onto the BBC Lab UK website from home. “There was no quality control. Asking subjects to sit at home and do tests online, perhaps with the TV on or other distractions around, is likely to result in bad quality of the training and unreliable outcome measures. Noisy data often gives negative findings,” Klingberg says.

Brain-training research has received generous funding in recent years — and not just from computer game companies — as a result of the proven effect of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to remodel its nerve connections after experience. The stakes are high. If humans could control that process and bolster cognition, it could have a transformative effect on society, says Nick Bostrom of Oxford University‘s Future of Humanity Institute. “Even a small enhancement in human cognition could have a profound effect,” he says. “There are approximately 10 million scientists in the world. If you could improve their cognition by 1%, the gain would hardly be noticeable in a single individual. But it could be equivalent to instantly creating 100,000 new scientists.”

For now, there is no nifty computer game that will turn you into Einstein, Grahn says. But there are other proven ways to improve cognition, albeit only by small margins. Consistently getting a good night’s sleep, exercising vigorously, eating right and maintaining healthy social activity have all been shown to help maximize a brain’s potential over the long term.

What’s more, says Grahn, neuroscientists and psychologists have yet to even agree on what constitutes high mental aptitude. Some experts argue that physical skill, which stems from neural pathways, should be considered a form of intelligence — so, masterful ballet dancers and basketball players would be considered geniuses.

Jason Allaire, co-director of the Games through Gaming lab at North Carolina State University says the Nature study makes sense; rather than finding a silver bullet for brain enhancement, he says, “it’s really time for researchers to think about a broad or holistic approach that exercises or trains the mind in general in order to start to improve cognition more broadly.”

Or, as Grahn puts it, when it comes to mental fitness, “there are no shortcuts.”

Credit: Time.com

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April 23, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, Books, brain, Cognition, Education, Health Psychology, Internet, research | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Sally Thibault: Author Of ‘David’s Gift’ On Tips For Parents Of Children With Aspergers Syndrome

For More Information Click Image Or Visit davidsgift.com

On April 2nd, World Autism Day, I blogged this post about the amazing new book “David’s Gift” by author, speaker and mother Sally Thibault. On Friday 16th, Sally was interviewed on the Nine Network Show ‘Today’,During the 4 minute interview she  provided a number of practical tips for parents. Here’s the Video. Make sure you visit http://www.davidsgift.com !

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April 19, 2010 Posted by | Aspergers, Aspergers Syndrome, Autism, Biography, Books, Child Behavior, diagnosis, Education, Parenting, video | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Anxiety & Depression: Self-Help Internet Interventions Work!

A little while ago I posted a list of free interactive self-help web sites, all research based, which have been shown to effective in the treatment of anxiety & depression. A recent study adds to the body of evidence which supports web based intervention as a viable treatment option or adjunct.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) via the internet is just as effective in treating panic disorder (recurring panic attacks) as traditional group-based CBT. It is also efficacious in the treatment of mild and moderate depression. This according to a new doctoral thesis soon to be presented at Karolinska Institutet.

Read the original research thesis here (PDF)

“Internet-based CBT is also more cost-effective than group therapy,” says Jan Bergström, psychologist and doctoral student at the Center for Psychiatry Research. “The results therefore support the introduction of Internet treatment into regular psychiatry, which is also what the National Board of Health and Welfare recommends in its new guidelines for the treatment of depression and anxiety.”

It is estimated that depression affects some 15 per cent and panic disorder 4 per cent of all people during their lifetime. Depression can include a number of symptoms, such as low mood, lack of joy, guilt, lethargy, concentration difficulties, insomnia and a low zest for life. Panic disorder involves debilitating panic attacks that deter a person from entering places or situations previously associated with panic. Common symptoms include palpitations, shaking, nausea and a sense that something dangerous is about to happen (e.g. a heart attack or that one is going mad).

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It is known from previous studies that CBT is an effective treatment for both panic disorder and depression. However, there is a lack of psychologists and psychotherapists that use CBT methods, and access to them varies greatly in Sweden as well as in many other countries. Internet-based CBT has therefore been developed, in which the patient undergoes an Internet-based self-help programme and has contact with a therapist by email.

The present doctoral thesis includes a randomised clinical trial of 104 patients with panic disorder and compares the effectiveness of Internet-based CBT and group CBT within a regular healthcare service. The study shows that both treatments worked very well and that there was no significant difference between them, either immediately after treatment or at a six-month follow-up. Analyses of the results for the treatment of depression show that Internet-based CBT is most effective if it is administered as early as possible. Patients with a higher severity of depression and/or a history of more frequent depressive episodes benefited less well from the Internet treatment.

Jan Bergström works as a clinical psychologist at the Anxiety Disorders Unit of the Psychiatry Northwest division of the Stockholm County Council. This research was also financed by the Stockholm County Council.

“Thanks to our research, Internet treatment is now implemented within regular healthcare in Stockholm, at the unit Internetpsykiatri.se of Psychiatry Southwest, which probably makes the Stockholm County Council the first in the world to offer such treatment in its regular psychiatric services,” says Jan Bergström.

Read the original research thesis here (PDF)

Credit: Adapted from materials provided by Karolinska Institutet.

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April 18, 2010 Posted by | anxiety, Books, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, depression, diagnosis, Education, Internet, research, stress, Technology, therapy | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Bipolar Mood Disorder: How Long Does An Episode Last?

Credit:John M Grohol PsyD PsychCentral
Bipolar disorder is characterized by a cycling from depression to mania, and back again over time (hence the reason it used to be called manic depression, because it includes both mania and depression). One of the commonly asked questions […] is, “How long does a typical bipolar episode last?”

The answer has traditionally been, “Well, it varies considerably from person to person. Some may have rapid cycling bipolar disorder where that person can cycle back and forth between depression and mania in the course of a day or multiple times a week. Others may be stuck in one mood or the other for weeks or months at a time.”

New research (Solomon et al., 2010) published in The Archives of General Psychiatry sheds a little more empirical light onto this question.

In a study of 219 patients with bipolar I disorder (the more serious kind of bipolar disorder), researchers asked patients to fill out an evaluation every 6 months for five years. The evaluation survey asked a number of questions to determine the length, type and severity of the person’s mood episodes.

They discovered that for patients with Bipolar I disorder, the median duration for any type of mood episode — either mania or depression — was 13 weeks.

They also found that “more than 75% of the subjects recovered from their mood episodes within 1 year of onset. The probability of recovery was significantly less for an episode with severe onset” and for those who had a greater number of years spent ill with a mood episode.

The researchers also discovered that manic episodes or mild depressive episodes were easier to recover from than severe depressive episodes for people with Bipolar I disorder in this study. They also found that those who have a cycling episode — switching from depression to mania or vice-a-versa without an intervening period of recovery — fared worse.

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So there you have it. The average length of time someone with Bipolar I disorder spends either depressed or manic is about 13 weeks. Of course, as always, your mileage may vary and individual differences will mean that very few people will actually have this exact average. But it’s a good, rough yardstick in which to measure your own mood episode lengths.

Reference:

Solomon, DA, Andrew C. Leon; William H. Coryell; Jean Endicott; Chunshan Li; Jess G. Fiedorowicz; Lara Boyken; Martin B. Keller. (2010). Arch Gen Psychiatry — Abstract: Longitudinal Course of Bipolar I Disorder: Duration of Mood Episodes. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 67, 339-347.

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April 15, 2010 Posted by | depression, diagnosis, Education, mood, research | , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Learning To Love: The Importance Of Empathy & How To Teach It To Your Kids

Credit: Maia Szalavitz: neuroscience journalist  The Huffington Post 29 March 2010

One of the least-praised pleasures in life — and yet one that is probably most likely to bring lasting happiness — is the ability to be happy for others. When we think about empathy, we tend to think of feeling other people’s pain — but feeling other people’s joy gets short shrift That must change if we want to have a more empathetic society.

While working on our forthcoming book, Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential — and Endangered (my co-author is leading child trauma expert Bruce Perry, MD, PhD), one of the most common questions I’ve gotten is, “What can parents do to raise more empathetic children?”

And, as I talked about sharing joy with a friend last week, I thought again about just how important the pleasurable part of empathy is in parenting. Sharing pleasure is actually one of our earliest experiences: consider the way a baby’s smile lights up a room and all the silly things adults will do to elicit these little expressions of happiness and connection. Videos of laughing babies delight us for the same reason. [I dare you to resist the laughing quads!]

Cuteness is nature’s way of getting us through the most difficult and demanding parts of parenting: if babies weren’t so darn cute, few people would be able to take the dirty diapers and other drudgery of caring for them. But their smiles and laughs are overwhelmingly infectious.

It’s this same early dance between parent and child that instills empathy in the first place. We all have the natural capacity (in the absence of some brain disorders) for empathy. However, like language, empathy requires particular experiences to promote learning. The ‘words” and “grammar” of empathy are taught first via early nurturing experiences.

Without responsive parenting, though, babies don’t learn to connect people with pleasure. If your smiles aren’t returned with joy, it’s as though you are being asked to learn to speak without anyone ever talking to you. The brain expects certain experiences to guide its development — if these don’t occur at the right time, the capacity to learn them can be reduced or even lost.

So, most of us come into the world and receive parenting that implicitly teaches us that joy is shared. Babies don’t just smile spontaneously — they also smile radiantly back when people smile at them. The back and forth of these smiles, the connection, disconnection, reconnection and its rhythm teaches us that your happiness is mine, too.

Over time, unfortunately, we learn that we are separate beings and sometimes come to see other people’s happiness as a threat or a sign that we’ve lost a competition, rather than something we can share.

This, of course, is natural, too: we are also normally born with an acute sense of fairness and justice that makes us sensitive to say, whether our older brother’s toys are nicer than ours. While cries of “that’s not fair” are the bane of many parents’ existence, they’re not just selfish. They’re part of a social sense that we should

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receive equal treatment.

How, then, can we help kids to develop both their sense of justice and the ability to share joy?

One key is making the implicit explicit. When we see kids smiling in response to others, point out how seeing someone else smile made them feel good; when we see that they enjoy our reaction to their artwork and gifts, praise them for being happy for us. Saying that “it’s better to give than receive,” may ring hollow — pointing out when children are actually experiencing the feeling of taking joy in giving is much more powerful.

Allowing children to own this ability and recognize it in themselves will also encourage it — helping them to define themselves as the kind of people who are happy for other people will make them feel like good people, too. Encouraging such an identity will reinforce other positive behaviors as well. Changing behavior to suit an identity you prefer is actually one of the easiest ways to make changes.

Further, rather than calling kids selfish or self-interested when they protest about someone else getting what seems like something better, reframe this as a concern for justice and ask them to look out for when what seems unfair is unfair in their own favor, too. Children who see themselves as being “bad” or “selfish” will unfortunately take on that identity, too — if they don’t recognize their own prosocial behavior, they can’t enhance it and may embrace a very negative view of their own desires and drives.

Sadly, as a society, for centuries we have embraced a view of human nature that is selfish and competitive — with evolution being described as a contest in which the most ruthless are always likely to be the winners. In fact, research is now showing that, at least in humans, kindness is also a critical part of fitness.

For one, both men and women typically describe kindness as one of the top three characteristics they seek in a mate (sense of humor and intelligence are the other top two picks; gender differences in valuing attractiveness and resources come lower on the list).

Second, the ability to nurture and connect is critical for the survival of human children: in hunter/gatherer societies, the presence of older siblings and grandmothers can be even more important to child survival than the presence of fathers according to Sarah Hrdy’s research, suggesting that cooperation in childrearing made genetic survival more likely — not competition.

This means that human nature isn’t the selfish, sociopathic murk we’ve been told it is. While we are certainly no angels, our altruistic side is equally real. To create a more empathetic world, we need to own this as adults as we teach it to our kids.

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April 11, 2010 Posted by | Books, Child Behavior, Education, Health Psychology, Parenting, Positive Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mid Life – What’s The Crisis?: Why Self Esteem Peaks In The Middle-Aged

Credit: LiveScience

Read the original research article HERE (PDF)

Bad vision and other physical ailments aren’t the only things that seem to get worse as people grow old. Self-esteem also declines around the age of retirement, a new study finds.

The study involved 3,617 American men and women ranging in age from 25 to 104. Self-esteem was lowest among young adults, but increased throughout adulthood, peaking at age 60, before it started to decline.

Several factors might explain this trend, the researchers say.

“Midlife is a time of highly stable work, family and romantic relationships. People increasingly occupy positions of power and status, which might promote feelings of self-esteem,” said study author Richard Robins of the University of California, Davis. “In contrast, older adults may be experiencing a change in roles such as an empty nest, retirement and obsolete work skills in addition to declining health.”

Measuring self-esteem

The participants were surveyed four times between 1986 and 2002. They were asked to rate their level of agreement with statements such as: “I take a positive attitude toward myself,” which suggests high self-esteem; “At times I think I am no good at all,” and “All in all, I am inclined to feel that I am a failure,” which both suggest low self-esteem.

Subjects also indicated their demographics, relationship satisfaction, and whether they had experienced stressful life events, including suddenly losing a job, being the victim of a violent crime, or experiencing the death of a parent or child.

On average, women had lower self-esteem than men throughout most of adulthood, but self-esteem levels converged as men and women reached their 80s and 90s. Blacks and whites had similar self-esteem levels throughout young adulthood and middle age. In old age, average self-esteem among blacks dropped much more sharply than self-esteem among whites. This result held even after accounting for differences in income and health.

Future research should further explore these ethnic differences, which might lead to better interventions aimed at improving self-esteem, the study authors say.

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More self-esteem factors

Education, income, health and employment status all had some effect on the self-esteem trajectories, especially as people aged.

“People who have higher incomes and better health in later life tend to maintain their self-esteem as they age,” Orth said.

“We cannot know for certain that more wealth and better health directly lead to higher self-esteem, but it does appear to be linked in some way. For example, it is possible that wealth and health are related to feeling more independent and better able to contribute to one’s family and society, which in turn bolsters self-esteem.”

People of all ages in satisfying and supportive relationships tend to have higher self-esteem, according to the findings.

However, despite maintaining higher self-esteem throughout their lives, people in happy relationships experienced the same drop in self-esteem during old age as people in unhappy relationships.

“Thus, being in a happy relationship does not protect a person against the decline in self-esteem that typically occurs in old age,” said study author Kali H. Trzesniewski of the University of Western Ontario.

With medical advances, the drop in self-esteem might occur later for baby boomers, Orth said. Boomers might be healthier for longer and, therefore, able to work and earn money longer.

Read the original research article HERE (PDF)

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April 6, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, Books, Cognition, depression, Education, Health Psychology, research, Resilience, Resources, Seniors | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Game On: The Decline of Backyard Play

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I found this post from  Peter G. Stromberg @ Psychology Today. It really got me thinking about kids and the pressure that we may put on them as parents…What do you think?

A few weeks ago I flew to Denver with my younger daughter so that she could participate in a volleyball tournament; she has been travelling to tournaments for the last two years but this is the first time we had to fly. My daughter is 11 years old.

Shouldn’t my daughter be riding her bike around the neighborhood and jumping rope with her friends? Why is she, at age 11, playing on a team coached by a former Olympic-level athlete and competing against nationally-ranked teams based thousands of miles from our home? There is research to suggest that unstructured play and basic movement activities (running, jumping, balancing) are more beneficial for children of her age than specialized training in one particular sport. Why in the world should an 11 year old child be in year-round volleyball training? Well, let me explain.

I would guess that many readers who are older than 30 will share my own experience: at my daughter’s age and into my early teens, I spent every possible minute getting into pick-up games of basketball and football with my friends or just roaming around outside. This approach didn’t produce a skilled athlete, but it sure was fun (and cheap). Today, in most areas of the country, such activities are simply less available. One reason my daughter doesn’t head down to the park to play with her friends is that they aren’t there-they are at soccer practice, or piano lessons, or having pre-arranged play dates.

There has been a recent and enormous shift in the way children play in our society, away from unstructured outside play and towards organized competition under adult supervision. Why? One reason that will come quickly to mind is stranger danger. Many parents (including me, by the way) now believe it is unsafe for children-perhaps particularly girls-to be outside without adult supervision. Although neighborhoods vary, statistics that I have seen on this issue do not support the belief that in general accidents or attacks on children are more frequent now than, say, 30 years ago. It seems more likely that what has changed is extensive news coverage of issues such as attacks on children, which often fosters the belief that such events are frequent.

In short, actual danger from strangers is probably not the real reason for the decline in outside play. Well, how about this? Public funding for playgrounds, parks, and recreation centers has been declining since the 1980s. There aren’t as many places to go for public play anymore, and the ones that persist are likely not as well-maintained.

That’s relevant, but it still isn’t really at the heart of why my daughter plays highly competitive volleyball at such a young age. The fact is that if she doesn’t play now and decides to take up the sport at 14 or 15, the train will have left the station. Unless a child has extraordinary athletic gifts, she will be so far behind by that age that she will not be able to find a place on a team. It isn’t only that opportunities for unstructured public play have declined, it’s that opportunities for highly competitive play have expanded to such an extent that in some sports that is all that exists. There are simply no possibilities in my part of the country for recreational volleyball for children 10-18. And the situation is similar for many other sports as well: our focus on producing highly competitive teams with highly skilled participants leads to a lack of focus on producing opportunities for children who simply want to play a sport casually.

This, I think, gets us close to probably the most important reason that highly competitive sport for the few has begun to replace recreational sport for the many among children today. We as a society don’t care about recreational sport for the many. The logic of entertainment has come to control youth sports. Parents, kids, and the society as a whole are excited by the possibility of championships, cheering spectators, and (for the really elite) media coverage. And we aren’t really excited by our children playing disorganized touch football until they have to come in for dinner. What’s the point of that? Nobody is watching.

This isn’t anyone’s fault, it’s just the way our society works. I really wish my kids could play pick up games and intramurals the way their not-so-athletically-talented dad did. But the intramurals and pick up games are far fewer now. Strangely enough, childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed as they have faded. Or maybe that’s not strange at all.

This post reflects on issues I have been thinking about for years, but it is also heavily influenced by a recent book called Game On by ESPN writer Tom Farrey. To learn more about play in general, visit my website

from  Peter G. Stromberg @ Psychology Today


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March 25, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, Child Behavior, Education, Exercise, Health Psychology, Parenting, Resilience, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment