SOURCE CREDIT: PsychCentral News : Research Finds Proven Strategies to Up Happiness, Life Satisfaction By RICK NAUERT PHD Senior News Editor : Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on September 11, 2013
Researchers have created four affective profiles that may help individuals improve the quality of their lives.
The profiles came from a research study of the self-reports of 1,400 US residents regarding positive and negative emotions.
Investigators believe the affective profiles can be used to discern differences in happiness, depression, life satisfaction and happiness-increasing strategies.
A central finding is that the promotion of positive emotions can positively influence a depressive-to-happy state — defined as increasing levels of happiness and decreasing levels of depression — as well as increase life satisfaction.
The study, published in the open access peer-reviewed scientific journal PeerJ, targets some of the important aspects of mental health that represent positive measures of well-being.
Happiness, for example, can be usefully understood as the opposite of depression, say the authors. Life satisfaction, another positive measure of well-being, refers instead to a comparison process in which individuals assess the quality of their lives on the basis of their own self-imposed standards.
Researchers posit that as people adopt strategies to increase their overall well-being, it is important to know which ones are capable of having a positive influence.
“We examined 8 ‘happiness-increasing’ strategies which were first identified by Tkach & Lyubomirsky in 2006″, said Danilo Garcia from the University of Gothenburg and the researcher leading the investigation.
“These were Social Affiliation (for example, “Support and encourage friends”), Partying and Clubbing (for example, “Drink alcohol”), Mental Control (for example, “Try not to think about being unhappy”), and Instrumental Goal Pursuit (for example, “Study”).
Additional strategies include: Passive Leisure (for example, “Surf the internet”), Active Leisure (for example, “Exercise”), Religion (for example, “Seek support from faith”) and Direct Attempts (for example, “Act happy and smile”).”
The researchers found that individuals with different affective profiles did indeed differ in the positive measures of well-being and all 8 strategies being studied.
For example, individuals classified as self-fulfilling — high positive emotions and low negative emotions — were the ones who showed lower levels of depression, tended to be happier, and were more satisfied with their lives.
Researchers found that specific happiness-increasing strategies were related to self-directed actions aimed at personal development or personally chosen goals. For example, autonomy, responsibility, self-acceptance, intern locus of control, and self-control.
Communal, or social affiliations, and spiritual values were positively related to a ‘self-fulfilling’ profile.
“This was the most surprising finding, because it supports suggestions about how self-awareness based on the self, our relation to others, and our place on earth might lead to greater happiness and mental harmony within the individual” said Garcia.
Source Credit: 7 Myths About the Brain
Separating Fact From Fiction
By Kendra Cherry, About.com Guide
The human brain is amazing and sometimes mysterious. While researchers are still uncovering the secrets of how the brain works, they have discovered plenty of information about what goes on inside your noggin. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of brain myths out there.
The following are just a few of the many myths about the brain.
Myth 1: You only use 10 percent of your brain.
You’ve probably heard this oft-cited bit of information several times, but constant repetition does not make it any more accurate. People often use this popular urban legend to imply that the mind is capable of much greater things, such as dramatically increased intelligence, psychic abilities, or even telekinesis. After all, if we can do all the things we do using only 10 percent of our brains, just imagine what we could accomplish if we used the remaining 90 percent.
Reality check: Research suggests that all areas of the brain perform some type of function. If the 10 percent myth were true, brain damage would be far less likely – after all, we would really only have to worry about that tiny 10 percent of our brains being injured. The fact is that damage to even a small area of the brain can result in profound consequences to both cognition and functioning. Brain imaging technologies have also demonstrated that the entire brain shows levels of activity, even during sleep.
“It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time. Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.” – Neurologist Barry Gordon of Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Scientific American
Myth 2: Brain damage is permanent.
The brain is a fragile thing and can be damaged by things such as injury, stroke, or disease. This damage can result in a range of consequences, from mild disruptions in cognitive abilities to complete impairment. Brain damage can be devastating, but is it always permanent?
Reality check: While we often tend to think of brain injuries as lasting, a person’s ability to recover from such damage depends upon the severity and the location of the injury. For example, a blow to the head during a football game might lead to a concussion. While this can be quite serious, most people are able to recover when given time to heal. A severe stroke, on the other hand, can result in dire consequences to the brain that can very well be permanent.
However, it is important to remember that the human brain has an impressive amount of plasticity. Even following a serious brain event, such as a stroke, the brain can often heal itself over time and form new connections within the brain.
“Even after more serious brain injury, such as stroke, research indicates that — especially with the help of therapy — the brain may be capable of developing new connections and “reroute” function through healthy areas.” – BrainFacts.org
Myth 3: People are either “right-brained” or “left-brained.”
Have you ever heard someone describe themselves as either left-brained or right-brained? This stems from the popular notion that people are either dominated by their right or left brain hemispheres. According to this idea, people who are “right-brained” tend to be more creative and expressive, while those who are “left-brained tend to be more analytical and logical.
Reality Check: While experts do recognize that there is lateralization of brain function (that is, certain types of tasks and thinking tend to be more associated with a particular region of the brain), no one is fully right-brained or left-brained. In fact, we tend to do better at tasks when the entire brain is utilized, even for things that are typically associated with a certain area of the brain.
“No matter how lateralized the brain can get, though, the two sides still work together. The pop psychology notion of a left brain and a right brain doesn’t capture their intimate working relationship. The left hemisphere specializes in picking out the sounds that form words and working out the syntax of the words, for example, but it does not have a monopoly on language processing. The right hemisphere is actually more sensitive to the emotional features of language, tuning in to the slow rhythms of speech that carry intonation and stress.” – Carl Zimmer, Discover
Myth 4: Humans have the biggest brains.
The human brain is quite large in proportion to body size, but another common misconception is that humans have the largest brains of any organism. How big is the human brain? How does it compare to other species?
Reality Check: The average adult has a brain weighing in at about three pounds and measuring up to about 15 centimeters in length. The largest animal brain belongs to that of a sperm whale, weighing in at a whopping 18 pounds! Another large-brained animal is the elephant, with an average brain size of around 11 pounds.
But what about relative brain size in proportion to body size? Humans must certainly have the largest brains in comparison to their body size, right? Once again, this notion is also a myth. Surprisingly, one animal that holds the largest body-size to brain ratios is the shrew, with a brain making up about 10 percent of its body mass.
“Our primate lineage had a head start in evolving large brains, however, because most primates have brains that are larger than expected for their body size. The Encephalization Quotient is a measure of brain size relative to body size. The cat has an EQ of about 1, which is what is expected for its body size, while chimps have an EQ of 2.5 and humans nearly 7.5. Dolphins, no slouches when it comes to cognitive powers and complex social groups, have an EQ of more than 5, but rats and rabbits are way down on the scale at below 0.4.” – Michael Balter, Slate.com
Myth 5: We are born with all the brain cells we ever have, and once they die, these cells are gone forever.
Traditional wisdom has long suggested that adults only have so many brain cells and that we never form new ones. Once these cells are lost, are they really gone for good?
Reality Check: In recent years, experts have discovered evidence that the human adult brain does indeed form new cells throughout life, even during old age. The process of forming new brain cells is known as neurogenesis and researchers have found that it happens in at least one important region of the brain called the hippocampus.
“Above-ground nuclear bomb tests carried out more than 50 years ago resulted in elevated atmospheric levels of the radioactive carbon-14 isotope (14C), which steadily declined over time. In a study published yesterday (June 7) in Cell, researchers used measurements of 14C concentration in the DNA of brain cells from deceased patients to determine the neurons’ age, and demonstrated that there is substantial adult neurogenesis in the human hippocampus.” – Dan Cossins, The Scientist
Myth 6: Drinking alcohol kills brain cells.
Partly related to the myth that we never grow new neurons is the idea that drinking alcohol can lead to cell death in the brain. Drink too much or too often, some people might warn, and you’ll lose precious brain cells that you can never get back. We’ve already learned that adults do indeed get new brain cells throughout life, but could drinking alcohol really kill brain cells?
Reality Check: While excessive or chronic alcohol abuse can certainly have dire health consequences, experts do not believe that drinking causes neurons to die. In fact, research has shown that even binge drinking doesn’t actually kill neurons.
“Scientific medical research has actually demonstrated that the moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with better cognitive (thinking and reasoning) skills and memory than is abstaining from alcohol. Moderate drinking doesn’t kill brain cells but helps the brain function better into old age. Studies around the world involving many thousands of people report this finding.” – PsychCentral.com
Myth 7: There are 100 billion neurons in the human brain.
If you’ve ever thumbed through a psychology or neuroscience textbook, you have probably read that the human brain contains approximately 100 billion neurons. How accurate is this oft-repeated figure? Just how many neurons are in the brain?
Reality Check: The estimate of 100 billion neurons has been repeated so often and so long that no one is completely sure where it originated. In 2009, however, one researcher decided to actually count neurons in adult brains and found that the number was just a bit off the mark. Based upon this research, it appears that the human brain contains closer to 85 billion neurons. So while the often-cited number is a few billion too high, 85 billion is still nothing to sneeze at.
“We found that on average the human brain has 86bn neurons. And not one [of the brains] that we looked at so far has the 100bn. Even though it may sound like a small difference the 14bn neurons amount to pretty much the number of neurons that a baboon brain has or almost half the number of neurons in the gorilla brain. So that’s a pretty large difference actually.” – Dr. Suzana Herculano-Houzel
More Psychology Facts and Myths:
ReferencesBalter, M. (2012, Oct. 26). Why are our brains so ridiculously big? Slate. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/human_evolution/2012/10/human_brain_size_social_groups_led_to_the_evolution_of_large_brains.html Boyd, R. (2008, Feb 7). Do people only use 10 percent of their brains? Scientific American. Retrieved from http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=people-only-use-10-percent-of-brain BrainFacts.org. (2012). Myth: Brain damage is always permanent. Retrieved from http://www.brainfacts.org/diseases-disorders/injury/articles/2011/brain-damage-is-always-permanent Cossins, D. (2013, June 7). Human adult neurogenesis revealed. The Scientist. Retrieved from http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/35902/title/Human-Adult-Neurogenesis-Revealed/ Hanson, D. J. (n.d.). Does drinking alcohol kill brain cells? PsychCentral.com. Retrieved from http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/HealthIssues/1103162109.html Herculano-Houzel S (2009). The human brain in numbers: A linearly scaled-up primate brain. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 3(31). doi:10.3389/neuro.09.031.2009 Randerson, J. (2012, Feb 28). How many neurons make a human brain? Billions fewer than we thought. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/blog/2012/feb/28/how-many-neurons-human-brain The Technium. (2004). Brains of white matter. http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2004/11/brains_of_white.php Zimmer, C. (2009, April 15). The Big Similarities & Quirky Differences Between Our Left and Right Brains. Discover Magazine. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2009/may/15-big-similarities-and-quirky-differences-between-our-left-and-right-brains
Source Credit: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
By Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D. on September 5, 2013 – 11:56am
It really should not have taken academic psychology so long to determine the key factors to happiness, especially because the results weren’t that surprising.* Money, beauty, and success are not quintessential, while compassionate giving of our money, appreciation of our actual looks, and the pursuit of personally meaningful goals are. Waiting for our parents to love us finally perpetuates feelings of being a victim while letting go of the past, forgiveness and gratitude propagate joy in the present. This is old news for psych-savvy people such as you and me, right?
But here is another piece of the puzzle, based on the findings of the truly long longitudinal and still on-going Harvard Grant Study that began in 1939. The study followed 268 male students for 78 years. The researchers predicted falsely that the students with masculine body types would become most successful. As it turns out, neither that, nor their socioeconomic circumstances, nor the students’ IQ correlated highest with success. It came as a surprise that something much more mundane mattered the most, something every Beatle fan and good parent has been suspecting all along: Love. Yes, it is true and supported by data now, “All we need is love.” Those men who had a warm mother or good sibling relationships earned a significantly higher income than their less fortunate counterparts.
Now back to happiness. The director of the study from 1966 to 2004, George E. Vaillant, looked at eight more accomplishments that went beyond mere monetary success. These were four items pertaining to mental and physical health and four to social supports and relationships. They all correlated with love, that is with a loving childhood, ones empathic capacity and warm relationships. Vaillant,
“In short it was a history of warm intimate relationships- and the ability to foster them in maturity- that predicted flourishing…”
“This is not good news,” you may say if you were heavily unloved in your past. But there is another important lesson to be learned from this grand Grant study. People can change. (So there, pessimists of the world!). In fact, it is never too late to learn how to give and receive love. The study shows that those students who were not loved in childhood but learned to give and receive love later on in their lives could overcome their disadvantage.
This is where I can relate. I had to overcome a mountain of problems, cross the desert without a drop of hope, face and embrace my fears and come out of my turtle shell, step by step, kiss by kiss, and frog by frog. It was tough, but I made it. In the end, I dared to be with a man who had something to give and who wasn’t afraid of my love either. By now, our three lucky beloved tadpoles are slowly growing into frogs themselves.
Why though does love heal almost all wounds and drive us right into happiness? I think mostly for two reasons, something I hope to see supported by data some day. First, being loved reduces our fear of the uncertainty in life. Scarcity, loss, pain will happen, but when we are being loved, all those difficulties seem surmountable. In fact, with the right support, difficulties can be viewed as opportunities for growth instead of as terrible monsters lurking in the dark. Second, loving others focuses our mind on something greater than our little Egos. Love brings out the best in us. Who’s been known to rise to the occasion and act nobly when thinking of oneself? We become creative inventers, noble knights and heroines when we dare to care for someone else but us.
So love is it. What’s left to do is nothing short of engaging in a life-long learning process about how to form and maintain relationships. And don’t forget that love comes in many colors. You might love a partner, gay or straight, your kids, your neighbors, your community, your dogs or your goldfish. Just love. And if you do not quite know how, there are ways to learn it still, step by step, kiss by kiss, and breath by breath.
Source credit: ScienceDaily (Dec. 21, 2011)
We know a lot about the links between a pregnant mother’s health, behavior, and moods and her baby’s cognitive and psychological development once it is born. But how does pregnancy change a mother’s brain? “Pregnancy is a critical period for central nervous system development in mothers,” says psychologist Laura M. Glynn of Chapman University. “Yet we know virtually nothing about it.”
Glynn and her colleague Curt A. Sandman, of University of the California Irvine, are doing something about that. Their review of the literature in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal published by the Association for Psychological Science, discusses the theories and findings that are starting to fill what Glynn calls “a significant gap in our understanding of this critical stage of most women’s lives.”
At no other time in a woman’s life does she experience such massive hormonal fluctuations as during pregnancy. Research suggests that the reproductive hormones may ready a woman’s brain for the demands of motherhood — helping her becomes less rattled by stress and more attuned to her baby’s needs. Although the hypothesis remains untested, Glynn surmises this might be why moms wake up when the baby stirs while dads snore on. Other studies confirm the truth in a common complaint of pregnant women: “Mommy Brain,” or impaired memory before and after birth. “There may be a cost” of these reproduction-related cognitive and emotional changes, says Glynn, “but the benefit is a more sensitive, effective mother.”
The article reviews research that refines earlier findings on the effects of the prenatal environment on the baby. For instance, evidence is accumulating to show that it’s not prenatal adversity on its own — say, maternal malnourishment or depression — that presents risks for a baby. Congruity between life in utero and life on the outside may matter more. A fetus whose mother is malnourished adapts to scarcity and will cope better with a dearth of food once it’s born — but could become obese if it eats normally. Timing is critical too: maternal anxiety early in gestation takes a toll on the baby’s cognitive development; the same high levels of stress hormones late in pregnancy enhance it.
Just as Mom permanently affects her fetus, new science suggests that the fetus does the same for Mom. Fetal movement, even when the mother is unaware of it, raises her heart rate and her skin conductivity, signals of emotion — and perhaps of pre-natal preparation for mother-child bonding. Fetal cells pass through the placenta into the mother’s bloodstream. “It’s exciting to think about whether those cells are attracted to certain regions in the brain” that may be involved in optimizing maternal behavior, says Glynn.
Glynn cautions that most research on the maternal brain has been conducted with rodents, whose pregnancies differ enormously from women’s; more research on human mothers is needed. But she is optimistic that a more comprehensive picture of the persisting brain changes wrought by pregnancy will yield interventions to help at-risk mothers do better by their babies and themselves.
It’s not much of a leap to extrapolate from the GPS to the smartphone. A normal cellphone can remember numbers for you so that you no longer have to do so. Confess– can you remember the actual cellphone number of the people you call most frequently? We used to rely on our neurons to hold onto these crucial bits of information. Now they reside somewhere out there in the ether. What’s worse is that most people don’t even take the time to write down a new phone number anymore. You call your new acquaintance and your new acquaintance calls you, and the information is automatically stored in your contacts. It’s great for efficiency’s sake, but you’ve now given your working memory one less important exercise. Memory benefits from practice, especially in the crucial stage of encoding. Let’s move from phone numbers to information in general. People with smartphones no longer have to remember important facts because when in doubt, they can just tap into Google. When was the last time St. Louis was in the World Series, you wonder? Easy! Just enter a few letters (not even the whole city name) into your “smart” search engine. Your fingers, much less your mind, don’t have to walk very far at all. Trying to give your brain a workout with a crossword puzzle? What’s to stop you from taking a few shortcuts when the answers are right there on your phone? No mental gymnastics necessary. This leads us to Siri, that seductress of the smartphone. With your iPhone slave on constant standby, you don’t even have to key in your questions. Just say the question, and Siri conjures up the answer in an instant. With a robot at your fingertips, why even bother to look the information up yourself? The irony is that smartphones have the potential to make our brains sharper, not dumber. Researchers are finding that videogame play involving rapid decision-making can hone your cognitive resources. Older adults, in particular, seem to be able to improve their attentional and decision-making speeded task performance when they play certain games. People with a form of amnesia in which they can’t learn new information can also be helped by smartphones, according to a study conducted by Canadian researchers (Svobodo & Richards, 2009). The problem is not the use of the smartphone itself; the problem comes when the smartphone takes over a function that your brain is perfectly capable of performing. It’s like taking the elevator instead of the stairs; the ride may be quicker but your muscles won’t get a workout. Smartphones are like mental elevators. Psychologists have known for years that the “use it or lose it” principle is key to keeping your brain functioning in its peak condition throughout your life. As we become more and more drawn to these sleeker and sexier gadgets, the trick will be learning how to “use it.” So take advantage of these 5 tips to help your smartphone keep you smart: 1. Don’t substitute your smartphone for your brain. Force yourself to memorize a phone number before you store it, and dial your frequently called numbers from memory whenever possible. If there’s a fact or word definition you can infer, give your brain the job before consulting your electronic helper. 2. Turn off the GPS app when you’re going to familiar places. Just like the GPS-hippocampus study showed, you need to keep your spatial memory as active as possible by relying on your brain, not your phone, when you’re navigating well-known turf. If you are using the GPS to get around a new location, study a map first. Your GPS may not really know the best route to take (as any proper Bostonian can tell you!). 3. Use your smartphone to keep up with current events. Most people use their smartphones in their leisure time for entertainment. However, with just a few easy clicks, you can just as easily check the headlines, op-eds, and featured stories from respected news outlets around the world. This knowledge will build your mental storehouse of information, and make you a better conversationalist as well. 4. Build your social skills with pro-social apps. Some videogames can actually make you a nicer person by strengthening your empathic tendencies. Twitter and Facebook can build social bonds. Staying connected is easier than ever, and keeping those social bonds active provides you with social support. Just make sure you avoid some of the social media traps of over-sharing and FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome. 5. Turn off your smartphone while you’re driving. No matter how clever you are at multitasking under ordinary circumstances, all experts agree that you need to give your undivided attention to driving when behind the wheel. This is another reason to look at and memorize your route before going someplace new. Fiddling with your GPS can create a significant distraction if you find that it’s given you the wrong information. Smartphones have their place, and can make your life infinitely more productive as long as you use yours to supplement, not replace, your brain. Reference: Svoboda, E., & Richards, B. (2009). Compensating for anterograde amnesia: A new training method that capitalizes on emerging smartphone technologies. Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 15(4), 629-638. doi:10.1017/S1355617709090791 Follow Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. on Twitter @swhitbo for daily updates on psychology, health, and aging and please check out my website,www.searchforfulfillment.com where you can read this week’s Weekly Focus to get additional information, self-tests, and psychology-related links.
- Why Do So Many Robots Have A Woman’s Voice? [Technology] (jezebel.com)
- Siri lets strangers control some iPhone functions (redtape.msnbc.msn.com)
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.”
- How can you learn what it feels like to be pregnant? (fatherinastrangeland.wordpress.com)
- Virtual Reality Video Games Really Do Work As A Painkiller (businessinsider.com)