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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

Winners Are Grinners: Even If There’s Nothing to Win!

Whether it’s for money, marbles or chalk, the brains of reward-driven people keep their game faces on, helping them win at every step of the way. Surprisingly, they win most often when there is no reward.

Read Abstract Here

That’s the finding of neuroscientists at Washington University in St. Louis, who tested 31 randomly selected subjects with word games, some of which had monetary rewards of either 25 or 75 cents per correct answer, others of which had no money attached.

Subjects were given a short list of five words to memorize in a matter of seconds, then a 3.5-second interval or pause, then a few seconds to respond to a solitary word that either had been on the list or had not. Test performance had no consequence in some trials, but in others, a computer graded the responses, providing an opportunity to win either 25 cent or 75 cents for quick and accurate answers. Even during these periods, subjects were sometimes alerted that their performance would not be rewarded on that trial.

Prior to testing, subjects were submitted to a battery of personality tests that rated their degree of competitiveness and their sensitivity to monetary rewards.

Designed to test the hypothesis that excitement in the brains of the most monetary-reward-sensitive subjects would slacken during trials that did not pay, the study is co-authored by Koji Jimura, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher, and Todd Braver, PhD, a professor, both based in psychology in Arts & Sciences. Braver is also a member of the neuroscience program and radiology department in the university’s School of Medicine.

But the researchers found a paradoxical result: the performance of the most reward-driven individuals was actually most improved – relative to the less reward-driven – in the trials that paid nothing, not the ones in which there was money at stake.

Even more striking was that the brain scans taken using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) showed a change in the pattern of activity during the non-rewarded trials within the lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), located right behind the outer corner of the eyebrow, an area that is strongly linked to intelligence, goal-driven behavior and cognitive strategies. The change in lateral PFC activity was statistically linked to the extra behavioral benefits  observed in the reward-driven individuals.

The researchers suggest that this change in lateral PFC activity patterns represents a flexible shift in response to the motivational importance of the task, translating this into a superior task strategy that the researchers term “proactive cognitive control.” In other words, once the rewarding motivational context is established in the brain indicating there is a goal-driven contest at hand, the brain actually rallies its neuronal troops and readies itself for the next trial, whether it’s for money or not.

“It sounds reasonable now, but when I happened upon this result, I couldn’t believe it because we expected the opposite results,” says Jimura, first author of the paper. “I had to analyze the data thoroughly to persuade myself. The important finding of our study is that the brains of these reward- sensitive individuals do not respond to the reward information on individual trials. Instead, it shows that they have persistent motivation, even in the absence of a reward. You’d think you’d have to reward them on every trial to do well. But it seems that their brains recognized the rewarding motivational context that carried over across all the trials.”

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The finding sheds more light on the workings of the lateral PFC and provides potential behavioral clues about personality, motivation, goals and cognitive strategies. The research has important implications for understanding the nature of persistent motivation, how the brain creates such states, and why some people seem to be able to use motivation more effectively than others. By understanding the brain circuitry involved, it might be possible to create motivational situations that are more effective for all individuals, not just the most reward-driven ones, or to develop drug therapies for individuals that suffer from chronic motivational problems.Their results are published April 26 in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Everyone knows of competitive people who have to win, whether in a game of HORSE, golf or the office NCAA basketball tournament pool. The findings might tell researchers something about the competitive drive.

The researchers are interested in the signaling chain that ignites the prefrontal cortex when it acts on reward-driven impulses, and they speculate that the brain chemical dopamine could be involved. That could be a potential direction of future studies. Dopamine neurons, once thought to be involved in a host of pleasurable situations, but now considered more of learning or predictive signal, might respond to cues that let the lateral PFC know that it’s in for something good. This signal might help to keep information about the goals, rules or best strategies for the task active in mind to increase the chances of obtaining the desired outcome.

In the context of this study, when a 75-cent reward is available for a trial, the dopamine-releasing neurons could be sending signals to the lateral PFC that “jump start” it to do the right procedures to get a reward.

“It would be like the dopamine neurons recognize a cup of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, and tell the lateral PFC the right action strategy to get the reward – to grab a spoon and bring the ice cream to your mouth,” says Braver. “We think that the dopamine neurons fires to the cue rather than the reward itself, especially after the brain learns the relationship between the two. We’d like to explore that some more.”

They also are interested in the “reward carryover state,” or the proactive cognitive strategy that keeps the brain excited even in gaps, such as pauses between trials or trials without rewards. They might consider a study in which rewards are far fewer.

“It’s possible we’d see more slackers with less rewards,” Braver says. “That might have an effect on the reward carryover state. There are a host of interesting further questions that this work brings up which we plan to pursue.”

Source: Washington University in St. Louis,
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April 28, 2010 Posted by | Addiction, brain, Cognition, research, Social Psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Violent Video Games & Kids: Definitive Study Shows Both Short & Long Term Harmful Effects

Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson has made much of his life’s work studying how violent video game play affects youth behavior. And he says a new study he led, analyzing 130 research reports on more than 130,000 subjects worldwide, proves conclusively that exposure to violent video games makes more aggressive, less caring kids — regardless of their age, sex or culture.

Read the original research paper (PDF)

The study was published in the March 2010 issue of the Psychological Bulletin, an American Psychological Association journal. It reports that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts and behavior, and decreased empathy and prosocial behavior in youths.

“We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of research method — that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal — and regardless of the cultures tested in this study [East and West], you get the same effects,” said Anderson, who is also director of Iowa State’s Center for the Study of Violence. “And the effects are that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts. Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behavior.”

The study was conducted by a team of eight researchers, including ISU psychology graduate students Edward Swing and Muniba Saleem; and Brad Bushman, a former Iowa State psychology professor who now is on the faculty at the University of Michigan. Also on the team were the top video game researchers from Japan — Akiko Shibuya from Keio University and Nobuko Ihori from Ochanomizu University — and Hannah Rothstein, a noted scholar on meta-analytic review from the City University of New York.

Meta-analytic procedure used in research

The team used meta-analytic procedures — the statistical methods used to analyze and combine results from previous, related literature — to test the effects of violent video game play on the behaviors, thoughts and feelings of the individuals, ranging from elementary school-aged children to college undergraduates.

The research also included new longitudinal data which provided further confirmation that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for long-term harmful outcomes.

“These are not huge effects — not on the order of joining a gang vs. not joining a gang,” said Anderson. “But these effects are also not trivial in size. It is one risk factor for future aggression and other sort of negative outcomes. And it’s a risk factor that’s easy for an individual parent to deal with — at least, easier than changing most other known risk factors for aggression and violence, such as poverty or one’s genetic structure.”

The analysis found that violent video game effects are significant in both Eastern and Western cultures, in males and females, and in all age groups. Although there are good theoretical reasons to expect the long-term harmful effects to be higher in younger, pre-teen youths, there was only weak evidence of such age effects.

Time to refocus the public policy debate

The researchers conclude that the study has important implications for public policy debates, including development and testing of potential intervention strategies designed to reduce the harmful effects of playing violent video games.

“From a public policy standpoint, it’s time to get off the question of, ‘Are there real and serious effects?’ That’s been answered and answered repeatedly,” Anderson said. “It’s now time to move on to a more constructive question like, ‘How do we make it easier for parents — within the limits of culture, society and law — to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'”

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But Anderson knows it will take time for the creation and implementation of effective new policies. And until then, there is plenty parents can do to protect their kids at home.

“Just like your child’s diet and the foods you have available for them to eat in the house, you should be able to control the content of the video games they have available to play in your home,” he said. “And you should be able to explain to them why certain kinds of games are not allowed in the house — conveying your own values. You should convey the message that one should always be looking for more constructive solutions to disagreements and conflict.”

Anderson says the new study may be his last meta-analysis on violent video games because of its definitive findings. Largely because of his extensive work on violent video game effects, Anderson was chosen as one of the three 2010 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientist Lecturers

Read the original research paper (PDF)

Source: Iowa State University
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April 25, 2010 Posted by | Adolescence, Books, Bullying, Child Behavior, Internet, Parenting, research, Social Psychology, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

Fast Food, Fast You! How Fast Food Makes You Impatient

Like it or not, the golden arches of McDonalds are one of the most easily recognised icons of the modern world. The culture they represent is one of instant gratification and saved time, of ready-made food that can be bought cheaply and eaten immediately. Many studies have looked at the effects of these foods on our waistlines, but their symbols and brands are such a pervasive part of our lives that you’d expect them to influence the way we think too.

Read the original research paper (PDF)

And so they do – Chen-Bo Zhong and Sanford DeVoe have found that fast food can actually induce haste and impatience, in ways that have nothing to do with eating. They showed that subliminal exposure to fast food symbols, such as McDonalds’ golden arches, can actually increase people’s reading speed. Just thinking about these foods can boost our preferences for time-saving goods and even nudge us towards financial decisions that value immediate gains over future returns. Fast food, it seems, is very appropriately named.

Zhong and DeVoe asked 57 students to stare at the centre of a computer screen while ignoring a stream of objects flashing past in the corners. For some of the students, these flashes included the logos of McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Taco Bell, Burger King and Wendy’s, all appearing for just 12 milliseconds. We can’t consciously recognise images that appear this quickly and, indeed, none of the students said that they saw anything other than blocks of colour.

The students were then asked to read out a 320-word description of Toronto and those who had subconsciously seen the fast food logos were faster. Even though they had no time limit, they whizzed through the text in just 70 seconds. The other students, who were shown blocks of colours in place of the logos, took a more leisurely 84 seconds.

Zhong and DeVoe also found that thoughts of fast food could sway students towards more efficient, time-saving products. They asked 91 students to complete a marketing survey by saying how much they wanted each of five product pairs. One option in each pair was more time-efficient (as rated by an independent panel of 54 people), such as 2-in-1 shampoo rather than regular shampoo or a four-slice toaster versus a one-slice one.

If the students had previously thought about the last time they ate at a fast food joint, they were more likely to prefer the time-saving products that students who had thought about their last visit to the grocery store. Zhong and DeVoe say that this supports their idea that thinking about fast-food makes people impatient. [This seems to be]  the weakest part of their study, for products like 2-in-1 shampoo are as much about saving money (perhaps more so) as they are about saving time. Fast food is not only served quickly but priced cheaply, and it may be this aspect that altered the students’ preference.

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However, the duo addressed this issue in their third experiment. They randomly asked 58 students to judge one of four different logos on their aesthetic qualities, including those of McDonald’s, KFC and two cheap diners. Later, they were told that they could either have $3 immediately or a larger sum in a week. They had to say how much it would take to make them delay their windfall.

As predicted, those who considered the fast food logos were more impatient, and demanded significantly more money to forego their smaller immediate payment in favour of a larger future one. It seems that they put a greater price on instant gratification over larger future returns

Of course, these results can’t tell us if fast food actually contributes to a culture of impatience and hurry, or if it’s just a symptom of it. Nor do they say anything about whether this effect is good or bad. That would all depend on context. As Zhong and DeVoe note, a brisk walking speed is a good thing if you’re trying to get to a meeting but it would be a sign of impatience if you’re aiming for a leisurely stroll in the park.

Their study does, however, suggest that fast food and the need to save time are inextricably linked in our minds so that even familiar brands can make us behave more hastily. They could even affect our economic decisions, harming our finances in the long run. As Zhong and DeVoe say, even our leisure activites are “experienced through the coloured glasses of impatience” and “it is possible that a fast food culture that extols saving time not only changes the way people eat, but also fundamentally alters the way they experience events”

Read the original research paper (PDF)

Credit: discovermagazine
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April 17, 2010 Posted by | Books, Cognition, Eating Disorder, Health Psychology, research, Social Psychology, stress, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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

Sticks & Stones AND Words Can Hurt You: How Words Can Cause Physical Pain

“Watch out, it’ll hurt for a second.” Not only children but also many adults get uneasy when they hear those words from their doctor. And, as soon as the needle touches their skin the piercing pain can be felt very clearly. “After such an experience it is enough to simply imagine a needle at the next vaccination appointment to activate our pain memory,” knows Prof. Dr. Thomas Weiss from the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.

Read the original research paper (PDF)

As the scientist and his team from the Dept. of Biological and Clinical Psychology could show in a study for the first time it is not only the painful memories and associations that set our pain memory on the alert. “Even verbal stimuli lead to reactions in certain areas of the brain,” claims Prof. Weiss. As soon as we hear words like “tormenting,” “gruelling” or “plaguing,” exactly those areas in the brain are being activated which process the corresponding pain. The psychologists from Jena University were able to examine this phenomenon using functional magnetic resonance tomography (fMRT). In their study they investigated how healthy subjects process words associated with experiencing pain. In order to prevent reactions based on a plain negative affect the subjects were also confronted with negatively connotated words like “terrifying,” “horrible” or “disgusting” besides the proper pain words.

“Subjects performed two tasks,” explains Maria Richter, doctoral candidate in Weiss’s team. “In a first task, subjects were supposed to imagine situations which correspond to the words,” the Jena psychologist says. In a second task, subjects were also reading the words but they were distracted by a brain-teaser. “In both cases we could observe a clear activation of the pain matrix in the brain by pain-associated words,” Maria Richter states. Other negatively connotated words, however, do not activate those regions. Neither for neutrally nor for positively connotated words comparable activity patterns could be examined.

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Can words intensify chronic pain?

“These findings show that words alone are capable of activating our pain matrix,” underlines Prof. Weiss. To save painful experiences is of biological advantage since it allows us to avoid painful situations in the future which might be dangerous for our lives. “However, our results suggest as well that verbal stimuli have a more important meaning than we have thought so far.” For the Jena psychologist the question remains open which role the verbal confrontation with pain plays for chronic pain patients. “They tend to speak a lot about their experiencing of pain to their physician or physiotherapist,” Maria Richter says. It is possible that those conversations intensify the activity of the pain matrix in the brain and therefore intensify the pain experience. This is what the Jena psychologists want to clarify in another study.

And so far it won’t do any harm not to talk too much about pain. Maybe then the next injection will be only half as painful.

Read the original research paper (PDF)

Adapted from ScienceDaily March 31 2010

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April 14, 2010 Posted by | Age & Ageing, anxiety, Cognition, Pain, research, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

“Out Of The Way People…I Want Stuff!”: How Materialism Affects The Work-Family Conflict & Marital Satisfaction

The more materialistic individuals are, the more likely they are to view their family as an obstacle to work. This is the finding of a study published online on 8th April 2010, in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

Mark Promislo from Temple University, Philadelphia, USA and colleagues John Deckop, Robert Giacalone and Carole Jurkiewicz, carried out the study to investigate to what extent a person’s materialistic values were linked to their experience of work-family conflict. Mark Promislo said: “Needs associated with materialistic values are far more likely to be attained through work, so it is possible that people who place a high value on income and material possessions feel that the family demands get in the way of their work time.”

A total of 274 people replied to a questionnaire which asked to what extent their work demands interfered with their family responsibilities, and to what extent their family demands interfered with their work. They were also asked to complete a questionnaire that assessed how materialistic they were.

Materialism was significantly associated with the measures of family interference with work, and also their experience of work-overload – the perception of having too many things to do and not enough time to do them.

Mark Promislo continued: “Highly materialistic people pour their efforts into work as this produces tangible materialistic rewards – money and possessions. They therefore see any obstacle to work -including their family, as disruptive. This finding adds ‘work-family conflict’ to the already long list of the negative effects of materialistic values on personal well-being.”

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Materialism is also related to Marital Dissatisfaction

While there has been a relatively large number of studies conducted to investigate associations between financial problems and marital outcomes, little research has been done to examine possible relationships between materialistic attitudes, perceived financial problems, and marital outcomes.

A 2005 study by Lukas Dean of Brigham Young University was designed to examine a conceptual model linking materialism, perceived financial problems, and relationship satisfaction among married couples.

Data was obtained from 600 married heterosexual couples who took the RELATE test; a multidimensional couple assessment instrument that contains 271 questions that are designed to measure respondents’ perceptions about themselves and their partners in four main contexts of premarital and marital relationships.

His findings indicate that wives’ materialism is negatively related to husbands’ marital satisfaction. Husbands’ and wives’ materialism is positively related with increased perception of financial problems which is in turn negatively associated with marital satisfaction. As expected, income was positively related to marital satisfaction, however, income had no relation to perception of financial problems. Materialism had a stronger impact on perception of financial problems than income.

Distinct gender findings indicate that although husbands’ variables had no significant relation with wives’ outcomes, wives’ variables were significantly related to husbands’ outcomes. Specifically, wives’ materialism is positively related with husbands’ increased perception of financial problems, and wives’ perceived financial problems is negatively associated with husbands’ marital satisfaction.

These findings support the notion that materialism is indirectly related to marital satisfaction, and in some ways directly related to marital satisfaction.

Both these studies add to a growing body of work which demonstrates the negative psychosocial impacts of materialism.

Sources:

British Psychological Society

Dean, L.R. (2005) MATERIALISM, PERCEIVED FINANCIAL PROBLEMS,
AND MARITAL SATISFACTION (Unpublished Thesis)
Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

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April 12, 2010 Posted by | anxiety, Books, Health Psychology, Marriage, Parenting, research, Social Psychology, Spirituality | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Your Job Doesn’t Make You Happy

Information supplied by The British Psychological Society

Read the original research paper here (PDF)

People who are unhappy in life are unlikely to find satisfaction at work. This is the finding of a study published online last thursday, 1st April 2010, in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology.

Assistant Professor Nathan Bowling of Wright State University, USA, and colleagues Kevin Eschleman and Qiang Wang undertook a meta-analysis on the results of 223 studies carried out between 1967 and 2008. All of the studies had investigated some combination of job satisfaction and life satisfaction (or subjective well-being).

Assistant Professor Nathan Bowling said: “We used studies that assessed these factors at two time points so that we could better understand the causal links between job satisfaction and life satisfaction. If people are satisfied at work, does this mean they will be more satisfied and happier in life overall? Or is the causal effect the opposite way around?”

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The causal link between subjective well-being and subsequent levels of job satisfaction was found to be stronger than the link between job satisfaction and subsequent levels of subjective well-being.

“These results suggest that if people are, or are predisposed to be, happy and satisfied in life generally, then they will be likely to be happy and satisfied in their work,” said Nathan Bowling.

“However, the flipside of this finding could be that those people who are dissatisfied generally and who seek happiness through their work, may not find job satisfaction. Nor might they increase their levels of overall happiness by pursuing it.”

Read the original research paper here (PDF)

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April 8, 2010 Posted by | Books, depression, Health Psychology, Positive Psychology, research, Resilience | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ADHD Treatment: Behavior Therapy & Medication Seem To Positively Affect The Brain In The Same Way

(Information provided by The Wellcome Trust 1 April 2010)

Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

Medication and behavioural interventions help children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) better maintain attention and self-control by normalising activity in the same brain systems, according to research funded by the Wellcome Trust.

In a study published today in the journal ‘Biological Psychiatry’, researchers from the University of Nottingham show that medication has the most significant effect on brain function in children with ADHD, but this effect can be boosted by complementary use of rewards and incentives, which appear to mimic the effects of medication on brain systems.

ADHD is the most common mental health disorder in childhood, affecting around one in 20 children in the UK. Children with ADHD are excessively restless, impulsive and distractible, and experience difficulties at home and in school. Although no cure exists for the condition, symptoms can be reduced by a combination of medication and behaviour therapy.

Methylphenidate, a drug commonly used to treat ADHD, is believed to increase levels of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical messenger associated with attention, learning and the brain’s reward and pleasure systems. This increase amplifies certain brain signals and can be measured using an electroencephalogram (EEG). Until now it has been unclear how rewards and incentives affect the brain, either with or without the additional use of medication.

To answer these questions, researchers at Nottingham’s Motivation, Inhibition and Development in ADHD Study (MIDAS) used EEG to measure brain activity while children played a simple game. They compared two particular markers of brain activity that relate to attention and impulsivity, and looked at how these were affected by medication and motivational incentives.

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The team worked with two groups of children aged nine to 15: one group of 28 children with ADHD and a control group of 28. The children played a computer game in which green aliens were randomly interspersed with less frequent black aliens, each appearing for a short interval. Their task was to ‘catch’ as many green aliens as possible, while avoiding catching black aliens. For each slow or missed response, they would lose one point; they would gain one point for each timely response.

In a test designed to study the effect of incentives, the reward for avoiding catching the black alien was increased to five points; a follow-up test replaced this reward with a five-point penalty for catching the wrong alien.

The researchers found that when given their usual dose of methylphenidate, children with ADHD performed significantly better at the tasks than when given no medication, with better attention and reduced impulsivity. Their brain activity appeared to normalise, becoming similar to that of the control group.

Similarly, motivational incentives also helped to normalise brain activity on the two EEG markers and improved attention and reduced impulsivity, though its effect was much smaller than that of medication.

“When the children were given rewards or penalties, their attention and self-control was much improved,” says Dr Maddie Groom, first author of the study. “We suspect that both medication and motivational incentives work by making a task more appealing, capturing the child’s attention and engaging his or her brain response control systems.”

Professor Chris Hollis, who led the study, believes the findings may help to reconcile the often-polarised debate between those who advocate either medication on the one hand, or psychological/behavioural therapy on the other.

“Although medication and behaviour therapy appear to be two very different approaches of treating ADHD, our study suggests that both types of intervention may have much in common in terms of their affect on the brain,” he says. “Both help normalise similar components of brain function and improve performance. What’s more, their effect

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is additive, meaning they can be more effective when used together.”

The researchers believe that the results lend support from neuroscience to current treatment guidelines

for ADHD as set out by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). These recommend that behavioural interventions, which have a smaller effect size, are appropriate for moderate ADHD, while medication, with its larger effect size, is added for severe ADHD.

Although the findings suggest that a combination of incentives and medication might work most effectively, and potentially enable children to take lower doses of medication, Professor Hollis believes more work is needed before the results can be applied to everyday clinical practice or classroom situations.

“The incentives and rewards in our study were immediate and consistent, but we know that children with ADHD respond disproportionately less well to delayed rewards,” he says. “This could mean that in the ‘real world’ of the classroom or home, the neural effects of behavioural approaches using reinforcement and rewards may be less effective.”

Read the original research paper HERE (PDF)

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April 7, 2010 Posted by | ADHD /ADD, Books, brain, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, diagnosis, research | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments