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Problem-Solving Therapy (PST)

Posted by Sun on July 27, 2012

Problem-Solving Therapy (PST) is a well-established form of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) with a substantial body of research evidence supporting its theory and practice.  It was developed in the early 1970s by behaviour therapists seeking to design a general-purpose set of strategies for helping clients to enhance their creative problem-solving abilities.  We now know that Problem-Solving Therapy (PST) is particularly effective in helping people who suffer from depression, and it tends to be combined with assertiveness training and other therapeutic approaches.

The goal of Problem-Solving Therapy isn’t merely to help you solve your own problems but to make you a more skilled ans self-confident problem-solver in general.  Problem-solving is traditionally divided into five main component skills, which can be taught and practised in therapy sessions,

  1. Problem Orientation.  Your mind-set or attitude toward problems, i.e., seeing problems as a normal part of life, as challenges to be overcome rather than overwhelming threats, and a willingness to approach them in a systematic and timely manner.
  2. Problem Definition.  The ability to define problems and corresponding goals accurately and objectively, without unhelpful assumptions or emotive language, i.e., to stick to the key facts and pinpoint what it is that makes the situation a problem.
  3. Generating Alternatives.  The ability to look at things from different perspectives and creatively brainstorm an exhaustive list of potential solutions, i.e., to identify all of the available options.
  4. Decision-Making.  The ability to prioritise the best solutions and evaluate them from all the relevant perspectives, i.e., in terms of both short and long-term consequences and the effect upon yourself and other people.  The ability to identify the best solution or combination and to develop a realistic plan of action.
  5. Solution Implementation.  The ability to test your action plan out in the real world, putting it into practice and evaluating the outcome, in an “experimental” manner.  The ability to adapt plans or employ “backup plans” where appropriate and to repeat the problem-solving process where problems remain unresolved.

Source: http://londoncognitive.com/about-problem-solving/

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CBT Psychotherapy Best For Anxiety Disorders

Posted by Sun on July 23, 2012

A University of Houston researcher has found that patients suffering fromanxiety disorders showed the most improvement when treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) — in conjunction with a “transdiagnostic” approach, which allows therapists to use one kind of treatment no matter what the anxiety.

The problem up to now, according to Peter Norton, Ph.D., an associate professor in clinical psychology and director of the Anxiety Disorder Clinic at the University of Houston, has been that each anxiety disorder — such aspanic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social anxiety disorder, and phobias — has had a targeted treatment.

The transdiagnostic approach recognizes that many overlapping dimensions exist among these anxiety disorders. It suggests that thinking about anxiety disorders as a whole from a behavioral dimension and/or psychological dimension perspective may yield important insights into these disorders.

Norton, who says the specific treatments aren’t all that different from each other, has shown that a combination of CBT with the transdiagnostic approach has proven more effective than CBT combined with other types of anxiety disorder treatments, such as relaxation training.

“The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has been an important breakthrough in understanding mental health, but people are dissatisfied with its fine level of differentiation,” he said. The DSM uses a categorical approach to classifying mental disorders, including anxiety concerns.

“Panic disorders are considered something different from social phobia, which is considered something different from PTSD. The hope was that by getting refined in the diagnosis we could target interventions for each of these diagnoses, but in reality that just hasn’t played out.”

Norton’s research began 10 years ago when he was a graduate student in Nebraska and found he couldn’t get enough people together on the same night to run a group session for social phobia.

“What I realized is that I could open a group to people with anxiety disorders in general and develop a treatment program regardless of the artificial distinctions between social phobia and panic disorder, or obsessive-compulsive disorder, and focus on the core underlying things that are going wrong,” said Norton.

He says cognitive-behavioral therapy, which has a specific time frame and goals, is the most effective treatment as it helps patients understand the thoughts and feelings that influence their behaviors. The twist for him was using CBT in conjunction with the transdiagnostic approach.

The patients receiving the transdiagnostic treatment showed considerable improvement, especially with treating comorbid diagnoses, a disease or condition that co-exists with a primary disease and can stand on its own as a specific disease, like depression. Anxiety disorders often occur with a secondary illness, such as depression or substance and alcohol abuse, he noted.

“What I have learned from my past research is that if you treat your principal diagnosis, such as social phobia, you are going to show improvement on some of your secondary diagnosis,” he said. “Your mood is going to get a little better, your fear of heights might dissipate. So there is some effect there, but when we approach things with a transdiagnostic approach, we see a much bigger impact on comorbid diagnoses.”

“In my research study, over two-thirds of [co-existing] diagnoses went away, versus what we typically find when I’m treating a specific diagnosis such as a panic disorder, where only about 40 percent of people will show that sort of remission in their secondary diagnosis,” he continued.

“The transdiagnostic treatment approach [appears to be] more efficient in treating the whole person rather than just treating the diagnosis… then treating the next diagnoses.”

Norton notes the larger contributions of the studies are to guide further development and interventions for how clinical psychologists, therapists and social workers treat people with anxiety disorders. The data collected will be useful for people out on the front lines to effectively treat people to reduce anxiety disorders, he said.

Source: University of Houston

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CBT, pharmacologic interventions decrease depressive symptoms in cancer patients

Posted by Sun on July 23, 2012

Despite guidelines recommending screening for depression in cancer patients, it’s been unclear whether interventions designed to treat this depression are effective. A study by the University of Colorado Cancer Center and other institutions, published in theJournal of the National Cancer Institute, changes that. This meta-analysis of 10 studies encompassing 1362 patients shows that especially cognitive behavioral therapy and pharmacologic interventions decrease depressive symptoms in cancer patients.

“In the past, we had looked at interventions as a whole – most of which were designed to help cancer patients cope generally with stress but not specifically with depression – and found moderate effects. This study shows not only that interventions specific to depression in cancer patients can improve symptoms, but shows which interventions are likely to offer the most benefit,” says Kristin Kilbourn, PhD, CU Cancer Center investigator and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado Denver.

The recent study is the culmination of a five-year effort during which Kilbourn and collaborators combed the literature for studies that met stringent criteria specifying that studies were randomized control trials in which cancer patients reported a significant number of depressive symptoms prior to starting the intervention.

“Still, many questions exist,” Kilbourn says. “For example, which interventions are best in early cancers versus metastatic disease? Do we find similar effectiveness if patients were diagnosed with depression before their cancer? And which interventions are most effective with different cultural and ethnic subpopulations?” Likewise, Kilbourn hopes further study will explore the durability of gains patients experience with these interventions.

Finally, “This study supports the notion that screening for depression in cancer patients is important because if we could identify people early in the process and intervene, we now know definitively that we can affect the trajectory of this depression,” Kilbourn says.

Source: University of Colorado Denver

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Middle-Aged Women Who Were Child Abuse Victims at Increased Risk for Heart Disease, Diabetes

Posted by Sun on July 18, 2012

ScienceDaily (July 11, 2012) — Middle-aged women who report having been physically abused as children are about two times more likely than other women their age to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a larger waistline and poor cholesterol levels, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

These women are diagnosed as having metabolic syndrome which, according to previous research, places them at an increased risk of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. This link between physical abuse and metabolic syndrome persisted beyond traditional risk factors, suggesting physical abuse is a unique factor in women’s cardiovascular health, according to the study. It is the first study to show that a history of childhood physical abuse is related to the development of metabolic syndrome in women at mid-life, according to the authors. It was published online in the APA journal Health Psychology.

“Our research shows us that childhood abuse can have long-lasting consequences, even decades later, on women’s health and is related to more health problems down the road,” said study co-author Aimee Midei, MS, from the University of Pittsburgh.

Participants in the study were 342 women, 113 black and the remainder white, from the Pittsburgh area. They were between the ages of 42 and 52 when the study began. Each completed a childhood trauma questionnaire that assessed past physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Approximately 34 percent of the participants reported experiencing some type of childhood abuse.

Metabolic syndrome was identified by measuring the women’s waist circumference, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and fasting glucose levels annually during the seven-year study. Other traditional risk factors for metabolic syndrome were also assessed, such as smoking, physical activity, menopause, alcohol use, depressive symptoms and childhood and adult socioeconomic status. At baseline, 60 women were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome and 59 more were identified over the course of the study.

Results showed that physical abuse was strongly associated with metabolic syndrome, even after controlling for ethnicity, age, menopause and other traditional risk factors. Sexual abuse and emotional abuse were unrelated to metabolic syndrome, according to the findings.

The authors further examined individual components of the metabolic syndrome and found that physical abuse was particularly associated with larger waist circumference and fasting glucose, both of which are precursors to Type 2 diabetes. “It’s possible that women with histories of physical abuse engage in unhealthy eating behaviors or have poor stress regulation,” said Midei. “It appears that psychology plays a role in physical health even when we’re talking about traumatic incidents that happened when these women were children.”

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The Principles of Reality Therapy

Posted by Sun on July 13, 2012

There are several basic principles of reality therapy that must be applied to make this technique most successful.

  • Focus on the present and avoid discussing the past because all human problems are caused by unsatisfying present relationships.
  • Avoid discussing symptoms and complaints as much as possible since these are often the ineffective ways that clients choose to deal with (and hold on to) unsatisfying relationships.
  • Understand the concept of total behavior, which means focus on what clients can do, directly act, and think. *Spend less time on what they cannot do directly such as changing their feelings and physiology. Feelings and physiology can be changed indirectly, but only if there is a change in the acting and thinking.
  • Avoid criticizing, blaming and/or complaining and help clients do the same. By doing this, they learn to avoid these extremely harmful external control behaviors that destroy relationships.
  • Remain non-judgmental and non-coercive, but encourage people to judge all they are doing by the Choice Theory axiom: Is what I am doing getting me closer to the people I need? If the choice of behaviors is not getting people closer, then the therapist works to help the client find new behaviors that lead to a better connection.
  • Teach clients that legitimate or not, excuses stand directly in the way of their ability to make needed connections.
  • Focus on specifics. Find out as soon as possible who clients are disconnected from and work to help them choose reconnecting behaviors. If they are completely disconnected, focus on helping them find a new connection.
  • Help them make specific, workable plans to reconnect with the people they need, and then follow through on what was planned by helping them evaluate their progress. Based on their experience, therapists may suggest plans, but should not give the message that there is only one plan. A plan is always open to revision or rejection by the client.
  • Be patient and supportive but keep focusing on the source of the problem: disconnectedness. Clients who have been disconnected for a long time will find it difficult to reconnect. They are often so involved in the harmful behavior that they have lost sight of the fact that they need to reconnect. Help them to understand Choice Theory and explain that whatever their complaint, reconnecting is the best possible solution to their problem.

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Wisdom Comes With Age, At Least When It Comes To Emotions

Posted by Sun on July 6, 2012

ScienceDaily (June 12, 2008) — A University of Alberta researcher in collaboration with researchers from Duke University has proven that wisdom really does come with age, at least when it comes to your emotions.

A study conducted by Dr. Florin Dolcos, assistant professor of psychiatry and neuroscience in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, identified brain patterns that help healthy older people regulate and control emotion better than their younger counterparts. The study identified two regions in the brain that showed increased activity when participants over the age of 60 were shown standardized pictures of emotionally challenging situations.

“Previous studies have provided evidence that healthy older individuals have a positivity bias — they can actually manage how much attention they give to negative situations so they’re less upset by them,” said Dr. Dolcos, a member of the Alberta Cognitive Neuroscience Group, which brings together researchers from the University of Alberta to explore how the brain works in human thought, including issues like perception, attention, learning, memory, language, decision-making, emotion and development. “We didn’t understand how the brain worked to give seniors this sense of perspective until now.”

During the study, younger and older participants were asked to rate the emotional content of standardized images as positive, neutral or negative, while their brain activity was monitored with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine, a high-tech device that uses a large magnet to take pictures inside the brain. The older participants rated the images as less negative than the younger participants. The fMRI scans helped researchers observe this reaction in the senior participants. The scans showed increased interactions between the amygdala, a brain region involved in emotion detection, and the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region involved in emotion control.

According to Dr. Dolcos, “These findings indicate that emotional control improves with aging, and that it’s the increased interaction between these two brain regions that allows healthy seniors to control their emotional response so that they are less affected by upsetting situations.”

The study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, was performed under the co-ordination of Dr. Roberto Cabeza and in collaboration with Ms. Peggy St. Jacques, both of Duke University where Dr. Dolcos received his training in brain imaging research.

This research may have clinical implications. “If we can better understand how the brain works to create a positivity bias in older people, then we can apply this knowledge to better understand and treat mental health issues with a negativity bias, such as depression and anxiety disorders, in which patients have difficulty coping with emotionally challenging situations,” Dolcos said.

Dr. Florin Dolcos’s current research projects are funded by grants from the U.S.-based National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD), the Canadian Psychiatric Research Foundation (CPRF), the University Hospital Foundation (UHF) in Edmonton and the University of Alberta.

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Secret to Successful Aging: How ‘Positivity Effect’ Works in Brain

Posted by Sun on July 6, 2012

ScienceDaily (July 14, 2011) — Whether we choose to accept or fight it, the fact is that we will all age, but will we do so successfully? Aging successfully has been linked with the “positivity effect,” a biased tendency towards and preference for positive, emotionally gratifying experiences. New research published in Biological Psychiatry now explains how and when this effect works in the brain.

German neuroscientists studied this effect by using neuroimaging to evaluate brain engagement in young and old adults while they performed a specialized cognitive task that included supposedly irrelevant pictures of either neutral, happy, sad or fearful faces. During parts of the task when they didn’t have to pay as much attention, the elderly subjects were significantly more distracted by the happy faces. When this occurred, they had increased engagement in the part of the brain that helps control emotions and this stronger signal in the brain was correlated with those who showed the greatest emotional stability.

“Integrating our findings with the assumptions of life span theories we suggest that motivational goal-shifting in healthy aging leads to a self-regulated engagement in positive emotions even when this is not required by the setting,” explained author Dr. Stefanie Brassen. “In addition, our finding of a relationship between rostral anterior cingulate cortex activity and emotional stability further strengthens the hypothesis that this increased emotional control in aging enhances emotional well being.”

“The lessons of healthy aging seem to be similar to those of resilience, throughout life. As recently summarized in other work by Drs. Dennis Charney and Steven Southwick, when coping with extremely stressful life challenges, it is critical to realistically appraise the situation but also to approach it with a positive attitude,” noted Dr. John H. Krystal, the Editor ofBiological Psychiatry.

Lifespan theories explain that positivity bias in later life reflects a greater emphasis on short-term rather than long-term priorities. The study by Dr. Brassen and colleagues now provides another clue to how the brain contributes to this age-related shift in priorities.

This makes aging successfully sound so simple — use your brain to focus on the positive.

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When Stressed, Men Charge Ahead, Women More Careful, Study Finds

Posted by Sun on July 5, 2012

ScienceDaily (June 3, 2011) — Stress causes men and women to respond differently to risky decision making, with men charging ahead for small rewards and women taking their time, according to a new study in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, published by Oxford University Press. Under stress, men and women also have different brain activation patterns during decision making.

There might be advantages to both stress responses, especially in areas with the need to weigh short-term gain and long-term benefits, such as the stock market, health decisions or retirement planning, according to lead author on the study Nichole Lighthall, a USC doctoral student.

The experiment might also have implications for daily life and relationships, Lighthall said.

Stress caused men and women to make decisions differently, but when stress was absent their behavior and brain activation was much more similar, Lighthall said. Men and women faced with tough decisions might improve their communication by waiting until a stressful situation has passed, Lighthall said. “Men and women appear to think more similarly when they are not stressed,” Lighthall said. “You should be aware of the way you are biased in your decisions.”

After being subjected to stress, men appeared to be more motivated to act quickly while women would slow down, Lighthall said.

For men under stress, playing a risk-taking game stimulated areas in the brain that are activated when one gets a reward or satisfies an addiction. The same experiment found diminished brain activity for women in the same areas when they were stressed.

“It appears women do not feel the drive to get a reward as much under stress,” Lighthall said.

Participants were given a task of filling up a computer-simulated balloon with as much air as possible without popping the balloon.

Subjects earned from $4 to $45 based on their performance, with the men earning much more cash under stress.

Lighthall said that although men performed this task better, the more important conclusion may be that important decisions made under stress should include input from both genders.

“It might be better to have more gender diversity on important decision because men and women offer differing perspectives,” Lighthall said. “Being more cautious and taking the time to make a decision will often be the right choice.”

Mara Mather, director of the Emotion and Cognition Lab at USC and associate professor of psychology at USC Dornsige College and gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, Michiko Sakaki, Sarinnapha Vasunilashorn, Lin Nga, Sangeetha Somayajula, Eri Y. Chin and Nicole Samii, also of the USC Davis School, were co-authors of the study.

Last year Lighthall authored a study in the journal PLoS One that showed that men under stress may be more likely to take risks, correlating to such real-life behavior as gambling, smoking, unsafe sex and illegal drug use.

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Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)

Posted by Sun on June 21, 2012

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a cognitive–behavioral model of psychotherapy that helps you accept difficult thoughts, emotions, or sensations and get commitment to change is based on chosen values.

Research shows ACT is effective in treatment of variety of problems including addictions, smoking cessation, depression, anxiety, workplace stress, weight management, eating disorders, burn out, and several other areas.

ACT focuses on 3 areas:

Accept your reactions and be present
Choose a valued direction
Take action.

Core principles

ACT uses six core principles to help clients develop psychological flexibility.

1.    Contact with the present moment: The present moment is the only time anyone can really act and experience happiness. Awareness of the here and now, experienced with openness, interest, and receptiveness can increase our ability to change.
2.    Cognitive defusion: Learning methods detach from unhelpful thoughts and worries and memories

3.    Acceptance: To deny or control painful thoughts and feelings leads to get all caught up in feelings, or overwhelmed by them. Allow to painful feelings come and go without struggling with them.

4.    Observing the self: We are not our thoughts, emotions, behaviors and etc. we can view our identities as separate from the content of our experience

5.    Values provide an internal reference for what is good, beneficial, important, useful, beautiful, desirable, constructive, etc. We can change our values. It’s important we choose the values are in harmony with our true self.
6.    Committed action:  take action guided by your values and do whatever you have to do, even if it’s difficult or uncomfortable.

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Neuroimaging Shows How the Brain Learns Mental Skills

Posted by Sun on June 19, 2012

ScienceDaily (Feb. 9, 2011) — Movements become skilled and automatic with practise, so tasks like riding a bicycle can be performed without much attention or mental effort. New research by scientists at Royal Holloway, University of London provides evidence that the cerebellum, a part of the brain used to store memories for skilled movements, could also store memories important for mental skills — such as the rules used to interpret traffic light signals.

The prefrontal cortex, in the frontal lobe, uses problem-solving to establish the correct rules using attention, and the new research raises the possibility that the cerebellum then learns to implement them skilfully with little conscious attention, freeing the prefrontal cortex to direct attention to new problems.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, reports that brain imaging was used to scan volunteers during learning, and that in a part of the cerebellum known to be connected with the prefrontal cortex, activity changed from one practice trial to the next. The rate of change was faster for rules that became automatic more quickly. After practice, volunteers used simple rules quickly and accurately even when attention drawn away by a ‘distractor’ task performed at the same time.

Dr Ramnani, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway said: “The study adds to the groundwork for understanding cognitive deficits in patients with cerebellar damage and improving strategies for their rehabilitation. It also raises the possibility that the cerebellum might be used for the skillful, automatic and unconscious use of mathematical and grammatical rules.”

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With Altered Brain Chemistry, Fear Is More Easily Overcome

Posted by Sun on June 19, 2012

ScienceDaily (June 12, 2012) — Researchers at Duke University and the National Institutes of Health have found a way to calm the fears of anxious mice with a drug that alters their brain chemistry. They’ve also found that human genetic differences related to the same brain chemistry influence how well people cope with fear and stress.

It’s an advance in understanding the brain’s fear circuitry that the research team says may hold particular promise for people at risk for anxiety disorders, including those suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“What is most compelling is our ability to translate first from mice to human neurobiology and then all the way out to human behavior,” said Ahmad Hariri, a neurobiologist at the Duke Institute for Genome Sciences & Policy. “That kind of translation is going to define the future of psychiatry and neuroscience.”

The common thread in their studies is a gene encoding an enzyme called fatty acid amide hydrolase, or FAAH. The enzyme breaks down a natural endocannabinoid chemical in the brain that acts in essentially the same way that Cannabis, aka marijuana, does (hence the name endocannabinoid).

Earlier studies had suggested that blocking the FAAH enzyme could decrease fear and anxiety by increasing endocannabinoids. (That’s consistent with the decreased anxiety some experience after smoking marijuana.) In 2009, Hariri’s lab found that a common variant in the human FAAH gene leads to decreased enzyme function with affects on the brain’s circuitry for processing fear and anxiety.

In the new study, Andrew Holmes’ group at the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse tested the effects of a drug that blocks FAAH activity in fear-prone mice that had also been trained to be fearful through experiences in which they were delivered foot shocks.

Tests for the ability of those mice to get over their bad experiences found that the drug allowed a faster recovery from fear thanks to higher brain endocannabinoid levels. More specifically, the researchers showed that those drug effects traced to the amygdala, a small area of the brain that serves as a critical hub for fear processing and learning.

To test for the human relevance of the findings, Hariri’s group went back to the genetic variant they had studied earlier in a group of middle-aged adults. They showed study participants a series of pictures depicting threatening faces while they monitored the activity of their amygdalas using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans. They then looked for how the genetic variant affected this activity.

While the activity of the amygdala in all participants decreased over repeated exposures to the pictures, people who carried the version of the FAAH gene associated with lower enzyme function and higher endocannabinoid levels showed a greater decrease in activity. Hariri says that suggests that those individuals may be better able to control and regulate their fear response.

Further confirmation came from an analysis led by Duke’s Avshalom Caspi and Terrie Moffitt of 1,000 individuals in the Dunedin Study, who have been under careful observation since their birth in the 1970s in New Zealand. Consistent with the mouse and brain imaging studies, those New Zealanders carrying the lower-expressing version of the FAAH gene were found to be more likely to keep their cool under stress.

“This study in mice reveals how a drug that boosts one of the brain’s naturally occurring endocannaboids enables fear extinction, a process that forms the basis of exposure therapy for PTSD,” Holmes said. “It also shows how human gene variation in the same chemical pathways modulates the amygdala’s processing of threats and predicts how well people cope with stress.”

Studies are now needed to further explore both the connections between FAAH variation and PTSD risk as well as the potential of FAAH inhibition as a novel therapy for fear-related disorders, the researchers say.

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What the World Needs Now? More Wisdom

Posted by Sun on June 15, 2012

ScienceDaily (Apr. 6, 2011) — Revolution in Libya. Revolution in Egypt. Revolution in Tunisia. The Middle East and North Africa face unprecedented change as dictatorships crumble and people clamor for democracy.

Yet it remains unclear whether these nations will experience more equity under new regimes. The reshaping of societies raises fundamental questions that require monumental thought. “What the world needs now, especially in these times, is more wisdom,” observes Dolores Pushkar, a professor in Concordia’s Department of Psychology and member of the Centre for Research in Human Development.

While all nations need wise leaders, the Middle East and North Africa require sensible leaders with fresh outlooks who are in antithesis to self-serving dictators of the past. “Since wisdom is defined as something that benefits society as a whole as well as the self,” continues Pushkar.

Human wellbeing and life satisfaction

Current events are on Pushkar’s mind, since the bulk of her research has focused on human wellbeing and life satisfaction. And she’s found wisdom plays a central role in both. “Wisdom and intelligence aren’t the same thing,” she points out, estimating that only 5 percent of the population can be described as truly wise and that advanced insight begins after adolescence as the brain matures.

Pushkar recently coauthored an overview on the topic, What Philosophers Say Compared with What Psychologists Find in Discerning Values: How Wise People Interpret Life. Her coauthors include Andrew Burr, Sarah Etezadi and Tracy Lyster of the Concordia Department of Psychology and Sheila Mason of the Department of Philosophy.

The research team compiled data from several Concordia studies, as well as international findings, to assess how wisdom shapes life. The result? “Wisdom has an impact on how people cope in situations and whether they are more or less satisfied with life,” explains Etezadi, a PhD student under Pushkar’s direction.

No single definition of wisdom exists, but hallmarks include knowledge, deep understanding of human nature, life contentment, empathy and the flexibility to see issues from others’ perspectives. “Wise people can see the positive side of a negative situation,” says Etezadi, adding the wise are open to new avenues. “A practical aspect of wisdom is how it translates to street smarts.”

Injustice can prevent people from garnering wisdom

Yet studies have shown that overwhelming and prolonged stress, in cases such as genocide or soul-crushing child abuse, are injustices that can prevent people from garnering wisdom. “The more overwhelming the stress, the greater its magnitude, the less likely people are to develop wisdom from the experience,” says Pushkar, citing research from peers undertaken after major calamities and wars. “Chronic adversity can destroy wisdom.”

Pushkar stresses that wise people often espouse common sense — but what makes them smarter than most is how they actually follow their own advice. And contrary to popular notions, gender does not influence wisdom. “For centuries, males had access to education and that’s how the stereotype of the wise old man came to be,” says Etezadi.

Age is another irrelevant factor in life smarts. “Some people garner wisdom sooner than others,” Pushkar suggests. “That’s why we call them old souls, since they are quicker to learn what leads to a better life.”

Etezadi and Pushkar, who notably studied life contentment among seniors, also discovered that lifelong optimists are wiser than their pessimistic peers. “We found that people who are wiser maintain a sense of happiness,” says Etezadi. “They are high on wisdom, which has a buffering effect.”

“Bitterness,” Pushkar counters, “disqualifies a person from being considered as wise. It means they haven’t learned any beneficial lessons from their experience.”

This study was supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and Quebec’s Fonds de recherche sur la société et la culture.

Reference: Pushkar,D., Mason, S., Burr, A., Etezadi, S. & Lyster, T. (2010). What philosophers say compared with what psychologists find in discerning values: How wise people interpret life. In A. Columbus (Ed.) Advances in Psychology Research, Volume 65. Nova Science Publishers: New York. Also published separately in the Psychology Research Progress Series, (2010). Novinka, Nova Science Publishers: New York.

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Older Adults Are Better at Decision-Making Than Young Adults

Posted by Sun on June 15, 2012

ScienceDaily (Aug. 23, 2011) — We make decisions all our lives — so you’d think we’d get better and better at it. Yet research has shown that younger adults are better decision makers than older ones. Some Texas psychologists, puzzled by these findings, suspected the experiments were biased toward younger brains.

So, rather than testing the ability to make decisions one at a time without regard to past or future, as earlier research did, these psychologists designed a model requiring participants to evaluate each result in order to strategize the next choice, more like decision making in the real world.

The results: The older decision makers trounced their juniors. The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“We found that older adults are better at evaluating the immediate and delayed benefits of each option they choose from. They are better at creating strategies in response to the environment,” says Darrell Worthy, of Texas A&M University, who conducted the study with Marissa Gorlick, Jennifer Pacheco, David Schnyer, and Todd Maddox, all at the University of Texas at Austin.

In the first experiment, groups of older (ages 60 to early 80s) and younger (college-age) adults received points each time they chose from one of four options and tried to maximize the points they earned. In this portion, the younger adults were more efficient at selecting the options that yielded more points.

In the second experiment — the setup was a sham test of two “oxygen accumulators” on Mars — the rewards received depended on the choices made previously. The “decreasing option” gave a larger number of points on each trial, but caused rewards on future trials to be lower. The “increasing option” gave a smaller reward on each trial but caused rewards on future trials to increase. In one version of the test, the increasing option led to more points earned over the course of the experiment; in another, chasing the increasing option couldn’t make up for the points that could be accrued grabbing the bigger bite on each trial.

The older adults did better on every permutation.

“The younger adults were better when only the immediate rewards needed to be considered,” says Worthy. “But the second experiment required developing a theory about how rewards in the environment were structured. The more experience you have in this, the better you are better at it.”

The psychologists conjecture that these results are related to the ways we use our brains as we age. Younger people’s choice making relies on the ventral striatum, which is related to habitual, reflexive learning and immediate rewards: impulsivity. But as this portion of the brain declines, older adults compensate by using their pre-frontal cortices, where more rational, deliberative thinking is controlled.

“More broadly, our findings suggest that older adults have learned a number of heuristics” — reasoning methods — “from their vast decision-making experience,” says Worthy. Another word for this, which the psychologists use in their title, is wisdom. For older people, it may be nice to know that this sometimes-undervalued asset has been ratified in the lab.

The article is entitled, “With Age Comes Wisdom: Decision-Making in Younger and Older Adults.”

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Juveniles Build Up Physical — But Not Mental — Tolerance for Alcohol

Posted by Sun on June 15, 2012

ScienceDaily (June 13, 2012) — Research into alcohol’s effect on juvenile rats shows they have an ability to build up a physical, but not cognitive, tolerance over the short term — a finding that could have implications for adolescent humans, according to Baylor University psychologists.

The research findings are significant because they indicate that blood alcohol concentration levels alone may not fully account for impaired orientation and navigation ability, said Jim Diaz-Granados, Ph.D., professor and chair of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor. He co-authored the study, published in the journal Brain Research.  “There’s been a lot of supposition about the reaction to blood alcohol levels,” Diaz-Granados said. “We use the blood alcohol level to decide if someone is going to get arrested, because we think that a high level means impairment. But here we see a model where we can separate that out. You may have a tolerance in metabolism, but just because your blood alcohol concentration is less than the legal limit doesn’t mean your behavior isn’t impaired.”

“More research is needed to fully understand how adolescents react to alcohol, but this contributes a piece to the puzzle,” said study co-author Douglas Matthews, Ph.D., a research scientist at Baylor and an associate professor in Psychology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

The study was conducted in the Baylor Addiction Research Center of Baylor’s Department of Psychology and Neuroscience in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences.

More than half of under-age alcohol use is due to binge drinking, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and “when initial alcohol use occurs during adolescence, it increases the chance of developing alcoholism later in life,” said lead study author Candice E. Van Skike, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Baylor. Researchers have long been interested in whether adolescents react differently to alcohol than adults and how alcohol use affects their brains when they reach adulthood, but Baylor researchers also wanted to test the short-term effect of alcohol on adolescents’ brains in terms of memory about space and dimension.

In the study, 96 rats were trained to navigate a water maze to an escape platform. Half were exposed to alcohol vapor in chambers for 16 hours a day over four days (a method to approximate binge-like alcohol intake), while others were exposed only to air. After a 28-hour break, some were injected with alcohol, then both groups tested again in the maze. A comparison found that those who had undergone the chronic intermittent ethanol exposure built up a metabolic tolerance. They were better able to eliminate alcohol from their systems than ones who had been exposed only to air, based on a comparison of the blood ethanol concentrations of the two groups after they had been injected with alcohol later. While the alcohol-injected rats swam as hard and as fast as the others, their ability to find the escape platform was impaired.

Previous research at Baylor led by Matthews showed that adolescents are less sensitive than adults to motor impairment during alcohol intake because a particular neuron fires more slowly in adults who are drinking. The lack of sensitivity may be part of the reason adolescents do not realize they have had too much to drink.

“It’s difficult to compare metabolic and cognitive tolerance in adults with those of juveniles, because many studies that have looked at the cognitive aspect of chronic ethanol exposure didn’t measure blood alcohol concentration levels,” Van Skike said. “It would be an interesting comparison to make, and it is an avenue for future research.”

Other research has shown that high levels of alcohol consumption during human adolescence are mirrored in animals. Adolescent rats consume two to three times more ethanol than adults relative to body weight, suggesting that adolescents are who drink are pre-disposed to do so in binges.

Another collaborator in the Baylor study was Adelle Novier, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Baylor.

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Sticking to Our Goals: What’s the Best Approach for Success?

Posted by Sun on June 13, 2012

ScienceDaily (Apr. 16, 2012) — Consumers have an easier time starting toward a goal than finishing it, but according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research, a shift in attention can make all the difference in reaching the finish line.

“Starting toward a goal can often feel easier than following through and reaching this goal’s end state, as individuals with good intentions often fail to invest the time, effort, or monetary resources required to bring their goals to completion,” write authors Minjung Koo (Sungkyunkwan University) and Ayelet Fishbach (Booth School, University of Chicago). For example, many consumers sign up for rewards programs without completing the steps necessary to earn their rewards.

The authors explored what they call the “small-area hypothesis,” which relates to the way people monitor their progress toward goal completion. For example, consumers in a coffee-shop rewards program can either pay attention to the number of purchases they have completed or the number of purchases they have yet to make to receive the free beverage reward. “We predict that individuals will express greater motivation to pursue actions when they focus on whichever is smaller in size — the area of their completed actions or of their remaining actions — because motivation increases with the perceived impact of each new step, and each new step will appear more impactful if compared to a smaller set of other steps toward the goal,” the authors write.

The authors conducted several experiments with loyalty programs, including a coffee shop and a bagel store. They manipulated customers’ attention by making different frequent buyer cards, some of which emphasized accumulated progress and others that showed remaining progress. “For participants who were closer to getting a reward, an emphasis on remaining progress (small area) increased motivation more than on completed purchases (large area),” the authors write. Customers who were far from the rewards said they were more motivated to finish filling the cards when the cards emphasized completed (small area) versus remaining progress (large area).

“Marketers should design or structure feedback interventions that emphasize small areas and thus increase the perceived impact of the next action,” the authors conclude.

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Thoughts That Win

Posted by Sun on June 13, 2012

ScienceDaily (May 25, 2011) — Back in high school, on the soccer field, poised to take a crucial penalty kick, “I always had a lot of thoughts going on in my head; I think most people do” says sports psychologist Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis. “I was setting the ball and planning my shot; I was the captain and never missed those types of shots; then I had that thought striking me that it was not going to be good. I knew I was going to miss,” he recalls, “and I did miss.” Even then, he could see that his mind had a big effect on his body.

From these unhappy experiences evolved Hatzigeorgiadis’ interest in the psychology of sport — the link between one’s thoughts and performance, and specifically in “self-talk” — the mental strategy that aims to improve performance through the use of self-addressed cues (words or small phrases), which trigger appropriate responses and action, mostly by focusing attention and psyching-up.

“We know this strategy works, and it works in sports,” says Hatzigeorgiadis. But what makes it work better, and in what situations? To find out, Hatzigeorgiadis and his colleagues at the Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences at the University of Thessaly, Nikos Zourbanos, Evangelos Galanis, and Yiannis Theodorakis conducted a meta-analysis of 32 sport psychological studies on the subject with a total of 62 measured effects. Their findings will be published in an upcoming issue ofPerspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

As expected, the analysis revealed that self-talk improves sport performance.

But the researchers teased out more — different self-talk cues work differently in different situations. For tasks requiring fine skills or for improving technique “instructional self-talk,” such as a technical instruction (“elbow-up” which Hatzigeorgiadis coaches beginner freestyle swimmers to say) is more effective than ‘motivational self-talk’ (e.g., “give it all”), which seems to be more effective in tasks requiring strength or endurance, boosting confidence and psyching-up for competition. Thus, we should carefully design the self-talk athletes use according to needs.

Some other findings are that self-talk has a greater effect on tasks involving fine skills (such as sinking a golf ball) rather than gross skills (e.g., cycling); probably because self-talk is a technique which mostly improves concentration. Self-talk is more effective for novel tasks rather than well-learned tasks; because it is easier to improve at the early steps of learning. Nevertheless, both beginners and experienced athletes can benefit, especially when they practice the self-talk technique.

Most important, says Hatzigeorgiadis, is that athletes train to self-talk — they prepare their scripts and use them consistently in training under varying conditions to better prepare themselves for competition.

The main goals behind self-talk — like other techniques such as visualization to “rehearse” a performance or meditation to improve focus and relaxation — are twofold, says Hatzigeorgiadis: “to enhance your potential; and to perform during competition in terms of your ability and not less.”

The meta-analysis can help sports psychologists and athletes refine their training. But the strategy has implications beyond the playing field. “The mind guides action. If we succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior,” says Hatzigeorgiadis.

“The goal of being prepared is to do the best you can do.”

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Who Needs Motivation? The Rewards of Doing ‘Something’

Posted by Sun on June 13, 2012

ScienceDaily (Apr. 29, 2011) — People don’t really care what they’re doing — just as long as they are doing something. That’s one of the findings summarized in a new review article published inCurrent Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

When psychologists think about why people do what they do, they tend to look for specific goals, attitudes, and motivations. But they may be missing something more general — people like to be doing something. These broader goals, to be active or inactive, may have a big impact on how they spend their time.

Author Dolores Albarracin of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign says she started paying attention to people’s different levels of activity in various countries and saw how much busier people are in the US relative to other areas. “People have this inclination to do more, even if what they do is trivial,” she says. In recent years, she has been doing research on how people feel about activity, including how easily she could change the level of activity that people aimed for. In one set of experiments, for example, she found that getting people to think about physical activity made them more interested in political activity.

Experiments have shown that the desire for activity is quite strong; people will go to a lot of trouble to maintain their desired level of activity, which can include unhealthy behaviors. Many psychologists have “the idea that people have these highly specific goals,” Albarracin says. “But quite often some significant proportion of our time is engaged in this global level — we want to do something, but what we do ends up not mattering much. You could end up with productive behavior, like work, or impulsive behavior, like drug use.”

Albarracin co-wrote the review article with Justin Hepler and Melanie Tannenbaum, also of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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Is There A Seat Of Wisdom In The Brain?

Posted by Sun on June 13, 2012

ScienceDaily (Apr. 6, 2009) — Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have compiled the first-ever review of the neurobiology of wisdom – once the sole province of religion and philosophy.

The study by Dilip V. Jeste, MD, and Thomas W. Meeks, MD, of UC San Diego’s Department of Psychiatry and the Stein Institute for Research on Aging, is published in theArchives of General Psychiatry.

“Defining wisdom is rather subjective, though there are many similarities in definition across time and cultures,” said Jeste, who is the Estelle and Edgar Levi Chair in Aging, professor of psychiatry and neuroscience and chief of geriatric psychiatry at UC San Diego. “However, our research suggests that there may be a basis in neurobiology for wisdom’s most universal traits.”

Wisdom has been defined over centuries and civilizations to encompass numerous psychological traits. Components of wisdom are commonly agreed to include such attributes as empathy, compassion or altruism, emotional stability, self-understanding, and pro-social attitudes, including a tolerance for others’ values.

“But questions remain: is wisdom universal, or culturally based?” said Jeste. “Is it uniquely human, related to age? Is it dependent on experience or can wisdom be taught?”

Empirical research on wisdom is a relatively new phenomenon. Meeks and Jeste noted that in the 1970s, there were only 20 peer-reviewed articles on wisdom, but since 2000, there have been more than 250 such publications. However, the researchers found no previous studies using the keyword “wisdom” in combination with the terms neurobiology, neuroimaging or neurotransmitters.

In order to determine if specific brain circuits and pathways might be responsible for wisdom, the researchers examined existing articles, publications and other documents for six attributes most commonly included in the definition of wisdom, and for the brain circuitry associated with those attributes.

Meeks and Jeste focused primarily on functional neuroimaging studies, studies which measure changes in blood flow or metabolic alterations in the brain, as well as on neurotransmitter functions and genetics. They found, for example, that pondering a situation calling for altruism activates the medial pre-frontal cortex, while moral decision-making is a combination of rational (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which plays a role in sustaining attention and working memory), emotional/social (medial pre-frontal cortex), and conflict detection (the anterior cingulate cortex, sometimes also associated with a so-called “sixth sense”) functions.

Interestingly, several common brain regions appear to be involved in different components of wisdom. The UC San Diego researchers suggest that the neurobiology of wisdom may involve an optimal balance between more primitive brain regions (the limbic system) and the newest ones (pre-frontal cortex.) Knowledge of the underlying mechanisms in the brain could potentially lead to developing interventions for enhancing wisdom.

“Understanding the neurobiology of wisdom may have considerable clinical significance, for example, in studying how certain disorders or traumatic brain injuries can affect traits related to wisdom,” said Jeste, stressing that this study is only a first step in a long process.

The study was supported in part by grants from the National Institute on Mental Health, the National Institute on Aging, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, the Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging at UC San Diego and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

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Thinking Like A President: How Power Affects Complex Decision Making

Posted by Sun on June 12, 2012

ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2008) — Presidential scholars have written volumes trying to understand the presidential mind. How can anyone juggle so many complicated decisions? Do those seeking office have a unique approach to decision making? Studies have suggested that power changes not only a person’s responsibilities, but also the way they think.

Now, a new study in the December issue of Psychological Science indicates that having power may lead people to automatically think in a way that makes complex decision-making easier.

Psychologists Pamela Smith, Ap Dijksterhuis and Daniël Wigboldus of Radboud University Nijmegen stimulated feelings of powerlessness or power in a group of volunteers by having some volunteers recall a situation when other people had power over them and other volunteers recall a situation when they had power over other people. Then they were given a complicated problem to solve (they had to pick among four cars, each varying on 12 different attributes). The experiment was designed so that there was a “correct” solution—that is, one of the cars had the most positive and least negative attributes, although the optimal choice was not obvious. Both the “powerful” and the “powerless” volunteers chose among the cars, but some spent time consciously thinking about the problem, while others were distracted with a word puzzle.

Previous research has shown that most people can solve complex problems better if they engage in unconscious thinking, rather than try to deliberately examine and weigh each factor. The conscious mind is not able to consider every possibility—attempts to do so bog the mind down in too much detail. Unconscious thinkers are better at solving complicated problems because they are able to think abstractly and very quickly get to the gist of the problem—they do not spend a lot of time focusing on insignificant details of the problem.

The results showed that the “powerless” volunteers performed better when they were distracted—that is, when they unconsciously thought about the problem. More interestingly, the “powerful” participants performed equally well regardless of whether they were in the conscious thinking or unconscious thinking group.

These findings indicate that powerful people’s conscious deliberation is very much like the unconscious processing of the rest of us—more abstract and better when it comes to complex decisions.

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Complex Decision? Don’t Think About It

Posted by Sun on June 12, 2012

ScienceDaily (Dec. 9, 2008) — When faced with a difficult decision, we try to come up with the best choice by carefully considering all of the options, maybe even resorting to lists and lots of sleepless nights. So it may be surprising that recent studies have suggested that the best way to deal with complex decisions is to not think about them at all—that unconscious thought will help us make the best choices.

Although this may seem like an appealing strategy, new research in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, cautions that there are limitations in the efficacy of unconscious thought making the best decisions.

Duke University researchers John W. Payne, Adriana Samper, James R. Bettman and Mary Frances Luce had volunteers participate in a lottery choice task, where they had to pick from four various options, each with a different, but close, payoff. The volunteers were divided into three groups for this task: one group was instructed to think about the task for a given amount of time, another group was told to think about the task for as long as they wanted and the last group was distracted before making their selection (thus, unconsciously thinking about the task). A second experiment was similarly set up, except that there were substantial differences in the payoffs of the different options.

The researchers found that there are situations where unconscious thought will not result in the best choice being selected. The findings showed that in some instances (when the payoffs were similar), thinking about the task for as only as long as it takes to make a decision was as effective as unconscious thought, resulting in the most profitable options being chosen. However, when there were large differences in the amount of money to be won, mulling over the decision at their own pace led the volunteers to larger payoffs than unconscious thought.

The volunteers who were told to consciously think about the decision for a specific amount of time performed poorly in both experiments. The authors explain that those volunteers had “too much time to think” about the task and suggest that their attention shifted “to information of lesser relevance,” resulting in less profitable decisions.

These results suggest that although unconscious thought may help us make the right decision in some instances, it is often better to rely on self-paced conscious thought and really focus on the problem at hand.

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