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Why anti-depressants may not help depression

Posted February 26th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

A significant number of people suffer from depression at some point in their lives, although it is minority that suffers from serious deep depression. Antidepressants are often the most commonly prescribed remedy. But do they really work for most people? Evidence may suggest the contrary, and they may actually do long-term psychological harm.

Evolutionary psychologist Nigel Barber, writing in Psychology Today observes that the incidences of depression “increases with economic development and affluence and is virtually unknown in subsistence societies.”  A 2002 U.S. Federal Drug Administration research study of 6 widely prescribed antidepressants found that placebos were 80% as effective as the antidepressants, concluding that the “pharmacological effects of antidepressants are clinically negligible.” A 2010 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association argued that most people taking anti-depressants do no better than if they had taken a placebo (sugar pill). The article went on to say that while anti-depressants were found to be effective in severely depressed people, who are a minority, for the vast majority of people, they were not.

According to a study by the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, anti-depressants are not effective because long-held notions about what triggers depression are wrong. The study concludes that neither stress nor neurotransmitters in the brain trigger symptoms of depression, and anti-depressants do not treat the real cause of depression.

Barber and others argue that taking anti-depressants over an extended period of time can actually prevent people from dealing with their problems and making needed changes in their lives. He asks two important questions for medical community: Are physicians really practising medicine when they prescribe placebos, something anyone could do; and why shouldn’t shamans then also be licensed to practice medicine?

This research further supports the proposition that you cannot treat the body without treating the mind and visa-versa. And my experience in working with people who are suffering depression (with the exception of serious clinical depression)  is that focusing on behavior changes and mindfulness is more successful than using anti-depressants as a simple quick fix.

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Your emotions may direct your body’s response to stress

Posted February 22nd, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Your emotional response to challenging situations could predict how your body responds to stress, according to research published this month in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

“People who reported high levels of anger and anxiety after performing a laboratory-based stress task showed greater increases in a marker of inflammation, than those who remained relatively calm,” said Dr Judith Carroll, who conducted the study at the University of Pittsburgh. “This could help explain why some people with high levels of stress experience chronic health problems,” she added.

The investigators asked healthy middle-aged individuals to complete a speech in the laboratory in front of video camera and a panel of judges. During the speech, they monitored the physical responses to the task and then afterwards asked them about the emotions that they had experienced.

“Most people show increases in heart rate and blood pressure when they complete a stressful task,” explained Dr Carroll, “but some also show increases in a circulating marker of inflammation known as interleukin-6. Our study shows that the people who have the biggest increases in this marker are the ones who show the greatest emotional responses to the task.”

“Our results raise the possibility that individuals who become angry or anxious when confronting relatively minor challenges in their lives are prone to increases in inflammation,” explained lead author Dr Anna Marsland, an Associate Professor of Psychology and Nursing at the University of Pittsburgh. “Over time, this may render these emotionally-reactive individuals more vulnerable to inflammatory diseases, such as cardiovascular disease,” she said.

The research, funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research, is part of a burgeoning field, known as Psychoneuroimmunology, which investigates the interactions between psychological processes and health. “This paper addresses a key question in psychoneuroimmunology — what explains individual differences in the inflammatory response to stress,” said Dr Margaret Kemeny, a Professor at the University of California, San Francisco. “These findings suggest that the specific nature of the emotional response to the task may be a key predictive factor and set the stage for future work defining these pathways and addressing their clinical implications,” she added.

Journal Reference:

  1. Judith E. Carroll, Carissa A. Low, Aric A. Prather, Sheldon Cohen, Jacqueline M. Fury, Diana C. Ross, Anna L. Marsland. Negative affective responses to a speech task predict changes in interleukin (IL)-6☆Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 2011; 25 (2): 232 DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2010.09.024
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Why women are better at forgiveness than men

Posted February 20th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Do women or men forgive more easily? Is there a difference both in generations as well as sexes? Does circumstances or context make a differences. These questions have been the subject of study and debate for years. Two new studies may shed light on some new perspectives.

A study by the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) has carried out the first Spanish study into the emotional differences between the sexes and generations in terms of forgiveness. According to the study, parents forgive more than children, while women are better at forgiving than men.

“This study has great application for teaching values, because it shows us what reasons people have for forgiving men and women, and the popular conception of forgiveness,” says Maite Garaigordobil, co-author of the study and a senior professor at the Psychology Faculty of the UPV.

This study, which has been published in the Revista Latinoamericana de Psicología, is the first to have been carried out in Spain. It shows that parents find it easier to forgive than their children, and that women are better at forgiving than men.

“A decisive factor in the capacity to forgive is empathy, and women have a greater empathetic capacity than males,” says Carmen Maganto, co-author of the study and a tenured professor at the Psychology Faculty of the UPV.

The results, which were measured using a scale to assess the ability to forgive (CAPER), and a scale of forgiveness and facilitating factors (ESPER), show that there are differences in the reasons that encourage forgiveness according to people’s age and sex.

Children believe that “one forgives with time,” while parents point to reasons such as “remorsefulness and forgiving the other person” and “legal justice.”

The authors of this study say that parents who have forgiven most over the course of their lives have an increased capacity to forgive “in all areas.” Parents and children use similar definitions of forgiveness. Not bearing a grudge, reconciliation and understanding-empathy are the terms most used by both groups to define forgiveness.

However, there are greater differences between men and women. Both see “not bearing a grudge” as the best definition of forgiveness, but men place greater importance on this characteristic.

The study, which was carried out with the collaboration of 140 participants (parents and children aged between 45 and 60, and 17 and 25, respectively), highlights two key conditions for a person to be forgiven. One is for them to “show remorse” and the second is for the person who has been offended “not to bear a grudge.”

The experts say the family environment plays a key role in transmitting ethical values. “This result is especially interesting in situations where families are in crisis and no basic education can be expected of them in terms of values. This education is largely transferred to the school,” the researchers explain.

The research “opens up many new questions” for the two investigators, who believe it is “necessary to study the role that forgiveness plays in psychological treatment, especially among victims of sexual abuse, physical and psychological maltreatment and marital infidelity, as well as other situations.”

The above story is adapted from FECYT – Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology

A second study shows that forgiveness is difficult for both sexes, and while men have more difficulty, if they can increase their capacity for empathy, their ability to forgive increases.

Forgiveness can be a powerful means to healing, but it does not come naturally for both sexes. Men have a harder time forgiving than women do, according to Case Western Reserve University psychologist Julie Juola Exline. But that can change if men develop empathy toward an offender by seeing they may also be capable of similar actions. Then the gender gap closes, and men become less vengeful.

In seven forgiveness-related studies Exline conducted between 1998 through 2005 with more than 1,400 college students, gender differences between men and women consistently emerged. When asked to recall offenses they had committed personally, men became less vengeful toward people who had offended them. Women reflecting on personal offenses, and beginning at a lower baseline for vengeance, exhibited no differences in levels of unforgiving. When women had to recall a similar offense in relation to the other’s offense, women felt guilty and tended to magnify the other’s offense.

“The gender difference is not anything that we predicted. We actually got aggravated, because we kept getting it over and over again in our studies,” said Exline. “We kept trying to explain it away, but it kept repeating in the experiments.”

The John Templeton Foundation-supported studies used hypothetical situations, actual recalled offenses, individual and group situations and surveys to study the ability to forgive.

Exline said prior studies have shown that at baseline (without any interventions), men tend to be more vengeful than women, who have been taught from childhood to put themselves “in the shoes of others” and empathize with them.

In Exline’s study, women who recalled similar offenses of their own did not show much difference in their levels of vengeance, in contrast to men. Women, having been taught from an early age to be more empathetic, lean toward relationship building and do not emphasize the vengeful side of justice to the degree that men do.

The researchers found that people of both genders are more forgiving when they see themselves as capable of committing a similar action to the offender’s; it tends to make the offense seem smaller. Seeing capability also increases empathic understanding of the offense and causes people to feel more similar to the offenders. Each of these factors, in turn, predicts more forgiving attitudes.

“Offenses are easier to forgive to the extent that they seem small and understandable and when we see ourselves as similar or close to the offender,” she said.

Exline found this ability to identify with the offender and forgive also happens in intergroup conflicts in a study that she related to forgiveness of the 9/11 terrorists.

“When people could envision their own government committing acts similar to those of the terrorists, they were less vengeful,” she stressed. “For example, they were less likely to believe that perpetrators should be killed on the spot or given the death penalty, and they were more supportive of negotiations and economic aid.”

Exline is the lead author on the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology’s article, “Not so Innocent: Does Seeing One’s Own Capability for Wrongdoing Predict Forgiveness?” She collaborated with researchers Roy Baumeister and Anne Zell from Florida State University; Amy Kraft from Arizona State; and Charlotte Witvliet from Hope College.

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Can being compassionate reduce your stress?

Posted February 19th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Having compassion for others may actually protect us from stress.

In an article entitled “Is Compassion for Others Stress Buffering? Consequences of Compassion and Social Support for Physiological Reactivity to Stress,” in the  Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 46, Issue 5, September 2010, 816-823, the authors, B.J. Cosley and associates, studied the impact of compassion on stress.

Fifty-nine study participants took an online questionnaire that measured their levels of compassion. Then these people had to complete a series of stressful tasks while someone else evaluated them; that evaluator either offered supportive, positive feedback or didn’t say anything. Participants who showed more compassion on the questionnaire interacted more with the supportive figures than the less compassionate people did, and they reaped the benefits of this support, showing lower blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of cortisol (a hormone released during stress) than their less compassionate counterparts. They also seemed less stressed than the compassionate participants who didn’t receive the supportive feedback.

The authors suggest compassion for others may open us up to receiving social support, which may lead to more resilience to stress.

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Relationships better if sex is delayed

Posted February 16th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

While there are still couples who wait for a deep level of commitment before having sex, today it’s far more common for two people to explore their sexual compatibility before making long-term plans together.

So does either method lead to better marriages?

A new study in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Family Psychology sides with a delayed approach.

The study involves 2,035 married individuals who participated in a popular online marital assessment called “RELATE.” From the assessment’s database, researchers selected a sample designed to match the demographics of the married American population. The extensive questionnaire includes the question “When did you become sexual in this relationship?”

A statistical analysis showed the following benefits enjoyed by couples who waited until marriage compared to those who started having sex in the early part of their relationship:

  • Relationship stability was rated 22 percent higher
  • Relationship satisfaction was rated 20 percent higher
  • Sexual quality of the relationship was rated 15 percent better
  • Communication was rated 12 percent better

For couples in between — those that became sexually involved later in the relationship but prior to marriage — the benefits were about half as strong.

“Most research on the topic is focused on individuals’ experiences and not the timing within a relationship,” said lead study author Dean Busby, a professor in Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life.

“There’s more to a relationship than sex, but we did find that those who waited longer were happier with the sexual aspect of their relationship,” Busby added. “I think it’s because they’ve learned to talk and have the skills to work with issues that come up.”

Sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved with this research, read the study and shared his take on the findings.

“Couples who hit the honeymoon too early — that is, prioritize sex promptly at the outset of a relationship — often find their relationships underdeveloped when it comes to the qualities that make relationships stable and spouses reliable and trustworthy,” said Regnerus, author of Premarital Sex in America, a book forthcoming from Oxford University Press.

Because religious belief often plays a role for couples who choose to wait, Busby and his co-authors controlled for the influence of religious involvement in their analysis.

“Regardless of religiosity, waiting helps the relationship form better communication processes, and these help improve long-term stability and relationship satisfaction,” Busby said.

BYU professors Jason Carroll and Brian Willoughby are co-authors on the study.



Journal Reference:

  1. Dean M. Busby, Jason S. Carroll, Brian J. Willoughby. Compatibility or restraint? The effects of sexual timing on marriage relationships.Journal of Family Psychology, 2010; 24 (6): 766 DOI:10.1037/a0021690
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How visualization can help you achieve anything

Posted February 16th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Visualize yourself doing something successfully. That’s often the advice helping professionals such as coaches, counsellors or psychologists would give, if you’re wanting a successful outcome. You’re often advised to do this visualization in the first person, as though you were actually doing it.  That may be the most effective use of visualization, recent research indicates.

Visualizing yourself doing something in the first person can also be called an “associated state of mind.” However, if you visualize yourself doing something as the third person–an observer–which can be called a “dissociated state of mind,” this will have a more powerful impact, according to L.K. Libby, a professor of psychology at Ohio State University and colleagues, and reported in the journal Psychological Studies.

Libby argues that seeing ourselves perform a task or behavior as a third person “increases the likelihood of engaging in that kind of behavior,” in reality, and therefore success in the desired outcome.

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Can romance last in long-term relationships?

Posted February 14th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Many long-term couples have told me the romance has gone out of their relationship.  Is that a necessary result of two people spending decades, or even a lifetime together?  Not according to a new study.

Romance does not have to fizzle out in long-term relationships and progress into a companionship/friendship-type love, a new study has found. Romantic love can last a lifetime and lead to happier, healthier relationships.

“Many believe that romantic love is the same as passionate love,” said lead researcher Bianca P. Acevedo, PhD, then at Stony Brook University (currently at University of California, Santa Barbara). “It isn’t. Romantic love has the intensity, engagement and sexual chemistry that passionate love has, minus the obsessive component. Passionate or obsessive love includes feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. This kind of love helps drive the shorter relationships but not the longer ones.”

These findings appear in the Review of General Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association.

Acevedo and co-researcher Arthur Aron, PhD, reviewed 25 studies with 6,070 individuals in short- and long-term relationships to find out whether romantic love is associated with more satisfaction. To determine this, they classified the relationships in each of the studies as romantic, passionate (romantic with obsession) or friendship-like love and categorized them as long- or short-term.

The researchers looked at 17 short-term relationship studies, which included 18- to 23-year-old college students who were single, dating or married, with the average relationship lasting less than four years. They also looked at 10 long-term relationship studies comprising middle-aged couples who were typically married 10 years or more. Two of the studies included both long- and short-term relationships in which it was possible to distinguish the two samples.

The review found that those who reported greater romantic love were more satisfied in both the short- and long-term relationships. Companion-like love was only moderately associated with satisfaction in both short- and long-term relationships. And those who reported greater passionate love in their relationships were more satisfied in the short term compared to the long term.

Couples who reported more satisfaction in their relationships also reported being happier and having higher self-esteem.

Feeling that a partner is “there for you” makes for a good relationship, Acevedo said, and facilitates feelings of romantic love. On the other hand, “feelings of insecurity are generally associated with lower satisfaction, and in some cases may spark conflict in the relationship. This can manifest into obsessive love,” she said.

This discovery may change people’s expectations of what they want in long-term relationships. According to the authors, companionship love, which is what many couples see as the natural progression of a successful relationship, may be an unnecessary compromise. “Couples should strive for love with all the trimmings,” Acevedo said. “And couples who’ve been together a long time and wish to get back their romantic edge should know it is an attainable goal that, like most good things in life, requires energy and devotion.”

Bianca P. Acevedo and Arthur Aron. Does a long-term relationship kill romantic love? Review of General Psychology, 2009; 13 (1): 59 DOI: 10.1037/a0014226

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Swimsuit competition for CEOs?

Posted February 12th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

There were no evening gowns, swimsuits, or artistic talents on display, but a corporate beauty contest staged by Duke University researchers nevertheless revealed strong ties between appearance and success in the business world.

By pairing photos of the chief executive officers of large and small companies with photos of non-executives with similar facial features, hairstyles and clothing, finance professors John Graham, Campbell Harvey and Manju Puri of Duke’s Fuqua School of Business found that CEOs are more likely than non-CEOs to be rated as competent looking, but less likely to be classified as likeable.

The trio found that CEOs who appear competent earn more money than less competent-looking CEOs, even though appearance is not associated with measurable differences in company profitability.

“Other researchers have found links between beauty and workers’ pay, and demonstrated that politicians benefit from good looks at election time,” Graham said. “We wanted to see whether appearance also plays a role at the corporate executive level.”

The researchers staged a variety of online experiments to ask nearly 2,000 participants to assess photos of more than 100 CEOs and non-executives.

In one experiment, 765 participants were asked to rank the people in each pair of photos according to their attractiveness, competence, trustworthiness and likeability. The actual CEOs were rated as more competent-looking and more attractive. However, CEOs were more frequently rated as less trustworthy and less likable than the non-CEOs with whom their photos were paired.

Similar results were found when 762 participants were asked to rate CEOs of large firms against CEOs of small firms. Large-firm CEOs were rated as more competent 55 percent of the time, while their small-firm counterparts were judged as looking more trustworthy, likeable and attractive.

For the purposes of the experiments, only photos of white male CEOs were used. “It would be fascinating to study the role appearance may play in the careers of women and minorities,” said Puri. “However, because there are fewer female and minority CEOs, including them in our set of photos would have increased the odds of participants recognizing a CEO, which could have inadvertently influenced their rating of the person’s characteristics.”

The team found that CEOs rated competent just by their appearance tended to have higher income. CEOs who were rated four or above on a five-point scale for competence had an average total compensation 7.5 percent higher than CEOs who scored three out of five on competence.

Despite the relationship between appearance and CEO salary, the researchers found no evidence that a CEO’s appearance is related to company profitability.

“I thought the appearance thing was possible for politicians winning elections — but for CEOs, no way,” said Harvey. “We are told that CEOs are very carefully vetted by boards of directors and professional consultants — as they should be for their multi-million dollar jobs. The fact that our research shows that appearance is unquestionably significant turns my stomach.”

“Given there is no relation between appearance and company performance, I hope our research changes the way we select our corporate leaders: ‘looks’ should not be a factor!”

“A Corporate Beauty Contest,” is National Bureau of Economic Research working paper number 15906, and is available for download at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1571469. The authors received no external funding for this research.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted  from materials provided by Duke University,

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Gen Y addicted to self-esteem boosts?

Posted February 11th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Young people may crave boosts to their self-esteem a little too much, new research suggests.

Researchers found that college students valued boosts to their self-esteem more than any other pleasant activity they were asked about, including sex, favorite foods, drinking alcohol, seeing a best friend or receiving a paycheck.

“It is somewhat surprising how this desire to feel worthy and valuable trumps almost any other pleasant activity you can imagine,” said Brad Bushman, lead author of the research and professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University.

Bushman conducted the research with Scott Moeller of Brookhaven National Laboratory and Jennifer Crocker, professor of psychology at Ohio State. The study appears online in the Journal of Personality and will be published in a future print edition.

In two separate studies, the researchers asked college students how much they wanted and liked various pleasant activities, such as their favorite food or seeing a best friend. They were asked to rate how much they wanted and liked each activity on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (extremely).

One of the items they were asked about was self-esteem building experiences, such as receiving a good grade or receiving a compliment.

“We found that self-esteem trumped all other rewards in the minds of these college students,” Bushman said.

Those students who indicated they highly valued self-esteem also showed it in the laboratory.

In one study, the participants took a test which purportedly measured their intellectual ability. Afterwards, the students were told if they waited another ten minutes, they could have their test re-scored using a new scoring algorithm that usually yields higher test results.

Students who highly valued self-esteem were more likely to stay to get the new scores.

“They were willing to spend their own precious time just to get a small boost in their self-esteem,” Bushman said.

Bushman said there is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of self-esteem. But the results of this study suggest many young people may be a little too focused on pumping up their self-esteem.

Here’s why: for all the pleasant activities examined in this study, participants were asked to rate both how much they liked the activity and how much they wanted it. Both questions were asked because addiction research suggests that addicts tend to report they “want” the object of their addiction (drugs, alcohol, gambling) more than they actually “like” it, Bushman said.

“The liking-wanting distinction has occupied an important place in addiction research for nearly two decades,” Moeller said. “But we believe it has great potential to inform other areas of psychology as well.”

In this study, participants liked all the pleasant activities more than they wanted them, which is healthy, Bushman said. But the difference between liking and wanting was smallest when it came to self-esteem.

“It wouldn’t be correct to say that the study participants were addicted to self-esteem,” Bushman said. “But they were closer to being addicted to self-esteem than they were to being addicted to any other activity we studied.”

Findings showed that people with a strong sense of entitlement were the ones who were most likely to “want” the good things in life — including boosts to their self-esteem — even more than they actually “like” them.

Entitlement was measured as part of a narcissism scale which participants completed. In the scale, participants had to choose which of two statements they most agreed with. For example, people who scored high on entitlement were more likely to agree with “If I ruled the world, it would be a much better place” rather than “The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me.”

“Entitled people want all the good things in life, even if they don’t particularly like them,” Bushman said. “Of course, there’s no problem with enjoying good things, but it is not healthy to want them more than you like them.”

Bushman said he sees danger in this obsession with self-esteem. Research has shown that levels of self-esteem have been increasing, at least among college students in the United States, since the mid-1960s.

“American society seems to believe that self-esteem is the cure all for every social ill, from bad grades to teen pregnancies to violence,” he said. “But there has been no evidence that boosting self-esteem actually helps with these problems. We may be too focused on increasing self-esteem.”

Study co-author Crocker added, “The problem isn’t with having high self-esteem; it’s how much people are driven to boost their self-esteem. When people highly value self-esteem, they may avoid doing things such as acknowledging a wrong they did. Admitting you were wrong may be uncomfortable for self-esteem at the moment, but ultimately it could lead to better learning, relationships, growth, and even future self-esteem.”

The study was partially supported by grants from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Children who push boundaries show leadership qualities

Posted February 9th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Children whose parents use a firm parenting style that still allows them to test the rules and learn from it are more likely to assume leadership roles as adults according to a new study published in a recent edition of The Leadership Quarterly.

Researchers used data from a long-term Minnesota study of twins. They found that children raised with an “authoritative” parenting style – where parents set clear limits and expectations while also being supportive of their children – assumed more leadership roles at work and in their communities later in life. While these children were also less likely to engage in serious rule-breaking, children who did engage in serious rule-breaking were less likely to assume leadership roles.

Good parenting may better prepare children for future leadership roles if the children happen to challenge the boundaries set out by their parents. This gives the children an opportunity to learn why the rules are in place and then learn from their parents how to achieve their goals without breaking the rules.

“Some of these early examples of rule-breaking behaviour, more the modest type, don’t necessarily produce negative outcomes later in life – that was fairly intriguing,” says Maria Rotundo, a professor at the Rotman School of Management. “It doesn’t mean all children of authoritative parents are going to become leaders, but they are more likely to.”

The study adds more weight to the idea that leaders are raised more than they are born. Behavioural genetics has shown that innate factors account for only 30% of who will end up in leadership positions and people’s leadership styles.

Prof. Rotundo co-authored the study with Bruce Avolio of Seattle’s Michael G. Foster School of Business, and Fred Walumbwa from Arizona State University.