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Nov 26

Adult ADHD Brain


By Brian Wu, Ph.D.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common yet complex mental disorder, which can adversely affect a persons work, schooling, or interpersonal relationships. The symptoms of ADHD vary from case to case and are difficult to recognize. Though it is typically diagnosed in childhood, there are many adults with ADHD. While it may have only been diagnosed later in life, most adults with ADHD have shown symptoms since childhood.

There are three types of ADHD: Inattentive, Hyperactive-Impulsive, and Combined. Inattentive ADHD typically means a person is showing enough symptoms of inattention and is easily distracted, but isn’t necessarily hyperactive or impulsive. In contrast to this is the Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD, which occurs when a person has symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness but not inattention. A person with Combined ADHD shows enough symptoms of impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and inattentiveness.

The first, and possibly most noticeable symptom type is inattention. A person can be diagnosed as inattentive if they are easily distracted, forgetful in daily activities, or have trouble organizing. Those who have Inattentive ADHD tend to have trouble focusing on tasks or activities that require long periods of mental focus, such as class work or routine tasks.They tend to make careless mistakes in their work, and become easily sidetracked. Inattentive ADHD patients may ignore speakers, even when being directly spoken to, and may not follow instructions. This inattentiveness manifests itself in different ways for different people.

Though we often think of people with ADHD as having lack of focus, an unexpected sign of ADHD is hyperfocus. People with ADHD may become so enveloped in a task that they neglect the world around them. This can lead to losing track of time and neglecting friendships or relationships.

Someone with ADHD may have trouble with organization, things may seem to be constantly “falling out of place”. They may have trouble keeping track of their tasks or prioritizing their time.

People with Inattentive ADHD tend to have a routine of being forgetful. They may consistently misplace small items or forget important dates. In professional settings or relationships, this can be mistaken for carelessness, and can lead to trouble.

Hyperactivity and Impulsivity
The other symptom types are hyperactivity and impulsivity, which tend to be clumped together. A person may be diagnosed as hyperactive or impulsive if they talk excessively, constantly interrupt others, have trouble engaging in quiet activities, and blurt out answers before the question has been finished. Those with hyperactive or impulsive ADHD also appear to be always on the go, they may squirm in their seats, tap their hands or feet, and be impatient waiting in lines. This restless activity can lead to anxiety, as the mind constantly replays missed opportunities or worrisome events such as incomplete tasks. Impulsivity often rears it’s head in shopping habits. People with adult ADHD may have a tendency to impulse buy items they can’t afford.

Other Factors

Emotional instability tends to be a factor for those for ADHD. It may seem like they are on an emotional roller coaster. They may become easily bored and look to distract and entertain themselves. Small frustrations may be blown out of proportion and lead to anxiety and depression.

Due to many of these polarizing factors, Adults with ADHD are usually hypercritical of themselves. They may view things outside of the realm of their control as “their fault”, taking blame and small failures to heart in the worst way. This can lead to a poor self image, which in turn can cause problems in work or social relationships.

The problems people with ADHD experience in relationships are often due to their symptoms. The undesirable traits of talking over people, inattentiveness, and easily being bored can take their toll on relationships, as a person can come across as insensitive or uncaring.

Other signs typical of adults with ADHD are higher use of alcohol, drugs, and tobacco (trying to calm the nervous symptoms), changing employers often, and repeated negative relationship patterns.

The symptoms of ADHD can range from mild to severe, depending upon environment and physiology. Some people are mildly inattentive with tasks they don’t enjoy, yet excel at those that they do enjoy. Others may have an inability to focus on all tasks, whether they enjoy them or not. This can have a drastically negative impact on them in social situations, at work or in schooling. There is a tendency for symptoms to be more severe in unstructured environments, such as social settings. Symptoms are typically less severe in controlled environments where rewards are given for good behavior, such as in the workplace. Having other conditions, such as depression or a learning disability, may worsen the symptoms of ADHD.

Before you diagnose yourself or others with ADD or ADHD, discuss all symptoms with your doctor. Include length of time with these symptoms as well as severity, and remember that other disabilities may play a role into the behaviors you are noticing. Being well informed is the first step towards treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with Adult ADHD, behavioral therapy may begin to help you with getting organized and completing tasks. Talk to your health care provider and get informed about your next step.

To learn more about health topics that concern the whole family, please visit

Nov 23

Behavioral Treatment for Kids With Anxiety


Jerry Bubrick, PhD
Senior Director, Anxiety & Mood Disorders Center; Director, Intensive Pediatric Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Disorders Program
When a child shows signs of anxiety, we tend to think it will go away—she’s just nervous or shy, and she’ll grow out of it. But when the anxiety becomes so intense that it’s seriously interfering with a child’s life, and the life of her family, it’s important to get help.
Serious untreated anxiety tends to get worse over time, not better, because the child learns that avoidance works in reducing the anxiety, at least in the short run. But as the child—and, indeed, the whole family—work to avoid triggering those fears, they only grow more powerful.
Medication is often prescribed for children with anxiety, as it is for adults. And medication—antidepressants are usually our first choice—often helps reduce anxiety. But what many people don’t know is that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very effective for kids who are anxious. In fact, research over more than 20 years has shown that CBT is the most effective treatment for reducing symptoms of severe anxiety. And unlike taking medication, the therapy gives children the tools to manage the anxiety themselves, now and in the future.
What is cognitive behavioral therapy?
Cognitive behavioral therapy is based on the idea that how we think and act both affect how we feel. By changing thinking that is distorted, and behavior that is dysfunctional, we can change our emotions. With younger children, focusing first on the behavioral part of CBT can be most effective. The goal is, essentially, to unlearn avoidant behavior.
One of the most important techniques in CBT for children with anxiety is called exposure and response prevention. The basic idea is that kids are exposed to the things that trigger their anxiety in structured, incremental steps, and in a safe setting. As they become accustomed to each of the triggers in turn, the anxiety fades, and they are ready to take on increasingly powerful ones.
What to Do (and Not Do) When Children Are Anxious
It’s tempting to protect kids from things that make them anxious, but learning to tolerate anxiety is how we overcome fears.
Exposure therapy is very different from traditional talk therapy, in which the patient and a therapist might explore the roots of the anxiety, in hopes of changing her behavior. In exposure therapy we try to change the behavior to get rid of the fear.
Exposure therapy is effective on many different kinds of anxiety, including separation anxiety, phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and social anxiety.
The Bully in the Brain
For children with anxiety disorders, the process begins by helping them, and their parents, get some distance from the anxiety and start thinking of it as a thing that is separate from who they are. One way I do this is by having them conceptualize it as a “bully in the brain,” and I encourage kids to give the bully a name and talk back to him. Kids I’ve worked with have called him the Witch, Mr. Bossy, Chucky, the Joker, and, in the case of some teenagers, names I cannot repeat here.
We explain that we are going to teach skills to handle the bully, giving children the idea that they can control their anxiety rather than it controlling them.
It’s also important to help kids really understand how their anxiety is affecting their lives. I may actually map out things a child can’t do because of his fears—like sleeping in his own bed, or going to a friend’s house, or sharing meals with his own family—and how that makes him feel. Getting kids to understand how their anxiety works and gaining their trust is important because the next step—facing down their fears—depends on them trusting me.
Adopting Robert Frost’s observation that “the only way around is through,” exposure therapy slowly and systematically helps a child face his fears, so he can learn to tolerate his anxiety until it subsides rather than reacting by seeking reassurance, escaping, avoidance or engaging in ritualistic behaviors such as hand washing.
How does exposure therapy work?
The first step is identifying triggers. We design a “hierarchy of fears”—a series of incremental challenges, each of which is tolerable, and which together build to significant progress. Instead of thinking in black and white terms—I can’t touch a dog or I can’t cross a bridge—kids are asked to consider degrees of difficulty. We might ask a child with contamination fears, for example, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult would it be to touch the door handle with one finger? To touch and open the door?”
For a child with a fear of vomiting, we might ask: “How difficult would it be to write the word vomit?” If that is a 3, saying “I will vomit today” might be a 5. To see a cartoon of someone vomiting might rate a 7. To watch a real video of someone vomiting might be a 9. At the top of the hierarchy would likely be eating something the child thinks will make him vomit. By rating these different fears, kids come to see that some are less extreme, and more manageable, than they had thought.
Next, we expose the child to the trigger in its mildest possible form, and support him until the anxiety subsides. Fear, like any sensation, diminishes over time, and children gain a sense of mastery as they feel the anxiety wane.
Best Medications for Kids With Anxiety
For treating anxiety, antidepressants are the evidence-based choice. READ MORE
Intensive treatment
With a child who is severely anxious—who can, for instance, barely leave his room for fear that his parents will die, or must wash his hands dozens of times a day to avoid contamination—I may work with him several times a week, for several hours at a time. We do exposures in the office and then, when a child is comfortable enough, do them outside.
For someone with social anxiety, for instance, we might go out wearing silly hats, or walk a banana on a leash. For someone afraid of contamination, we might ride the bus together, or shake hands with strangers, then eat chips without washing.
Once we have worked through some exposures and he is feeling more confident, I assign homework to practice what we did in the sessions. We want kids to really master their exposures before moving up the ladder. And parents are taught to help kids progress by encouraging them to tolerate anxious feelings, rather than jumping in to protect them from their anxiety.
Treatment for mild to moderate levels of severity usually takes eight to 12 sessions, and some kids make more progress if they are also taking medication to reduce their anxiety, which can make them more able to engage in therapy.
It’s important to understand that exposure therapy is hard work, both for kids and their parents. But as fear diminishes, kids get back to doing things they like to do, and the family gets back a child they feared they had lost—and that’s a great reward.

Nov 20

5 Hidden Relationship Killers


By Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.
We all know about the obvious things that cause relationships to go downhill, such as cheating, lying or domestic violence. However, often these are only the surface things and are easily seen. Below the surface are the problems less visible but at the same time much more crucial to bad relationships. These are the things that later erupt in cheating or other more prominent problems. Here are a few of them.

1 – Disrespect. Disrespect stays beneath the surface because sometimes it is so subtle that the person who is doing the disrespecting and the person disrespected are both unaware of it. One way of doing this is for one member of the couple to harp on the other’s faults in the guise of trying to help the other improve. The Disrespectful member may have grown up in a family that reinforced his or her criticizing nature and made them believe justified in doing so. The criticized member may have grown up in a family that was also critical, so that this member was reinforced to accept criticism as deserved.

People who are being disrespectful are seldom aware of it, and if they are asked if they respect their partner they quickly reply, “Of course I respect you.” However, even though these roles seem natural, unconscious guilt by one and resentment by the other will build up and may lead to acting out such as cheating, lying or other abusive behavior.

2 – Lack of Empathy. In order for a relationship to truly work, both partners must have empathy for each other. Both must be able to put themselves in the other’s shoes, even in the bleakest of circumstances. Oftentimes couples mistake pity for empathy. They feel sorry that their other half has problems, but they secretly feel that are above such problems. Hence their pity is linked with condescension.

Mother Teresa in India, who spent her life ministering to the needs of all who came to her–banker, beggar or thief—exuded empathy. Most of us can only empathize to a degree. If, for example, one partner doesn’t want to have sex, the other partner can either be mad or be empathic. Empathic understanding about why the partner refuses sex, what they are feeling, and what you may have contributed to the situation will go a long way.

3 – Disinterest. Sometimes couples can gradually become disinterested in each other. This may be due to various things. For instance, their values may be different. One may value money and status, while the other may be passionate about literature and the arts. Or one person might be obsessed with what he or she is doing and be completely disinterested in what the other is up to, leaving the other to roil in hidden or not so hidden resentment. In such cases they will become an alienated couple that may then go into an appeasing mode.

There is nothing that can kill a relationship faster than disinterest. The resentful party may complain, “You’re only interested in yourself,” and the other partner will deny it, saying, “That’s not true, I’m very interested. How can you say that?” This only compounds the difficulty.

4 – Joking. Joking can sometimes be a positive thing that creates closeness, as when couples enjoy the same kinds of humor. However sometimes one or the other uses joking as a way to deflect or disguise a negative attitude toward the other person. For example, one person might say, “Maybe you need to get a life!” and then add, “I’m just joking.” This is not taken by the other as a joke; such relationships where one is jokingly picking on the other can go on for years.

I’ve had people in group therapy who always have a smile on their faces, even when they are expressing anger, as if to say, “I’m angry but don’t take it seriously.” They are afraid to be honest about expressing their anger, so they are in fact being dishonest about it to themselves and the other. When jokes hide unconscious anger, they can become toxic to a relationship.

5 – Pretending. Sometimes couples have gradually stopped loving one another, and when they do it is almost a natural reflex to pretend that love is still there. This often happens to married couples after some years. They still say they love each other and perform acts designed to show their love, such as giving gifts or cooking special meals. They also convince themselves that they still love each other.

The unconscious nature of this shift from true love to pretended love is gradual and subtle, so sometimes it never gets talked about. Instead the pretense continues and the partners may become bored with one another and seek other interests or pastimes to gratify their needs for love. Hence pretending can lay the foundation for later cheating. The cheating or some other outbreak will abruptly make the couple aware that there is a problem in the relationship that prevents them from loving.

Nov 18

By Rick Nauert PhD

An interdisciplinary team has developed a computer algorithm that can predict, with high levels of accuracy, if your relationship with your spouse will improve or deteriorate.

University of Southern California researchers say the software is 79 percent accurate. In fact, the algorithm did a better job of predicting marital success of couples with serious marital issues than descriptions of the therapy sessions provided by relationship experts.

Study results are reported in the journal Proceedings of Interspeech.

Researchers recorded hundreds of conversations from more than 100 couples taken during marriage therapy sessions over two years, and then tracked their marital status for five years. Drs. Shrikanth Narayanan and Panayiotis Georgiou of the University of Southern California Viterbi School of Engineering with doctoral student M.D. Nasir and collaborator Dr. Brian Baucom of University of Utah lead the research effort.

From the data gathered, investigators then developed an algorithm that broke the recordings into acoustic features using speech-processing techniques. These included pitch, intensity, “jitter” and “shimmer” among many; things like tracking warbles in the voice that can indicate moments of high emotion.

“What you say is not the only thing that matters, it’s very important how you say it. Our study confirms that it holds for a couple’s relationship as well,” Nasir said.

Taken together, the vocal acoustic features offered the team’s program a proxy for the subject’s communicative state, and the changes to that state over the course of a single therapy and across therapy sessions.

The innovative research looked at vocal patterns and inflections over time.

That is, the vocal signatures were not analyzed in isolation; rather, the impact of one partner upon the other and the vocal tone was studied over multiple therapy sessions.

“It’s not just about studying your emotions,” Narayanan said. “It’s about studying the impact of what your partner says on your emotions.”

“Looking at one instance of a couple’s behavior limits our observational power,” Georgiou said.

“However, looking at multiple points in time and looking at both the individuals and the dynamics of the dyad can help identify trajectories of the their relationship. Sometimes those are for the best or sometimes they are towards relationship deterioration.”

The power of such methods is to help identify how domain experts can better advise couples towards improved relationships, Georgiou said.

“Psychological practitioners and researchers have long known that the way that partners talk about and discuss problems has important implications for the health of their relationships. However, the lack of efficient and reliable tools for measuring the important elements in those conversations has been a major impediment in their widespread clinical use.

“These findings represent a major step forward in making objective measurement of behavior practical and feasible for couple therapists,” Baucom said.

Once it was fine-tuned, the program was then tested against behavioral analyses made by human experts who studied the couples. Those behavioral codes (positive qualities like “acceptance” or negative qualities like “blame”).

The team found that studying voice directly — rather than the expert-created behavioral codes — offered a more accurate glimpse at a couple’s future.

Researchers now plan to use behavioral signal processing — a framework for computationally understanding human behavior — to improve the prediction of how effective treatments will be.

This will entail the analysis of how language (e.g., spoken words) and nonverbal information (e.g., body language) influence the effectiveness of therapy.

Source: University of Southern California/EurekAlert

Nov 15

Computer Game Can Aid Memory in Older Adults


By Janice Wood

A new study has shown that just one month of training on a new computer game can help older adults strengthen prospective memory, the type of memory necessary for planning, everyday functioning, and independent living.

Older adults who played the cognitive-training game, called Virtual Week, “more than doubled” the number of prospective memory tasks performed correctly compared to seniors who performed other activities, such as taking music classes, according to researchers at the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto, Canada.

Prospective memory, which refers to the ability to remember and successfully carry out intentions and planned activities during the day, tends to weaken with age, the researchers noted. It accounts for between 50 percent to 80 percent of reported everyday memory problems, they added.

The study incorporated a “train for transfer” approach, utilizing a training intervention to have participants practice performing real-world prospective memory tasks in simulated every day settings and then assessing whether the cognitive gains transfer to successful performance at home, the researchers explained.

“As the world’s population ages, it is becoming increasingly important to develop ways to support successful prospective memory functioning so that older adults can continue to live independently at home without the need for assisted care,” said Dr. Nathan Rose, lead investigator of the study and now a research fellow in the School of Psychology at the Australian Catholic University in Melbourne.

“While these results are encouraging, they represent a first step in exploring the efficacy of prospective memory training with the Virtual Week training program,” added Dr. Fergus Craik, a memory researcher based at Baycrest and senior author on the paper, which was published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

“Perhaps the most exciting aspect is that training in the lab resulted in improvements in real-life memory tasks. This lab-to-life transfer has been difficult to achieve in previous studies.”

For the study, researchers developed a version of a computerized board game called Virtual Week in which players simulate going through the course of a day on a circuit that resembles a Monopoly board.

Players move their tokens through a virtual day. Along the way, they have to remember to perform several tasks, such as taking medication or taking their dinner out of the oven at appropriate times.

Researchers recruited 59 healthy adults between the ages of 60 and 79, who played 24 levels of the game over a one-month period.

The difficulty of the game increased over the course of training in terms of the number of tasks to be completed each day, the complexity of tasks, and interference with prior tasks. The difficulty was adjusted to each individual’s level of performance on the previous day.

Prospective memory performance measures were taken before the training began and after, then compared to two control groups; one of which received a music-based cognitive training program and the other which received no intervention. The researchers also developed a “call-back” task in which participants had to remember to phone the lab from home during their every day activities.

The researchers found large training gains in prospective memory performance in the group that played the Virtual Week game. Moreover, these gains transferred to significant improvements in real-world prospective memory, including on tasks such as counting change and following medication instructions, according to the researchers.

Brain imaging (EEG) on a subset of the groups showed some evidence of neuroplasticity — brain changes — that correlated to correct prospective memory performance, the researchers report. These brain changes were particularly associated with the ability to stop oneself from carrying on with ongoing activities and switch to performing an intended action at the appropriate time.

The early findings are so promising that the researchers have been awarded a grant from the Australian Research Council, in partnership with Villa Maria Catholic Homes, to follow up on the study with a large randomized control trial.

The research team was also awarded a grant with colleagues in the Centre for Heart and Mind at the Australian Catholic University’s Mary MacKillop Institute for Health Research to implement the game-based cognitive training program in patients with chronic heart failure, a group that demonstrates severe prospective memory problems associated with self-care.

Source: Baycrest Health Sciences

Nov 13

CBT Can Ease Insomnia for Those with Chronic Pain


By Janice Wood

A new study indicates that chronic pain sufferers could benefit from therapy to help them sleep better.

Researchers at the University of Warwick in the U.K. found that cognitive behavioral therapies (CBT) were either moderately or strongly effective in tackling insomnia in patients with long-term pain.

They also discovered that chronic pain sufferers didn’t just benefit from improved sleep, but also experienced a wider positive impact on pain, fatigue, and depression. However, the study also concluded that CBT only worked when delivered in person.

“Poor sleep is a potential cause of ill health and previous studies suggest it can lead to obesity, diabetes, stroke, coronary heart disease — even death,” said Dr. Nicole Tang, from the university’s Department of Psychology, who led the research.

“Insomnia can also increase the risk of depression, anxiety, and substance misuse. It is also a major problem for those suffering pain that lasts longer than three to six months and that is why we looked at this group.”

She noted the study is “particularly important because the use of drugs to treat insomnia is not recommended over a long period of time,” which means the “condition needs to be addressed using a non-pharmacological treatment.”

Researchers from the university’s Department of Psychology and Warwick Medical School ran a meta-analysis of the effects of non-drug treatments for sleeplessness, examining 72 studies that included 1,066 patients between the ages 45 and 61 who suffered from insomnia and experienced pain caused by a variety of ailments, such as cancer, headaches, and arthritis.

Treatments covered a variety of approaches, including education about sleep hygiene (good sleeping habits, such as a regular sleeping pattern), stimulus control, sleep restriction and cognitive therapy.

In addition to highlighting the positive effect of CBT on insomnia, the researchers identified a mild to moderate decrease in pain immediately after therapy.

The researchers also noted that improved sleep resulted in a decrease in depression following treatment and at follow-ups up to 12 months. The researchers said this highlights the value of treating insomnia that exists with chronic pain as early as possible.

The therapies were found to be less effective when delivered over the phone or Internet, Tang reported.

“We found little evidence that using therapies delivered either by phone or computer benefited insomniacs,” she said. “The jury is still out on the effectiveness of using automated sleep treatments. We found that, at the moment at least, delivering therapies personally had the most positive effect on sleeplessness.”

The scientists concluded that more research is required to establish if it is feasible and cost-effective over the long-term to treat patients using CBT.

The study was published in the journal Sleep.

Source: University of Warwick

Nov 11

By Rick Nauert PhD

New research finds that romantic attraction may change as a relationship shifts from long distance to up close and personal.

“We found that men preferred women who are smarter than them in psychologically distant situations. Men rely on their ideal preferences when a woman is hypothetical or imagined,” said Lora Park, Ph.D., the study’s principal investigator and associate professor of psychology at the University of Buffalo.

“But in live interaction, men distanced themselves and were less attracted to a woman who outperformed them in intelligence.”

In the study, researchers found the difference between genuine affinity and apparent desirability becomes clearer as the distance between two people gets smaller.

Their findings are published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Previous research has shown that similarities between individuals can affect attraction. This new set of studies suggests that psychological distance — whether someone is construed as being near or far in relation to the self — plays a key role in determining attraction.

“It’s the distinction between the abstract and the immediate,” says Park. “There is a disconnect between what people appear to like in the abstract when someone is unknown and when that same person is with them in some immediate social context.”

Even though the research focus of the current study was on romantic attraction and, specifically, men’s interest in women, Park says the result might potentially be a broader phenomenon, extending to other interpersonal situations.

“That’s a question for future research,” she said. “But presumably, anyone who is outperformed by someone close to them might feel threatened themselves. We just happened to look at men in a romantic dating context.”

Park’s team conducted six separate studies involving 650 young adult subjects. The studies ranged from presenting subjects with hypothetical women, to women they expected to meet, to actually engaging in an interpersonal interaction.

“In each case, how much you like someone or how much you are attracted to them is affected by how intelligent that person is relative to you and how close that person is relative to you,” said Park.

But the area of performance has to be something important to the individual.

“The domain matters,” says Park. “If you don’t care about the domain, you might not be threatened. Yet, if you care a lot about the domain, then you might prefer that quality in somebody who is distant, then feel threatened when that person gets close to you.”

Source: University of Buffalo

Nov 9

Self-Esteem May Be Set By Age 5


By Rick Nauert PhD

A new study suggests that by age five, children have a sense of self-esteem comparable in strength to that of adults.

University of Washington researchers believe self-esteem tends to remain relatively stable across one’s lifespan. Therefore, the study suggests that this important personality trait is already in place before children begin kindergarten.

“Our work provides the earliest glimpse to date of how preschoolers sense their selves,” said lead author Dr. Dario Cvencek.

“We found that as young as five years of age self-esteem is established strongly enough to be measured,” said Cvencek, “and we can measure it using sensitive techniques.”

The new findings will be published in a forthcoming issue of coming issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

For the research, investigators used a newly developed test to assess implicit self-esteem in more than 200 five year-old children, the youngest age yet to be measured.

“Some scientists consider preschoolers too young to have developed a positive or negative sense about themselves. Our findings suggest that self-esteem, feeling good or bad about yourself, is fundamental,” said co-author Dr. Andrew Meltzoff. “It is a social mindset children bring to school with them, not something they develop in school.”

Meltzoff continued, “What aspects of parent-child interaction promote and nurture preschool self-esteem? That’s the essential question. We hope we can find out by studying even younger children.”

Until now no measurement tool has been able to detect self-esteem in preschool-aged children. This is because existing self-esteem tests require the cognitive or verbal sophistication to talk about a concept like “self” when asked probing questions by adult experimenters.

“Preschoolers can give verbal reports of what they’re good at as long as it is about a narrow, concrete skill, such as ‘I’m good at running’ or ‘I’m good with letters,’ but they have difficulties providing reliable verbal answers to questions about whether they are a good or bad person,” Cvencek said.

To try a different approach, Cvencek, Meltzoff and co-author Dr. Anthony Greenwald created a self-esteem task for preschoolers. Called the Preschool Implicit Association Test (PSIAT), it measures how strongly children feel positively about themselves.

Adult versions of the IAT, which was first developed by Greenwald, can reveal attitudes and beliefs that people don’t know they have, such as biases related to race, gender, age, and other topics.

“Previously we understood that preschoolers knew about some of their specific good features. We now understand that, in addition, they have a global, overall knowledge of their goodness as a person,” said Greenwald.

The task for adults works by measuring how quickly people respond to words in different categories. For instance, the adult implicit self-esteem task measures associations between words like “self” and “pleasant” or “other” and “unpleasant.”

To make the task appropriate for preschoolers who can’t read, the researchers replaced words related to the self (“me,” “not me”) with objects. They used small unfamiliar flags, and the children were told which of the flags were “yours” and “not yours.”

The five year-olds in the experiment, which included an even mix of 234 boys and girls from the Seattle area, first learned to distinguish their set of flags (“me”) from another set of flags (“not me”). Using buttons on a computer, they responded to a series of “me” and “not me” flags and to a series of “good” words from a loudspeaker (fun, happy, good, nice) and “bad” words (bad, mad, mean, yucky).

Then, to measure self-esteem, the children had to combine the words and press the buttons to indicate whether the “good” words were associated more with the “me” flags or not.

Investigators found that the five year-olds associated themselves more with “good” than with “bad,” and this was equally pronounced in both girls and boys.

The researchers also did two more implicit tests to probe different aspects of the self. A gender identity task assessed the children’s sense of whether they are a boy or a girl, and a gender attitude task measured the children’s preference for other children of their own gender, called a “gender in-group preference.”

Interestingly, children who had high self-esteem and strong own-gender identity also showed stronger preferences for members of their own gender.

Taken together, the findings showed that self-esteem is not only unexpectedly strong in children this young, but is also systematically related to other fundamental parts of children’s personality, such as in-group preferences and gender identity.

“Self-esteem appears to play a critical role in how children form various social identities. Our findings underscore the importance of the first five years as a foundation for life,” Cvencek said.

New research is planned to examine whether self-esteem measured in preschool can predict outcomes later in childhood such as health and success in school. Investigators are also interested in the malleability of children’s self-esteem and how it changes with experience.

Source: University of Washington/EurekAlert

Nov 8

Happiness on the Decline for Adults


By Janice Wood

A new study has found that adults over the age of 30 are not as happy as they used to be, but teens and young adults are happier than ever.

For the study, a research team led by San Diego State University professor Jean M. Twenge analyzed data from four nationally representative samples of 1.3 million Americans between the ages of 13 and 96 taken from 1972 to 2014.

What they discovered is that after 2010, the age advantage for happiness found in prior research vanished. There is no longer a positive correlation between age and happiness among adults, and adults older than 30 are no longer significantly happier than those ages 18 to 29.

“Our current culture of pervasive technology, attention-seeking, and fleeting relationships is exciting and stimulating for teens and young adults, but may not provide the stability and sense of community that mature adults require,” said Twenge, who is also the author of “Generation Me.”

Data showed that 38 percent of adults older than 30 said they were “very happy” in the early 1970s. That shrunk to 32 percent in the 2010s. In the early 1970s, 28 percent of adults ages 18 to 29 said they were “very happy,” versus 30 percent in the 2010s.

Over the same time, teens’ happiness increased, according to the researchers — 19 percent of 12th graders said they were “very happy” in the late 1970s, versus 23 percent in the 2010s.

“American culture has increasingly emphasized high expectations and following your dreams — things that feel good when you’re young,” Twenge said. “However, the average mature adult has realized that their dreams might not be fulfilled, and less happiness is the inevitable result. Mature adults in previous eras might not have expected so much, but expectations are now so high they can’t be met.”

That drop in happiness occurred for both men and women, Twenge noted.

“A previous study in 2008 got quite a bit of attention when it found that women’s happiness had declined relative to men’s,” she said. “We now find declines in both men’s and women’s happiness, especially after 2010.”

The study was published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

Source: San Diego State University

Nov 6

Study Finds Religious Kids Are More Selfish


By Rick Nauert PhD

A new study finds that children of religious parents may be less empathetic and sensitive than other kids.

The finding is contrary to conventional family ideals that believe religion plays an essential role in childhood moral development.

As published in the journal Current Biology, University of Chicago researchers found children of religious parents may not be as altruistic as the parents might think.

In the study, a team of developmental psychologists led by Dr. Jean Decety examined the perceptions and behavior of children in six countries. The study assessed the children’s tendency to share — a measure of their altruism — and their inclination to judge and punish others for bad behavior.

Investigators discovered children from religious families were less likely to share with others than were children from non-religious families. A religious upbringing also was associated with more retaliatory tendencies in response to antisocial behavior.

The results were at odds with the perceptions of religious parents, who were more likely than non-religious parents to report that their children had a high degree of empathy and sensitivity to the plight of others.

“Our findings contradict the common-sense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind toward others. In our study, kids from atheist and non-religious families were, in fact, more generous,” said Decety.

The study included 1,170 children between ages five and 12, from six countries: Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa, Turkey, and the United States.

For the altruism task, children participated in a version of the “Dictator Game,” in which they were given 10 stickers and provided an opportunity to share them with another unseen child. Altruism was measured by the average number of stickers shared.

For the moral sensitivity task, children watched short animations in which one character pushes or bumps another, either accidentally or purposefully. After seeing each situation, children were asked about how mean the behavior was and the amount of punishment the character deserved.

Parents completed questionnaires about their religious beliefs and practices and perceptions of their children’s empathy and sensitivity to justice. From the questionnaires, three large groupings were established: Christian, Muslim, and not religious. (Children from other religious households did not reach a large enough sample size to be included in additional analyses.)

Consistent with previous studies, in general the children were more likely to share as they got older. But children from households identifying as Christian and Muslim were significantly less likely than children from non-religious households to share their stickers.

The negative relation between religiosity and altruism grew stronger with age; children with a longer experience of religion in the household were the least likely to share.

Children from religious households favored stronger punishments for anti-social behavior and judged such behavior more harshly than non-religious children. These results support previous studies of adults, which have found religiousness is linked with punitive attitudes toward interpersonal offenses.

“Together, these results reveal the similarity across countries in how religion negatively influences children’s altruism. They challenge the view that religiosity facilitates prosocial behavior, and call into question whether religion is vital for moral development — suggesting the secularization of moral discourse does not reduce human kindness. In fact, it does just the opposite,” Decety said.

Source: University of Chicago/EurekAlert

Nov 2

Editor’s Note: Andrea Brandt, PhD, MFT is a psychotherapist and speaker and the author of Mindful Anger: A Pathway to Emotional Freedom. Her continuing education presentation for, titled “8 Keys to Eliminating Passive-Aggressiveness” is scheduled for 9 a.m. PDT on May 1, 2015. This event is available at no additional cost to members and is good for two CE credits. For details, or to register, please click here.

Every emotion you feel is a message. Emotions tell you how your environment is affecting you, when your boundaries have been violated, and when your needs aren’t being met.

Since anger is unarguably the most shunned emotion in our culture, you may feel an overwhelming urge to suppress it when you feel it stirring inside you. Stuffing your anger would work if your psyche were like a tunnel and feelings could slip harmlessly out the other end. Instead, your psyche is more like an expanding bag, growing bigger and heavier the more you let your emotions go unheard. When you ignore your anger, it can come out in the form of passive-aggressive behavior. The key to combating passive-aggressiveness is mindfulness. Mindfulness will help you embrace the truth of your experiences—including anger.

The first step to managing your anger is to sit with it long enough to hear what it wants to tell you. To do this, you must turn to your body. Your body contains an abundance of information, and it never lies. By listening carefully to your body, you can build new habits for approaching your feelings. A new response strategy will replace the passive-aggressive pattern that may have dominated your life. And mindfulness is the key.

The goal is to learn how to connect your physical sensations with your feelings so that you may listen to your body.

Mindfulness is a practice in which you intentionally focus on the present: what you see, hear, think, and feel in each moment. By using mindfulness, you can explore your internal self in order to change the passive-aggressive loop that characterizes your life. Because sensations can help put you in touch with your emotions, mindfulness exercises let you experience and address the emotions you feel in your body as they are happening. The goal is to learn how to connect your physical sensations with your feelings so that you may listen to your body.

Listening to your body can help you:

Understand when your boundaries are being crossed so that you can take appropriate action.
Become more conscious of your needs. Once you know what you want, you can ask for it.
Identify painful emotions—understanding them will lighten that bag of suppressed emotion that has been sapping your energy.
Reveal your thoughts and beliefs—recognizing what they are will help you let go of those that aren’t contributing to your well-being.
With time and with mindfulness practice, you’ll get more and more in touch with the internal information that is available to you, including:

Mindfulness exercises—like observing your body sensations and naming your feelings—will allow you to unlock a rich inner life of impulses, feelings, sensations, thoughts, and beliefs. If you’re caught up in passive-aggression, you may feel a strong urge to retreat when you are afraid or upset and the world around you seems unsafe. But even if a situation feels uncomfortable or threatening, the only way to be true to yourself and to inhabit your life is to be fully in the present moment.

There are consequences to suppressing your anger and failing to listen to its message. When you can’t manage your anger, you lose your voice—and with it your self-esteem and self-respect. When you use passive-aggression, you’re not being honest and without honesty, intimacy can’t be achieved. Mindfulness is the road to a more honest and satisfying life; it is the key that can open the jail of passive-aggressiveness.

By Janice Wood
New research supports the old adage “you are what you eat.”

In a new study, researchers from the University of Granada in Spain report that nutrition before birth and in early life “programs” children for long-term health, well-being, brain development and mental performance.

As part of the five-year NUTRIMENTHE project, researchers followed more than 17,000 mothers and 18,000 children across Europe.

They looked at the effect of B vitamins, folic acid, breast milk versus formula, iron, iodine and omega-3 fatty acids on the cognitive, emotional and behavioral development of children from before birth to age 9.

The researchers found that folic acid can reduce the likelihood of behavioral problems during early childhood.

Eating oily fish is also very beneficial, not only for the omega-3 fatty acids (which are building blocks for brain cells), but also for the iodine content. Iodine content is important because it has a positive effect on reading ability in children.

Many other factors can affect mental performance in children, including the parents’ educational level, socioeconomic status and age, as well as the genetic background of the mother and child.

This can influence how certain nutrients are processed and transferred during pregnancy and breastfeeding and, in turn, affect mental performance, according to Cristina Campoy, M.D., Ph.D., who led the project.

“It is important to try to have good nutrition during pregnancy and in the early life of the child and to include breastfeeding, if possible, as such good nutrition can have a positive effect on mental performance later in childhood,” Campoy said.

She noted that future studies should include research on genetic variation in mothers and children “so that the optimum advice can be given. This area is relatively new and will be challenging.”

Source: University of Granada, Spain

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