TAG: "Psychology"

New direction suggested for treating mental health disorders


Experts urge new discipline combining benefits of neuroscience, psychology treatments.

Michelle Craske, UCLA

When a patient talks with a psychological therapist, what changes occur in the patient’s brain that relieve mental disorders? UCLA psychology professor Michelle Craske says the honest answer is that we don’t know. But, according to Craske and two colleagues, we need to find out.

Mental health disorders — such as depression, schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder and eating disorders — affect 1 in 4 people worldwide. Psychological treatments “hold the strongest evidence base for addressing many such conditions,” but they need improvement, according to a study by Craske, Cambridge University professor Emily Holmes and MIT professor Ann Graybiel.

Their article was published online July 16 in the journal Nature.

For some conditions, such as bipolar disorder, psychological treatments are not effective or are in their infancy, the life scientists report, and a “culture gap” between neuroscientists and clinical scientists has hindered the progress of mental health treatments. The authors call on scientists from both disciplines to work together to advance the understanding and treatment of psychological disorders.

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Being called ‘fat’ makes young girls more likely to become obese


Trying to be thin is like trying to be tall, say UCLA psychologists.

A. Janet Tomiyama, UCLA

Girls who are told by a parent, sibling, friend, classmate or teacher that they are too fat at age 10 are more likely to be obese at age 19, a new study by UCLA psychologists shows.

The study looked at 1,213 African-American girls and 1,166 white girls living in Northern California, Cincinnati and Washington, D.C., 58 percent of whom had been told they were too fat at age 10. All the girls had their height and weight measured at the beginning of the study and again after nine years.

Overall, the girls labeled fat were 1.66 times more likely than the other girls to be obese at 19, the researchers found. They also found that as the number of people who told a girl she was fat increased, so did the likelihood that she would be obese nine years later. The findings appear in the June 2014 print issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics and are published online April 28.

“Simply being labeled as too fat has a measurable effect almost a decade later. We nearly fell off our chairs when we discovered this,” said A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and the study’s senior author. “Even after we statistically removed the effects of their actual weight, their income, their race and when they reached puberty, the effect remained.

“That means it’s not just that heavier girls are called too fat and are still heavy years later; being labeled as too fat is creating an additional likelihood of being obese.”

Co-author Jeffrey Hunger, a graduate student at UC Santa Barbara, said that simply being called fat may lead to behaviors that later result in obesity.

“Being labeled as too fat may lead people to worry about personally experiencing the stigma and discrimination faced by overweight individuals, and recent research suggests that experiencing or anticipating weight stigma increases stress and can lead to overeating,” he said.

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Does a junk food diet make you lazy?


UCLA psychology study offers answer.

Aaron Blaisdell, UCLA

A new UCLA psychology study provides evidence that being overweight makes people tired and sedentary — not the other way around.

Life scientists led by UCLA’s Aaron Blaisdell placed 32 female rats on one of two diets for six months. The first, a standard rat’s diet, consisted of relatively unprocessed foods like ground corn and fish meal. The ingredients in the second were highly processed, of lower quality and included substantially more sugar — a proxy for a junk food diet.

After just three months, the researchers observed a significant difference in the amount of weight the rats had gained, with the 16 on the junk food diet having become noticeably fatter.

“One diet led to obesity, the other didn’t,” said Blaisdell, a professor of psychology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and a member of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute.

The experiments the researchers performed, Blaisdell said, also suggest that fatigue may result from a junk food diet.

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Brain-training research benefits batters


Study with UC Riverside baseball players significantly improves vision, reduces strikeouts.

Four words no baseball player wants to hear: Strike three. You’re out.

The UC Riverside’s baseball team heard those words less frequently in the 2013 season after participating in novel brain-training research that significantly improved the vision of individual players and may have added up to four or five games to the win column.

The results of that study appear in a paper, “Improved vision and on-field performance in baseball through perceptual learning,” published in today’s (Feb. 17) issue of the peer-reviewed Current Biology.

Most studies of visual abilities focus on mechanisms that might be used to improve sight, such as exercising the ocular muscles. Improvements in vision resulting from those experiments typically do not transfer to real-world tasks, however.

A team of UCR psychologists — professors Aaron Seitz and Daniel Ozer and recent Ph.D. graduate Jenni Deveau —  combined multiple perceptual-learning approaches to determine if improvements gained from an integrated, perceptual learning-based training program would transfer to real-world tasks.

They did.

Before the start of the 2013 NCAA Division 1 baseball season the UCR researchers assigned 19 baseball players to complete 30 25-minute sessions of a vision-training video game Seitz developed. Another 18 team members received no training. Players who participated in the training saw a 31 percent improvement in visual acuity — some gaining as much as two lines on the Snellen eye chart — and greater sensitivity to contrasts in light.

“The vision tests demonstrate that training-based benefits transfer outside the context of the computerized training program to standard eye charts,” Seitz said. “Players reported seeing the ball better, greater peripheral vision and an ability to distinguish lower-contrast objects.”

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Is stress contagious?


Study shows babies can catch it from their mothers.

Sara Waters, UC San Francisco

Babies not only pick up on their mother’s stress, but they also show corresponding physiological changes, according to a UC San Francisco-led study.

“Our research shows that infants ‘catch’ and embody the physiological residue of their mothers’ stressful experiences,” says lead researcher Sara Waters, Ph.D., a postdoctoral scholar in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.

The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“For many years now, social scientists have been interested in how emotions are transmitted from one person to another,” said senior author Wendy Berry Mendes, Ph.D., the Sarlo/Ekman Associate Professor of Emotion at UCSF.

Indeed, research in the social sciences has shown that emotions can be “contagious” and that there is emotional synchrony between romantic partners. The researchers wanted to extend this research by looking at emotional synchrony in the context of another close relationship: of mother and child.

“Our earliest lessons about how to manage stress and strong negative emotions in our day-to-day lives occur in the parent-child relationship,” said Waters.

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When a doctor’s visit is a guilt trip


UC San Diego study examines patient reactions to physician-inspired guilt and shame.

Christine Harris, UC San Diego

Christine Harris, UC San Diego

Have you ever left a doctor’s office feeling ashamed or guilty? Chances are one in two that you answered “yes,” according to research from UC San Diego. And what happened next? Perhaps you were motivated to make changes in an unhealthy behavior. Or, did you just lie to that doctor on subsequent visits? Avoid him or her? Maybe even terminate treatment entirely?

Shame and guilt as a direct result of interacting with a doctor are quite common, says Christine Harris, professor of psychology in the UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences, as are both positive and negative reactions. But surprisingly little research has been done on the subject. Now, in a pair of new studies, Harris and colleagues examine the consequences of these physician-inspired feelings. They also explore why some patients react to the shame- or guilt-provoking experience in a way that promotes health while others turn to lying or avoidance.

Gaining insight into patient reactions is important, the co-authors write, because “more than one third of all deaths in the United States are still essentially preventable and largely due to unhealthy patient behavior.”

Published in the journal of Basic and Applied Social Psychology, the current paper follows up on Harris’ 2009 work showing that more than 50 percent of respondents had experienced shame based on something a physician said. The earlier work also documented the diversity of reactions.

In the current paper, Harris and her co-authors – recent UC San Diego psychology Ph.D. graduate Ryan Darby and current doctoral student Nicole Henniger – ran two related studies: One surveyed and analyzed the responses of 491 UC San Diego undergraduates about shame when interacting with a doctor. The second looked at both guilt and shame and included 417 participants from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds, aged 18 to 75.

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Extended viewing of Boston Marathon bombings media coverage tied to acute stress


Six or more daily hours associated with more symptoms than direct exposure to blasts.

E. Alison Holman, UC Irvine

E. Alison Holman, UC Irvine

Stepping away from the television, computer screen or smartphone in the aftermath of terrorist attacks or mass shootings may be beneficial to your mental health. That’s the takeaway from a new study by UC Irvine researchers showing that six or more daily hours of exposure to media coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings in the week afterward was linked to more acute stress than having been at or near the marathon. Acute stress symptoms increased with each additional hour of bombing-related media exposure via television, social media, videos, print or radio.

“We were very surprised that repeated media exposure was so strongly associated with acute stress symptoms,” said E. Alison Holman, associate professor of nursing science at UC Irvine and the study’s lead author. “We suspect that there’s something about repeated exposure to violent images or sounds that keeps traumatic events alive and can prolong the stress response in vulnerable people. There is mounting evidence that live and video images of traumatic events can trigger flashbacks and encourage fear conditioning. If repeatedly viewing traumatic images reactivates fear or threat responses in the brain and promotes rumination, there could be serious health consequences.”

The study challenges key assumptions about how people react to collective traumas, such as the idea that individuals must be directly exposed to an event to be at risk for stress-related disorders. It also raises questions about the latest edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which specifically excludes media-based exposure as a potential trigger for trauma response among nonprofessionals.

“In our prior work, we found that early and repeated exposure to violent images from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and the Iraq War may have led to an increase in physical and psychological ailments up to three years [later],” said Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychology & social behavior, medicine and public health at UC Irvine and the study’s co-author. “Our new findings contribute to the growing body of research suggesting that there is no psychological benefit to repeated exposure to graphic images of horror.”

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People with superior recall powers also vulnerable to false memories


UC Irvine study reveals that common distortions seem to be shared by all.

Lawrence Patihis, UC Irvine

Lawrence Patihis, UC Irvine

People who can accurately remember details of their daily lives going back decades are as susceptible as everyone else to forming fake memories, UC Irvine psychologists and neurobiologists have found.

In a series of tests to determine how false information can manipulate memory formation, the researchers discovered that subjects with highly superior autobiographical memory logged scores similar to those of a control group of subjects with average memory.

“Finding susceptibility to false memories even in people with very strong memory could be important for dissemination to people who are not memory experts. For example, it could help communicate how widespread our basic susceptibility to memory distortions is,” said Lawrence Patihis, a graduate student in psychology & social behavior at UC Irvine. “This dissemination could help prevent false memories in the legal and clinical psychology fields, where contamination of memory has had particularly important consequences in the past.”

Patihis works in the research group of world-renowned psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, who pioneered the study of false memories and their implications.

Persons with highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM, also known as hyperthymesia) – which was first identified in 2006 by scientists at UC Irvine’s Center for the Neurobiology of Learning & Memory – have the astounding ability to remember even trivial details from their distant past. This includes recalling daily activities of their life since mid-childhood with almost 100 percent accuracy.

The lead researcher on the study, Patihis believes it’s the first effort to test malleable reconstructive memory in HSAM individuals.

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Do you want the good news or bad news first?


Where positive information comes in a bad-news conversation can influence outcomes.

There’s good news and there’s bad news. Which do you want to hear first?

That depends on whether you are the giver or receiver of bad news, and if the news-giver wants the receiver to act on the information, according to researchers at the University of California, Riverside.

It’s complicated.

The process of giving or getting bad news is difficult for most people, particularly when news-givers feel unsure about how to proceed with the conversation, psychologists Angela M. Legg and Kate Sweeny wrote in “Do You Want the Good News or the Bad News First? The Nature and Consequences of News Order Preferences.” The paper appears online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the official journal for the Society of Personality and Social Psychology.

“The difficulty of delivering bad news has inspired extensive popular media articles that prescribe ‘best’ practices for giving bad news, but these prescriptions remain largely anecdotal rather than empirically based,” said Legg, who completed her Ph.D. in psychology in October, and Sweeny, assistant professor of psychology.

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News that is better or worse than expected influences health decisions


Unrealistic pessimists less likely to take preventive action after receiving good news.

Kate Sweeny, UC Riverside

Kate Sweeny, UC Riverside

Patients who are unrealistically optimistic about their personal health risks are more likely to take preventive action when confronted with news that is worse than expected, while unrealistic pessimists are less likely to change their behavior after receiving feedback that is better than expected, according to researchers at UC Riverside and Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.

This poses a serious dilemma for health care professionals, said study authors Kate Sweeny, assistant professor of psychology at UC Riverside, and co-author Amanda Dillard, assistant professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University: Should they withhold accurate risk information from unrealistic pessimists to avoid undermining their perceptions of the severity of their potential consequences and ultimately their motivation for preventive behavior?

“The question reveals a tension between the goals of health-behavior promotion and informed patient decision-making that has plagued researchers in several health domains, most notably with regard to women’s often overly pessimistic perceptions of their breast cancer risk,” Sweeny and Dillard wrote in “The Effects of Expectation Disconfirmation on Appraisal, Affect, and Behavioral Intentions,” published this month in the online edition of Risk Analysis: An International Journal. The journal is an official publication of the Society for Risk Analysis, a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, scholarly, international society based in McLean, Va.

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Psychologists report new insights on human brain, consciousness


UCLA research is a step toward developing scientific definition of consciousness.

Martin Monti, UCLA

Martin Monti, UCLA

UCLA psychologists have used brain-imaging techniques to study what happens to the human brain when it slips into unconsciousness. Their research, published today (Oct. 17) in the online journal PLOS Computational Biology, is an initial step toward developing a scientific definition of consciousness.

“In terms of brain function, the difference between being conscious and unconscious is a bit like the difference between driving from Los Angeles to New York in a straight line versus having to cover the same route hopping on and off several buses that force you to take a ‘zig-zag’ route and stop in several places,” said lead study author Martin Monti, an assistant professor of psychology and neurosurgery at UCLA.

Monti and his colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study how the flow of information in the brains of 12 healthy volunteers changed as they lost consciousness under anesthesia with propofol. The participants ranged in age from 18 to 31 and were evenly divided between men and women.

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Lack of parental warmth, childhood abuse linked to health risks in adulthood


Study finds biological link for how negative early-life experiences affect physical health.

Teresa Seeman, UCLA

Teresa Seeman, UCLA

The effects of childhood abuse and a lack of parental affection can last a lifetime, taking a toll both emotionally and physically.

Many reports have assessed the psychological damage resulting from childhood abuse; the effects of such abuse on physical health have also been well documented. The “toxic” stress resulting from abuse has been linked to elevated cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and other physical conditions that pose a significant health risk. But research into the physical effects of abuse has so far focused on separate, individual systems rather than on the body as a whole.

Now, a UCLA-led study examines for the first time the effects that abuse and a lack of parental affection have across the body’s entire regulatory system and finds a strong biological link for how these negative early-life experiences affect physical health. But the researchers also found that parental warmth can mitigate some the health impact of early abuse.

The study is published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

“Our findings suggest that there may be a way to reduce the impact abuse has, at least in terms of physical health,” said Judith E. Carroll, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA and lead author of the study. “If the child has love from parental figures, they may be more protected from the impact of the abuse on adult biological risk for health problems than those who don’t have that loving adult in their life.”

The researchers studied 756 adults who had participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study They measured 18 biological markers of health risk, including blood pressure, heart rate, stress hormones, cholesterol, waist circumference, inflammation and blood-sugar regulation. They added up participants’ risks across these markers to create a summary index called “allostatic load.” Values at the upper range across these markers indicated they were at higher biological risk for disease.

Previous research has shown that higher levels of allostatic load are associated with an increased likelihood of a negative health event, such as a heart attack or stroke, and with declines in physical or cognitive functioning.

To determine the study subjects’ childhood stress, the researchers used a well-validated self-report scale called the Risky Families Questionnaire.

They found a significant link between reports of childhood abuse and multisystem health risks. But those who suffered abuse and reported higher amounts of parental warmth and affection in childhood had lower multi-system health risks than abused individuals who didn’t experience such warmth and affection. Conversely, individuals reporting low levels of love and affection and high levels of abuse in childhood had the highest multi-system risk in adulthood.

The researchers suggest that toxic childhood stress alters neural responses to stress, boosting individuals’ emotional and physical arousal to threats and making it more difficult for that reaction to be shut off.

“Our findings highlight the extent to which these early childhood experiences are associated with evidence of increased biological risks across nearly all of the body’s major regulatory systems,” said the paper’s senior author, Teresa Seeman, a professor of medicine in the division of geriatrics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and a professor of epidemiology at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health. “If we only look at individual biological parameters such as blood pressure or cholesterol, we would miss the fact that the early childhood experiences are related to a much broader set of biological risk indicators — suggesting the range of health risks that may result from such adverse childhood exposures.”

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