TAG: "Psychology"

The evolution of ‘anger face’


Researchers identify origin and purpose of the facial expression for anger.

The anger face is a constellation of features, each of which makes a person appear physically stronger. (iStock photo)

The next time you get really mad, take a look in the mirror. See the lowered brow, the thinned lips and the flared nostrils? That’s what social scientists call the “anger face,” and it appears to be part of our basic biology as humans.

Now, researchers at UC Santa Barbara and at Griffith University in Australia have identified the functional advantages that caused the specific appearance of the anger face to evolve. Their findings appear in the current online edition of the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

“The expression is cross-culturally universal, and even congenitally blind children make this same face without ever having seen one,” said lead author Aaron Sell, a lecturer at the School of Criminology at Griffith University in Australia. Sell was formerly a postdoctoral scholar at UCSB’s Center for Evolutionary Psychology.

The anger expression employs seven distinct muscle groups that contract in a highly stereotyped manner. The researchers sought to understand why evolution chose those particular muscle contractions to signal the emotional state of anger.

The current research is part of a larger set of studies that examine the evolutionary function of anger. “Our earlier research showed that anger evolved to motivate effective bargaining behavior during conflicts of interest,” said Sell.

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Digital devices may be reducing young people’s social skills


Study finds sixth-graders read human emotions better after taking break from digital media.

Students in the study looked at photos and were tested on their ability to recognize the emotions of those pictured.

Children’s social skills may be declining as they have less time for face-to-face interaction due to their increased use of digital media, according to a UCLA psychology study.

UCLA scientists found that sixth-graders who went five days without even glancing at a smartphone, television or other digital screen did substantially better at reading human emotions than sixth-graders from the same school who continued to spend hours each day looking at their electronic devices.

“Many people are looking at the benefits of digital media in education, and not many are looking at the costs,” said Patricia Greenfield, a distinguished professor of psychology in the UCLA College and senior author of the study. “Decreased sensitivity to emotional cues — losing the ability to understand the emotions of other people — is one of the costs. The displacement of in-person social interaction by screen interaction seems to be reducing social skills.”

The research will be in the October print edition of Computers in Human Behavior and is already published online.

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Aging brain influenced by experiences throughout life


Study from UC Davis and University of Victoria examines demographics and cognitive aging.

Early life experiences, such as childhood socioeconomic status and literacy, may have greater influence on the risk of cognitive impairment late in life than such demographic characteristics as race and ethnicity, a large study by researchers with the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center and the University of Victoria, Canada, has found.

“Declining cognitive function in older adults is a major personal and public health concern,” said Bruce Reed, professor of neurology and associate director of the UC Davis Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

“But not all people lose cognitive function, and understanding the remarkable variability in cognitive trajectories as people age is of critical importance for prevention, treatment and planning to promote successful cognitive aging and minimize problems associated with cognitive decline.”

The study, “Life Experiences and Demographic Influences on Cognitive Function in Older Adults,” is published online in Neuropsychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association. It is one of the first comprehensive examinations of the multiple influences of varied demographic factors early in life and their relationship to cognitive aging.

The research was conducted in a group of over 300 diverse men and women who spoke either English or Spanish. They were recruited from senior citizen social, recreational and residential centers, as well as churches and health-care settings. At the time of recruitment, all study participants were 60 or older, and had no major psychiatric illnesses or life threatening medical illnesses. Participants were Caucasian, African-American or Hispanic.

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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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