Posts Tagged LifeHelper

Abstract Thinking as Means to Boost Self-Control


Abstract Thinking as Means to Boost Self-ControlSelf-control is much easier talked about than accomplished, and that applies to improving diet, exercise and reducing stress.

Researchers point out that many of the long-term goals people strive for — like losing weight — require us to use self-control and forgo immediate gratification. But ignoring immediate desires in order to reap future benefits is often very hard to do.

In a new study, researchers Kentaro Fujita, Ph.D., and Jessica Carnevale of Ohio State University propose that the way people subjectively understand, or construe, events can influence self-control.

Experts say that thinking about things abstractly and placing the items into broad categories (called high-level construal) allows us to psychologically distance ourselves from the pushes and pulls of the immediate moment. This, in turn, makes us more sensitive to the big picture implications of our behavior and helps us become more consistent between our values and our behavior.

For example, a dieter choosing based on immediately apparent differences between the choices (low-level construal) might focus on taste and opt for a candy bar over an apple.

A dieter choosing on the basis of high-level construal, however, might view the choice in the broader terms of a choice between weight loss and hedonism, and opt for the apple.

Viewing the decision-making process in an abstract or construal process as a means to maximize self-control involves the integration of many scientific disciplines.

Researchers believe investigating the link between construal level and self-control may be a method to help society confront societal problems including obesity, addiction, and debt.

The research is published in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

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Stress, Depression Reduce Brain Volume Thanks to Genetic ‘Switch’


Stress, Depression Reduce Brain Volume Thanks to Genetic 'Switch' Scientists have known that stress and depression can cause the brain to retract or lose volume, a condition associated with both emotional and cognitive impairment. Now, a new study discovers why this occurs.

Yale scientists have found that the deactivation of a single genetic switch can instigate a cascading loss of brain connections in humans and depression in animal models.

Researchers say the genetic switch, known as a transcription factor, represses the expression of several genes that are necessary for the formation of synaptic connections between brain cells. The loss of connections, in turn, can contribute to loss of brain mass in the prefrontal cortex, say the scientists.

“We wanted to test the idea that stress causes a loss of brain synapses in humans,” said senior author Ronald Duman, Ph.D. “We show that circuits normally involved in emotion, as well as cognition, are disrupted when this single transcription factor is activated.”

In the study, the research team analyzed tissue of depressed and non-depressed patients donated from a brain bank and looked for different patterns of gene activation.

The brains of patients who had been depressed exhibited lower levels of expression in genes that are required for the function and structure of brain synapses.

Lead author and postdoctoral researcher H.J. Kang, Ph.D., discovered that at least five of these genes could be regulated by a single transcription factor called GATA1.

When the transcription factor was activated in animal models, rodents exhibited depressive-like symptoms, suggesting GATA1 plays a role not only in the loss of connections between neurons but also in symptoms of depression.

This finding of genetic variations in GATA1 may help researchers identify people at high risk for major depression or sensitivity to stress.

“We hope that by enhancing synaptic connections, either with novel medications or behavioral therapy, we can develop more effective antidepressant therapies,” Duman said.

Source: Yale University

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Thinking About Giving Inspires People to Help Others


Thinking About Giving Inspires People to Help OthersResearchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan have found that reflecting on what we’ve given, rather than what we’ve received, may lead us to be more helpful toward others.

The study is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the study, Adam Grant and Jane Dutton wanted to understand how reflection, in the form of expressive writing, might influence prosocial behavior.

They found that the receipt of gifts or favors from another person might cause an individual to be obliged to help that person, but the motivation to help doesn’t necessarily extend to other people.

Moreover, reflecting on what we’ve received from others may even cause us to feel dependent and indebted. This finding lead the researchers to wonder whether thinking about times when we have given to others might be more effective in promoting helping.

They hypothesized that reflecting on giving could lead a person to see herself as a benefactor, strengthening identity as a caring, helpful individual and motivating one to take action to benefit others.

In their first experiment, the researchers studied fundraisers whose job was to solicit alumni donations to support various programs at a university.

The researchers randomly split the fundraisers into two groups: One group wrote journal entries about recent experiences of feeling grateful for receiving a benefit and the other group wrote journal entries about recent experiences in which they made a contribution that enabled other people to feel grateful.

Grant and Dutton then measured how many calls each fundraiser made per hour in the two weeks before and the two weeks after the week that they spent journaling. Because the fundraisers were paid a fixed hourly rate, with no fundraising goals or incentives, the number of calls they made reflected voluntary effort to help raise funds for the university.

As the researchers hypothesized, the fundraisers who wrote about giving for just two or three days increased their hourly calls by more than 29 percent in the following two weeks. The fundraisers who wrote about receiving, however, showed no change in the number hourly calls made.

In a second experiment, the researchers randomly assigned college students to one of three groups, requiring them to list three ways they had recently given help, list three ways they had recently received help, or list three different foods they had eaten in the last week.

When the participants came to the university’s behavioral lab a few weeks later to pick up their payment for participating in the study, they were given a form describing the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. On the form, the participants were asked whether they would like to donate any portion of their $5 payment to an earthquake relief fund.

Nearly 50 percent of participants who had reflected on giving donated, compared to 21 percent in the beneficiary group and 13 percent in the control cohort.

Grant and Dutton believe that the findings from these two experiments have important real-world implications.

“Helping, giving, volunteering, and other actions undertaken to benefit others play a critical role in protecting health, promoting education, fighting poverty and hunger, and providing disaster relief,” the researchers write.

Experts believe self-reflection is a powerful tool to motivate helping and volunteering behaviors that benefit individuals and communities. And, as a general rule, we should reflect on positive experiences and think about what we’ve given to others—not only what we’ve received.

Source: Association for Psychological Science

Woman writing in a journal photo by shutterstock.

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Migraines Painful — But Don’t Lead to Dementia


Migraines Painful -- But Don't Lead to DementiaResearch from Brigham and Women’s Hospital has shown that migraines are not associated with cognitive decline.

While migraines affect about 20 percent of the female population, there are many unanswered questions surrounding this complex disease, according to the researchers.

Previous studies linked migraines to an increased risk of stroke and structural brain lesions, but until this new study it had been unclear whether migraines had other negative consequences, such as dementia or cognitive decline.

“Previous studies on migraines and cognitive decline were small and unable to identify a link between the two,” said Pamela Rist, a research fellow in the Division of Preventive Medicine at BWH, and lead author on this study. “Our study was large enough to draw the conclusion that migraines, while painful, are not strongly linked to cognitive decline.”

The research team analyzed data from the Women’s Health Study, which included nearly 40,000 women, 45 years and older.

They analyzed data from 6,349 women who provided information about migraine status at baseline and then participated in cognitive testing during followup.

Participants were classified into four groups: No history of migraine, migraine with aura (transient neurology symptoms mostly of the visual field), migraine without aura, and past history of migraine. Cognitive testing was carried out in two-year intervals up to three times.

“Compared with women with no history of migraine, those who experienced migraine with or without aura did not have significantly different rates of cognitive decline,” she said.

“This is an important finding for both physicians and patients. Patients with migraine and their treating doctors should be reassured that migraine may not have long-term consequences on cognitive function.”

There is still a lot that is unknown about migraines, she acknowledged, noting that more research needs to be done to understand the consequences of migraine on the brain and to optimize treatment strategies.

The study was published online by the British Medical Journal.

Source: Brigham and Women’s Hospital

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Challenges of Co-Parenting


Challenges of Co-ParentingDivorce frequently brings the challenge of how best to raise the kids. In today’s environment, it is common for both ex-spouses to share legal and physical custody of children after divorcing.

However, few studies have looked at the process of co-parenting, so little is known about how divorced parents negotiate the co-parenting process. A new study identifies factors that influence the success of co-parenting.

Researchers from Kansas State University discovered that the type of relationship a woman has with her ex-partner is a factor in how the couple shares custody of children.

Investigators followed divorced or separated mothers who were sharing physical custody of their children with their former partners.

Mindy Markham, Ph.D., an assistant professor of family studies and human services divided the study group into three patterns of co-parenting — continuously contentious, always amicable and bad to better.

Markham also looked at additional negative and positive factors that influenced the mothers’ co-parenting relationships.

The study included 20 predominately white, well-educated women between the ages of 26 to 49 who were divorced or separated from the father of their children.

The mothers, from two Midwestern states, shared with their former partners legal and physical custody of the children, who ranged in age from 21 months to 12 years.

At the time of the study, the couples had been separated or divorced from six months to 12 years.

“The findings of this study suggest that shared physical custody relationships are dynamic and can vary greatly,” Markham said.

In current study, nine mothers (45 percent) had continuously contentious co-parenting relationships with their ex-partners from the time of separation to the present.

This stressful negative relationship fueled the mother’s perception of her ex’s parenting abilities; financial concerns, including the ex not having a job or not paying child support; control or abuse by the ex-partner; and the inability of the ex to separate marital — or personal — issues from the co-parenting relationship.

“All mothers in this type of co-parenting relationship reported differences in parenting styles and were concerned with how the ex was raising the children,” Markham said.

“Parenting practices that concerned the mothers varied greatly and included putting children in harmful situations, not bathing the children, not disciplining them and having no rules or routines.

“It was especially difficult for these mothers to share custody with ex-partners who were uninvolved during the marriage. They didn’t believe their exes were responsible parents.”

Markham said eight of the women in the continuously contentious relationships didn’t want to share custody of the children with their ex-partner, but most were told by lawyers or the court that they would have to do so.

Twenty percent of mothers reported an amicable co-parenting relationship — where they reported always getting along with their ex-partners from separation to the present.

In this form of relationship the mothers believed their ex-partners were responsible parents, money wasn’t a source of conflict and the mothers chose to share physical custody.

Seven of the mothers in the study (35 percent) had bad-to-better co-parenting relationships, where co-parenting was contentious at the time of separation, but greatly improved over time.

At the time of the study, these women’s relationships were similar to those of women with always amicable relationships. These mothers wanted to share physical custody, thought the father was a responsible parent and most said money was not a source of conflict.

Significantly, all mothers in bad-to-better relationships said they were unable to co-parent amicably with their ex-partner in the beginning because personal issues were not kept separate from parenting responsibility.

“Although ex-partners with bad-to-better relationships originally allowed their feelings about one another to negatively affect their co-parenting, at some point they realized this was not beneficial and made a conscious effort to change the relationship for the sake of their children,” Markham said.

Being able to communicate with the ex-partner is a major factor during co-parenting. In the always amicable and bad-to-better relationships, mothers were able to communicate well with ex-partners.

The ability to communicate with the ex-partner made discussing differences in parenting styles easier, reported this group of women.

However, for women in continuously contentious relationships, lack of communication was a big issue, Markham said.

These mothers limited direct in-person or phone communication with their ex, preferring alternative methods like texting or email. They also avoided seeing their ex in person when it came time to exchange children by having them picked up at day care or school.

Markham said she was surprised by the level of animosity that accompanies shared custody, at least from some mothers’ perceptions.

“Nearly half of the mothers in this study continue to have conflicted relationships with their ex-partners, and conversations with these women negate the notion that shared physical custody ensures cooperative, less conflicted relationships,” she said.

“This study can be important for helping professionals recognize that shared physical custody is not a panacea for postdivorce problems — and that in some cases it exacerbates them.”

Source: Kansas State University

Parents arguing while child covrs his ears photo by shutterstock.

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Change in Pronoun Use Reflects Women’s Role in Society


Change in Pronoun Use Reflects Women’s Role in SocietyNew research suggests progress in gender equality can be traced by the language found in published literature over the past 50 years.

In a new study led by San Diego State University researchers, investigators explored how the language in the full text of more than one million books reflected cultural change in U.S. women’s status.

Findings are published in the journal Sex Roles.

Jean Twenge, Ph.D., and colleagues examined whether the use of gendered pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ mirrored women’s status between 1900-2008. Their analyses showed that the frequency of use of female versus male pronouns followed the ups and downs of women’s status over time.

Researchers found that female pronouns were used progressively less often (compared to male pronouns) in the post-war era (1946-1967) when women’s status declined or stagnated, and more often after 1968 when women’s status rose considerably.

Investigators also found that U.S. books used relatively more female pronouns when women were more educated, participated in the labor force more, and married later – all signs of increased status for women.

Researchers posit that U.S. college women were more assertive at times when relatively more female pronouns appeared in books.

“These trends in language quantify one of the largest, and most rapid, cultural changes ever observed: The incredible increase in women’s status since the late 1960s in the U.S.,” said Twenge. “Gender equality is the clear upside of the cultural movement toward individualism in the U.S., and books reflect this movement toward equality.

“That’s exciting because it shows how we can document social change.”

Source: Springer

Woman blowing letters off a book photo by shutterstock.

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Artery Disease Linked to Depression


Artery Disease Linked to DepressionA new research study has discovered that peripheral artery disease often accompanies depression.

Researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and the University of California, San Francisco, discovered the relationship during a study of more than one thousand men and women with heart disease.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a circulatory problem in which blood flow is reduced to the extremities – usually the legs and feet. Blood flow is reduced because of arterial narrowing with the condition often resulting in pain, reduced mobility and, in extreme cases, gangrene and amputation.

The study may be found online in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers followed men and women with coronary artery disease over a seven-year period. The 1,024 participants were members of the Heart and Soul Study.

“We discovered that there was an association between depression and PAD at baseline, and also found that the patients who were depressed at the beginning of the study had a higher likelihood of developing PAD during follow-up at seven years,” said Marlene Grenon, M.D., C.M., a vascular surgeon at UCSF.

“These findings add to the growing body of research showing the importance of depression in both the development and progression of PAD,” said senior author Beth Cohen, M.D., M.A.S. “This also emphasizes the need for medical providers to be attentive to the mental health of their patients who have developed, or who are at risk for, PAD.”

Researchers discovered that some of the risk for PAD was associated with modifiable risk factors such as smoking and reduced physical activity.

“We still don’t know which comes first,” said Grenon. “Is it that patients with PAD become depressed because their mobility is impaired, or that people who are depressed engage in unhealthy behaviors such as smoking and lack of exercise, and are thus more at risk of developing PAD? Or might it be a vicious cycle, where one leads to the other?”

Further research is needed to tease out cause and effect, she said.

Researchers believe that whatever the initial cause, improving healthy habits such as being more physically active, eating better, quitting smoking and improving stress management might reduce both PAD and depression.

“These lifestyle changes would be considered healthy for anyone, and would also help overall cardiovascular health,” said Grenon.

“As providers, we can help patients recognize the connections between mental and physical health,” added Cohen.

“This may help reduce the stigma of mental health diagnosis and encourage patients to seek treatment for problems such as depression.”

Source: University of California – San Francisco

Abstract of man’s heart photo by shutterstock.

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