Burnout is common among psychotherapists – now a review has identified the personal characteristics that increase the risk further

GettyImages-907578226.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Working an emotionally-demanding job can leave you frazzled by alienation, exhaustion, and confusion about whether you are doing any good. Clinical psychologists and psychotherapists live their day-to-day at the interface of their clients’ most difficult emotions and recollections, so it is no surprise that burnout is a leading cause of problems for those in the profession. To better understand the risk factors that contribute to therapist burnout, a new review article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology has examined findings from 30 years of research.

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Psychology’s favourite moral thought experiment doesn’t predict real-world behaviour

GettyImages-170617385.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Would you wilfully hurt or kill one person so as to save multiple others? That’s the dilemma at the heart of moral psychology’s favourite thought experiment and its derivatives. In the classic case, you must decide whether or not to pull a lever to divert a runaway mining trolley so that it avoids killing five people and instead kills a single individual on another line. A popular theory in the field states that, to many of us, so abhorrent is the notion of deliberately harming someone that our “deontological” instincts deter us from pulling the lever; on the other hand, the more we intellectualise the problem with cool detachment, the more likely we will make a utilitarian or consequentialist judgment and divert the trolley.

Armed with thought experiments of this kind, psychologists have examined all manner of individual and circumstantial factors that influence the likelihood of people making  deontological vs. utilitarian moral decisions. However, there’s a fatal (excuse the pun) problem. A striking new paper in Psychological Science finds that our answers to the thought experiments don’t match up with our real-world moral decisions.

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New trial finds that frequent aerobic exercise reduces the hard-to-treat “negative symptoms” of schizophrenia

GettyImages-929514508.jpgBy Emma Young

Aerobic exercise – any activity that gets your heart pumping harder – improves mood, anxiety and memory. It can help people with major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder. Now there’s evidence, from a randomised controlled trial published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, that a programme of regular aerobic exercise also reduces psychopathology in people diagnosed with schizophrenia. And it seems to have a particular impact on so-called “negative” symptoms, such as apathy and loss of emotional feeling, which are not improved by standard drug treatments.

“[W]hile antipsychotics [drug treatments] are essential in treating schizophrenia, interventions other than antipsychotic treatment…may be needed to achieve better outcomes,” write the authors of the new study, led by Peng-Wei Wang at Kaohsiung Medical University Hospital in Taiwan.

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Neurotic folk spend more time doing chores

GettyImages-183807870.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

If personality traits are a genuine concept and not merely an artefact of psychologists’ imagination, then how people choose to spend their time ought to correlate with their scores on personality questionnaires, notwithstanding the constraints of life that prevent us from doing what we want. In fact, there are relatively few studies that have looked at correlations between traits and everyday behaviour, and of those that have, many relied on student volunteers (see here for an overview).

A study published earlier this year in Collabra helps plug this research gap – Julia Rohrer and Richard Lucas analysed the “Big Five” trait personality scores of over 1,300 German volunteers (part of a nationally representative sample), average age 51 years, who on three successive years completed detailed diaries of what they had been up to the day before. Specifically, they indicated whether they had spent any time, and if so how much, on nine key activities the previous day, including socialising, work, chores and watching TV.

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New literature review warns that current sexual assault interventions might actually increase offending among high-risk men

GettyImages-178019463.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Psychology can help people one person at a time, but it also holds the promise of changing society at a mass scale, through campaigns to change attitudes and behaviour. One such endeavour is the development of programmes to reduce the rates of sexual assault of women on university campuses. But in a literature review in Aggression and Violent Behavior, researchers from the University of California make the case that such programmes may not just be ineffective, but counterproductive.

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Researchers have compared different cognitive strategies for falling out of love

Screenshot 2018-06-18 10.00.47.pngBy Emma Young

From You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling to Nothing Compares 2 U, there’s no shortage of songs about heartbreak. None, I suspect, contains the line, “Now it’s time to give negative reappraisal a go.” But whether you’ve just been dumped or you’ve done the dumping, if you’re still in love with your ex, this could be your best strategy for falling out of love and moving on, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. 

“Romantic break-ups can have serious consequences including insomnia, reduced immune function, broken heart syndrome, depression and suicide,” note the authors, Sandra Langeslag and Michelle Sanchez at the University of Missouri, St Louis. Strategies that help people to fall out of love could relieve the agony of unrequited love or make it easier to get out of a dysfunctional relationship. 

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A new study claims that, under pressure, imposter syndrome hits men harder than women

GettyImages-936097644.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

The idea that some of us experience “imposter syndrome” was first mooted in the 1970s by two US clinical psychologists who noticed the preponderance of high-achieving women who felt they had somehow cheated or fluked their way to success and feared being found out. Research on the syndrome has since exploded and it’s become clear that many men also experience similar fraudulent feelings. In fact, in their new exploratory paper in Personality and Individual Differences, a team of US and German researchers claim that, under pressure, imposter syndrome may hit men harder than women, triggering more anxiety and worse performance – a difference they speculate may be due to traditional gender norms that place a greater expectation on men to be competent.

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Sending a supportive text to your partner can reduce their physiological stress levels, but only if you’re subtle about it

GettyImages-865821668.jpgBy Alex Fradera

The average young adult sends more than 100 texts per day, mainly to offer social support to friends and family. But until now, there has been little evidence whether it helps the recipient or not. New research in Computers in Human Behavior confirms that sending a comforting text to a partner confronted with a difficult task really can make them feel supported. But more surprisingly, the study suggests that to actually reduce their stress, it’s better to send a message that isn’t explicitly supportive.

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People who think their opinions are superior to others are most prone to overestimating their relevant knowledge and ignoring chances to learn more

GettyImages-165763476.jpgBy guest blogger Tom Stafford

We all know someone who is convinced their opinion is better than everyone else’s on a topic – perhaps, even, that it is the only correct opinion to have. Maybe, on some topics, you are that person. No psychologist would be surprised that people who are convinced their beliefs are superior think they are better informed than others, but this fact leads to a follow on question: are people actually better informed on the topics for which they are convinced their opinion is superior? This is what Michael Hall and Kaitlin Raimi set out to check in a series of experiments in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

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Physically active academic school lessons boost pupils’ activity levels and focus

GettyImages-598216698.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

For various reasons, children in many countries are increasingly sedentary and childhood obesity is a growing concern. At the same time, research tells us that physical activity is good for children’s minds and bodies, and that if they develop active habits in their youth, they tend to keep them up into adulthood.

It would surely help if children were more active at school, but with growing academic pressures, teachers will tell you that it is difficult to justify sacrificing vital maths and English lessons for more PE classes or games. A possible solution: make academic lessons more physically active. A new trial of a 6-week intervention comprising 18 ten-minute active maths and English lessons, published in Health Education and Behavior, suggests that such an approach has great potential.

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