For many, their religion is a core part of their identity, the meaning they find in life, and their social world. It seems likely that changing this crucial aspect of themselves will have significant psychological consequences. A devout person would probably predict these will be unwelcome – increased emotional distress, isolation and waywardness. A firm atheist, on the other hand, might see the potential positives – perhaps the “deconvert” will grow in open-mindedness and thrive thanks to their newfound free thinking and spiritual freedom.
A new study in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality is among the first to investigate this question systematically and over time. The findings, which are focused on Protestant Christians, paint a complex picture. At least for this group, there is no single pattern of changes associated with losing or changing one’s religious faith, and the predictions of both the devout person and the atheist are, to some extent, accurate.
With suicide among university students on the increase in England and Wales, there’s an urgent need to find better ways to support those students who are experiencing distress. Many campuses have provisions in place, such as student counselling services, but students often prefer to turn to their peers in times of need. This raises the possibility that students themselves are best placed to sound the alarm if and when one of their friends is going through a crisis. A new study from the US – where there are similar concerns about student mental health issues – has investigated how well college roommates are able to recognise each other’s levels of emotional distress.
The findings, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, highlight the challenge of requiring students to look out for each other – generally, students who shared a room underestimated each other’s distress levels. And while students who were identified by their roommates as being very distressed were indeed more likely to actually be very distressed, many of them were not, which demonstrates the problem of false alarms.
If you are emotionally sensitive, there are mental defences you can use to help, like reappraising threats as challenges or distracting yourself from the pain. But if you find these mental gymnastics difficult, an alternative approach is to be more strategic about the situations that you find yourself in and the company you keep. Rather than grimacing as you endure yet another storm of emotional angst, make a greater effort to plan ahead and seek out the sunlit places that promise more joy.
As the authors of a new paper in Cognition and Emotion put it: “Situation selection provides an alternative strategy for individuals that does not rely on in-the-moment cognitive resources, and allows reactive and/or less competent individuals to tune their environment in order to promote certain emotional outcomes.”
Across the globe, ADHD prevalence is estimated around 5 per cent. It’s a figure that’s been rising for decades. For example, Sweden saw ADHD diagnoses among 10-year olds increase more than sevenfold from 1990 to 2007. Similar spikes have been reported from other countries, too, including Taiwan and the US, suggesting this may be a universal phenomenon. In fact, looking at dispensed ADHD medication as a proxy measure of ADHD prevalence, studies from the UK show an even steeperincrease.
Does this mean that more people today really have ADHD than in the past? Not necessarily. For example, greater awareness by clinicians, teachers or parents could have simply captured more patients who had previously had been “under the radar”. Such a shift in awareness or diagnostic behaviour would inflate the rate of ADHD diagnoses without necessarily more people havingclinical ADHD. However, if this is not the true or full explanation, then perhaps ADHD symptoms really have become more frequent or severe over the years. A new study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry from Sweden with almost 20,000 participants has now provided a preliminary answer.
Recent studies of mindfulness schools programmes for teenagers have produced mixed results, with some failing to find benefits, even when extra features were added to try to make them more effective. But given the demonstrated benefits of mindfulness training on stress and wellbeing in adults – and the urgent need to find ways to reduce stress and prevent depression in teenagers – it’s not surprising that researchers are pursuing work in the area.
Advocates of mindfulness for kids may, then, take some comfort from a new study in Developmental Science that found an 8-week training programme improved emotion processing in 16-18-year-olds. In theory, this might reduce their vulnerability to depression, write the researchers, from Bangor University, UK.
After a traumatic event, some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – generally within about a month – while others don’t. Identifying those most at risk could allow for targeted interventions, aimed at stopping the disorder developing. So how do you spot these people?
One way of exploring this question involves viewing PTSD as a dynamic process in which symptoms interact over time to cause the disorder, and some symptoms likely play a bigger causal role than others. So if you can identify the most problematic symptoms, and the people displaying them, at an early stage, then you can work out not only who to target but which symptoms to focus on.
In a new paper due for publication in Psychological Medicine and released as a pre-print at the Open Science Framework, a team of researchers from Israel and Amsterdam conducted just such an analysis on data collected from Israeli civilians during the 50-day Israeli-Gaza war of 2014. “It is important to note that collecting [this kind of] data regarding traumatic stress symptoms during a conflict situation is unparalleled in the literature,” the researchers write.
Some researchers hope that focusing on the cognitive, neural, genetic and social processes that contribute to symptom dimensions – like anxiety-depression or social withdrawal – may be more fruitful than trying to understand the causes of different diagnostic categories, like “schizophrenia” or “major depression”. It’s in this vein that a new paper in Biological Psychiatry has used a simple perceptual task to investigate how judgment confidence, judgment accuracy and metacognition (judgment insight) are related to various trans-diagnostic symptom dimensions in the general public.
“Conferences on psychedelics are popping up everywhere, like mushrooms!” said Jakobien van der Weijden, of the Psychedelic Society of the Netherlands, when I met her in Amsterdam last week. Indeed, research into the use of psychedelic (mind-altering) drugs as tools in the treatment of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and end-of-life angst, is on the increase. Psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms, may help to alleviate symptoms of depression by altering brain activity in key areas involved in emotional processing, for example.
Now a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, led by Roland Griffiths at Johns Hopkins University, has found that for mentally and physically healthy volunteers, two doses of psilocybin in conjunction with a programme of meditation and other “spiritual” practices was enough to bring about lasting, positive changes to traits including altruism, gratitude, forgiveness and feeling close to others.
New research on gender identity disorder (also known as gender dysphoria, in which a person does not identify with their biological sex) questions how best to handle the condition when it arises in children and adolescents. Should biological treatments be used as early as possible to help a young client transition, or is caution required, in case of complicating psychological issues?
Melanie Bechard of the University of Toronto and her colleagues examined the prevalence of “psychosocial and psychological vulnerabilities” in 50 child and teen cases of gender dysphoria, and writing in a recent issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, they argue their findings show that physicians should be considering these factors more seriously when deciding on a treatment plan. Salting the situation, one of the paper’s co-authors is Kenneth Zucker, an expert on gender dysphoria who was last year considered too controversial for Canadian state television.
There’s a stereotype that mental distress is an almost inevitable part of being highly creative. But is there any substance to this idea, or have we been misled – by biographers drawn to artists with colourful and chaotic lives, and the conceits of cultural movements like the romantics?
Scientific attempts to resolve this question, which have mainly focused on disorders of mood, have so far struggled to reach a definitive answer. However, in a new review in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Christa Taylor of Albany State University has applied surgical precision to open up the existing body of research and lay out what we currently know.