Category: Mental health

The Psychological Impacts Of Poverty, Digested

street of long abandoned and derelict collapsing houses and commercial buildings

By Emma Young

For a “rich” country, by global standards, the UK has an awful lot of people who are not. Fourteen million people — one fifth of the population — live in poverty. Of these, four million are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are classed as destitute, unable to afford even basic life essentials.

For children who grow up in poverty, there are impacts that go way beyond the fact of material shortages. “Children experience poverty as an environment that is damaging to their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development,” notes UNICEF. Clearly, there’s a critical role for psychological research in this area, first in revealing just what poverty does to children and adults — but also in developing strategies to ameliorate those impacts.

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Digital Therapy For Insomnia Shows How Technology Can Be Harnessed To Improve Sleep And Mental Health

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By guest blogger Jack Barton

Technology and screens are supposedly the enemy of health. They ruin our sleep, mental health and we’re slaves to their constant need for attention. At least that’s what seems to be the consensus in the news. However, the reality is much more two-sided. In fact, a new study demonstrates that our blue light emitting devices can be a force for good — by providing a novel way to deliver mental health interventions.

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Our Golden Years? Research Into The Ups And Downs Of Retirement, Digested

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By Emma Young

If you ever daydream about retirement, what do you picture? Lie-ins, instead of being woken by an alarm? Walks on a beach, in place of the morning commute? More time for beloved hobbies? Or perhaps endless open, solitary days, with nothing much to do…?

Retirement is what psychologists term a “major life transition”. As such, it’s regarded as a stressor that carries risks as well as potential rewards. Now that the number of retirees in many countries is soaring, so too is the number of studies into whether retirement is good for your mental and physical health — or not. This work certainly suggests that it can be, but there are a few warnings lurking in the results, too.

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Taking A Placebo Can Reduce Anxiety Before An Exam — Even When You Know The Pills Are Inert

Four plastic spoons each containing a different pill

By Matthew Warren

The placebo effect is a curious phenomenon. A wealth of literature has shown that inert treatments can not only produce medical benefits like pain relief, but also have cognitive effects like boosting creativity and learning. And while many of those studies involve misleading people into thinking that they are receiving an effective intervention, a new study in Scientific Reports shows that this deception is not always necessary. Researchers have found that taking a placebo can reduce people’s anxiety before a test — even when they know they are taking an inactive pill. 

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Further Evidence That Acting Like An Extravert Can Boost Wellbeing

Two women peeking behind mask on wallpaper background

By Matthew Warren

Researchers have long known that people who are more extraverted tend to be happier, leading some to suggest that encouraging extraverted behaviour could improve wellbeing. Last year we reported on the first trial of such an intervention, which found that acting like an extravert for a week led to an increase in positive emotions in certain people. Now a second study appears to have replicated that result — and shown that behaving like an introvert may also reduce wellbeing.

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Teens Who Struggle To Differentiate Their Negative Emotions Are More Prone To Stress-Induced Depression

GettyImages-678525312.jpgBy Emma Young

The first step to dealing with a negative emotion is to identify it. If you’re feeling irritated, restless or guilty, the most effective way to start feeling better will be different in each case. The trouble is, if your sense of your own emotions is not that fine-grained – if you feel just “bad” or “upset” – you may struggle to identify the cause of your distress, making it tricky to self-regulate your emotions. 

Plenty of studies have linked a poor ability to differentiate between negative emotions (known as “low Negative Emotion Differentiation” or “low NED” for short) to depression. But this work has mostly been conducted at a single point in time (i.e. having a “cross-sectional” design), making it impossible to tell whether difficulties with emotional differentiation cause depression or vice versa. The research has also overwhelmingly involved adults, and yet it is adolescence that is most marked by low NED (even more than in early childhood) and depression. This mismatch in the literature motivated Lisa Starr at the University of Rochester and her colleagues to conduct a longitudinal study on adolescents, published recently in Emotion. They looked not only at teenagers’ NED and depressive symptoms over time, but also their experience of minor daily hassles and more serious stressful life events.  

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Psychologists Have Identified The Creatures We Find Most Scary And Revolting

By Christian Jarrett

You may be best advised not to read this article late at night or before you eat. Psychologists at the National Institute of Mental Health and Charles University in the Czech Republic have surveyed a large sample of non-clinical volunteers to gauge their reaction to 24 creatures that are commonly the source of specific animal phobias.

The results, published in the British Journal of Psychology, not only contribute to our understanding of animal phobias, but could prove incredibly useful to horror writers. Among the key findings is that spiders were unique in being both intensely fear- and disgust-inducing in equal measure. The researchers said this may be due to their mix of disgusting properties – including their “quirky ‘too-many-legs’ body plan” – combined with the fact they are “…omnipresent in our homes, often lurking in the hidden dark places and capable of fast unpredictable movement.” In other words, the intense fear arises in part from the prospect of coming into physical contact with a creature perceived by many to be revolting.

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A Key Brain Difference Between Voice-Hearing Patients And Voice-Hearing Healthy Controls Challenges The “Continuum Model”

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Via Garrison et al, 2019

By Christian Jarrett

Hearing voices that don’t exist in the outside world is the most common form of hallucination experienced by people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or related conditions and it can be very distressing. However, there is a growing recognition that hearing voices is not always pathological. Many mentally well people hear voices (or “auditory verbal hallucinations”) – in fact, around 6-7 per cent of adults in the general population report having had such experiences at some point in their lives.

This has led some experts to propose a “continuum model” in which the same fundamental underlying mechanism leads to hearing voices in healthy people and in patients with a clinical diagnosis, but that for various reasons, such as a traumatic past, the experience is more troublesome and distressing for the patients. However, a new open-access paper in Schizophrenia Bulletin challenges the continuum model, finding an important brain difference between patients who hear voices and voice-hearing healthy controls.

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Preliminary Evidence That Lonely People Lose The Reflex To Mimic Other People’s Smiles, Potentially Sustaining Their Isolation

GettyImages-586707418.jpgBy Emma Young

Loneliness is a “disease”, associated with an increased risk of death equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Strides have been made in understanding what form of loneliness is damaging (a lack of close relationships with other people, rather than a lack of relationships per se), but ways to tackle loneliness are badly needed. Now a new study, available as a preprint on PsyArXiv, reveals a way in which loneliness seems to be maintained and, therefore, a potential route to an intervention. 

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Researchers Have Investigated “Derailment” (Feeling Disconnected From Your Past Self) As A Cause And Consequence Of Depression

By Christian Jarrett

We move house, change jobs, begin new relationships, yet most of the time, most of us still experience a thread of inner continuity – a constant feeling of me-ness that transcends the various chapters of our lives. Indeed, there’s evidence that having a stable, constant sense of self and identity is important for psychological wellbeing. However, this thread can rupture, leading to an uncomfortable disconnect between who we feel we are today, and the person that we believe we used to be – a state that psychologists recently labelled “derailment”.

Now in a paper in Clinical Psychological Science a group led by Kaylin Ratner at Cornell University has explored the possibility that derailment both precipitates, and is a consequence of, depression. After all, people with depression often struggle with motivation, losing the will to pursue goals they previously held dear. They also frequently withdraw from their relationships and social roles. All of these changes could trigger sensations of derailment. Or perhaps derailment comes first, with the inner disorientation leaving one vulnerable to depression. Surprisingly these questions have been little studied before now. “We nominate derailment as a new feature of the depressive landscape and underscore the need for greater empirical and practical attention at the crossroads of mental health and human development,” Ratner and her team write.

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