Category: Mental health

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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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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There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Abraham Maslow and self-actualisation – a new paper puts the record straight

Abraham_Maslow.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Abraham Maslow was one of the great psychological presences of the twentieth century, and his concept of self-actualisation has entered our vernacular and is addressed in most psychology textbooks. A core concept of humanistic psychology, self-actualisation theory has inspired a range of psychological therapies as well as approaches taken in social work. But a number of myths have crept into our understanding of the theory and the man himself. In a new paper in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, William Compton of Middle Tennessee State University aims to put the record straight.

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Study suggests your adulthood self-esteem has its roots in the way you were raised as a child

By Christian Jarrett

Studies of identical and non-identical twins indicate that our self-esteem is influenced by the genes we inherited from our parents, but also, and perhaps slightly more so, by environmental factors. And according to a new study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, these environmental influences started playing a lasting role very early in life.

Ulrich Orth at the University of Bern has reported evidence that, on average, the higher the quality of a person’s home environment when they were aged between 0 and 6 years – based on warm and responsive parenting; cognitive stimulation; and a safe, organised physical environment – the higher their self-esteem many years later in adulthood.

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15-year study: stress did not increase risk of breast cancer among women with a genetic susceptibility to the disease

GettyImages-944834572.jpgBy Emma Young

The idea that stress increases the risk of breast cancer is a persistent one, despite a number of major large-scale findings to the contrary. “Over the past 40 years, women have been exposed to strong messages about the importance of ‘thinking positively’ and reducing stress in their lives, which can add to the burden of guilt in those who develop cancer, who feel they have somehow failed”, note the authors of a new prospective study of women in Australia, published in Psycho-Oncology. Their findings suggest that neither acute nor chronic stressors recorded over a three-year period influenced the likelihood that a woman with a strong family history of breast cancer would develop the disease over the next three years.

“Our results, based on rigorous methodology, add to the growing literature providing reassurance to women at increased risk of breast cancer, who are concerned that the (often unavoidable) stressors in their lives may increase their risk of breast cancer”, the researchers said.

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Taking a mere five-day break from Facebook will lower your physiological stress levels, researchers claim

GettyImages-903669474.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Does the prospect of taking a “Facebook holiday” fill you with dread as you picture a life of social isolation, or does it sound like an appealing and refreshing chance to change priorities?

A new paper in the Journal of Social Psychology has investigated the psychological effects of taking time off from using Facebook. Given that Facebook helps keep us connected but can also expose us to many social stressors, like envy and gossip, the researchers, led by Eric Vanman at the University of Queensland, expected to find a Facebook break would be associated with a drop in life-satisfaction, but also a reduction in stress levels. Their findings are largely in line with their predictions “[and] consistent with the general ambivalent feelings that may typify most active users about Facebook”. However, the study also features ambiguities and limitations that may leave sceptical readers unconvinced.

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What are the psychological effects of losing your religion?

GettyImages-497892997.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

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.

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How well can university roommates judge each other’s distress levels?

GettyImages-507009529.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

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.

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Struggle with emotional intensity? Try the “situation selection” strategy

GettyImages-511062060.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

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.”

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