Mind

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How to be a healthy user of social media

<p>We can learn a lot about people through how they use social media. For example, Twitter language can be used to predict the <a href="http://newsroom.melbourne.edu/news/twitter-can-predict-hot-spots-coronary-heart-disease">risk of dying from heart disease</a>.</p> <p>Analyses of Facebook updates show <a href="https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/how-gender-shapes-our-facebook-chats">women tend to be warmer than men, but just as assertive</a>, and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24322010">people high in extraversion</a> tend to express positive emotions, whereas those with neurotic tendencies are more likely to write about being lonely and depressed.</p> <p>Concerns exist about the negative effects social media can have on mental health, <a href="http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/4/800.short">especially for young people</a>.</p> <p>The incidence of <a href="http://theconversation.com/online-bullying-on-the-rise-in-australia-30213">cyberbullying</a>, <a href="http://theconversation.com/how-sexting-is-creating-a-safe-space-for-curious-millennials-56453">sexting</a> and <a href="http://theconversation.com/domestic-violence-and-facebook-harassment-takes-new-forms-in-the-social-media-age-50855">victimisation</a> has risen. People manage their profiles, presenting an image of a perfect life, while hiding real struggles they might have. Despite having thousands of “friends”, some people still <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563216302552">feel completely alone</a>.</p> <p>The potential for social media to be used to detect signs of mental illness is reflected in Facebook’s implementation of a <a href="https://www.facebook.com/help/contact/305410456169423">suicide watch program</a>.</p> <p><strong>What to look for in your use of social media</strong></p> <p>Is there a way to tell if your use of social media is healthy or reflective of underlying mental health conditions?</p> <p>With my colleagues, PhD student Liz Seabrook and <a href="http://med.monash.edu/psych/school/staff/rickard.html">Dr Nikki Rickard</a>, we conducted <a href="http://mental.jmir.org/2016/4/e50/">a systematic review</a> of 70 different studies that linked social media use to depression, anxiety and mental well being. Turns out, <a href="https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/is-social-media-good-for-you">social media is not all good, nor all bad</a>. It’s more about how you use it.</p> <p>If you are concerned about your own social media use or that of a family member, here are some aspects to look out for.</p> <p><strong>1. Content and tone</strong></p> <p>One of the main things that distinguished users who reported high well-being versus those with depression or anxiety was what they wrote about and how they wrote it.</p> <p>Depressed people used a lot more negative language, reflecting on things that were going wrong, or complaining about life or other people. They posted angry thoughts and emotions.</p> <p>After writing a post, take a moment to read through it. What is the tone? Consider ways you can focus on some of the good things that happen in your life, not just the negative.</p> <p><strong>2. Quality</strong></p> <p>After a conversation with a friend, sometimes I feel really good about the conversation. Other times I don’t.</p> <p>Similarly, we found the quality of interactions on social media made a big difference. Depression related to negative interactions with other people, being more critical, cutting others down or feeling criticised by others, and hostility.</p> <p>In contrast, by supporting and encouraging others and feeling supported by them, it can help you feel good.</p> <p><strong>3. Time online</strong></p> <p><a href="https://www.psychology.org.au/psychologyweek/survey/results-fomo/">An Australian survey</a> found adults spend over two hours a day using social media. It also found more than 50% of young people are heavy social media users, with one quarter reporting being constantly connected.</p> <p>In our review, some studies found depressed users spent more time online while other studies were inconclusive.</p> <p>Notably, no study found spending more time online was a good thing.</p> <p>This is something to keep on the radar as people spend more and more time connected to their devices. Many young people have a <a href="http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2015/10/12/fear-of-missing-out/">fear of missing out (FOMO)</a>, and thus stay constantly connected. Indeed, in our review we found feeling addicted to social media was associated with higher levels of depression.</p> <p>We see growing evidence that <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3gEZSD-2RIk">simplifying life</a>, including spending time offline, has health and well-being benefits.</p> <p>If you feel concerned about how much time passes by while you are online, consider stepping away from social media for a few days.</p> <p><strong>4. Passive versus active use</strong></p> <p>Some people post many updates, providing blow-by-blow descriptions of their lives. Others read through news feeds, liking posts and passing interesting tidbits on to others.</p> <p>In our review, simply reading posts and browsing news feeds did not positively or negatively impact well-being.</p> <p>The difference was for active users: those who posted their thoughts and feelings and responded to others. People who were depressed posted a lot of negative content. Those who were happy actively engaged with other users, sharing their lives.</p> <p><strong>5. Social comparisons</strong></p> <p>Social media provides opportunities to compare ourselves with others, for better or for worse.</p> <p>Social media can provide support groups that can help spur you on towards reaching a specific goal. For example, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-collinson/are-you-up-to-the-strengths-challenge_b_9096378.html">the Strengths Challenge</a> used social networks to encourage people to look for good things about themselves and their co-workers, resulting in higher levels of well-being.</p> <p>But comparing yourselves with others can also be quite destructive. Depressed individuals were more likely to see others as better than them. Envy plays a particularly destructive role.</p> <p>If you find yourself jealous of friends and others in your network, it might be a good time to disconnect and find other sources to build up your self esteem.</p> <p><strong>6. Motivation</strong></p> <p>Why do you use social media? People who used social media to connect with friends felt it contributed to their well-being.</p> <p>In contrast, those who were depressed sought out social support on social media, but felt like their friends were letting them down.</p> <p>If you are feeling lonely and trying to fill a void through social media, it could be doing more harm than good.</p> <p><strong>Take a good look at yourself</strong></p> <p>Social media is here to stay. It offers a great way to connect with others, but can also exacerbate social anxieties that exist in the offline world.</p> <p>So how do you best use social media? Take a few minutes to think about how social media makes you or your family and friends feel. Is it a positive addition to your life, or does it make you feel bad, consuming time and energy you could use in other ways?</p> <p>By taking stock of your social media habits, it can help you choose ways – and encourage others – to use it in a manner that keeps you healthy.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/70211/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/peggy-kern-191569">Peggy Kern</a>, Senior Lecturer in Positive Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-melbourne-722">University of Melbourne</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-to-be-a-healthy-user-of-social-media-70211">original article</a>.</em></p>

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4 signs you have high emotional intelligence

<p>Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between behaving in a socially acceptable way and being considered to be way out of line. While most people will have heard of emotional intelligence, not many people really know how to spot it – in themselves or in others.</p> <p>Emotional intelligence is essentially the way you perceive, understand, express, and manage emotions. And it’s important because the more you understand these aspects of yourself, the better your mental health and social behaviour will be.</p> <p>It might be these are things you do without even really thinking – which can be the case for a lot of people. Or it might be that these are skills you know you need to work on.</p> <p>Either way, improved emotional intelligence can be very useful in all sorts of circumstances – be it in work, at home, in school, or even when you’re just socialising with your friends.</p> <p>So if you want to know if you’re emotionally intelligent, simply check the list below.</p> <p><strong>1. You think about your reactions</strong></p> <p>Emotional intelligence can mean the difference between a good reaction and a bad reaction to circumstances. Emotions can contain important information that can be useful to personal and social functioning – but sometimes these emotions can also overwhelm us, and make us act in ways we would rather not.</p> <p>People who lack emotional intelligence are more likely to just react, without giving themselves the time to weigh up the pros and cons of a situation and really thinking things through.</p> <p>People who are less able to regulate their negative feelings are also more likely to have difficulty functioning socially – which can exacerbate depressive feelings.</p> <p>People with <a href="https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-signs-and-symptoms.htm">major depression</a> have been shown to have <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1754073916650494">difficulties</a> understanding and managing their emotions. And research has also shown that more depressive symptoms are present in people with lower emotional intelligence – even if they are not clinically depressed.</p> <p><strong>2. You see situations as a challenge</strong></p> <p>If you are able to recognise negative emotions in yourself and see difficult <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1754073916650497">situations as a challenge</a> – focusing on the positives and persevering – chances are that you’ve got high emotional intelligence.</p> <p>Imagine for a moment you lost your job. An emotionally intelligent person might perceive their emotions as cues to take action, both to deal with the challenges and to control their thoughts and feelings.</p> <p>But someone with poor emotional skills might <a href="http://www.apa.org/monitor/nov05/cycle.aspx">ruminate</a> on their job loss, come to think of themselves as hopelessly unemployable, and spiral into depression.</p> <p><strong>3. You can modify your emotions</strong></p> <p>Of course, there are times when your feelings can get the better of you, but if you are an emotionally intelligent person, it is likely that when this happens you have the skills needed to modify your emotions.</p> <p>For example, while average levels of anxiety can improve cognitive performance – probably by increasing focus and motivation – too much anxiety can block cognitive achievement.</p> <p>So knowing how to find the sweet spot, between too much and too little anxiety, can be a useful tool.</p> <p>It is clear that <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-brain-and-emotional-intelligence/201203/the-sweet-spot-achievement">moderation</a> is the key when it comes to managing our emotions. Emotionally intelligent people know this and have the skills to modify their emotions appropriately.</p> <p>And this is probably why emotional intelligence has been shown to be <a href="http://emotional.intelligence.uma.es/documentos/pdf60among_adolescents.pdf">related</a> to lower levels of anxiety.</p> <p><strong>4. You can put yourself in other people’s shoes</strong></p> <p>If you are able to extend these skills beyond your own personal functioning, then that’s another sign that you have high levels of emotional intelligence.</p> <p>Emotional intelligence can be particularly important in workplaces that require heavy “<a href="https://hbr.org/2016/09/managing-the-hidden-stress-of-emotional-labor">emotional labour</a>” – where workers must manage their emotions according to organisational rules.</p> <p>This can include customer service jobs, where workers may need to sympathise with customers – despite the fact that customers may be yelling at them.</p> <p>This is why workplace emotional intelligence training is now common – with the <a href="http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1754073916650496">most effective training</a> focusing on management and expression of emotions, which are directly linked to communication and job performance.</p> <p>It’s also worth pointing out that emotional intelligence is a cognitive ability that can improve across your <a href="http://www.livescience.com/37134-emotional-intelligence-improve-aging.html">lifespan</a>. So if you haven’t recognised much of yourself in the traits listed above, fear not, there’s still time for you to work on your emotional intelligence.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/71165/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jose-m-mestre-286147">Jose M. Mestre</a>, Professor of Emotion and Motivation, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/universidad-de-cadiz-2934">Universidad de Cádiz</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kimberly-a-barchard-285790">Kimberly A. Barchard</a>, Associate Professor in Quantitative Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-nevada-las-vegas-826">University of Nevada, Las Vegas</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/four-signs-you-have-high-emotional-intelligence-71165">original article</a>.</em></p>

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6 things you can do to reduce your risk of dementia

<p>An ageing population is leading to a growing number of people living with dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term for a group of symptoms including memory impairment, confusion, and loss of ability to carry out everyday activities.</p> <p>Alzheimer’s disease is the <a href="https://www.dementia.org.au/about-dementia/types-of-dementia/alzheimers-disease">most common</a> form of dementia, and causes a progressive decline in brain health.</p> <p>Dementia affects <a href="https://www.dementia.org.au/statistics">more than 425,000 Australians</a>. It is the second-ranked <a href="http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/3303.0%7E2016%7EMain%20Features%7EAustralia's%20leading%20causes%20of%20death,%202016%7E3">cause of death</a> overall, and the leading cause in women.</p> <p>The main risk factor for dementia is older age. Around <a href="https://www.dementia.org.au/statistics">30% of people aged over 85</a> live with dementia. Genetic influences also <a href="http://science.sciencemag.org/content/261/5123/921.long">play a role</a> in the onset of the disease, but these are stronger for rarer types of dementia such as <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/expert-reviews-in-molecular-medicine/article/presenilininteracting-proteins/18AE48632AC07669FF98F9D5069D8C68">early-onset Alzheimer’s disease</a>.</p> <p>Although we can’t change our age or genetic profile, there are nevertheless several lifestyle changes we can make that will reduce our dementia risk.</p> <p><strong>1. Engage in mentally stimulating activities</strong></p> <p>Education is an important determinant of dementia risk. Having less than <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1474442206705373">ten years of formal education</a> can increase the chances of developing dementia. People <a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31363-6/fulltext">who don’t complete</a> any secondary school have the greatest risk.</p> <p>The good news is that we can still strengthen our brain at any age, through workplace achievement and <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025284/">leisure activities</a> such as reading newspapers, playing card games, or learning a new language or skill.</p> <p>The evidence suggests that <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4055506/">group-based training</a> for memory and problem-solving strategies could improve long-term cognitive function. But this evidence can’t be generalised to computerised “<a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK436397/">brain training</a>” programs. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities in a social setting may also contribute to the success of cognitive training.</p> <p><strong>2. Maintain social contact</strong></p> <p>More frequent <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S156816371500046X">social contact</a> (such as visiting friends and relatives or talking on the phone) has been linked to lower risk of dementia, while loneliness may increase it.</p> <p>Greater involvement in <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025284/">group or community activities</a> is associated with a lower risk. Interestingly, size of friendship group appears <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S156816371500046X">less relevant</a> than having regular contact with others.</p> <p><strong>3. Manage weight and heart health</strong></p> <p>There is a strong link between heart and brain health. High blood pressure and obesity, particularly during mid-life, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3647614/">increase the risk</a> of dementia. Combined, these conditions may contribute to <a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(11)70072-2/fulltext">more than 12%</a> of dementia cases.</p> <p>In an analysis of data from more than 40,000 people, those who had <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22372522">type 2 diabetes</a> were up to twice as likely to develop dementia as healthy people.</p> <p>Managing or reversing these conditions through the use of medication and/or diet and exercise is crucial to reducing dementia risk.</p> <p><strong>4. Get more exercise</strong></p> <p>Physical activity has been shown to protect against <a href="https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/report.aspx">cognitive decline</a>. In data combined from more than 33,000 people, those who were highly physically active had a <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/epdf/10.1111/j.1365-2796.2010.02281.x">38% lower</a> risk of cognitive decline compared with those who were inactive.</p> <p>Precisely how much exercise is enough to maintain cognition is still <a href="http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/8/636">under debate</a>. But a <a href="http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/52/3/154.long">recent review</a> of studies looking at the effects of taking exercise for a minimum of four weeks suggested that sessions should last at least 45 minutes and be of moderate to high intensity. This means huffing and puffing and finding it difficult to maintain a conversation.</p> <p>Australians generally don’t meet the target of <a href="http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#apaadult">150 minutes</a> of physical activity per week.</p> <p><strong>5. Don’t smoke</strong></p> <p>Cigarette smoking is harmful to heart health, and the chemicals found in cigarettes trigger inflammation and vascular changes in the brain. They can also <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11065-007-9035-9">trigger oxidative stress</a>, in which chemicals called free radicals can cause damage to our cells. These processes may contribute to the <a href="http://www.alzheimersanddementia.com/article/S1552-5260(14)00137-X/fulltext">development of dementia</a>.</p> <p>The good news is that smoking rates in Australia have dropped from <a href="http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mediareleasesbyCatalogue/E6DE72422D16BBB4CA258130001536C2?OpenDocument">28% to 16%</a> since 2001.</p> <p>As dementia risk is <a href="https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/166/4/367/96440">higher in current smokers</a> compared with past smokers and non-smokers, this provides yet another incentive to quit once and for all.</p> <p><strong>6. Seek help for depression</strong></p> <p>Around one million Australian adults are currently living with <a href="http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4326.0">depression</a>. In depression, some changes <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nrneurol.2011.60">occur in the brain</a> that may affect dementia risk. High levels of the stress hormone cortisol have been linked to shrinkage of brain regions that are important for memory.</p> <p>Vascular disease, which causes damage to blood vessels, has also been observed in both depression and dementia. Researchers suggests that long-term oxidative stress and inflammation may also contribute to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278584616300070">both conditions</a>.</p> <p>A <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2627700?redirect=true">28-year study</a> of more than 10,000 people found that dementia risk was only increased in those who had depression in the ten years before diagnosis. One possibility is that late-life depression can reflect an early symptom of dementia.</p> <p>Other studies <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22566581">have shown</a> that having depression before the age of 60 still increases dementia risk, so seeking treatment for depression is encouraged.</p> <p><strong>Other things to consider</strong></p> <p>Reducing dementia risk factors doesn’t guarantee that you will never develop dementia. But it does mean that, at a population level, fewer people will be affected. Recent estimates <a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31363-6/fulltext">suggest that up to 35%</a> of all dementia cases may be due to the risk factors outlined above.</p> <p>This figure also includes management of hearing loss, although the <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaotolaryngology/fullarticle/2665726">evidence</a> for this is less well established.</p> <p>The contribution of <a href="http://n.neurology.org/content/89/12/1244">sleep disturbances</a> and <a href="http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(17)31363-6/fulltext">diet</a> to dementia risk are emerging as important, and will likely receive more consideration as the evidence base grows.</p> <p>Even though dementia may be seen as an older person’s disease, harmful processes can occur in the brain for <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S235287371500013X">several decades</a> before dementia appears. This means that <em>now</em> is the best time to take action to reduce your risk.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/93061/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/helen-macpherson-368542">Helen Macpherson</a>, Research Fellow, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/deakin-university-757">Deakin University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-things-you-can-do-to-reduce-your-risk-of-dementia-93061">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Your brain on sugar: What the science actually says

<p>We love sweet treats. But too much sugar in our diets can lead to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/does-sugar-make-you-fat">weight gain and obesity</a>, <a href="https://www.diabetes.ca/recently-diagnosed/type-2-toolkit">Type 2 diabetes</a> and <a href="http://www.actiononsugar.org/sugar-and-health/sugars-and-tooth-decay/">dental decay</a>. We know we shouldn’t be eating candy, ice cream, cookies, cakes and drinking sugary sodas, but sometimes they are so hard to resist.</p> <p>It’s as if our brain is hardwired to want these foods.</p> <p>As a neuroscientist my research centres on how <a href="https://theconversation.com/is-the-food-industry-conspiring-to-make-you-fat-81537">modern day “obesogenic,” or obesity-promoting, diets</a> change the brain. I want to understand how what we eat alters our behaviour and whether brain changes can be mitigated by other lifestyle factors.</p> <p>Your body runs on sugar — glucose to be precise. Glucose comes from the Greek word <em>glukos</em> which means sweet. Glucose fuels the cells that make up our body — <a href="https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-neuron-2794890">including brain cells (neurons)</a>.</p> <p><strong>Dopamine “hits” from eating sugar</strong></p> <p>On an evolutionary basis, our primitive ancestors were scavengers. Sugary foods are excellent sources of energy, so we have evolved to find sweet foods particularly pleasurable. Foods with unpleasant, bitter and sour tastes can be unripe, poisonous or rotting — causing sickness.</p> <p>So to maximize our survival as a species, we have an innate brain system that makes us like sweet foods since they’re a great source of energy to fuel our bodies.</p> <p>When we eat sweet foods the brain’s reward system — called the <a href="https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/glossary/mesolimbic-pathway">mesolimbic dopamine system</a> — gets activated. <a href="https://www.sciencenewsforstudents.org/article/explainer-what-dopamine">Dopamine</a> is a brain chemical released by neurons and can signal that an event was positive. When the reward system fires, it reinforces behaviours — making it more likely for us to carry out these actions again.</p> <p>Dopamine “hits” from eating sugar promote rapid learning to preferentially find more of these foods.</p> <p>Our environment today is abundant with sweet, energy rich foods. We no longer have to forage for these special sugary foods — they are available everywhere. Unfortunately, our brain is still functionally very similar to our ancestors, and it really likes sugar. So what happens in the brain when we excessively consume sugar?</p> <p><strong>Can sugar rewire the brain?</strong></p> <p>The brain continuously <a href="https://brainworksneurotherapy.com/what-neuroplasticity">remodels and rewires itself through a process called neuroplasticity</a>. This rewiring can happen in the reward system. Repeated activation of the reward pathway by drugs or by eating lots of sugary foods causes the brain to adapt to frequent stimulation, leading to a sort of tolerance.</p> <p>In the case of sweet foods, this means we need to eat more to get the same rewarding feeling — a classic feature of addiction.</p> <p><a href="https://theconversation.com/fact-or-fiction-is-sugar-addictive-73340">Food addiction</a> is a controversial subject among scientists and clinicians. While it is true that you can become physically dependent on certain drugs, it is debated whether you can be <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.08.016">addicted to food</a> when you need it for basic survival.</p> <p><strong>The brain wants sugar, then more sugar</strong></p> <p>Regardless of our need for food to power our bodies, many people experience food cravings, particularly when stressed, hungry or just faced with an alluring display of cakes in a coffee shop.</p> <p>To resist cravings, we need to inhibit our natural response to indulge in these tasty foods. A network of inhibitory neurons is critical for controlling behaviour. These <a href="https://www.neuroscientificallychallenged.com/blog/2014/5/16/know-your-brain-prefrontal-cortex">neurons are concentrated in the prefrontal cortex</a> — a key area of the brain involved in decision-making, impulse control and delaying gratification.</p> <p>Inhibitory neurons are like the brain’s brakes and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/gamma-aminobutyric-acid">release the chemical GABA</a>. Research in rats has shown that <a href="http://www.learnmem.org/cgi/doi/10.1101/lm.038000.114">eating high-sugar diets can alter the inhibitory neurons</a>. The sugar-fed rats were also less able to control their behaviour and make decisions.</p> <p>Importantly, this shows that what we eat can influence our ability to resist temptations and may underlie why diet changes are so difficult for people.</p> <p>A recent study asked people to rate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.physbeh.2017.10.007">how much they wanted to eat high-calorie snack foods when they were feeling hungry</a> versus when they had recently eaten. The people who regularly ate a high-fat, high-sugar diet rated their cravings for snack foods higher even when they weren’t hungry.</p> <p>This suggests that regularly eating high-sugar foods could amplify cravings — creating a vicious circle of wanting more and more of these foods.</p> <p><strong>Sugar can disrupt memory formation</strong></p> <p>Another brain area affected by high sugar diets is the <a href="https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/313295.php">hippocampus</a> — a key memory centre.</p> <p>Research shows that rats eating high-sugar diets were <a href="http://learnmem.cshlp.org/content/23/7/386.full.html">less able to remember</a> whether they had previously seen objects in specific locations before.</p> <p>The sugar-induced changes in the hippocampus were both a <a href="https://qbi.uq.edu.au/brain-basics/brain-physiology/what-neurogenesis">reduction of newborn neurons</a>, which are vital for encoding memories, and an <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2013.11.016">increase in chemicals linked to inflammation</a>.</p> <p><strong>How to protect your brain from sugar?</strong></p> <p>The World Health Organization advises that we limit our intake of added sugars to <a href="https://www.ages.at/en/topics/nutrition/who-sugar-recommendations/">five per cent of our daily calorie intake</a>, which is 25g (six teaspoons).</p> <p>Importantly, the brain’s neuroplasticity capabilities allow it to reset to an extent following cutting down on dietary sugar, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nlm.2016.03.002">physical exercise can augment this process</a>. Foods rich in omaga-3 fats (found in fish oil, nuts and seeds) are also neuroprotective and can boost brain chemicals needed to form new neurons.</p> <p>While it’s not easy to break habits like always eating dessert or making your coffee a double-double, your brain will thank you for making positive steps.</p> <p>The first step is often the hardest. These diet changes can often get easier along the way.<!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/amy-reichelt-13667">Amy Reichelt</a>, BrainsCAN Research Associate, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/western-university-882">Western University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/your-brain-on-sugar-what-the-science-actually-says-126581">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Are firstborns really natural leaders?

<p>Everybody knows that firstborns are natural leaders, middle children are rebels and the baby of the family is spoiled yet confident. At least, that’s what received wisdom tells us. But is any of it true? And where did this idea come from in the first place?</p> <p>In the 1930s the Austrian psychotherapist Alfred Adler was the <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Jason_Kaufman3/publication/282442353_The_Role_of_Birth_Order_in_Personality_An_Enduring_Intellectual_Legacy_of_Alfred_Adler/links/56a10ebb08ae24f62701e979/The-Role-of-Birth-Order-in-Personality-An-Enduring-Intellectual-Legacy-of-Alfred-Adler.pdf">first to study birth order</a> and its effect on personality. He believed that “every difficulty of development is caused by rivalry and lack of cooperation in the family”.</p> <p>According to Adler, an only child never has to compete for their parents’ attention and is never “replaced” by other siblings. Similarly, the oldest child receives most of the parents’ attention and is likely to feel responsible towards their younger siblings, which is reflected in their perfectionism, hard-working attitude and conscientiousness.</p> <p>A second-born child is constantly competing with their older sibling and trying to catch up with them. Middle children are caught between their older and younger siblings, who may often leave them out or gang-up on them. As a result, the middle child may become easily angered and sensitive to criticism.</p> <p>The youngest child is often the most pampered in the family. They depend on their family more than any other siblings and may demand that everything is done for them. In the opposite case, they may feel unwanted, disliked or even ignored.</p> <p>Adding a child to the family has an impact on how a family operates. But Adler suggested that other factors play a role, too, such as family size, health, age, culture or the child’s sex.</p> <p>Adler’s theories continue to hold sway and birth order is still an important area of study in psychology. And the role of firstborn holds a particular fascination.</p> <p><strong>The firstborn effect</strong></p> <p>According to a <a href="https://www.nber.org/papers/w23393">recent Swedish study</a>, firstborns have more favourable personality traits, including openness to new experiences, conscientiousness, extroversion, friendliness and greater emotional stability, than their later-born siblings. As a result, they are more likely to become chief executives and senior managers, whereas later-born children, who love to take risks, often end up being self-employed.</p> <p>Firstborns tend to possess psychological characteristics related to leadership, including responsibility, creativity, obedience and <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886905003314">dominance</a>. They are also more likely to have higher academic abilities and levels of intelligence than their younger siblings. These qualities are believed to make firstborns more successful. But the “baby” of the family is <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00224540009600502">more likely</a> to take risks, rebel, show addictive behaviour and lack independence compared with their older siblings.</p> <p>There are two explanations that could justify this firstborn effect. From the evolutionary perspective, parents favour and invest (shelter and food) in their firstborn to increase their chances of survival and reproduction. But this comes at a cost because the parent is now unable to invest the same amount of resources in later-born offspring.</p> <p>Younger siblings then have to compete for these limited parental resources and attention. (So parents who spend less time helping their later-born children with schoolwork may do so because of the lack of spare resources.)</p> <p>But children who are born last often receive preferential treatment. This is because parents now have the last chance to invest their resources. They are also older and tend to have more money at this point. Parents are more likely to invest in the education <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/313072471_Birth_Order_and_Parental_Investment">of their latest-born offspring</a>.</p> <p>Parental expectations could also explain the more favourable personality traits among firstborns. That is, parents tend to be stricter in their parenting with the firstborn. Parents also encourage toughness because firstborns need to act as role models (and surrogate parent) for their later-born siblings and defend the values of the parents.</p> <p>Firstborns must keep their “first” position and never fall behind the younger sibling. The rivalry and conflict between firstborn and later-born offspring is the result of the younger sibling’s need to establish their position in the family. Although they try to race and copy the role of their older firstborn sibling, this privileged position is already taken. Laterborns must also differentiate themselves to attract parental resources, which could explain their rebellious behaviour.</p> <p><strong>Mixed evidence</strong></p> <p>These explanations are sound, but the evidence to support the link between personality traits and birth order is mixed. Some studies show a strong association between <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886913012142">leadership abilities and birth order</a>, but others <a href="https://articlegateway.com/index.php/JOP/article/view/1094">do not support these findings</a>.</p> <p>The inconsistencies in findings may stem from factors that are sometimes neglected, such as the sex of the siblings. The firstborn effect (and the chances of becoming a chief executive) is weaker in the case of later-born males with older brothers as opposed to those who have <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/0162-895X.00343">older sisters</a>.</p> <p>Age gap spacing also needs to be taken into account because larger age gaps between siblings result in a more nurturing surrogate parent role of the older sibling and reduces the <a href="https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9780203837962">rivalry conflict between the siblings</a>.</p> <p>The fertility age of the mother could also sway the personality outcomes because mothers who have later-born children are older than when they had their firstborn and many studies don’t control for this factor.</p> <p>It appears that the psychological profiles of firstborns may have been over-generalised.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/126215/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/klara-sabolova-875126">Klara Sabolova</a>, Lecturer in Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-south-wales-1586">University of South Wales</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/are-firstborns-really-natural-leaders-126215">original article</a>.</em></p>

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What does it mean to ‘gamble responsibly’?

<p>Advertisements for gambling and online betting tell us to “gamble responsibly”. But what does this mean in reality? And how can you gamble responsibly online when another bet is just a click or swipe away?</p> <p><a href="https://aifs.gov.au/agrc/publications/gambling-activity-australia/1-introduction">A total of 64%</a> of Australian adults gamble at least once a year, with <a href="https://aifs.gov.au/agrc/publications/gambling-activity-australia/2-gambling-participation">one third</a> of gamblers participating in multiple forms of gambling. <a href="https://aifs.gov.au/agrc/publications/gambling-activity-australia/2-gambling-participation">Lottery is the most common form of gambling</a> among those who gamble regularly (76%), followed by instant scratch tickets (22%) and electronic gaming machines (or “pokies”, almost 21%).</p> <p><a href="http://www.problemgambling.net.au/ausgambling.html">Up to 160,000 Australians</a> experience significant problems from gambling, and up to a further 350,000 experience moderate risks that make them vulnerable to developing a gambling problem.</p> <p>In about the past 15 years, there’s been a <a href="https://www.sbs.com.au/news/insight/tvepisode/online-gambling">rise in online gambling</a>. While rates of online gambling for Australians <a href="https://aifs.gov.au/agrc/publications/gambling-activity-australia">are low</a> compared to traditional forms of gambling, participation in online gambling appears to be increasing rapidly.</p> <p><a href="https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/online-gambling-market">If this continues</a>, online gambling may soon replace traditional, in-venue gambling, particularly for young people.</p> <p><a href="https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/resources/publications/gen-bet-has-gambling-gatecrashed-our-teens-16/">About one young person</a> in every 25 has a problem with gambling, which is an average of one in every high school classroom. Up to one in five bet on sports matches <a href="https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/resources/publications/gen-bet-has-gambling-gatecrashed-our-teens-16/">and</a> one in ten gamble online.</p> <p><strong>Young people exposed to gambling when watching sport</strong></p> <p>Advertisements for gambling and online betting are particularly common in Australian sport. While there has been a <a href="https://adstandards.com.au/issues/gambling-advertising">recent shift to regulate</a> when and how gambling is advertised during sporting matches, there is still a heavy presence.</p> <p>In fact, three in four children aged eight to 16 who watch sports <a href="https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/reducing-harm/parents/teenagers-and-gambling/">can name at least one</a> betting company.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/9DnC2DF1SSM?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">The campaign ‘Love the Game, not the Odds’ aims to disrupt the idea that gambling is a normal part of sport.</span></p> <p>The public health campaign, “<a href="https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/reducing-harm/love-the-game-program/">Love the Game, Not the Odds</a>”, was released addressing the issue of reducing the exposure of young people to sport betting.</p> <p>It aims to disrupt the notion that gambling is a normal part of sport and being a spectator. And it aims to help start and facilitate conversations with children and adolescents about gambling not needing to be an integral part of gaming.</p> <p><strong>How to ‘gamble responsibly’?</strong></p> <p>The phrase “gamble responsibly” on advertisements and websites was used for years before researchers and public health advocates looked at the types of behaviours that underpin it.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Bpj46f2Z9BA?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">This video from Ladbrokes tells us to ‘gamble responsibly’, but what does this mean in practice?</span></p> <p>Responsible gambling is <a href="https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/resources/publications/behavioural-indicators-of-responsible-gambling-consumption-64/">defined</a> as:</p> <blockquote> <p>Exercising control and informed choice to ensure that gambling is kept within affordable limits of money and time, is enjoyable, in balance with other activities and responsibilities, and avoids gambling-related harm.</p> </blockquote> <p>Ways of achieving this <a href="https://responsiblegambling.vic.gov.au/resources/publications/behavioural-indicators-of-responsible-gambling-consumption-64/">include</a>:</p> <ul> <li>ensuring gambling is affordable by not gambling with money needed for necessities (such as bills or food)</li> <li>ensuring gambling doesn’t dominate your leisure time, and you are engaging in other social and leisure activities</li> <li>avoiding borrowing money or using a credit card to gamble</li> <li>avoiding gambling when under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, or as a way to manage emotions when you are bored, depressed or anxious</li> <li>setting limits around how much and long you with gamble for, setting a limit on your maximum bet size, and avoiding increasing bets when winning or losing.</li> </ul> <p>Additional tips for people gambling online include:</p> <ul> <li>setting limits on how much you can gamble by only using websites with a daily limit spend</li> <li>avoiding having multiple online gambling accounts.</li> </ul> <p><strong>How do I know if I have a gambling problem?</strong></p> <p>There are clear signs when gambling moves from being a hobby to becoming a mental health concern. <a href="https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gambling-disorder/what-is-gambling-disorder">These include</a>:</p> <ul> <li>needing to gamble with increasing amounts of money to achieve the desired excitement</li> <li>feeling restless or irritable when trying to stop gambling</li> <li>trying to stop or cut back gambling unsuccessfully</li> <li>spending a lot of time thinking about gambling</li> <li>gambling when you’re feeling anxious or upset</li> <li>chasing losses (by trying to make up losses with more gambling)</li> <li>lying to others to conceal the extent of your gambling</li> <li>relying on others for money</li> <li>jeopardising relationships, job or opportunities because of gambling.</li> </ul> <p>If you are concerned about your gambling, seek professional help and exclude yourself from gambling venues and websites.</p> <p>In practice, for online gambling, this might mean disabling automatic logins and deleting accounts.</p> <p><em>If this article raises concerns for you or someone you know, gambling support is available via <a href="https://www.lifeline.org.au/get-help/topics/problem-gambling">Lifeline</a> (13 11 14), or via <a href="https://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au/">Gambling Help Online</a>, which lists services in your <a href="https://www.gamblinghelponline.org.au/services-in-your-state">state or territory</a>.</em><!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/130949/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/anastasia-hronis-811811">Anastasia Hronis</a>, Clinical Psychologist, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-technology-sydney-936">University of Technology Sydney</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/were-told-to-gamble-responsibly-but-what-does-that-actually-mean-130949">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why is it fun to be frightened?

<p>Audiences flock to horror films. They get a thrill from movies like <a href="https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0077651/"><em>Halloween</em></a>, with its seemingly random murder and mayhem in a small suburban town, a reminder that that picket fences and manicured lawns cannot protect us from the unjust, the unknown or the uncertainty that awaits us all in both life and death. The film offers no justice for the victims in the end, no rebalancing of good and evil.</p> <p>Why, then, would anyone want to spend their time and money to watch such macabre scenes filled with depressing reminders of just how unfair and scary our world can be?</p> <p>I’ve spent the past 10 years investigating just this question, finding the typical answer of “Because I like it! It’s fun!” incredibly unsatisfying. I’ve long been convinced there’s more to it than the “natural high” or adrenaline rush many describe – and indeed, the body does kick into “go” mode when you’re startled or scared, amping up not only adrenaline but a multitude of chemicals that ensure your body is fueled and ready to respond. This “fight or flight” response to threat has helped keep humans alive for millennia.</p> <p>That still doesn’t explain why people would want to intentionally scare themselves, though. As a sociologist, I’ve kept asking “But, why?” After two years collecting data in a haunted attraction with my colleague <a href="http://www.wpic.pitt.edu/research/pican/">Greg Siegle</a>, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh, we’ve found the gains from thrills and chills can go further than the natural high.</p> <p><strong>Studying fear at a terrifying attraction</strong></p> <p>To capture in real time what makes fear fun, what motivates people to pay to be scared out of their skin and what they experience when engaging with this material, we needed to gather data in the field. In this case, that meant setting up a mobile lab in the basement of an extreme haunted attraction outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.</p> <p>This adults-only extreme attraction went beyond the typical startling lights and sounds and animated characters found in a family-friendly haunted house. Over the course of about 35 minutes, visitors experienced a series of intense scenarios where, in addition to unsettling characters and special effects, they were touched by the actors, restrained and exposed to electricity. It was <a href="https://triblive.com/aande/movies/7104986-74/scarehouse-elijah-halloween">not for the faint of heart</a>.</p> <p>For our study, we recruited 262 guests who had already purchased tickets. Before they entered the attraction, each completed a survey about their expectations and how they were feeling. We had them answer questions again about how they were feeling once they had gone through the attraction.</p> <p>We also used mobile EEG technology to compare 100 participants’ brainwave activity as they sat through 15 minutes of various cognitive and emotional tasks before and after the attraction.</p> <p><a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/emo0000470">Guests reported significantly higher mood</a>, and felt less anxious and tired, directly after their trip through the haunted attraction. The more terrifying the better: Feeling happy afterward was related to rating the experience as highly intense and scary. This set of volunteers also reported feeling that they’d challenged their personal fears and learned about themselves.</p> <p>Analysis of the EEG data revealed widespread decreases in brain reactivity from before to after among those whose mood improved. In other words, highly intense and scary activities – at least in a controlled environment like this haunted attraction – may “shut down” the brain to an extent, and that in turn is associated with feeling better. Studies of those <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nss054">who practice mindfulness meditation</a> have made a similar observation.</p> <p><strong>Coming out stronger on the other side</strong></p> <p>Together our findings suggest that going through an extreme haunted attraction provides gains similar to choosing to <a href="https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/lets-get-physical-report.pdf">run a 5K race</a> or tackling a difficult climbing wall. There’s a sense of uncertainty, physical exertion, a challenge to push yourself – and eventually achievement when it’s over and done with.</p> <p>Fun-scary experiences could serve as an in-the-moment recalibration of what registers as stressful and even provide a kind of confidence boost. After watching a scary movie or going through a haunted attraction, maybe everything else seems like no big deal in comparison. You rationally understand that the actors in a haunted house aren’t real, but when you suspend your disbelief and allow yourself to become immersed in the experience, the fear certainly can feel real, as does the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment when you make it through. As I experienced myself after all kinds of <a href="https://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/titles/margee-kerr/scream/9781610397162/">scary adventures in Japan, Colombia and all over the U.S.</a>, confronting a horde of zombies can actually make you feel pretty invincible.</p> <p>Movies like “Halloween” allow people to tackle the big, existential fears we all have, like why bad things happen without reason, through the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/519498">protective frame of entertainment</a>. Choosing to do fun, scary activities may also serve as a way to practice being scared, building greater self-knowledge and resilience, similar to <a href="https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ959713">rough-and-tumble play</a>. It’s an opportunity to engage with fear on your own terms, in environments where you can push your boundaries, safely. Because you’re not in real danger, and thus not occupied with survival, you can choose to observe your reactions and how your body changes, gaining greater insight to yourself.</p> <p><strong>What it takes to be safely scared</strong></p> <p>While there are countless differences in the nature, content, intensity and overall quality of haunted attractions, horror movies and other forms of scary entertainment, they all share a few critical components that help pave the way for a fun scary time.</p> <p>First and foremost, you have to make the choice to engage – don’t drag your best friend with you unless she is also on board. But do try to gather some friends when you’re ready. When you engage in activities with other people, even just watching a movie, your own emotional experience is intensified. Doing intense, exciting and thrilling things together can make them more fun and help create rewarding social bonds. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1320040111">Emotions can be contagious</a>, so when you see your friend scream and laugh, you may feel compelled to do the same.</p> <p>No matter the potential benefits, horror movies and scary entertainment are not for everyone, and that’s OK. While the fight-or-flight response is universal, there are important differences between individuals – for example, in genetic expressions, environment and personal history – that help explain why some loathe and others love thrills and chills.</p> <p>Regardless of your taste (or distaste) for all things horror or thrill-related, an adventurous and curious mindset can benefit everyone. After all, we’re the descendants of those who were adventurous and curious enough to explore the new and novel, but also quick and smart enough to run or fight when danger appeared. This Halloween, maybe challenge yourself to at least one fun scary experience and prepare to unleash your inner superhero.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/101055/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/margee-kerr-528546">Margee Kerr</a>, Adjunct Professor of Sociology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-pittsburgh-854">University of Pittsburgh</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-is-it-fun-to-be-frightened-101055">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why marathon can make you more self-compassionate

<p>Unsurprisingly, running a marathon is tough. It takes months of training before runners even make it to the starting line and this preparation can, at times, feel like punishment. The marathon runner in training can often be found limping around with blisters, sore muscles and blackened or lost toenails. Not, perhaps, an image we might naturally associate with the idea of “self-compassion”.</p> <p>A relatively new concept, self-compassion has been hailed as a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvtZBUSplr4">more robust alternative to self-esteem</a>. While compassion refers to the demonstration of sympathy and concern for others in times of suffering, self-compassion entails showing this <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298860309032">same understanding to ourselves</a>.</p> <p>One of first skills needed for self-compassion is self-kindness – extending compassion to yourself, even when you feel like you have failed, which can be challenging to say the least. Often when faced with failure, we implicitly assume self-criticism is necessary in order to motivate strong future performance. But in reality this <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0191886909001226">strategy often falls flat</a>. Giving oneself a harsh talking to doesn’t just make us feel bad, it also interferes with our ability to calmly examine a situation and identify what to change in order to improve – an essential component of <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298860902979307">psychological resilience</a>.</p> <p>Perhaps this explains why studies have found positive associations between self-compassion and <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1751-9004.2010.00330.x/full">psychological wellbeing</a>, <a href="http://guilfordjournals.com/doi/abs/10.1521/jscp.2010.29.7.727">physical health</a> and strong <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00677.x/full">relationships with others</a>.</p> <p>But what does all of this have to do with running a marathon?</p> <p>Training for a marathon can revolutionise self-perception, making kind self-talk – where you speak directly to yourself either mentally or out loud – easier for even the most reluctant of individuals. This shift isn’t prompted by changes in physique, but of mind. After dedicating oneself to a marathon, the anatomy receives a perceptual upgrade and transforms from a mere body into an essential tool. You begin to see the true value in your own body and the strength that it has.</p> <p>Research suggests that working towards purposeful goals <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1467-6494.2006.00427.x/full">enhances our sense of self-worth</a>, so under the conditions of marathon training, self-care – looking after ourselves physically – is not only viewed as essential for performance, but as something we deserve. Commit to a goal, invest time, energy and emotion in that goal, and anything that threatens the performance of the body – literally the vehicle needed to carry you to your end target – is unacceptable.</p> <p>This relates to the second element of self-compassion: a balanced perspective. Described as caring for ourselves in an enduring way, a balanced perspective ensures happiness and health in the long-term. This can also be tricky, given we are typically geared toward instant gratification and struggle to connect the immediate rewards of pleasurable items such as food, alcohol and cigarettes, with their long-term consequences. In fact, neurological research suggests that we literally <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656877/">see our future selves as different people</a>.</p> <p>However, training for a marathon can help perceptual balance, because it directs our attention away from our immediate concerns and towards the future. Research suggests that goals cognitively activate stimuli <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0065260102800089">which help us achieve them</a>. This means the motivation to complete a marathon makes objects and activities which are relevant to our long-term health implicitly attractive and easier to engage with.</p> <p>More specifically, setting a goal which requires us to plan and monitor progress over weeks or months can help to bridge the gap between current and future happiness. Sticking to a schedule and <a href="http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1469029202000122">receiving feedback</a>, such as identifying weekly mileage goals and achieving new distance targets, can make us more willing to make choices that will benefit us later on. This might be resisting the instant pleasure of one too many drinks on a Friday night, or getting enough sleep so that we feel at our best when training.</p> <p>The third and final component of self-compassion is common humanity. This refers to the understanding that suffering is a natural and shared part of being human. Based on the idea that feeling isolated in our pain <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-6494.7102004/full">exacerbates perceptions of inadequacy</a> and insecurity, common humanity is an important part of <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15298860309027">avoiding negative cycles of self-pity</a>.</p> <p>Running is sometimes considered an isolated and fiercely competitive sport, but this isn’t necessarily true. Runners step in to help one another in times of difficulty – just <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sport/video/2017/apr/24/london-marathon-david-wyeth-matthew-rees-video">look at Matthew Rees</a> who helped fellow runner David Wyeth complete the last 300m of the 2017 London Marathon, to the detriment of his own timing. Running provides a sense of human connection, because it shows that struggle is normal. Being one in a field of thousands, communally suffering in the pursuit of a common goal, is paradoxically satisfying. Perhaps because it allows us to appreciate just how small we are in the scheme of things.</p> <p>So, while marathon training may be painful, sometimes we have to experience a degree of suffering in order to truly value ourselves, to appreciate others, and to learn what it means to be self-compassionate.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/82956/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/rhi-willmot-227867">Rhi Willmot</a>, PhD Researcher in Behavioural and Positive Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/bangor-university-1221">Bangor University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/want-to-become-self-compassionate-run-a-marathon-82956">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How a sense of purpose can link creativity to happiness

<p>There are plenty of famous artists who have produced highly creative work while they were deeply unhappy or suffering from poor mental health. In 1931, the poet T.S. Eliot <a href="https://muse.jhu.edu/article/615958">wrote a letter</a> to a friend describing his “considerable mental agony” and how he felt “on the verge of insanity”. Vincent Van Gogh eventually took his own lifet, <a href="https://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1176/appi.ajp.159.4.519">having written</a> of “horrible fits of anxiety” and “feelings of emptiness and fatigue”.</p> <p>So how are creativity and happiness linked? Does happiness make us more creative or does creativity make us happy?</p> <p>Most of the research so far seems to indicate that a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S074959780800054X">positive mood enhances creativity</a>. But others have <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10400419.2003.9651405">challenged this argument</a>, suggesting a more complex relationship.</p> <p>For example, a <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23063328">large study</a> in Sweden found that authors were more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders compared to people from non-creative professions. Even in the corporate world, it has been suggested that negative emotions can <a href="https://www.london.edu/lbsr/why-negative-emotions-can-spark-creativity">spark creativity</a> and that “anxiety can focus the mind”, resulting in improved creative output.</p> <p>Meanwhile, the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Creativity-Psychology-Discovery-Mihaly-Csikszentmihaly/dp/0062283251/ref=asc_df_0062283251/?tag=googshopuk-21&amp;linkCode=df0&amp;hvadid=310973726618&amp;hvpos=1o1&amp;hvnetw=g&amp;hvrand=8230695318472149356&amp;hvpone=&amp;hvptwo=&amp;hvqmt=&amp;hvdev=c&amp;hvdvcmdl=&amp;hvlocint=&amp;hvlocphy=1006567&amp;hvtargid=pla-435435502203&amp;psc=1&amp;th=1&amp;psc=1">extensive research</a> on creative individuals across many disciplines, which found a common sense among all the people he interviewed: that they loved what they did, and that “designing or discovering something new” was one of their most enjoyable experiences.</p> <p>It seems, then, that research to date supports a variety of different views, and I believe one of the reasons for this relates to time scale.</p> <p>A key factor that affects creativity is attention. In the short term, you can get people to pay attention using external rewards (such as money) or by creating pressure to meet urgent deadlines.</p> <p>But it is much harder to sustain creativity over longer periods using these approaches – so the role of happiness becomes increasingly important. My <a href="https://20twentybusinessgrowth.com/">experience of working</a> with a large number of commercial organisations in Wales (and my own career in the public and private sectors) is that creativity is often not sustained within an organisation, even when it is encouraged (or demanded) by senior management.</p> <p>Typical reasons for this lack of sustained creativity are pressures and stresses at work, the fear of judgement, the fear of failure, or employee apathy. One way to tackle this might be to aspire to psychologist Paul Dolan’s <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Happiness-Design-Finding-Pleasure-Everyday/dp/0141977531/ref=asc_df_0141977531/?tag=googshopuk-21&amp;linkCode=df0&amp;hvadid=310805565966&amp;hvpos=1o2&amp;hvnetw=g&amp;hvrand=3028055397477065849&amp;hvpone=&amp;hvptwo=&amp;hvqmt=&amp;hvdev=c&amp;hvdvcmdl=&amp;hvlocint=&amp;hvlocphy=1006567&amp;hvtargid=pla-453838269765&amp;psc=1&amp;th=1&amp;psc=1">definition of happiness</a> as the “experiences of pleasure and purpose over time”.</p> <p>He describes purpose as relating to “fulfilment, meaning and worthwhileness” and believes we are at our happiest with a “balance between pleasure and purpose”.</p> <p>Therefore, if your work is meaningful, fulfilling and worthwhile it helps in supporting your happiness. It also has the added advantage of making you want to engage and pay attention (rather than having to).</p> <p>Bringing <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xegfNVFgxBs">purpose and creativity together</a> helps provide the intrinsic motivation for undertaking creativity, what has been called the “<a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11946306_Self-Determination_Theory_and_the_Facilitation_of_Intrinsic_Motivation_Social_Development_and_Well-Being">energy for action</a>”, and enables creativity to be sustained.</p> <p>So, if you want to be creative in the long term, the key questions to ask yourself are whether you are doing work that is interesting and enjoyable for you, and is that work of value to you? Or, as the American academic Teresa Amabile <a href="https://www.amazon.co.uk/Progress-Principle-Ignite-Engagement-Creativity/dp/142219857X/ref=sr_1_1?adgrpid=52852474973&amp;gclid=CjwKCAjw7anqBRALEiwAgvGgm7iZtdMahFJqhgxsC2Vr0P4aDxPC5aF1N6xhibIux1kR4TIfVxrnbRoCIE0QAvD_BwE&amp;hvadid=259142341871&amp;hvdev=c&amp;hvlocphy=9045373&amp;hvnetw=g&amp;hvpos=1t1&amp;hvqmt=e&amp;hvrand=4572506516620655268&amp;hvtargid=aud-613328383159%3Akwd-300577486763&amp;hydadcr=11464_1788015&amp;keywords=the+progress+principle&amp;qid=1565170905&amp;s=gateway&amp;sr=8-1">puts it</a>, do you “perceive your work as contributing value to something or someone who matters”.</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YRnvox6_o2M?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p><strong>Performance anxiety</strong></p> <p>Another question to ask yourself is: are you helping others gain that “energy for action”, whether you are a manager in a company or a teacher in a school.</p> <p>In situations where creative work has not been associated with happiness, such as the example of some prominent artists and authors, it might well be that their creative work was still driven by a sense of purpose and that other factors made them unhappy.</p> <p>Another common element affecting the happiness of many creative people is the pressure they put on themselves to be creative, something I have often <a href="https://repository.cardiffmet.ac.uk/handle/10369/10281?locale-attribute=cy">seen with my own students</a>. This kind of pressure and stress can result in creative blocks and consequently perpetuate the problem.</p> <p>So maybe the solution in these situations is to seek pleasure rather than purpose, as a positive mood does seem to enhance creativity, or to encourage people to be more playful. For those creative people who suffer from mental health problems, it is a much more complicated picture. But perhaps the act of undertaking creative activity can at least help in the healing process.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/115335/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/gareth-loudon-513345">Gareth Loudon</a>, Professor of Creativity, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/cardiff-metropolitan-university-1585">Cardiff Metropolitan University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-a-sense-of-purpose-can-link-creativity-to-happiness-115335">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How 5 short intentions can help people recovering from depression stay on track

<p>About <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/statistics-and-facts-about-mental-health/how-common-are-mental-health-problems/">one in six people in England</a> report experiencing anxiety or depression in any given week, and depression is a <a href="https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression">major cause of disability worldwide</a>.</p> <p>Some people have experienced very adverse experiences over their lives, leading to low self-esteem and other vulnerabilities which can make people susceptible to depression. Difficult life circumstances, such as financial problems, loneliness, stresses at work, among family or in relationships, poor physical health and genetic vulnerabilities also contribute. Even long-term depression can be treated, but the lifetime risk that the depression returns has been reported as <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2169519/">about 50 per cent for those experiencing one episode</a> of major depression, with the likelihood increasing with further episodes.</p> <p>Greater numbers of people experiencing mental health problems, and greater awareness of effective treatments, has increased demand for services. In recent years this has led to investment through the <a href="https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/adults/iapt/">Improving Access to Psychological Therapies</a> programme, but because of huge demand, <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-50658007">waiting times can still be a problem</a> and it’s important that we develop new ways of helping people manage and overcome their mental health problems – to prevent problems occurring in the first place, and to prevent them returning. A lot of this comes down to teaching people to help themselves more effectively.</p> <p>To some extent this is already happening, for example with increases in self-help support within mental health services, and the use of self-help websites, online support and apps. Working with NHS staff, we have developed the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29665889">Self-Management after Therapy intervention</a>, or SMArT, designed to help people to stay well after they have recovered from an episode of depression.</p> <p>Like other relapse-prevention approaches, it assumes that many people continue to remain vulnerable to depression. Recovery is seen as a process that continues after the end of therapy that has its ups and downs. This approach helps prevent someone from feeling they are back to square one if they have a setback, a frame of mind that can increase the likelihood of a return to more severe depression.</p> <p>The approach, first developed by psychologist <a href="https://as.nyu.edu/content/nyu-as/as/faculty/peter-m-gollwitzer.html">Peter Gollwitzer</a> in the 1990s, has been <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0065260106380021?via%3Dihub">found to support changes in behaviour</a>, such as quitting smoking or doing more physical activity, through what are called implementation intentions. It is designed to help people turn an intention to act into a habitual behaviour. We know how hard it can be to make good intentions a reality (such as practically every New Year’s resolution), and when someone’s mood and motivation are low it can be even harder. As one mental health service user said during our research: “I know what to do, but when I’m down I just don’t do it.”</p> <p>Implementation intentions work by linking a specific situation to a specific response. For example: “Every evening between 7pm and 9pm I will write down all the positive things that have happened that day,” or “Every Thursday evening I will go to the pub quiz with my friend Katy”. They often take the form of “if …, then …” statements, such as: “If I feel down, then I will talk to my partner about why this might be.”</p> <p>When the situation comes up, the learned response is brought to mind, and is therefore more likely to be acted out. Using our SMArT intervention, people are encouraged to identify up to five of these implementation intentions. It’s important that they are realistic and that they will have an impact on the person’s wellbeing. The best way of thinking about them is to consider five things you do on a regular basis that are important to you. Then, imagine how you would feel if you didn’t do them. That is what tends to happen in depression, or when a person is at risk of a relapse.</p> <p>The use of the SMArT intervention is supported in mental health services by <a href="https://www.healthcareers.nhs.uk/explore-roles/psychological-therapies/roles/psychological-wellbeing-practitioner">psychological wellbeing practitioners</a>, and patients are encouraged to share their intentions with friends or family who can support them.</p> <p>SMArT is just one of a number of ways of helping people who are prone to depression to stay well and we’re carrying out more research to see how effective it is. It provides a bridge between the end of therapy and life without therapy and helps people see the importance of setting plans and having routine in their lives. It also emphasises that recovery is a process that includes learning about oneself and self-management strategies. It is something for the long-term – not just for all-too-soon-abandoned New Year’s resolutions.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/129046/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-lucock-916922">Michael Lucock</a>, Professor of Clinical Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-huddersfield-1226">University of Huddersfield</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-five-short-intentions-can-help-people-recovering-from-depression-stay-on-track-129046">original article</a>.</em></p>

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What makes a good psychologist or psychiatrist and how do you find one you like?

<p><strong>Key points</strong></p> <ul> <li> <p>Understanding the different roles of psychologists and psychiatrists, and how they align with your needs, will help you decide what type of therapist to see</p> </li> <li> <p>find a therapist you feel safe and secure with, even if that means trying a few before finding one you like</p> </li> <li> <p>find out how much they charge in advance. If cost or access are issues, or if it would make you more comfortable, consider going online for help.</p> </li> </ul> <p><strong>Who does what in mental health care?</strong></p> <p>Each type of mental health worker will have a different area of speciality, as well as different qualifications, training and experience.</p> <p>In your question, you talked about psychologists and different areas of specialisation like clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists and psychiatrists, all of whom play a role in the assessment and treatment of mental health conditions.</p> <p>Understanding the role of each and how it aligns with your needs may help you in your decision.</p> <p><strong>Psychologists in general</strong></p> <p>Psychologists provide assessment and therapy to clients, either through individual or group format and aim to enhance a person’s well-being.</p> <p>A psychologist typically completes a minimum of six years of training, including university and practical experience, and is required to be registered with the <a href="https://www.psychologyboard.gov.au/">Psychology Board of Australia</a>.</p> <p><strong>Clinical psychologists</strong></p> <p>Clinical psychologists provide a range of psychological services to people across their life. Services typically focus on the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.</p> <p>Clinical psychologists complete additional supervision in the practice of clinical psychology beyond their six years of university.</p> <p><strong>Clinical neuropsychologists</strong></p> <p>Clinical neuropsychologists assess and treat people with brain disorders that affect memory, learning, attention, reading, problem-solving and decision-making.</p> <p>Like clinical psychologists, neuropsychologists complete those six years and receive additional supervision in the practice of clinical neuropsychology.</p> <p><strong>Psychiatrists</strong></p> <p>Psychiatrists are doctors who are experts in mental health. They diagnose and treat people with mental illness and prescribe medications, if appropriate.</p> <p>Psychiatrists typically complete four to six years of an undergraduate medical degree before undergoing general medicine training within a hospital. Then they complete several years of specialist training in psychiatry and must be registered with the <a href="https://www.ahpra.gov.au/">Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency</a>.</p> <p><strong>You might need to try a few therapists to find the right one</strong></p> <p>Therapy requires a person to feel safe and secure and establish trust with another person. So the fit between the two of you matters.</p> <p>In the same way you may try a few hairdressers or GPs before you feel in safe hands, you may need to try out a few therapists before you find the right one.</p> <p>Try not to feel disheartened; your persistence in this area will pay off.</p> <p>Ideally, you should select a therapist who is appropriately qualified but also, one you can connect and engage with. To test this, you should leave the first session with a sense of hope, even in the face of challenges.</p> <p>This is not to say therapy will always be a comfortable process. It will be your therapist’s job to encourage and support you in making uncomfortable changes, so there may be times where you feel challenged or uncomfortable. It’s helpful to communicate this openly with your therapist and allow space to explore this with their support.</p> <p><strong>Ask your community for recommendations</strong></p> <p>Word of mouth can be an excellent tool when sourcing a good therapist. Consider asking your GP, family, friends or local community who they recommend.</p> <p>Once you have some names, do your homework. Look up their qualifications, read about them if you can, and make sure that they practise in the area that you need.</p> <p>Mental health is a broad term and as such, therapists may choose to focus on particular areas within it. If the therapist you’ve chosen doesn’t practise in your area, don’t worry – just ask them if they have a referral suggestion for you.</p> <p><strong>Find out how much they charge</strong></p> <p>In Australia, there are a lot of different ways to access mental health support. Some options include private practitioners working in clinics or schools, community services and public mental health services. Each of these settings will have a different fee or access structure associated.</p> <p>For example under Medicare, a person may be eligible for up to ten sessions (individual and/or group) with a registered psychologist per calendar year with a referral from their GP.</p> <p>These sessions may be bulk billed (with no out-of-pocket expense), or there may be a fee associated and rebates available. Fees can vary greatly, however <a href="https://www.psychology.org.au/for-the-public/about-psychology/what-it-costs">the Australian Psychological Society recommends</a> a fee of A$251 per 50-60 minute session. Medicare rebates range from <a href="http://www9.health.gov.au/mbs/fullDisplay.cfm?type=item&amp;qt=ItemID&amp;q=80110">A$86</a> (for psychologists) to <a href="http://www9.health.gov.au/mbs/fullDisplay.cfm?type=item&amp;q=80011&amp;qt=item">A$126.50</a> (for clinical psychologists and neuropsychologists). This would leave you out of pocket A$124.50 or A$165.</p> <p>Out-of-pocket costs for private psychiatrists also vary. They may be bulk billed, or charge a fee. An initial consultation <a href="https://www.yourhealthinmind.org/getmedia/47ab2215-38e7-4184-9515-2e1f1237e215/Cost-to-see-psychiatrist-YHIM.pdf.aspx?ext=.pdf">may cost around A$400</a>, with a Medicare rebate of <a href="http://www9.health.gov.au/mbs/fullDisplay.cfm?type=item&amp;qt=ItemID&amp;q=296">A$201.35</a>, leaving you out of pocket A$178.65.</p> <p>Mental health services at <a href="https://headspace.org.au/young-people/how-headspace-can-help/">headspace</a> are either free or low cost. And some schools also offer free psychological services.</p> <p>Ask your GP about the specific costs and rebates when you discuss referral options.</p> <p><strong>Consider going online</strong></p> <p>While there is much to be gained from the personal experience of therapy, access can be a problem in some regional and remote area of Australia.</p> <p>Thankfully, there are a number of excellent online resources available:</p> <ul> <li> <p><a href="https://www.cci.health.wa.gov.au">Centre for Clinical Interventions</a> provides online resources and self-directed therapy modules for bipolar, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and other mental health conditions</p> </li> <li> <p><a href="https://beyondblue.org.au">Beyond Blue</a> provides support for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention</p> </li> <li> <p><a href="https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au">Black Dog Institute</a> is dedicated to understanding, preventing and treating mental illness. It has a range of resources, particularly for depression and anxiety</p> </li> <li> <p><a href="http://www.brave-online.com">Brave</a> supports young people to overcome anxiety.</p> </li> </ul> <p>Remember, we all struggle from time to time. For many, therapy plays an important role in improving their mental health and setting them back on their path.<!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/jade-sheen-472639">Jade Sheen</a>, Associate Professor, School of Psychology, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/deakin-university-757">Deakin University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/amanda-dudley-505377">Amanda Dudley</a>, Psychologist and Lecturer, <a href="https://theconversation.com/institutions/deakin-university-757">Deakin University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-makes-a-good-psychologist-or-psychiatrist-and-how-do-you-find-one-you-like-120981">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why accidents and emergencies seem to dramatically slow down time

<p>A few years ago I had a car crash. I was driving in the middle lane of a motorway, when a truck pulled out from the inside lane and hit the side of our car, spinning us around, and then hitting us again.</p> <p>As soon as the truck hit us, everything seemed to go into slow motion. There was a very long gap between the sound of impact and the beginning of the car’s spin. I looked behind and the other cars on the motorway seemed to be moving extremely slowly, almost as if they were stationery.</p> <p>I felt as though I had a lot of time to observe the whole scene, and to try to regain control of the car. I was surprised by how clear and vivid everything became, and how much detail I was taking in. There was a strange sense of quietness too.</p> <p>We span around for a few seconds, before careering into a crash barrier on the hard shoulder. Then everything seemed to switch back into normal time again. (Luckily, my wife and I were uninjured.)</p> <p>My altered perception of time during the seconds of the crash is a common experience. Since <a href="https://www.stevenmtaylor.com/books/making-time/">writing a book</a> and several articles on the subject, people regularly send me accounts of accidents and other moments of sudden shock which bring about an extreme slowing down of time.</p> <p>One woman told me how she rushed to save her children from the dangers of a nearby fire:</p> <blockquote> <p>Time seemed to stop, enabling me to do this. I moved first one child out and handed her over to a girl that came to help, and then I went back and woke up my eldest, scooped up the baby and then my eldest … I will never forget the moments of absolute clarity and calmness. It didn’t feel like I was even in my own body. Whatever happened, I remain extremely grateful.</p> </blockquote> <p>Another woman described a horrific experience when two men tried to rape her, telling me: “I was able to defend myself and escape because everything was so slow that I had time to react faster than the men attacking me.”</p> <p>I’ve been sent similar reports about people’s experience of robberies and assaults, dangerous confrontations with wild animals, and natural disasters. So why does time seem to slow down in these moments of emergency?</p> <p>One possible explanation may lie with a neurological or psychological ability that our ancestors developed as an aid to survival. The ability to slow down our time perception increases our chances of surviving emergency situations, because it gives us more time to respond to the situation, to prepare and position ourselves. In this sense, we could perhaps interpret the ability as an evolutionary adaptation.</p> <p>Another possibility is that the “time-slowing” effect is due to the increased number of impressions and perceptions of our surroundings that our minds absorbs during these moments. It does seem to be the case that increased information-processing slows down <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/2c7nMpXf7ckY4tRlpfB4sdq/how-to-speed-up-or-slow-down-time">our experience of time</a>.</p> <p>This explanation leads to the idea that the time-slowing effect is a “recollective” phenomenon, due to the increased number of memories that are created in those few seconds. The neuroscientist David Eagleman has <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18074019">suggested this</a>, claiming that “time-slowing is a function of recollection, not perception: a richer encoding of memory may cause a salient event to appear, retrospectively, as though it lasted longer”.</p> <p>However, this seems to belie the subjective strength of the experiences. To anyone who has had one (myself included), there seems no doubt that the time expanding effect is happening in the present, rather than a belated effect of recollection.</p> <p>In any case, the fact that these experiences bring an increased number of impressions could be an effect rather than a cause. That is, a slowed down sense of time may be the very reason we become able to absorb many more impressions.</p> <p><strong>A different mode of consciousness</strong></p> <p>While these explanations may well be contributing factors, I think the main reason for the time-slowing effect of accidents and emergencies is that they bring about an abrupt shift into a different mode of consciousness.</p> <p>Our normal sense of time passing is a function of our normal state of consciousness. But there are many varieties of altered states of consciousness in which time slows down drastically.</p> <p>Think of <a href="https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/for-athletes-time-really-does-slow-down-29426468/">athletes when they are “in the zone”</a> for example, or states of <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1053810013000792">deep meditation</a>, or being under the <a href="http://cogprints.org/4034/1/Psychedelic_Neurochemistry2.htm">influence of psychedelic drugs</a>. (There are also some altered states in which time appears to pass very quickly, such as hypnosis.)</p> <p>Our sense of time passing isn’t absolute or fixed. Time has no “normal” speed. Instead, our experience of time is generated by our psychological structures and processes.</p> <p>What we experience as normal time is simply a normal state of consciousness. Once our normal psychological structures and processes change, our sense of time alters too. But this altered sense of time is just as valid as our normal sense of time.</p> <p>A more extreme interpretation would be that – as is suggested by some of the <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-04558-7">findings of quantum physics</a> – time is a kind of illusion. It is created by our minds, and does not exist outside them.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/122569/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/steve-taylor-716768">Steve Taylor</a>, Senior Lecturer in Psychology, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/leeds-beckett-university-1315">Leeds Beckett University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-accidents-and-emergencies-seem-to-dramatically-slow-down-time-122569">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Why it can make sense to believe in the kindness of strangers

<p>Would you risk your life for a total stranger?</p> <p>While you might consider yourself incapable of acts of altruism on that scale, it happens again and again. During <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/03/us/houston-texas-harvey-heroes-trnd/index.html">hurricanes</a> and <a href="http://www.cnn.com/2017/10/05/us/las-vegas-shooting-jonathan-smith-tom-mcgrath-hero-intv/index.html">mass shootings</a>, some people go to great lengths to help people they don’t even know while everyone else flees.</p> <p>To learn whether this behavior comes more naturally to some of us than others, I partnered with Abigail Marsh and other neuroscientists working at the <a href="http://www.abigailmarsh.com/">Laboratory on Social and Affective Neuroscience</a> at Georgetown University. We studied the brains and behavior of some extraordinary altruists: people who have donated one of their own kidneys to a total stranger, known as nondirected donors.</p> <p style="text-align: center;"><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/x7EglP5A2Hg?wmode=transparent&amp;start=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p style="text-align: center;"><span class="caption">Vox journalist Dylan Matthews explains in this video why he donated his left kidney to save a stranger’s life.</span></p> <p><strong>Unusually altruistic</strong></p> <p>These kidney donors may never learn anything about the recipient. That means they are not making this personal sacrifice because a relative or someone they may interact with in the future would benefit.</p> <p>What’s more, this act of altruism is costly in multiple ways. It is a major, painful surgery. Many donors end up <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/ajt.13591/abstract">paying thousands of dollars</a> out of pocket for medical and travel expenses, and they can lose out on salary and other earnings.</p> <p>For the most part, there’s nothing to be gained in terms of the donor’s reputation. Many people, including some medical professionals, are skeptical about the motives of altruistic donors – even <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1034/j.1600-6143.2003.00019.x/abstract">questioning their sanity</a>.</p> <p>These drawbacks help explain why altruistic kidney donation is extremely rare. Fewer than 2,000 people have done this to date in the United States since 1988, the first year with a recorded altruistic donor. That makes it something a mere one out of every 163,133 Americans have ever done.</p> <p>And the norm is for living friends and family to donate kidneys to their loved ones. That was the case when celebrity Selena Gomez, who has lupus, got a new kidney from <a href="http://people.com/music/selena-gomez-kidney-donor-francia-raisa-all-about/">her best friend</a>, the actress Francia Raisa.</p> <p>Most commonly, the kidneys of deceased organ donors are used in transplants for strangers. There are about twice as many transplants from deceased donors as transplants from living ones.</p> <p>Deceased donors and living friends and family account for a total of 99.5 percent of all kidney transplants performed over the past three decades.</p> <p> </p> <hr /> <p> </p> <p><iframe id="LHG0m" class="tc-infographic-datawrapper" src="https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/LHG0m/3/" height="400px" width="100%" style="border: none;" frameborder="0"></iframe></p> <p> </p> <hr /> <p> </p> <p><strong>Mammalian brains</strong></p> <p>Deep in the brains of all mammals – whether squirrel, bonobo or human – the same regions respond to distress and vulnerability. This response is especially common when babies cry out or appear threatened. In our <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1731">most recent study</a>, we investigated whether those brain systems, which are responsible for making all mammals care about helpless youngsters, play a key role in making some people extremely altruistic.</p> <p>There are two major regions in what brain scientists call the “offspring care neural network,” evolutionarily old structures deep in the brain called the amygdala and the periaqueductal gray.</p> <p>The amygdala is a small almond-shaped structure in both hemispheres tucked below the cortex. (Amygdala means almond in Greek.) One of its main roles in the brain is picking up on important emotional cues.</p> <p>Research has long established that the amygdala is largely responsible for <a href="http://www.jneurosci.org/content/15/9/5879">recognizing</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2010.11.042">feeling</a> fear.</p> <p>The periaqueductal gray is another small u-shaped structure at the base of the brain. It plays an important role in controlling basic behaviors like the impulse to cuddle a baby or the instinct to avoid predators.</p> <p>Many studies have shown these structures and the connections between them are responsible for, say, motivating <a href="http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1460-9568.2009.06875.x/abstract">female rats to take care of their pups</a> or making <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pnpbp.2010.10.017">humans want to console crying babies</a>.</p> <p>Responding to distressed offspring is such a strong survival instinct that it can even cross species. A deer, for example, will respond when it <a href="http://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/10.1086/677677">hears a crying human infant</a>.</p> <p>Other research by Marsh’s lab has studied how people respond when they sense that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/emo0000054">others are afraid</a> and feel an urge to comfort them.</p> <p>The sight of <a href="http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02699930600652234">frightened faces can evoke helping behavior</a>. And people who are good at <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.239">noticing that someone is afraid</a> just by seeing their face tend to be more altruistic than the rest of us.</p> <p>Scientists have long hypothesized that the care people extend to strangers may be a sort of extension of our most basic impulses to take care of our own kids. Scientists also believe that the ancient brain structures humans share with other mammals trigger these responses.</p> <p><strong>A test</strong></p> <p>To learn more about the brains of extremely altruistic people, we <a href="https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2017.1731">did an experiment</a> with people who had donated one of their kidneys to someone they didn’t know. In our study, we asked these extreme altruists to read scenarios, some of which described people who were the target of harmful or callous behavior, and rate how much sympathy they felt. We did the same thing with a control group of people who had not donated a kidney.</p> <p>Before reading some of these scenarios, we presented photos of fearful faces. These images were fleeting, lasting only 27 milliseconds. That means the participants couldn’t consciously recognize what they saw. Meanwhile, we scanned their brains.</p> <p>We found some interesting effects while reviewing images captured during this experiment. Most notably, the amygdalas and their periaqueductal gray were more active for kidney donors than people in our control group, with stronger reactions to fearful and distressed stimuli.</p> <p>What we found suggests that these two regions might be communicating or otherwise working together. We further tested this finding by looking at another aspect of our brain scans that allowed us to analyze how these two regions are connected by nerve cells.</p> <p>My colleague <a href="https://aamarsh.wordpress.com/lab/">Katherine O'Connell</a>, a doctoral student, found that there seemed to be greater structural connections between these two regions too. These connections may help nerve impulses travel between them.</p> <p><strong>Understanding altruism</strong></p> <p>To be sure, more studies will have to be done to confirm our results before we can be sure how the offspring care neural network contributes to human altruism.</p> <p>But our findings reinforce earlier neuroscience research that found that the amygdala and periaqeuductal gray, and communication between them, play an important role in caring for distressed and vulnerable others across all mammals – including humans.</p> <p>These findings also build on our own prior research with altruistic kidney donors. In those earlier studies, we detected <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1408440111">stronger amygdala responses</a> when the donors glimpsed the faces of people who were feeling fear and that while altruistic kidney donors value friends and family as others do, they <a href="http://rdcu.be/rJ93">tend to be more generous</a> toward strangers.</p> <p>Our study of the brains of real-world altruists backs up these theories. Caring about someone you have never met, what we learned suggests, may have a lot in common with caring about the people you love.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/86271/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kristin-brethel-haurwitz-418169">Kristin Brethel-Haurwitz</a>, Postdoctoral Researcher in Cognitive Neuroscience, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-pennsylvania-1017">University of Pennsylvania</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-it-can-make-sense-to-believe-in-the-kindness-of-strangers-86271">original article</a>.</em></p>

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When should you quit difficult relationships?

<p><span>No relationship is perfect. Disagreements, fights and rough patches can occur with anyone, be it family members, friends, partners, neighbours or colleagues. However, these concerns may also lead to greater grievances and leave us feeling drained, insecure or unhappy.</span></p> <p><span>Before you decide whether to work on making amends or cut off contacts, it can be helpful to learn more about what makes for a difficult relationship.</span></p> <p><strong><span>What are the signs of difficult relationships?</span></strong></p> <p><span>According to Lyn Worsley, clinical psychologist and director of the Resilience Centre, power imbalance and the resulting dysfunctional communication pattern are some of the major indicators of a difficult relationship.</span></p> <p><span>“There are times when a relationship allows control over the other,” Worsley told <em>Over60</em>. “Often both people are unaware of this pattern, which may have evolved over time.”</span></p> <p><span>Some of the signs people can spot in this kind of relationship include passive aggressive and manipulative behaviours, said Mary Bonich, principal psychologist at The Feel Good Clinic. These behaviours can manifest in many different ways – for example, constantly bringing up past grievances, making threats to end the relationship during disagreements, or controlling where the other person goes or who they see.</span></p> <p><span>“Relationships rely on open and honest communication to grow and evolve,” said Bonich. </span></p> <p><span>“A [person] who is uncomfortable or unwilling to be open and honest … often uses passive aggressive behaviour to shut down communication or opportunities to resolve disputes.</span></p> <p><span>“It fosters a relationship of mistrust and blame, and often leaves one feeling nervous and anxious about every decision they make.”</span></p> <p><strong><span>What you can do to improve the relationship</span></strong></p> <p><span>Worsley and Bonich agree that building on healthy communication is key.</span></p> <p><span>“Creating space to allow each person to be open and honest about their feelings without being penalised for sharing their feelings is imperative,” Bonich said.</span></p> <p><span>“Avoid communication pitfalls such as being critical, judgemental, condescending, defensive or stonewalling as these are toxic communication styles. Instead we want to practice sharing our feelings and taking responsibility, even if it means we are uncomfortable doing so.”</span></p> <p><span>It is important to remember the common ground we have with the other person. “If we keep in mind that the goal is to care and connect with others, we can find ourselves more willing to adjust, adapt and even let things go,” Worsley said. </span></p> <p><span>However, self-work should not be forgotten, Bonich said. “Both need to work on themselves in order to grow the relationship. We can’t ‘fix’ the other person, nor can we blame everything on the other person,” she said.</span></p> <p><strong><span>How to know when you should leave the relationship</span></strong></p> <p><span>Bonich said while we cannot expect every single interaction to be positive or nurturing, it can be helpful to reflect on the big picture.</span></p> <p><span>“If after every interaction with your partner you are left feeling smaller, less confident or more insecure than you were prior to that encounter, then this is a bad sign,” Bonich said.</span></p> <p><span>“We need to look at all interactions on balance to see whether this relationship is building you up, or slowly destroying you.”</span></p> <p><span>Worsley said anyone in a relationship with “clearly abusive pattern” should exit immediately.</span></p> <p><span>In many cases, the less powerful party could feel discouraged to leave the relationship. “The person with the power, has the power and often the other doesn’t feel they can leave the relationship or that they are not good enough,” Worsley said.</span></p> <p><span>Worsley noted that many people in this situation may feel guilt over leaving the relationship. “If the goal is to care and connect [with the other person], then leaving is often a way of caring for your partner and [helping] stop an unhealthy pattern of behaviour,” she said. </span></p> <p><span>Prolonged toxic relationship may undermine a person’s mental health and wellbeing and undermine their sense of self-worth and independence, <a href="https://au.reachout.com/articles/what-is-emotional-abuse">ReachOut</a> reported.</span></p> <p><span>She urged anyone experiencing verbal, sexual, emotional or physical abuse to seek professional help as they leave the relationship. “Leaving to get help is important because many people leave and find another partner to repeat the behaviour with,” she said. “Seeing a counsellor who can help you understand the abusive and controlling behaviour can help you to find new ways of relating.”</span></p> <p><em><span>If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732.</span></em></p>

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Why our brains see the world as 'us' versus 'them'

<p>Anti-immigrant policies, race-related demonstrations, affirmative action court cases, same-sex marriage litigation.</p> <p>These issues are continually in the headlines. But even thoughtful articles on these subjects seem always to devolve to pitting warring factions against each other: black versus white, women versus men, gay versus straight.</p> <p>At the most fundamental level of biology, people recognize the innate advantage of defining differences in species. But even within species, is there something in our neural circuits that leads us to find comfort in those like us and unease with those who may differ?</p> <p><strong>Brain battle between distrust and reward</strong></p> <p>As in all animals, human brains balance two primordial systems. One includes a brain region called the amygdala that can generate fear and distrust of things that pose a danger – think predators or or being lost somewhere unknown. The other, a group of connected structures called the mesolimbic system, can give rise to pleasure and feelings of reward in response to things that make it more likely we’ll flourish and survive – think not only food, but also social pleasure, like trust.</p> <p>But how do these systems interact to influence how we form our concepts of community?</p> <p><a href="https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/">Implicit association tests</a> can <a href="https://theconversation.com/measuring-the-implicit-biases-we-may-not-even-be-aware-we-have-74912">uncover the strength of unconscious associations</a>. Scientists have shown that many people harbor an implicit preference for their in-group – those like themselves – even when they show no outward or obvious signs of bias. For example, in studies whites perceive blacks as more violent and more apt to do harm, solely because they are black, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797615624492">this unconscious bias is evident</a> even toward black boys as young as five years old.</p> <p>Brain imaging studies have found <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0167276">increased signaling in the amygdala</a> when people make millisecond judgments of “trustworthiness” of faces. That’s <a href="https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-neuro-060909-153230">too short a time to reflect conscious processes and likely reveal implicit fears</a>.</p> <p>In one study, researchers tapped into negative black stereotypes by playing violent rap music for white participants who had no external biases. This kind of priming made it hard for the brain’s cortex <a href="https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsr052">to suppress amydgalar activation and implicit bias</a>. Usually these “executive control” regions can override the amygdala’s push toward prejudice when confronted with out-group members.</p> <p>Whether or not such biases are learned or in some way hardwired, do they reflect conflicting activity of the amygdala versus the mesolimbic system? That is, how do our brains balance distrust and fear versus social reward when it comes to our perceptions of people not like us?</p> <p>Research into how the amygdala responds as people assess the relative importance of differences, such as race, is nuanced and complex. Studies must take into account the differences between explicit and implicit measures of our attitudes, as well as the impact of cultural bias and individual variation. Still, research suggests that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/nn.3136">signaling within the amygdala</a> underlies the degree to which people are reluctant to trust others, especially regarding in-group versus out-group preference. It’s reasonable to conclude that much of the human instinct to distrust “others” can be traced to this part of the brain that’s important for <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neulet.2017.11.056">feelings of fear and anxiety</a>.</p> <p><strong>Reward from ‘sameness’</strong></p> <p>As opposed to fear, distrust and anxiety, circuits of neurons in brain regions called the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2015.02.018">mesolimbic system are critical mediators of our sense of “reward</a>.” These neurons control the release of the transmitter dopamine, which is associated with an enhanced sense of pleasure. The addictive nature of some drugs, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.01.040">as well as</a> <a href="http://www.who.int/features/qa/gaming-disorder/en/">pathological gaming</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.02.006">gambling</a>, are correlated with increased dopamine in mesolimbic circuits.</p> <p>In addition to dopamine itself, neurochemicals such as oxytocin can significantly <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.06.011">alter the sense of reward and pleasure</a>, especially in relationship to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2016.11.039">social interactions</a>, by modulating these mesolimbic circuits.</p> <p>Methodological variations indicate <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2018.04.011">further study is needed</a> to fully understand the roles of these signaling pathways in people. That caveat acknowledged, there is much we can learn from the complex social interactions of other mammals.</p> <p>The neural circuits that govern social behavior and reward <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.22735">arose early in vertebrate evolution</a> and are present in birds, reptiles, bony fishes and amphibians, as well as mammals. So while there is not a lot of information on reward pathway activity in people during in-group versus out-group social situations, there are some tantalizing results from <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.22735">studies on other mammals</a>.</p> <p>For example, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cell.2014.05.017">in a seminal paper</a>, neuroscientist Karl Deisseroth and his colleagues at Stanford combined genetics and behavioral tests with a cutting-edge approach <a href="https://www.neurophotometrics.com/what-is-fiber-photometry">called fiber photometry</a> where light can turn on and off specific cells. Using this process, the researchers were able to both stimulate and measure activity in identified neurons in the reward pathways, with an exquisite degree of precision. And they were able to do this in mice as they behaved in social settings.</p> <p>They showed that neural signaling in a specific group of these dopamine neurons within these mesolimbic reward loops are jazzed up when a mouse encounters a new mouse – one it’s never met before, but that is of its own genetic line. Is this dopamine reward reaction the mouse corollary of human in-group recognition?</p> <p>What if the mouse were of a different genetic line with different external characteristics? What about with other small mammals such as voles who have dramatically different social relationships depending upon whether they are the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1152/physiol.00049.2005">type that lives in the prairie or in the mountains</a>? Is there the same positive mesolimbic signaling when a prairie vole encounters a mountain vole, or does this “out-group” difference tip the balance toward the amygdala and expressing fear and distrust?</p> <p>Scientists don’t know how these or even more subtle differences in animals might affect how their neural circuits promote social responses. But by studying them, researchers may better understand how human brain systems contribute to the implicit and unconscious bias people feel toward those in our own species who are nonetheless somewhat different.</p> <p><strong>Neural signaling is not destiny</strong></p> <p>Even if evolution has tilted the balance toward our brains rewarding “like” and distrusting “difference,” this need not be destiny. Activity in our brains is malleable, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.conb.2010.02.005">allowing higher-order circuits in the cortex</a> to modify the more primitive fear and reward systems to produce different behavioral outcomes.</p> <p>Author <a href="http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story?language=en">Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie</a> eloquently states that “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” In other words, stereotypes reduce those not exactly like us to only their differences.</p> <p>So why would people put up with the discomfort that differences evoke, rather than always selecting the easy reward with sameness? In his book “<a href="https://press.princeton.edu/titles/8757.html">The Difference</a>,” social scientist <a href="https://sites.lsa.umich.edu/scottepage/">Scott Page</a> provides mathematical evidence that although diverse individuals are less trusting of one other, when working together, they are more productive.</p> <p>From cracking the Enigma code in World War II to predicting stock prices, Page provides data to demonstrate that a diversity of perspectives produces better innovation and better solutions than the smartest set of like-minded experts. In short, diversity trumps ability. And diversity significantly <a href="https://hbr.org/2018/01/how-and-where-diversity-drives-financial-performance">enhances the level of innovation</a> in organizations across the globe.</p> <p>So acknowledge the amygdalar distrust that differences evoke. Then, while you may not get that same boost of dopamine, recognize that when it comes to what will promote the greatest good, working with those “not like us” has its own rewards.<!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/leslie-henderson-141651"><em>Leslie Henderson</em></a><em>, Professor of Physiology and Neurobiology, Dean of Faculty Affairs, Geisel School of Medicine, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/dartmouth-college-1720">Dartmouth College</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/why-our-brains-see-the-world-as-us-versus-them-98661">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Here's what happens in the brain when we disagree

<p>We’ve all been there. You are in the middle of a heated disagreement when you lose respect for the opposing party. Whether it is about the latest election or childcare, you feel like your considered arguments are not appreciated – perhaps even ignored. But did you ever wonder what exactly is happening in the mind of the person on the other side?</p> <p>In a recent study, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-019-0549-2">published in <em>Nature Neuroscience</em></a>, we and our colleagues recorded people’s brain activity during disagreements to find out.</p> <p>In our experiment, we asked 21 pairs of volunteers to make financial decisions. In particular, they each had to assess the value of real estates and bet money on their assessments. The more confident they were in their assessment, the more money they wagered.</p> <p>Each volunteer lay in a brain imaging scanner while performing the task so we could record their brain activity. The two scanners were separated by a glass wall, and the volunteers were able to see the assessments and bets of the other person on their screen.</p> <p>When volunteers agreed on the price of the real estate, each of them became more confident in their assessment, and they bet more money on it. That makes sense – if I agree with you then you feel more sure that you must be right. Each person’s brain activity also reflected the encoding of the confidence of their partner. In particular, activity of a brain region called the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prefrontal_cortex">posterior medial frontal cortex</a>, which we know is involved in cognitive dissonance, <a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/115/23/6082">tracked the confidence</a> of the partner. We found that the more confident one volunteer was, the more confident the partner became, and vice versa.</p> <p>However – and this is the interesting part – when people disagreed, their brains became less sensitive to the strength of others’ opinions. After disagreement, the posterior medial frontal cortex could no longer track the partner’s confidence. Consequently, the opinion of the disagreeing partner had little impact on people’s conviction that they were correct, regardless of whether the disagreeing partner was very sure in their assessment or not at all.</p> <p>It was not the case that the volunteers were not paying attention to their partner when they disagreed with them. We know this because we tested our volunteers’ memory of their partners’ assessments and bets. Rather, it seems that contradictory opinions were more likely to be considered categorically wrong and therefore the strength of those opinions was unimportant.</p> <p><strong>A polarised society</strong></p> <p>We suspect that when disagreements are about heated topics such as politics, people will be even less likely to take note of the strength of contradictory opinions.</p> <p>Our findings may shed light on some puzzling recent trends in society. For instance, over the last decade, climate scientists have expressed greater confidence that climate change is man-made. Yet, a survey by the Pew research centre shows that the percentage of Republicans who believe this notion to be true <a href="https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2016/10/04/public-views-on-climate-change-and-climate-scientists/">has dropped over the same period</a> of time. While there are complex, multi-layered reasons for this specific trend, it may also be related to a bias in how the strength of other people’s opinions are encoded in our brain.</p> <p>The findings can also be extrapolated to political current events. Take the recent impeachment hearings against US president Donald Trump. Our study suggests that whether a witness appears “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/13/us/politics/bill-taylor-impeachment-hearing.html">calm, confident and in command of the facts</a>” (as government official Bill Taylor was described when testifying during the hearings) or “<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/13/us/politics/bill-taylor-impeachment-hearing.html">unsteady and uncertain</a>” (as the FBI chief Robert Muller was described when testifying about his special counsel investigation back in July) will matter little to those who already oppose impeachment when testimonies are unsupportive of the president. But they will affect the conviction of those who are in favour of impeachment.</p> <p>So how can we increase our chances of being heard by members of an opposing group? Our study lends new support to a “<a href="https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jan/24/queens-speech-calling-for-common-ground-seen-as-brexit-allusion">tried and tested recipe</a>” (as Queen Elizabeth II recently put it while addressing a country divided over Brexit) – finding the common ground.</p> <p>The strength of a carefully reasoned opinion is less likely to be registered when launching into a disagreement with a sturdy pile of evidence describing why we are right and the other side is wrong. But if we start from common ground – that is the parts of the problem we agree on – we will avoid being categorised as a “disputer” from the very beginning, making it more likely that the strength of our arguments will matter.</p> <p>Take for example the attempt to alter the conviction of parents who refuse to vaccinate their children because they falsely believe vaccines are linked to autism. It has been shown that presenting strong evidence refuting the link does little to change their minds. Instead, focusing solely on the fact that vaccines protect children from potentially deadly disease – a statement that the parents can more easily agree with – can <a href="http://www.pnas.org/content/112/33/10321.abstract">increase their intention to vaccinate</a> their children by threefold.</p> <p>So in the midst of that heated disagreement, try and remember that the key to change is often finding a shared belief or motive.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/129018/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/andreas-kappes-211872">Andreas Kappes</a>, Lecturer, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/city-university-of-london-1047">City, University of London</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/tali-sharot-310916">Tali Sharot</a>, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/ucl-1885">UCL</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/heres-what-happens-in-the-brain-when-we-disagree-129018">original article</a>.</em></p>

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Asking people with memory loss about past holidays can help them recall happy times

<p>Many people love the holidays because they are a time to make happy memories with loved ones.</p> <p>But what if you could do something that would help restore memories in some of the people you love?</p> <p>Using a process called <a href="http://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001120.pub2">reminiscence therapy</a>, that may be possible. In reminiscence therapy, elders are encouraged to discuss memories across their lifespan, particularly memories of positive experiences.</p> <p>As <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=dIcnUcoAAAAJ&amp;hl=en&amp;oi=ao">researchers</a> who specialize in <a href="https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=3RedgqwAAAAJ&amp;hl=en&amp;oi=ao">geropsychology</a>, and in preparation for the holidays, we wanted to explain this technique and encourage readers to use this evidence-based approach to connect with loved ones with impaired memory and dementia.</p> <p><strong>The benefits of happy memories</strong></p> <p>Nearly 9% of American adults aged 65 and older <a href="https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.6807%5D">meet criteria for dementia</a>. Family members often function as formal and informal caregivers for loved ones who develop dementia, and these caregivers can experience a range of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/0895-4356(92)90189-T">physical and psychological outcomes</a>.</p> <p>It typically involves asking the person about different events from particular times in the person’s life. Around the holidays, older adults may already be primed to discuss holiday-themed memories due to the influx of sensory cues, including the twinkling of holiday decorations, the smell of holiday cookies, and of course, seasonal music.</p> <p>An analysis of several studies on research on <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD001120.pub3">reminiscence therapy</a> for dementia suggests that it can improve <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1471301213516332">quality of life, communication and mood</a>. Individuals who engage in reminiscence therapy with their loved ones report that the experience is generally positive for them, too, and can be an effective coping strategy when other communication becomes difficult.</p> <p>Another study found that caregivers reported feeling <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jalz.2016.03.008">more emotionally close</a> with their loved ones with dementia when practicing reminiscence therapy. Also, they reported lower informal care costs than caregivers who felt more distant from their loved ones.</p> <p><strong>Ask for details</strong></p> <p>Here are some tips to implement reminiscence therapy. Most center on asking questions that may help prompt older adults to reminisce about holiday-themed memories. For example:</p> <ul> <li> <p>What were your family traditions around the holidays when you were growing up?</p> </li> <li> <p>Did you have a Christmas tree? When and who would decorate it?</p> </li> <li> <p>Were there particular foods you would make and eat around the holidays?</p> </li> <li> <p>Did you ever travel for the holidays?</p> </li> <li> <p>What was your first holiday season with your spouse like?</p> </li> <li> <p>What were your holiday traditions when you were a parent?</p> </li> <li> <p>What is your favorite New Year’s Eve memory?</p> </li> </ul> <p>Be an attentive listener. Make eye contact with your loved one, and angle your body toward theirs so that they know they have your undivided attention. Ask follow-up questions when appropriate. This indicates to your loved one that you heard what they said and are interested to know more.</p> <p>Engage your loved one in low-impact activities that engage multiple senses. For example, baking holiday-themed cookies can elicit memories through touch (rolling out dough, decorating), smell (of ingredients, while baking), and taste (of the finished product).</p> <p>Encourage your loved ones to be mindful of their sensory experience at each stage of the activity and ask them about any memories that the sensation might bring to mind. Use visual aids to help with prompting retrieval of memories, such as pictures of past holiday events. Pictures can prompt older adults of specific past events.</p> <p>Listening to holiday-themed music while baking will also engage the auditory part of the brain. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/gps.3895">A 2013 study</a> of research on music therapy for dementia concluded that music therapy can be a useful intervention in its own right.</p> <p>We hope you give reminiscence therapy a try this holiday season. It may just be the start of a new family tradition.<!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><span><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-r-nadorff-731133"><em>Michael R. Nadorff</em></a><em>, Associate Professor of Psychology, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/mississippi-state-university-1970">Mississippi State University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/mary-e-dozier-891282">Mary E. Dozier</a>, Assistant Professor of Psychology, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/mississippi-state-university-1970">Mississippi State University</a></em></span></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/asking-people-with-memory-loss-about-past-holidays-can-help-them-recall-happy-times-125520">original article</a>.</em></p>

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5 rules from psychology to help keep your new year's resolutions

<p>We are creatures of habit. Between a third and half of our behaviour is habitual, <a href="https://dornsife.usc.edu/assets/sites/545/docs/Wendy_Wood_Research_Articles/Habits/wood.neal.2009._the_habitual_consumer.pdf">according to research estimates</a>. Unfortunately, our bad habits compromise our health, wealth and happiness.</p> <p>On average, it takes <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ejsp.674">66 days to form a habit</a>. But positive behavioural change is harder than self-help books would have us believe. Only <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2728957">40% of people</a> can sustain their new year’s resolution after six months, while only <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16002825">20% of dieters</a> maintain long-term weight loss.</p> <p>Education does not effectively promote behaviour change. A <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16536643">review of 47 studies</a> found that it’s relatively easy to change a person’s goals and intentions but it’s much harder to change how they behave. Strong habits are often <a href="http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/704/1/sheeranp1.pdf">activated unconsciously</a> in response to social or environmental cues – for example, we go to the supermarket <a href="https://www.bbc.co.uk/food/articles/how_supermarkets_tempt">about 211 times a year</a>, but most of our purchases are habitual.</p> <p>With all this in mind, here are five ways to help you keep your new year’s resolutions – whether that’s taking better care of your body or your bank balance.</p> <p><strong>1. Prioritise your goals</strong></p> <p>Willpower is <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1998-00299-017">a finite resource</a>. Resisting temptation drains our willpower, leaving us vulnerable to influences that <a href="https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/510228">reinforce our impulsive behaviours</a>.</p> <p>A common mistake is being overly ambitious with our new year resolutions. It’s best to prioritise goals and focus on one behaviour. The ideal approach is to make small, incremental changes that replace the habit with a behaviour that supplies a similar reward. Diets that are too rigid, for example, require a lot of willpower to follow.</p> <p><iframe width="440" height="260" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8dAOTiWIPYE?wmode=transparent&amp;start=1" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen=""></iframe></p> <p><strong>2. Change your routines</strong></p> <p>Habits are embedded within routines. So disrupting routines <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2005-06516-003">can prompt us to adopt new habits</a>. For example, major life events like changing jobs, moving house or having a baby all promote new habits since we are forced to adapt to new circumstances.</p> <p>While routines can boost our productivity and add stability to our social lives they should be chosen with care. People who live alone <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315552294_Habits_Across_the_Lifespan">have stronger routines</a> so throwing a dice to randomise your decision making if you do could help you disrupt your habits.</p> <p>Our environment also affects our routines. For example, without giving it any thought, we eat popcorn at the cinema but not in a meeting room. Similarly, reducing the size of your storage containers and the plates you serve food on <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0013916506295574">can help to tackle overeating</a>.</p> <p><strong>3. Monitor your behaviour</strong></p> <p>“Vigilant monitoring” appears to be the most effective strategy for tackling strong habits. This is where people actively monitor their goals and regulate their behaviours in response to different situations. A <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19916637">meta-analysis of 100 studies</a> found that self-monitoring was the best of 26 different tactics used to promote healthy eating and exercise activities.</p> <p>Another <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/37367696_Implementation_Intentions_and_Goal_Achievement_A_Meta-Analysis_of_Effects_and_Processes">meta-analysis of 94 studies</a> informs us that “implementation intentions” are also highly effective. These personalised “if x then y” rules can counter the automatic activation of habits. For example, if I feel like eating chocolate, I will drink a glass of water.</p> <p><a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/281450400_How_to_Maximize_Implementation_Intention_Effects">Implementation intentions</a> with multiple options are very effective since they provide the flexibility to adapt to situations. For example, “if I feel like eating chocolate I will (a) drink a glass of water, (b) eat some fruit; or (c) go for a walk”.</p> <p>But negatively framed implementation intentions (“when I feel like eating chocolate, I will not eat chocolate”) can be counterproductive since people have to suppress a thought (“don’t eat chocolate”). Ironically, trying to suppress a thought actually makes us <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3612492">more likely to think about it</a> thereby increasing the risk of habits such as binge eating, smoking and drinking.</p> <p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20363904">Distraction</a> is another approach that can disrupt habits. Also effective is focusing on the positive aspects of the new habit and the negative aspects <a href="https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2009-22616-003">of the problem habit</a>.</p> <p><strong>4. Imagine your future self</strong></p> <p>To make better decisions we need to overcome our tendency to prefer rewards now rather than later – psychologists call this our <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JzKix2xWmJI">“present bias”</a>. One way to fight this bias is to futureproof our decisions. Our future self tends to be virtuous and adopts long-term goals. In contrast, our present self often pursues short-term, situational goals. There are ways we can workaround this, though.</p> <p>For example, setting up a direct debit into a savings account is effective because it’s a one-off decision. In contrast, eating decisions are problematic because of their high frequency. Often our food choices are compromised by circumstance or situational stresses. Planning ahead is therefore important because we regress to our old habits <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0749597803001043">when put under pressure</a>.</p> <p><strong>5. Set goals and deadlines</strong></p> <p>Setting self-imposed deadlines or goals helps us change our behaviour <a href="https://erationality.media.mit.edu/papers/dan/eRational/Dynamic%20preferences/deadlines.pdf">and form new habits</a>. For example, say you are going to save a certain amount of money every month. Deadlines work particularly well when tied to self-imposed <a href="https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/ebd9/b0146b8ac12a54b13d290362a475b9c7c52d.pdf">rewards and penalties</a> for good behaviour.</p> <p>Another way to increase motivation is to harness the power of peer pressure. Websites <a href="https://www.stickk.com/">such as stickK</a> allow you to broadcast your commitments online so that friends can follow your progress via the website or on social media (for example, “I will lose a stone in weight by May”). These are highly visible commitments and tie our colours to the mast. A financial forfeit for failure (preferably payable to a cause you oppose) can add extra motivation.<!-- Below is The Conversation's page counter tag. Please DO NOT REMOVE. --><img style="border: none !important; box-shadow: none !important; margin: 0 !important; max-height: 1px !important; max-width: 1px !important; min-height: 1px !important; min-width: 1px !important; opacity: 0 !important; outline: none !important; padding: 0 !important; text-shadow: none !important;" src="https://counter.theconversation.com/content/128816/count.gif?distributor=republish-lightbox-basic" alt="The Conversation" width="1" height="1" /><em><!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></em></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/brian-harman-648072">Brian Harman</a>, Lecturer in Marketing, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/de-montfort-university-1254">De Montfort University</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/janine-bosak-400922">Janine Bosak</a>, Professor in Organisational Psychology, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/dublin-city-university-1528">Dublin City University</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/five-rules-from-psychology-to-help-keep-your-new-years-resolutions-128816">original article</a>.</em></p>

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How to take Yale's personal happiness online course for free

<p>As the new year unfolds, you may find yourself with a list of things you want to achieve within the next 12 months.</p> <p>If any of these goals includes looking after your wellbeing or working on more productive habits, then you are in luck – Yale University can help you get there at no charge.</p> <p>In 2018, Professor Laurie Santos unveiled a psychology course titled “Psychology and the Good Life” at the university. It became the most popular class in Yale University’s <span><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coursera-yale-science-of-wellbeing-free-course-review-overview/?r=AU&amp;IR=T">317-year history</a></span>, with a quarter of the student body enrolling in the course.</p> <p>When a free online version of the course – “The Science of Well-Being” – launched on learning platform Coursera last year, a whopping 255,000 people signed up. Many went on to praise the class as “<span><a href="https://www.inc.com/betsy-mikel/this-guy-took-yales-most-popular-class-ever-for-free-learning-1-key-habit-made-him-happier.html">life-changing</a></span>”.</p> <p>Now the course is back for the new year. In <span><a href="https://www.coursera.org/learn/the-science-of-well-being?action=enroll">the ten-week class</a></span>, Santos is set to share “misconceptions about happiness, annoying features of the mind that lead us to think the way we do, and the research that can help us change”.</p> <p>The whole course – which includes video lectures, readings and quizzes – is estimated to take 20 hours to complete.</p> <p>The first class kicked off this week, but you can still catch up and do the tasks on your own pace. Students can sign up and observe the class for free, but an optional completion certificate will cost AU$71.</p>

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How to use habit science to help you keep your New Year's resolution

<p><a href="https://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/articles/2015-12-29/why-80-percent-of-new-years-resolutions-fail">More than 80 per cent</a> of people who make New Year’s resolutions have already given up on their goals by February.</p> <p>While there’s a lot of resolution advice on the internet, much of it fails to highlight the crux of behavioral change.</p> <p>To make individual decisions – whether it’s what to wear or which gift to buy for someone – <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0149763414002802">you draw on brain systems involving executive control</a>. You make the decision, add a shot of willpower and, voilà, it’s done.</p> <p>But most resolutions don’t involve a single decision. Eating healthier, exercising more and spending less all involve habitual behaviors that involve <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn1919">neural circuitry</a> tied to unconscious thought.</p> <p>Take eating. You can decide you want to eat healthier, but the memories of your eating habits persist. At around 11 a.m., you start thinking of muffins, your go-to morning snack. At 8 p.m., you automatically think of ice cream, your usual dessert. This is the way habits work: <a href="https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-psych-122414-033417">Certain contexts</a>, like times of the day and locations, bring to mind thoughts of certain rewards – like the tasty foods you tend to eat.</p> <p>You can exert some willpower and stop yourself snacking over the course of one day. <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8121959">But denial can backfire</a>: By quashing a desire, you give it extra fuel to plague you in the future. Over time, we tend to give up.</p> <p>The key to mastering habits is to understand how difficult it is to simply will them away. But you can deploy a kind of “reverse-engineering” based on <a href="https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250159076">the science of habits</a>.</p> <h2>The facts of friction</h2> <p>One way to reverse engineer bad habits is to create friction.</p> <p>Physical distance is a simple source of friction. <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0195666314000920">A 2014 study</a> involved a bowl of buttered popcorn and a bowl of apple slices. One group of participants sat closer to popcorn than the apple slices, and the other sat closer to the apple slices. The first group ate three times more calories. The second group of participants could see and smell the popcorn, but the distance created friction, and they were less likely to eat it.</p> <p>For your own eating habits, the strategies can be as simply as putting junk food out of sight – off kitchen counters and into the pantry, so it’s slightly more difficult to access.</p> <p>If you want to cultivate good habits, you can diminish the friction for the new behavior. <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-close-do-you-need-to-be-to-your-gym-1490111186">For example</a>, researchers looked at the GPS data of people with gym memberships. Those who traveled about 3.7 miles to a gym went five or more times a month. However, those who had to travel around 5.2 miles went only about once a month.</p> <p>Again, the strategy is obvious: Reduce friction to working out. Choose a gym that’s on your way home from the office. Keep your gym bag always at the ready. My son, an avid bike racer, puts his <a href="https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-1-d&amp;biw=1301&amp;bih=740&amp;tbm=isch&amp;sa=1&amp;ei=iT4OXqaMEuSJggfZk53gBA&amp;q=indoor+bike+trainer&amp;oq=indoor+bike+trainer&amp;gs_l=img.3..0l7j0i7i30l3.1190.1794..1891...0.0..1.421.1306.7j3-1j1......0....1..gws-wiz-img.......0i67.kKHMrOCxb6w&amp;ved=0ahUKEwjm9OnNzeXmAhXkhOAKHdlJB0wQ4dUDCAY&amp;uact=5">indoor bike trainer</a> in the middle of his living room before leaving for work. When he gets home, he finds it’s usually easier to do his planned workout.</p> <h2>Out with the old cues</h2> <p>Another strategy to reverse-engineer your habits is to change the cues that activate them. Cues can include the time of day, a location and the routines associated with a behavior. If you regularly make coffee, your cues might be entering your kitchen shortly after waking up and seeing your coffee machine.</p> <p>Cues change naturally when you start new relationships, change jobs or move. These offer a window of opportunity to act on your goals and desires without being dragged down by the cues that trigger your old habits.</p> <p>For example, <a href="http://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-016-9468-3">researchers found</a> in a 2017 study that professional athletes whose performance had declined often improved after being traded to or signing with a new team. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2007.10.005">Another study</a> found new residents of a small British town with strong environmental values mostly took the bus or cycled to work. But people who were not recent movers mostly drove, even though they held similar values.</p> <p>When cues change, it becomes easier to switch up your habits and routines. Say you want to eat healthier. Try taking a new route to work instead of the one that takes you by the café where you buy double cream cappuccinos. When you’re chatting on the phone, do it in the living room instead of the kitchen.</p> <p>Even in food-rich contexts, cue control is possible. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2008.286">A 2012 study</a> found that overweight patrons at all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants were more likely to sit facing the food, while thinner people tended to sit with their backs or sides facing the buffet. Thinner people were also more likely to put napkins on their laps, a minor way to add friction to getting more food.</p> <p>Breaking out of bad habits isn’t easy. It takes time and repetition. But as you work toward forming better habits, you can, at the very least, incorporate these simple reverse-engineering strategies to help you avoid becoming one of the 80 per cent of people who throw in the towel.<!-- End of code. If you don't see any code above, please get new code from the Advanced tab after you click the republish button. The page counter does not collect any personal data. More info: http://theconversation.com/republishing-guidelines --></p> <p><em><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/wendy-wood-137754">Wendy Wood</a>, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business, <a href="http://theconversation.com/institutions/university-of-southern-california-dornsife-college-of-letters-arts-and-sciences-2669">University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences</a></em></p> <p><em>This article is republished from <a href="http://theconversation.com">The Conversation</a> under a Creative Commons license. Read the <a href="https://theconversation.com/how-to-use-habit-science-to-help-you-keep-your-new-years-resolution-129286">original article</a>.</em></p>

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