Feeling good

Kevin Lewis

October 07, 2017

Reporting Mental Health Symptoms: Breaking Down Barriers to Care with Virtual Human Interviewers
Gale Lucas et al.
Frontiers in Robotics and AI, forthcoming

A common barrier to healthcare for psychiatric conditions is the stigma associated with these disorders. Perceived stigma prevents many from reporting their symptoms. Stigma is a particularly pervasive problem among military service members, preventing them from reporting symptoms of combat-related conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, research shows increased reporting by service members when anonymous assessments are used. For example, service members report more symptoms of PTSD when they anonymously answer the Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA) symptom checklist compared to the official PDHA, which is identifiable and linked to their military records. To investigate the factors that influence reporting of psychological symptoms by service members, we used a transformative technology: automated virtual humans that interview people about their symptoms. Such virtual human interviewers allow simultaneous use of two techniques for eliciting disclosure that would otherwise be incompatible; they afford anonymity while also building rapport. We examined whether virtual human interviewers could increase disclosure of mental health symptoms among active-duty service members that just returned from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan. Service members reported more symptoms during a conversation with a virtual human interviewer than on the official PDHA. They also reported more to a virtual human interviewer than on an anonymized PDHA. A second, larger sample of active-duty and former service members found a similar effect that approached statistical significance. Because respondents in both studies shared more with virtual human interviewers than an anonymized PDHA -even though both conditions control for stigma and ramifications for service members' military records- virtual human interviewers that build rapport may provide a superior option to encourage reporting.

Do Humans Suffer a Psychological Low in Midlife? Two Approaches (With and Without Controls) in Seven Data Sets
David Blanchflower & Andrew Oswald
NBER Working Paper, August 2017

Using seven recent data sets, covering 51 countries and 1.3 million randomly sampled people, the paper examines the pattern of psychological well-being from approximately age 20 to age 90. Two conceptual approaches to this issue are possible. Despite what has been argued in the literature, neither is the 'correct' one, because they measure different things. One studies raw numbers on well-being and age. This is the descriptive approach. The second studies the patterns in regression equations for well-being (that is, adjusting for other influences). This is the ceteris-paribus analytical approach. The paper applies each to large cross-sections and compares the patterns of life-satisfaction and happiness. Using the first method, there is evidence of a midlife low in five of the seven data sets. Using the second method, all seven data sets produce evidence consistent with a midlife low. The scientific explanation for the approximate U-shape currently remains unknown.

Psychological stress declines rapidly from age 50 in the United States: Yet another well-being paradox
Arthur Stone, Stefan Schneider & Joan Broderick
Journal of Psychosomatic Research, forthcoming

Methods: Using Gallup-Healthways survey data of over 1.5 million U.S. respondents, we analyzed a question asking about stress yesterday and demographic determinants of the pattern. To confirm this pattern, data on stress was analyzed from the American Time Use Survey and data on distress was analyzed from the Health and Retirement Survey.

Results: We show that ratings daily, perceived stressfulness of yesterday yields a paradox, with high levels from the 20's through about age 50, followed by a precipitous decline through the 70's. Data from the other two surveys confirmed the age pattern for stress. Regressions with the Gallup-Healthways data statistically controlled several third-variables, yet none substantially altered the pattern.

The Secret to Happiness: Feeling Good or Feeling Right?
Maya Tamir et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, October 2017, Pages 1448-1459

Which emotional experiences should people pursue to optimize happiness? According to traditional subjective well-being research, the more pleasant emotions we experience, the happier we are. According to Aristotle, the more we experience the emotions we want to experience, the happier we are. We tested both predictions in a cross-cultural sample of 2,324 participants from 8 countries around the world. We assessed experienced emotions, desired emotions, and indices of well-being and depressive symptoms. Across cultures, happier people were those who more often experienced emotions they wanted to experience, whether these were pleasant (e.g., love) or unpleasant (e.g., hatred). This pattern applied even to people who wanted to feel less pleasant or more unpleasant emotions than they actually felt. Controlling for differences in experienced and desired emotions left the pattern unchanged. These findings suggest that happiness involves experiencing emotions that feel right, whether they feel good or not.

Crime and Violence: Desensitization in Victims to Watching Criminal Events
Rafael Di Tella et al.
NBER Working Paper, August 2017

We study desensitization to crime in a lab experiment by showing footage of criminal acts to a group of subjects, some of whom have been previously victimized. We measure biological markers of stress and behavioral indices of cognitive control before and after treated participants watch a series of real, crime-related videos (while the control group watches non-crime-related videos). Not previously victimized participants exposed to the treatment video show significant changes in cortisol level, heart rate, and measures of cognitive control. Instead, previously victimized individuals who are exposed to the treatment video show biological markers and cognitive performance comparable to those measured in individuals exposed to the control video. These results suggest a phenomenon of desensitization or habituation of victims to crime exposure.

Metaphors can give life meaning
Matthew Baldwin, Mark Landau & Trevor Swanson
Self and Identity, forthcoming

Conceptual metaphor theory offers a perspective on how and when people find meaning in life. Whereas life's meaning can be difficult to grasp, metaphor compares life to a relatively more concrete and structured concept. Supporting this account, American adults (Study 1) and German undergraduates (Study 2) who framed life as a journey reported more meaning in life. The journey metaphor was particularly beneficial for individuals with low levels of perceived coherence in life (Study 2). Study 3 further explored this pattern of moderation: An accessible metaphor, compared to other life framings, benefited participants who lack a strong meaning framework. Study 4 focused on the mechanism behind metaphor's influence. Participants who imagined events from their life journey perceived stronger interrelatedness among those events as measured with an analog spatial organization task. Perceived interrelatedness in turn predicted meaning in life, particularly for individuals with a strong preference for well-structured knowledge. Finally, participants who applied their own metaphor to life expressed greater meaning (Study 5), especially those high in personal need for structure (Study 6). An internal meta-analysis of these findings provides cumulative evidence for metaphor's influence on perceived meaning in life and reveals moderating features of the individual.

You can do it if you really try: The effects of motivation on thinking for pleasure
Sarah Alahmadi et al.
Motivation and Emotion, October 2017, Pages 545-561

People find it difficult to enjoy their own thoughts when asked to do so, but what happens when they are asked to think about whatever they want? Do they find thinking more or less enjoyable? In the present studies, we show that people are more successful in enjoying their thoughts when instructed to do so. We present evidence in support of four reasons why this is: without instructions people do not realize how enjoyable it will be to think for pleasure, they do not realize how personally meaningful it will be to do so, they believe that thinking for pleasure will be effortful, and they believe it would be more worthwhile to engage in planning than to try to enjoy their thoughts. We discuss the practical implications of thinking for pleasure for promoting alternatives to the use of technology.

The effect of expressive writing on the error-related negativity among individuals with chronic worry
Hans Schroder, Tim Moran & Jason Moser
Psychophysiology, forthcoming

The error-related negativity (ERN), an ERP elicited immediately after errors, is enlarged among individuals with anxiety. The relationship between anxiety and enlarged ERN has spurred interest in understanding potential therapeutic benefits of decreasing its amplitude within anxious individuals. The current study used a tailored intervention - expressive writing - in an attempt to reduce the ERN among a sample of individuals with chronic worry. Consistent with hypotheses, the ERN was reduced in the expressive writing group compared to an unrelated writing control group. Findings provide experimental support that the ERN can be reduced among anxious individuals with tailored interventions. Expressive writing may serve to "offload" worries from working memory, therefore relieving the distracting effects of worry on cognition as reflected in a decreased ERN.

Acute Physical Exercise in Humans Enhances Reconsolidation of Emotional Memories
Dharani Keyan & Richard Bryant
Psychoneuroendocrinology, December 2017, Pages 144-151

Increasing evidence suggests that when a memory is reactivated through retrieval, it becomes temporarily vulnerable to environmental or pharmacological manipulation, which can consequently update or strengthen the memory. Physical exercise has been shown to modulate the maintenance of fear memories in animals following memory reactivation. This study investigated the effect of intense exercise in modulating the reconsolidation of trauma memories. Fifty-four undergraduate students watched a trauma film depicting the aftermath of a highway car crash. Two days later, participants engaged in either (a) 20-25 minutes of incremental cycling following a memory reactivation induction (Reactivation/Exercise), (b) 20-25 minutes of mild cycling (Reactivation/No Exercise) following memory reactivation, or (c) 20-25 minutes of incremental cycling but no memory reactivation (No Reactivation/Exercise). Saliva samples were collected to index salivary amylase and cortisol at baseline and post activity. Participants completed memory questionnaires relating to declarative and intrusive memory recall two days after memory reactivation. Reactivation/Exercise participants recalled more central details of the trauma film relative to other participants. Increased cortisol predicted better total memory recall in the Reactivation/Exercise, but not in the other conditions. These findings suggest that intense exercise during the period of memory reactivation enhances subsequent trauma memory, and provides human evidence consistent with recent findings of exercise-induced fear reconsolidation in animals.

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