Getting in Your Head

Kevin Lewis

June 22, 2024

Just do it: A neuropsychological theory of agency, cognition, mood, and dopamine
Gregory Ashby et al.
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, June 2024, Pages 1582–1604

Agency is the sense that one has control over one’s own actions and the consequences of those actions. Despite the critical role that agency plays in the human condition, little is known about its neural basis. A novel theory proposes that increases in agency disinhibit the dopamine system and thereby increase the number of tonically active dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area. The theory, called ADDS (Agency Disinhibits the Dopamine System), proposes a specific neural network that mediates these effects. ADDS accurately predicts a variety of relevant neuroscience results, and makes many novel predictions, including that increases in an agency will (a) increase motivation, (b) improve executive function, (c) facilitate procedural learning, but only in the presence of immediate trial-by-trial feedback, (d) have little or no effect on learning-related effects of stimulus repetition or on standard eyeblink conditioning, (e) facilitate the development of automatic behaviors, but have little or no effect on the production of behaviors that are already automatized, (f) amplify the cognitive benefits of positive mood, and (g) reduce pain. The implications of this new theory are considered for several purely psychological theories that assign prominent roles to agency, including self-efficacy theory, hope theory, and goal-focused positive psychotherapy.

Genetic influences on testosterone and PTSD
Shannon Cusack et al.
Journal of Psychiatric Research, June 2024, Pages 8-11

Females are twice as likely to experience PTSD as compared to males. Although sex differences in prevalence are well-established, little is known about why such sex differences occur. Biological factors that vary with sex, including sex hormone production, may contribute to these differences. Considerable evidence links sex hormones, such as testosterone, to PTSD risk though less is known about the shared genetic underpinnings. The objective of the present study was to test for genetic relationships between testosterone and PTSD. To do so, we used summary statistics from large, publicly available genetic consortia to conduct linkage disequilibrium score regression to estimate the genetic correlations between PTSD and testosterone in males and females, and two-sample, bi-directional Mendelian randomization to examine potential causal relationships of testosterone on PTSD and the reverse. Heritability estimates of testosterone were significantly higher in males (0.17, SE = 0.02) than females (0.11, SE = 0.01; z = 2.46, p = 00.01). The correlation between testosterone and PTSD was negative in males (rg = −0.11, SE = 0.02, p = 6.7 x 10-6), but not significant in females (rg = 0.002, SE = 0.03, p = 0.95). MR analyses found no evidence of a causal effect of testosterone on PTSD or the reverse. Findings are consistent with phenotypic literature suggesting a relationship between testosterone and PTSD that may be sex-specific. This work provides early evidence of a relationship between testosterone and PTSD genotypically and suggests an avenue for future research that will enable a better understanding of disparities in PTSD.

Depression and Risky Health Behaviors
Alex Weng
University of North Carolina Working Paper, May 2024

Risky health behaviors are a major source of preventable deaths in the U.S. I estimate the effect of depression on risky health behaviors at different stages of the life course. To tackle unobservable confounders and reverse causality, I exploit variations in friend and family suicide attempts and a genetic score for depression as instrumental variables. I find that one standard deviation increase in depression leads to a 16 percentage point higher probability of having multiple sexual partners and smoking cigarettes. Depression could promote individuals' risky health behaviors through altering their risk preferences, noncognitive skills, and perceived social support.

Stress-related gene regulation: Do isolated and connected individuals differ?
Yvonne Yang et al.
Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, forthcoming

Methods: Recruitment occurred via two online advertisements, one for socially isolated individuals and another for general research participants. Participants (n = 102) were separated into groups (isolated versus connected) based on which ad they responded to, and provided data on isolation, loneliness, social motivation, and social ability. The Conserved Transcriptional Response to Adversity (CTRA) stress gene regulation program was assessed with genome-wide transcriptional profiling.

Results: CTRA gene expression patterns were reversed between connected and isolated groups across several variables. Social isolation was associated with higher CTRA levels in the connected group, but lower levels in the isolated group. Social approach was associated with lower CTRA levels in the connected group, but higher in the isolated group, and the converse was true for social avoidance. CTRA levels were minimally affected by social ability measures.

Conclusion: Prior work on social isolation and loneliness has focused on loneliness and has identified many negative downstream health effects. In this study we demonstrate that objective social isolation may not be associated with the same negative downstream health effects, and in fact, social interaction may be more stressful than social isolation for some socially-isolated individuals.

Go with your gut! The beneficial mood effects of intuitive decisions
Carina Remmers et al.
Emotion, forthcoming

People make countless decisions every day. We explored the self-regulatory function of decisions and assumed that the very act of making a decision in everyday life enhances people’s mood. We expected that this decision-related mood change would be more pronounced for intuitive decisions than for analytical ones. The ease of making a decision and the feeling of rightness were expected to mediate the effect of intuitive (vs. analytical) decisions on participants’ mood. In a preregistered experimental experience sampling study, participants from the general population were asked to report when they were about to make an everyday decision over the course of 14 days (N = 256 participants, 6,779 decisions). For each decision, participants were randomly instructed to decide either based on their intuition or based on careful analysis. We assessed several variables before and immediately after the decision. Participants also reported retrospectively on their choices in voluntary follow-up assessments. Making a decision per se immediately enhanced participants’ mood. This mood enhancement was stronger for intuitive compared to analytic decisions and persisted until follow-up. Ease of decision, but not feeling of rightness, mediated this effect. Intuitive decisions compared to analytic decisions were more likely to be implemented and led to greater satisfaction and pleasantness of the chosen option. Having more options for a particular decision led to generally higher mood improvement and satisfaction. This is the first empirical demonstration showing that using one’s gut has beneficial effects in everyday life. Study limitations and implications for theory and practice are discussed.

The social grounds of personal self: Interactions that build a sense of ‘we’ help clarify who ‘I’ am
Namkje Koudenburg et al.
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming

Many lay people believe that the best way to develop a clear sense of ‘who you are’ is to shut yourself off from others and engage in introspection. Increasingly, however, empirical evidence points to the social aspects of identities and identity development. Building on this, we argue that a strong sense of personal identity is more likely to be derived from meaningful social interaction. More specifically, we argue that when communication allows people to develop a sense of shared identity, it can also promote a sense of personal self. Consistent with this hypothesis, evidence from three experiments indicates that social interaction indirectly enhances people's self-concept clarity and personal identity strength, through an increased experience of shared identity and social validation. This suggests that a sense of ‘me’ is not formed independently of others but also through the experience of ‘we’ in interaction.


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