Kevin Lewis

December 11, 2016

Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial

Roland Griffiths et al.

Journal of Psychopharmacology, December 2016, Pages 1181-1197

Cancer patients often develop chronic, clinically significant symptoms of depression and anxiety. Previous studies suggest that psilocybin may decrease depression and anxiety in cancer patients. The effects of psilocybin were studied in 51 cancer patients with life-threatening diagnoses and symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. This randomized, double-blind, cross-over trial investigated the effects of a very low (placebo-like) dose (1 or 3 mg/70 kg) vs. a high dose (22 or 30 mg/70 kg) of psilocybin administered in counterbalanced sequence with 5 weeks between sessions and a 6-month follow-up. Instructions to participants and staff minimized expectancy effects. Participants, staff, and community observers rated participant moods, attitudes, and behaviors throughout the study. High-dose psilocybin produced large decreases in clinician- and self-rated measures of depressed mood and anxiety, along with increases in quality of life, life meaning, and optimism, and decreases in death anxiety. At 6-month follow-up, these changes were sustained, with about 80% of participants continuing to show clinically significant decreases in depressed mood and anxiety. Participants attributed improvements in attitudes about life/self, mood, relationships, and spirituality to the high-dose experience, with >80% endorsing moderately or greater increased well-being/life satisfaction. Community observer ratings showed corresponding changes. Mystical-type psilocybin experience on session day mediated the effect of psilocybin dose on therapeutic outcomes.


The effects of expressive writing before or after punch biopsy on wound healing

Hayley Robinson et al.

Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, forthcoming

Methods: One hundred and twenty-two healthy participants aged between 18 and 55 years were randomly allocated to one of four groups in a 2 (intervention) by 2 (timing) design. Participants performed either expressive writing or neutral writing, either before or after receiving a 4mm punch biopsy wound. Wounds were photographed on day 10 (primary endpoint) and day 14 after the biopsy to measure epithelisation. Participants also completed questionnaires on stress and affect two weeks prior to the biopsy, on the day of biopsy and two weeks after biopsy.

Results: There was a significant difference in healing at day 10 between groups, χ2(3, N = 97) = 8.84, p = .032. A significantly greater proportion of participants who performed expressive writing before the biopsy had fully reepithelialised wounds on day 10 compared to participants who performed neutral writing either before or after wounding, with no other significant differences between groups. Amongst people who wrote expressively after wounding, those who finished writing over the first 6 days were significantly more likely to be healed at 14 days than those who finished writing later. There were significant differences in positive and negative affect over the healing period between the pre and post expressive writing groups.

Conclusions: Expressive writing can improve healing if it is performed prior to wounding. Performing expressive writing after wounding may be able to improve healing depending on the timing of writing and wound assessment. Expressive writing causes worsening affect followed by a subsequent improvement in affect and it is important to consider this in the timing of intervention delivery. Further research with patient groups is required to determine the clinical relevance of these findings.


Fear reduction without fear through reinforcement of neural activity that bypasses conscious exposure

Ai Koizumi et al.

Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming

Fear conditioning is a fundamentally important and preserved process across species. In humans it is linked to fear-related disorders such as phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Fear memories can be reduced by counter-conditioning, in which fear conditioned stimuli (CS+s) are repeatedly reinforced with reward or with novel non-threatening stimuli. However, this procedure involves explicit presentations of CS+s, which is itself aversive before fear is successfully reduced. This aversiveness may be a problem when trying to translate such experimental paradigms into clinical settings. It also raises the fundamental question as to whether explicit presentations of feared objects is necessary for fear reduction. Although learning without explicit stimulus presentation has been previously demonstrated, whether fear can be reduced while avoiding explicit exposure to CS+s remains largely unknown. One recently developed approach employs an implicit method to induce learning by reinforcing stimulus-specific neural representations using real-time decoding of multivariate functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals in the absence of stimulus presentation; that is, pairing rewards with the occurrences of multi-voxel brain activity patterns matching a specific stimulus (decoded fMRI neurofeedback (DecNef)). It has been shown that participants exhibit perceptual learning for a specific visual stimulus feature through DecNef, without being given any strategy for the induction of specific neural representations, and without awareness of the content of reinforced neural representations. Here we examined whether a similar approach could be applied to counter-conditioning of fear. We show that we can reduce fear towards CS+s by pairing rewards with the activation patterns in visual cortex representing a CS+, while participants remain unaware of the content and purpose of the procedure. This procedure may be an initial step towards novel treatments for fear-related disorders such as phobia and PTSD, via unconscious processing.


Materialism, Spending, and Affect: An Event-Sampling Study of Marketplace Behavior and Its Affective Costs

Kirk Warren Brown et al.

Journal of Happiness Studies, December 2016, Pages 2277-2292

Research on materialism has burgeoned in the last two decades, yet little is known about how people higher versus lower in this consumer values orientation differ in their day-to-day spending habits and in their emotional reactions to spending on purchases. The present study used an event-sampling method over a 3-week period to address these questions in a community adult sample. Results showed that over the course of the sampling period, high materialists made more discretionary purchases and spent more money on necessity purchases than did those lower in materialism, even though their incomes did not differ. Despite higher levels of spending, high materialists experienced a "letdown" after spending, as they reported more post-purchase unpleasant affect than did low materialists. This result was not moderated by level of dispositional unpleasant affect, purchase type, or purchase amounts.


Some Implications of Believing That Happiness Involves the Absence of Pain: Negative Hedonic Beliefs Exacerbate the Effects of Stress on Well-Being

Ethan McMahan et al.

Journal of Happiness Studies, December 2016, Pages 2569-2593

One common belief about happiness, espoused to varying degrees by both researchers and laypeople alike, is that happiness involves a lack of negative hedonic experiences. In the current investigation, we examine whether individual differences in endorsement of this belief, termed negative hedonic belief, moderate the effects of stress on happiness and several indicators of well-being. It was predicted that because stress involves the experience of negative hedonic states, increased stress would be more robustly associated with decreased happiness and well-being among those endorsing negative hedonic beliefs. Results from three studies utilizing both retrospective and prospective research designs generally support this prediction and suggest that endorsing the belief that happiness involves a lack of negative hedonic experiences is associated with more negative outcomes in response to the experience of heightened life stress.


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