Pixar’s Inside Out is a movie about being a child and all the emotions that accompany this tumultuous time. Director Pete Doctor and producer Jonas Rivera chose the movie’s core emotions based on research from Dr. Paul Ekman. Dr. Ekman identifies six primary emotions that are universal throughout various cultures—happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, disgust, and fear—and all but one of these appear in the film.

Eleven-year-old Riley’s parents have just moved from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she must come to terms with leaving her old school, best friend, and extracurricular activities. Although Riley is the story’s protagonist, the real characters are her emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear, which are personified inside her brain.

The film teaches that emotions play a significant role in the development of Riley’s personality. Joy is the leader—Riley’s predominant emotion—and she strives to protect Riley from Sadness. Later, Joy tries to banish one of Riley’s negative memories, and, as a result, she and Sadness get thrown out of Headquarters, the emotional control center. Only Fear, Anger, and Disgust remain, leaving Riley moody and irritable. Conflict ensues as each emotion grapples for control.

During the challenges of trying to return to Headquarters, Joy and Sadness learn important lessons as each begins to empathize with the emotion of the other. By the movie’s conclusion, Joy understands that she and Sadness must learn to coexist. In a Newsweek article, child psychologist Dr. Fadi Haddad comments, “I thought that was a brilliant ending in the movie, to see the importance of having a feeling like Sadness. That’s what connects us many times to families, to sad events, to friends, to understanding the meaning of empathy.”

The acceptance of Sadness leads to a breakthrough for Riley, who then shares with her parents her pain about leaving Minnesota, which in the movie is also a symbol for leaving behind her childhood. Riley’s emotions are reunited, and they begin working together, leading to Riley’s emotional healing.

For a children’s movie, Inside Out is surprisingly mature, accurately depicting how emotions interact, how they change during adolescence, and how they affect memory. It is a scientific yet kid-friendly portrayal of how the brain works, emphasizing the importance of all emotions—both the good and the bad. Emotions can be very complex for adults, and even more so for children. However, Inside Out has made them more accessible.

Do you think Inside Out accurately depicted the psychology of emotions? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Wrongful conviction stories abound in the news these days as DNA evidence is being used more frequently to reopen cases, some of them decades-old. Groups like The Innocence Project are drawing attention to those who have been wrongly convicted of crimes and helping to exonerate them. In many of these stories, those falsely accused of crimes maintained their innocence, filing appeals and talking to anyone who would listen in an effort to have their cases heard.

But what about convictions in which the accused has confessed to the crime and believes in his or her own guilt? How could an innocent person be persuaded to confess to a crime he or she didn’t commit?

Quite easily, according to a new study by Julia Shaw, a lecturer in forensic psychology from the University of Bedfordshire, and Stephen Porter, a forensic psychologist at the University of British Columbia. In an article in the January 2015 issue of the journal Psychological Science, Shaw and Porter describe the method by which they were able to implant false memories of committing a crime into the minds of college-age adults who volunteered for their study.

Participants were screened to exclude those who had any previous history of law-breaking. Shaw and Porter sent questionnaires to participants’ parents to gather background information (e.g., the names of friends, details about their hometowns) that the researchers could use in the stories they fabricated about the “crime.” During the course of the experiment, which included three 45-minute interviews several days apart, participants were not permitted to communicate with their parents.

In the interviews, Shaw asked each participant to talk about a true, emotional experience from his or her early teen years; then, she prompted participants to “remember” an invented crime such as assault that led to an encounter with the police. During the interviews, Shaw maintained a friendly, nonthreatening rapport, offering to help jog memories about the false crime with details from the true event and information gleaned from the parent questionnaire.

The results surprised even the researchers: of 30 participants in the study, 21 developed a false memory of the event, and 11 reported elaborate details of their interactions with the police following their imagined crimes. “We thought we’d have something like a thirty percent success rate, and we ended up having over seventy,” Shaw said in a March 5, 2015 interview with The New Yorker. “We only had a handful of people who didn’t believe us.” In one example, a participant developed a detailed story about a love triangle that turned into a rock-throwing incident. “It was very emotional,” Shaw said. “Each time she’d re-enact the event, the rock would fill her hand a little bit more.”

The study has serious implications for law enforcement. “No department wants the image of locking up innocent people,” said Albie Esparza, public information officer for the San Francisco Police Department, responding to questions about the study from NPR’s Nathan Siegel. Esparza asserts that the “good cop, bad cop” routine is mostly a figment of Hollywood’s imagination, and that police departments are highly motivated to find the real perpetrators of crime. Yet the methods used by Shaw—gathering background information about the accused, drawing connections between that information and a crime, and even lying about facts and witnesses—are all perfectly legal for use by law enforcement in the U.S.

It seems that even when the stakes are high, people are still very susceptible to the influence of an authority figure who is questioning them. In their study summary, Shaw and Porter conclude, “It appears that in the context of a highly suggestive interview, people can quite readily generate rich false memories of committing crime.”

What do you think? What are the implications of police officers using suggestive interview techniques, and when do those techniques cross the line into coercion? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
What does the science of cognitive neuropsychology—brain research—have to say about why kids struggle to read? Plenty! But it can be very time-consuming for busy professionals to sift through the research, assess kids’ brain functioning, and choose interventions that target their specific needs. This is where the Feifer Assessment of Reading™ (FAR™), a new product from PAR, can help.

The FAR was developed using a brain-based educational model of reading. Research using neuroimaging techniques has clearly shown that specific neural networks in the brain are associated with different aspects of the reading process, such as phonemic awareness, fluency, decoding, and comprehension. This means that interventions for reading disorders vary depending on the specific dyslexic subtype of the individual reader.

Reading expert Dr. Steven Feifer developed the FAR to identify the four most common dyslexic subtypes: dysphonetic dyslexia, surface dyslexia, mixed dyslexia, and reading comprehension deficit. Comprising 15 subtests to measure highly differentiated aspects of reading, the FAR generates five index scores:

  • the Phonological Index, including phonemic awareness, decoding, and positioning sounds;

  • the Fluency Index, including orthographic processing plus both visual perception and verbal fluency;

  • the Comprehension Index, including semantic concepts, word recall, and morphological processing;

  • the Mixed Index (a composite of Phonological and Fluency Index scores); and

  • the FAR Total Index (a composite of all subtest scores).


Clearly, the science is there. But many districts use a Response to Intervention (RTI) approach, with teams of educators planning interventions for kids and monitoring progress to see what’s been most effective. Where does brain science come into play?

RTI is about looking at the evidence—the individual student’s reading behaviors—and designing interventions that address his or her specific needs. Evidence-based interventions require evidence-based assessments. The FAR allows practitioners to conduct an in-depth assessment that provides information about how a child learns and processes information—not a label.

The RTI approach has many strengths, but often it is not sufficient on its own to identify or diagnose a learning disability. Also, remediation strategies are too often “one size fits all” when they haven’t taken into account the reasons behind a student’s reading difficulties. The FAR can support RTI by identifying learning disabilities, thereby reducing the risk of delaying diagnosis or denying students’ eligibility for much-needed services. The included Screening Form is perfect for a quick assessment of student progress—it takes just 15 minutes to complete.

The FAR is designed to integrate cognitive neuropsychology research into the RTI approach, supporting RTI while filling some of the gaps—especially in terms of dyslexia identification and differentiation—that RTI can miss. The FAR offers solutions for school psychologists, reading specialists, and teachers—and most importantly, the potential for real improvements in student reading.

To learn more about the FAR, visit www.parinc.com.
A nervous laugh when someone has tripped and fallen, or tearful congratulations to the happy couple at a wedding: Many of us can remember an event when a seemingly inappropriate emotional response emerged, unbidden, at exactly the wrong moment. Screaming—normally a sign of acute distress—is common among teenagers at a concert when their idol steps onto the stage. And in the presence of an adorable baby, some people respond by growling or pinching the baby’s cheeks. Oriana Aragon, a post-doctoral associate in the department of psychology at Yale University, wanted to learn more about this common but often misunderstood phenomenon, and especially about the psychological purpose it might serve. Her findings were published in the March 2015 issue of the journal Psychological Science.

Aragon and her colleagues conducted a series of experiments in which they exposed subjects to highly emotional stimuli—for example, a reunion between loved ones or a beautiful, vulnerable baby—and then measured the subjects’ responses. The researchers conclude that negative responses to positive stimuli may be a way for people who are overwhelmed by an emotion to regulate their response. Aragon believes that people have an emotional limit, and when that limit is reached, they ease their response by expressing the opposite emotion.

“People may be restoring emotional equilibrium with these expressions,” says Aragon in a recent interview in the Yale News online newsletter. “They seem to take place when people are overwhelmed with strong positive emotions, and people who do this seem to recover better from those strong emotions.”

The researchers observed that subjects who expressed negative reactions to positive news were able to moderate intense emotions more quickly. They also found that people who tend to express these dimorphous reactions do so regardless of whether the original stimulus was positive or negative—either way, they tend to balance their emotions with seemingly opposite responses. That is, people who typically cry at a weddings also tend to laugh at a sad event, such as a funeral.

“These insights advance our understanding of how people express and control their emotions, which is importantly related to mental and physical health, the quality of relationships with others, and even how well people work together,” said Aragon in the Yale News interview.

What do you think? Do people express dimorphous reactions in order to restore emotional balance, or are other factors in play? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
We are used to thinking of alcohol dependence as black or white: Either someone is or isn’t an alcoholic. Dr. John Mariani, who researches substance abuse at Columbia University, says that the field of psychiatry now recognizes shades of gray between someone who doesn’t drink at all and someone who suffers from an alcohol addiction.

At least 38 million adults drink too much. Binge drinking, high weekly use, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or people under the age of 21 are included in this category. In the United States each year, about 88,000 deaths are alcohol related, and alcohol abuse costs the U.S. economy about $224 billion each year.

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that 90% of excessive drinkers were unlikely to need addiction treatment, and another revealed that only 1 in 6 adults talk with their doctor, nurse, or other health professional about their drinking. Among adults who binge drink 10 times or more a month, only 1 in 3 have discussed drinking. And only 17% of pregnant women have talked about drinking.

The CDC recommends that physicians and other health providers include basic alcohol screening and brief counseling as part of routine medical practice by:

  • talking directly with patients about how much and how often they drink;

  • providing information about the health dangers of drinking too much;

  • offering options for patients who may want to stop drinking, cut down, maintain their current level of drinking, or seek further help; and

  • referring patients who need specialized treatment for alcohol dependence.


Screening and brief counseling have been proven to work by reducing how much alcohol a person drinks on an occasion by 25% and by improving health and saving money in the same way that blood pressure screening, flu vaccines, and cholesterol or breast cancer screening do.

Drinker’s Checkup, an online confidential screening tool, is a good resource to share with clients; it provides detailed, objective feedback for people who aren’t sure whether their drinking is excessive and provides help with making a decision about whether to change drinking habits. An app called Moderate Drinking can be downloaded to help monitor drinking habits; its effectiveness has been demonstrated in a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology.
In the context of mental illness, the word “asylum” conjures, for many of us, some very negative images. We picture a scene with characters like the abusive Nurse Ratched from the movie “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” or even worse, tragic true stories of the overcrowded, understaffed psychiatric hospitals of the last century where healthy, sick, disabled, and poor patients alike were locked away for years with no effective treatment or hope of release.

These images may be the reason that a JAMA viewpoint published last month has garnered so much attention: Bioethicists from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania are calling for a return to asylums for long-term psychiatric care.

At Penn, Dominic Sisti, PhD, Andrea Segal, MS, and Ezekiel Emanuel, MD, PhD, have been studying the current system for treating the chronically mentally ill and the evolution over the past half-century away from inpatient psychiatric hospitals. They observe that although the United States population has doubled since 1955, the number of inpatient psychiatric beds has been cut by nearly 95 percent to just 45,000—a very small number when compared to the 10 million U.S. residents who are currently coping with serious mental illness.

According to Sisti and his colleagues, the result of this trend has not be “de-institutionalization” but rather “trans-institutionalization.” That is, people with chronic mental illness are being treated in hospital emergency rooms and nursing homes at best, and more often receiving no treatment and living on the street. “Most disturbingly, U.S. jails and prisons have become the nation’s largest mental health care facilities,” say the authors, in a January 20 Penn Medicine press release. “Half of all inmates have a mental illness or substance abuse disorder; 15 percent of state inmates are diagnosed with a psychotic disorder…. This results in a vicious cycle whereby mentally ill patients move between crisis hospitalization, homelessness, and incarceration.”

As a solution, the authors propose a modern and humane asylum—but they use the word in its original sense, that is, a place of safety, sanctuary, and healing. In addition, they advocate reforms in the psychiatric services offered in such institutions, including both inpatient services, for those who are a danger to themselves and others, as well as outpatient care for those with milder forms of mental illness.

The proposal has been controversial, to say the least.  Some in the mental health community find the idea of a return to asylums misguided and even frightening. In her article called “Asylum or Warehouse?” author Linda Rosenberg, President and CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health, asserts that although Sisti and his colleagues accurately describe the problems of the current mental health system, their solution is to “just simply lock some people up” and that “the simple solution offered, recreating asylums, is not helpful—it’s dangerous.”

Others have viewed the proposal in a more positive light. Christine Montross, a staff psychiatrist at Butler Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island and author of “Falling into the Fire: A Psychiatrist’s Encounters with the Mind in Crisis” wrote an op-ed piece in the February 18 New York Times in support of a move toward modern asylums.

“The goals of maximizing personal autonomy and civil liberties for the mentally ill are admirable,” says Montross. “But as a result, my patients with chronic psychotic illnesses cycle between emergency hospitalizations and inadequate outpatient care. They are treated by community mental health centers whose overburdened psychiatrists may see even the sickest patients for only 20 minutes every three months. Many patients struggle with homelessness. Many are incarcerated. A new model of long-term psychiatric institutionalization, as the Penn group suggests, would help them.”

What do you think? Are modern, reimagined asylums a potential solution for the chronically mentally ill, or has history proven that institutions cannot work? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

 
This week’s blog was contributed by PAR Author Adele Eskeles Gottfried, PhD. Dr. Gottfried is the author of the Children’s Academic Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (CAIMI). The study she describes in this blog is part of a broader investigation in which she examines the importance of home environment and parental stimulation on the development of children’s academic intrinsic motivation.

In a longitudinal study spanning 28 years, new research just published in Parenting: Science and Practice examined the long-term effect of children’s home literacy environment during infancy and early childhood on their subsequent reading intrinsic motivation and reading achievement from childhood through adolescence and their educational attainment during adulthood. This type of motivation, which is the enjoyment or pleasure inherent in the activity of reading, is found to relate to various aspects of children’s literacy behaviors.

Literacy environment was assessed from infancy through preschool using the amount of time mothers read to their children and the number of books and reading materials in the home. Analyzing the data using a statistical model, the study examined literacy environment as it related to children’s reading intrinsic motivation (measured with the Reading scale of the CAIMI) and reading achievement across childhood through adolescence and their educational attainment during adulthood. Results demonstrated that it was the amount of time mothers spent reading to their children—not the number of books and reading materials in the home—that significantly related to reading intrinsic motivation, reading achievement, and educational attainment. Specifically, when mothers spent more time reading to their children across infancy through early childhood, their children’s reading intrinsic motivation and reading achievement were significantly higher across childhood through adolescence. In turn, higher reading intrinsic motivation and reading achievement were significantly related to educational attainment during adulthood. These findings were found regardless of mothers’ educational level.

The implications for practice are clear: Reading to children during infancy and early childhood has significant and positive long-term benefits, and this information must be disseminated. Mothers, fathers, and other caregivers need encouragement and support to read to infants and young children, and they need to know what a difference it will make to children’s intrinsic motivation to read and learn.
If you are ambitious in the workplace, new research suggests that you will more likely achieve your goals if you have a spouse who is also conscientious.

Several previous studies have examined how personality predicts workplace success. One such project, by Paul Sackett and Philip Walmsley and published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, used the Five Factor Model (FFM) of personality traits— neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness—to examine which of these traits companies value most when hiring. Conscientiousness is at the top of most companies’ lists, but Sackett and Walmsley wanted to see whether this was really the best indicator of employees’ future success.

It turns out that it is. After examining the relationship between personality traits and three work performance criteria— whether an employee is able to complete their work to satisfaction, how often an employee goes above and beyond at work, and how often they engage in negative behaviors—conscientiousness topped the list of traits needed to accomplish these goals, with agreeableness being a close second.

Now a study out of Washington University in St. Louis reveals even more about how important conscientiousness may be to workplace success: you have an increased chance of achieving greater goals in your career if your spouse is also conscientious.

Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson examined more than 4,500 heterosexual married participants to measure the effect their spouse’s personality has on their own job satisfaction, income, and likelihood of being promoted. The researchers used the FFM personality traits as their guide.

Their work revealed that job satisfaction, pay increases, and promotions were all more likely for those people who had a spouse (male or female) with high scores on one particular personality trait: conscientiousness.

“Our findings indicate that highly conscientious partners help improve their spouses’ occupational success, as measured by job satisfaction, income, and promotion. This benefit does not arise from partners doing their spouses’ work; rather, it is due to partners creating conditions that allow their spouses to work effectively,” Solomon and Jackson reported.

A short video by TouchVision gives an entertaining explanation of their findings.

What personality traits do you think are most important in an employee?
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. But an image is not always a true representation of reality. From Instagram, Facebook, and Tumblr to fashion magazines and reality shows, we are bombarded with images that have been created, filtered, manipulated, and staged. And it’s often very difficult to sift through what’s real and what’s not.

This is precisely why Dove began its Campaign for Real Beauty—to start a global discussion surrounding the definition of real beauty. It first conducted a study titled “The Real Truth About Beauty: A Global Report,” which revealed that less than 2% of women worldwide considered themselves beautiful. In a Dove Real Sketches video, participants were asked to describe themselves to an artist, who drew them behind a curtain, using only their descriptions of themselves as a guide. Then the same women returned to describe fellow participants. The difference between the two drawings was astonishing, and it revealed how hard we are on ourselves versus how others see us.

According to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 30 million people will be affected by an eating disorder during their lifetime. A full 69% of American school-age girls who read magazines say that the pictures they see influence how their concept of an ideal body shape. Boys are also affected, and largely because of cultural bias and stereotypes, they are much less likely to seek treatment. In addition, teen athletes are more at risk of developing an eating disorder or having a negative body image.

It is daunting to compete with society and media, so the NEDA has developed an Educator’s Toolkit to help those in schools reach out to students suffering from an eating disorder. It covers everything from myths surrounding these disorders (e.g., that eating disorders are a choice; p. 6) to school strategies for assisting these students (p. 11). NEDA also has a Feeding Hope Fund, which grants funding to researchers who are seeking out new ways to combat this illness.

Some of the most groundbreaking work has been done related to connecting genetics to eating disorders, according to Amy Novotny in an article published in the American Psychological Association publication the Monitor. One study by Kelly Klump in Psychological Medicine demonstrates that heritability influences disordered eating most when estrogen levels are highest, and another suggests that in some females, bulimia may be hard-wired.

Organizations like Project Heal are contributing to the healing process in a different way: the organization, started by two women who suffered from eating disorders, provides scholarship funding for those who can’t afford treatment. And still others are trying innovative interventions, including art therapy and yoga, which could encourage participants to view their bodies in a more compassionate way.

The NEDA Web site offers a plethora of resources, including a resource page with contact information and a helpline (1-800-931-2237) for those who may know someone who suffers from an eating disorder. Visit NEDA’s Get Involved page to learn more about how to raise awareness.
Most of us can remember reading a book that changed our lives. Whether it was a comforting childhood favorite, a college assignment that surprised or shocked us, or a novel that resonated at a particular stage in our adult lives, books clearly have the power to change our thinking and expand our points of view.

Taking it a step further, recent research from Emory University suggests that the act of reading a novel produces measurable changes in the brain itself, specifically, improvements in resting-state connectivity that can persist for days after reading.

“We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically,” said neuroscientist and lead author Gregory Berns in a recent interview with Emory University’s eScience Commons online newsletter.

The study was published last month in the journal Brain Connectivity. Emory students—twelve women and nine men—participated in the experiment, which was conducted over a 19-day period. The students read Pompeii, a novel by Robert Harris based on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in ancient Italy. For the first five days, participants came in each morning for a baseline scan of their brains using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device. Starting on the sixth day, they were asked to read a section of the novel each evening and come in the following morning for another fMRI scan. After completing all nine sections of the novel, the participants returned for five more mornings to undergo additional scans in a resting state. On the mornings following the reading assignments, the participants showed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, an area associated with receptivity for language, and in the central sulcus, the primary sensory motor region of the brain. “Even though the participants were not actually reading the novel while they were in the scanner, they retained this heightened connectivity,” Berns says. “We call that a ‘shadow activity,’ almost like a muscle memory.” The neural changes persisted not only in the morning after the reading but also for five days after participants completed the novel. “It remains an open question how long these neural changes might last,” Berns says. “But the fact that we’re detecting them over a few days for a randomly assigned novel suggests that your favorite novels could certainly have a bigger and longer-lasting effect on the biology of your brain.”

This study may have implications for counselors and educators who work with developing readers; the benefits of focused reading time may extend to the brain itself, helping to improve a student’s “wiring” and therefore his or her receptivity to other learning.

What do you think? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!