A new exhibit called “The Changing Face of What is Normal: Mental Health” opened recently at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. A world-renowned science museum, the Exploratorium features a new gallery that focuses on human behavior. The mental health exhibit is designed to explore the ways society defines, perceives, and responds to those whose behavior is considered “abnormal.” Visitors are encouraged to consider that normality is a fluid concept with a range of definitions that change depending on contexts such as time and place.

The Exploratorium Web site describes three elements that make up the exhibit:

  • Artifacts from the suitcases and trunks of 14 patients who were confined at the Willard Psychiatric Center, a New York mental institution that was decommissioned in 1995. The personal items provide insight into the lives of residents before they were institutionalized.

  • A display tracing the evolution of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a guide used by psychiatric professionals to diagnose and treat cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disorders. This part of the exhibit also includes videotaped interviews with clinicians and clients speaking about their experiences and commenting on the difficulty of categorizing human behavior.

  • An interactive installation called “Restraint,” which explores the ways psychiatric patients have been restrained over time. Visitors can view, experience, and comment on various types of restraints, including the ways societies and cultures constrain everyday behavior and the ways we must often restrain our own impulses.

“The Changing Face of What Is Normal: Mental Health” will be on display at the Exploratorium until spring 2014. Have you seen it? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Have you ever marveled at a coworker’s unprofessional remarks, cringe-worthy pictures, or embarrassing comments made on social media sites? New research delves into how employees manage boundaries on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, revealing how these behaviors effect the way they are viewed by professional contacts.

Researchers Ariane Ollier-Malaterre, Nancy Rothbard, and Justin Berg believe there are two key factors that govern an individual’s social media choices—whether they are integrators or segmentors and whether they are aiming to impress or express.

Integrators intend to create connections between their professional and personal lives, blending the two spheres. Segmentors, however, prefer to keep these roles separate. On social media, this may mean using privacy controls, keeping LinkedIn connections for professional contacts and Facebook for personal friends, or simply making their profile unsearchable.

Impressers see social media as way to build a reputation and a base of followers, sharing positive information such as achievements or articles that make them look intelligent. Impressers avoid controversial posts and are careful to share information that paints them in a flattering light. Expressers, however, see social media as a way to be viewed more accurately by others, sharing experiences (both good and bad), writing about unpopular opinions, and posting pictures and articles that may not appeal to everyone on their friend list.

Bringing both boundary preferences and image motives together, the researchers were able to gain insight into how others may view and respect you. For example, an integrator with a high motivation to express may sacrifice respect from colleagues as they gain a reputation for revealing too much or sharing inappropriate information. However, keeping too much private or not accepting a friend request from a coworker is also regarded negatively by those at work. The researchers believe that mirroring the tailored nature of offline relationships may be a wise choice for professional relationships, though this may be the most time consuming way to manage social media profiles.

To read more, visit the Academy of Management Review.
New research out of the National University of Singapore may explain why your food tastes the way it does, and why that flavor may have nothing to do with your taste buds. After a series of experiments, researchers have concluded that people correlate love with sweetness and romance may help people perceive food to be sweeter, as well.

In one experiment, participants were asked to communicate how emotions related to different tastes. For example, would jealousy taste sweet, spicy, bitter, or sour? In a second experiment, participants were asked to write down two different answers to the open-ended question of “If love were a taste, what would it be?” A third group was asked to write about either romantic love, romantic jealousy, or (a control) about landmarks in Singapore before eating and rating the taste of sweet and sour candy and bittersweet chocolate. Finally, a fourth group was asked to write about either love, jealousy, or happiness before taste-testing a “new product,” which was actually a simple glass of distilled water.

People who wrote about love rated their samples as sweeter, whether they were sampling the chocolate, candy, or water. Those in the jealousy groups didn’t report their samples as tasting more bitter or sour compared to the control group.

Researchers believe this can be attributed to the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain region that anticipates reward and is activated by romantic love and the taste of sugar. Thus, the brain may associate love and sweetness, even when there is no actual external sweetness.

For more on this study, see the journal Emotion.
A remarkable transformation is taking place in nursing homes around the country as elderly patients are reconnecting with life through music. The brainchild of social worker Dan Cohen, a program called Music & Memory has created personalized iPod playlists for residents of elder care facilities, many of whom have Alzheimer's type dementia. The results have been truly life changing for patients as they are “reawakened” by the music of their youth.

Cohen is now working with renowned neuropsychologist Oliver Sacks (author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain) on a documentary about Cohen’s program and the elderly patients who are responding so positively. In a clip from this documentary, a man reacts to hearing music from his past:




“Our approach is simple, elegant and effective,” says Cohen on his Music & Memory Web site. “We train elder care professionals how to set up personalized music playlists, delivered on iPods and other digital devices, for those in their care. These musical favorites tap deep memories not lost to dementia and can bring residents and clients back to life, enabling them to feel like themselves again, to converse, socialize and stay present.”

What do you think? Has music helped your clients with dementia to access memories and engage more positively in daily life? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
It goes without saying that typical game-day snacks are not the healthiest fare. But a recent study suggests that football fans who root for a losing team are more likely to eat unhealthful, high-calorie foods—even the day after the game. On the flip side, fans of a winning team are likely to make better food choices than they normally do. “Backing a losing team isn’t just bad for your pride,” says National Public Radio’s science correspondent Shankar Vedantam in a recent broadcast called Diet of Defeat. “It’s bad for your waistline.”

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by marketing researchers at the international business school INSEAD. Authors Yann Cornil and Pierre Chandon explain, “Using archival and experimental data, we showed that vicarious defeats experienced by fans when their favorite football team loses lead them to consume less healthy food. On the Mondays following a Sunday National Football League (NFL) game, saturated-fat and food-calorie intake increase significantly in cities with losing teams, decrease in cities with winning teams, and remain at their usual levels in comparable cities without an NFL team or with an NFL team that did not play.” The study also shows that these effects were greater in cities with the most committed fans, when the opponents were more evenly matched, and when the defeats were narrow.

In the NPR story, Vedantam suggests that the most interesting part of this research might not be the effects of defeats, but the effect that victories seem to have on fans. “Winning seems to make people think long-term—they look forward to the next match, for example,” he says. “The satisfaction of winning increases the capacity of people to withstand difficult choices—to pick the salad over the fries.”

What do you think? Do the wins and losses of your favorite team affect your eating habits? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
According to new research, discriminating against overweight people does not motivate them to lose weight – in fact, it is doing the opposite and contributing to increased obesity.

Psychologists from Florida State College of Medicine used survey data from men and women age 50 and older to determine how they experienced discrimination in their daily lives. The respondents were then asked why they believed the discrimination happened. Researchers also recorded the height and weight of the participants. Four years later, respondents were asked the same questions and were again checked for height and weight.

Participants who said they had experienced discrimination because they were overweight were more than twice as likely to be obese upon follow up than people who did not mention discrimination based on weight. Individuals who were obese at the first survey were three times more likely to remain obese if they had been discriminated against because of their weight. Other types of discrimination (i.e., based on sex, age, race, etc.) showed no effect on weight.

While the study does not attempt to discern why overweight individuals continued to gain more weight, researchers say that the roots of obesity are complex and while promoting healthy behaviors is a good thing, shaming someone is not a solution.
Most students have a ready answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For college students, those answers are generally expected to have some basis in reality. Many students believe that a session with a career counselor will not only clarify their career path but also guarantee them a job or at least a crucial company contact.

However, there are people who think the role of the college career center should change. Andy Chan, Vice President for Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University, posits that typical college career centers must shift their focus. Instead of providing job listings and assuming students will “figure it out,” career counselors should first focus on the student’s personal development, then work with the student to discover how those personal characteristics will relate to the student’s career interests. Providing students with the abilities and skills necessary to network effectively is also crucial.

Chan also argues against the common misconception that a liberal arts degree will lead nowhere. In fact, a recent survey indicates that employers want their workers to be innovative, critical thinkers with a wide-ranging base of education. A student’s choice of major may be less important than his being able to demonstrate that he has these types of broad skills, such as leadership, communications, and problem solving.

College career centers should attempt to hone these skills in students, along with providing standard services like aptitude testing, practice interviews, and access to alumni networking events and career fairs.

How should college career centers and career counselors adapt to best serve their clients? Have you benefited from career counseling?
According to a new survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), suicide is one of the most important issues facing this generation of veterans, with 37 percent of respondents saying they know a veteran who has committed suicide and 45 percent know of an Iraq/Afghanistan war veteran who has attempted suicide.

Furthermore, nearly one in three veterans have considered taking their own life and 63 percent of vets say they have a friend who they feel needs mental health care. Half of respondents have had people close to them suggest they seek mental health care (19 percent of those individuals did not seek care, with most of those people stating that they were concerned it would affect their career or would make their peers perceive them in a different light).

On a positive note, 93 percent of individuals know that the Department of Veteran’s Affairs offers a suicide helpline, and 91 percent of vets say they have recommended that their friends seek out mental health treatment.

In an unrelated study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers from the Naval Health Research Center found that the rising number of suicides in the military may not be caused by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead, they believe that untreated depression, manic-depressive disorder, and alcohol abuse are much stronger indicators that an enlisted individual will commit suicide. For more information about the study, visit JAMA.
Have you noticed lately that your favorite smartphone app or videogame greets you with an occasional surprise or random reward when you log on? For example, a popular app for an upscale taxi service called Uber rewards its customers with unexpected one-day options such as on-demand roses, ice cream, or even helicopter rides. The offers are “just for fun” says Travis Kalanick, Uber’s CEO, and customers seem to agree: traffic to their app spikes on days when these special services are offered. But there is nothing random about this kind of marketing, according to Steve Henn, Technology Correspondent for National Public Radio.

“Many of the most popular technologies of our time tap into powerful reward mechanisms in our brains,” said Henn in a July 24 story on NPR’s All Tech Considered program. “Many techies and marketers are tapping, sometimes unintentionally, into decades of neuroscience research to make their products as addictive and profitable as possible.”

As every student of psychology knows, unexpected rewards are much better at driving behavior than predictable ones; this was proved by the famous behaviorist B.F. Skinner in the 1930s with his Skinner Box experiment. Skinner trained rats to press a lever in order to receive a food pellet; he then set the mechanism to release the pellet only occasionally and randomly. This caused the rats to obsessively click the lever again and again, hoping to trigger a reward.

This kind of behavior, in both rats and humans, is a response not to hunger but rather to the boost of dopamine released by the brain in anticipation of a reward, says Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Volkow and others have studied the effects of dopamine on the brain and its role in addictive behavior, and a large body of research has shown that unexpected rewards trigger the release of more dopamine than expected ones. So the repeated clicks to your favorite app might be a desire for the dopamine rush in anticipation of the latest special offer.

What do you think? Are apps with random rewards just for fun, or are they cultivating genuinely addictive behavior? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!
Although overall life expectancy in the U.S. has increased from 75 years to 78 years in the past decade, information from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle has found that Americans are spending more of their lifetime dealing with disability.

According to the research, Americans are now spending an average of 10.1 years living with a disability, up from 9.4 years reported before 1990.

Of the top five disabilities, two are mental health diagnoses – major depressive disorder (ranked No. 2) and anxiety disorders (ranked No. 5). These rankings have not changed from the 1990 report. The researchers hope that this report can help focus on which diseases, injuries, and health problems are the greatest losses of health and life, with the hope of using that information to better serve these problems with improved health and medical care.

More information about this study is available in the July 10 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.