Category Archives: Research

High-Intensity Running as a Vehicle of Escape

Here’s more reason to stick with your New Year’s resolution to exercise more: Increased cognitive performance is associated with exercise. According to Karen Postal, an instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School, exercise has a positive effect on the brain, allowing people to think clearly and solve problems. However, not everyone wants to think about serious issues while exercising; instead, they want to escape their problems for a while. Postal states the best way to accomplish this is through high-intensity workouts: “When you have high exertion—meaning you are running flat-out in a race—you’re not going to be able to solve problems or think as well as when you are engaged in moderate exercise.” Dr. Miriam Nokia seems to agree, stating that high-intensity interval training is more stressful than moderate running.

Daydreaming is often seen as a negative trait, the opposite of being efficient and completing important tasks. However, Jerome L. Singer coined a term called positive constructive daydreaming, which refers to daydreaming that plays a constructive role in our lives. According to his research, daydreaming, imagination, and fantasy are essential to a healthy mental state. He attributes daydreaming to enhanced social skills, relief from boredom, and increased pleasure. Josie Glausiusz stated in an article in Psychology Today, “In one of those scientific switchbacks, daydreaming now appears to be a vital function of the psyche—a cauldron of creativity and an arena for rehearsing social skills. It may even be the backbone of our consciousness. Maybe what we all need is more time to let our minds meander.”

Runner Melissa Dahl admits to increasing her running intensity to allow time for her mind to meander. And according to statistics at Running USA, other runners are also showing a preference for fast running as opposed to moderate running. Some runners run because they need exercise, some run because they want to experience the euphoria called runner’s high, and others run to get away from it all. So those who want to let their minds roam free have only to strap on a pair of shoes and fly like the wind.

What kind of runner are you? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave your comments below.

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The Psychological Effects of Reality TV

The genre known as reality TV became popular in the early 2000s; however, it actually began in 1948 with Candid Camera. The Dating Game followed in 1965, That’s Incredible in 1980, and Cops in 1989. The 2000s gave us action reality shows like Survivor, Fear Factor, and The Amazing Race, and dating shows like The Bachelor and Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire. Talent competition shows later emerged, with shows like American Idol and Dancing With the Stars. Finally, an abundance of celebrity reality shows began, featuring people like Donald Trump, Tyra Banks, and the Kardashians.

Psychologists Steven Reiss and James Wiltz conducted a study called “Why People Watch Reality TV.” They asked 239 adults to rate how much they watched and enjoyed reality shows. They also had participants rate themselves on 16 basic motivations, which influence what people pay attention to and what they choose to do. However, basic motivations must continually be satisfied: once a person has eaten, hunger re-emerges; a person who enjoys arguing might pick a fight after a few days of no conflict. This theory suggests that people continually watch reality shows that satisfy their most important needs. The study also revealed status as a primary motivation for watching reality TV. Reiss and Wiltz concluded, “The more status-oriented people are, the more likely they are to view reality television and report pleasure and enjoyment.”

People watch reality shows for many reasons. Some are merely interested in the topic of the show; others enjoy getting a peek behind the scenes of a celebrity’s life. Reality shows answer questions such as: What is it like to participate in daring escapades? What is it like to win cash? What’s required to keep your home decluttered? How do you plan a wedding? What is it like to sing or dance in front of millions? Reality TV is also a way to escape the problems of life or fantasize about being famous. After all, the people on these shows often seem like normal, down to earth people. If they can be in the spotlight, if they can be rich, maybe someday we can be as well.

Although watching reality TV can be highly entertaining, an article on NPR.org cautions that watching such shows can impact real-life behavior. The constant intake of drama and negativity might not be healthy for viewers. Psychologist Bryan Gibson concluded that watching shows with high aggression can make people more aggressive in their real lives. This may be a good reason to avoid or at least limit watching shows with high levels of negative drama and violence.

What do you think about the effects of reality TV? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave your comments below.

 

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The Psychology of the Nonvoter

You may think that the only people who were stressed out about the election were those who voted. However, according to new research, people who didn’t vote face a unique form of stress. According to Fast Company’s Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, many people vote for an unexpressed reason: they are afraid others will judge them if they don’t.

People proudly display their “I voted” stickers as a subliminal implication that they “did the right thing” by exercising their civic responsibility. According to this study, many people feel pressured to lie about whether they voted. Those who didn’t vote may fear being asked whether they voted and may fear the reaction of their peers when they admit they didn’t. Additionally, a Harvard study indicates people may vote to avoid lying or to avoid feeling left out.

What do you think? Have you experienced or witnessed voting-related stress?

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The Benefits of Lucid Dreaming

Dreams have long been the subject of intense scrutiny, and the subject of lucid dreams even more so. Lucid dreams can be defined as any experience within the dream in which you become aware you are dreaming. If we are asleep and become aware we are dreaming, what good does it do? Well, psychologists have conducted studies that have shown multiple benefits to lucid dreaming.

Ward Off Nightmares – Thanks to lucid dreaming, nightmares don’t have to be traumatic, dreaded experiences. Those who know they are dreaming can see threats for what they are—nonexistent. In the face of perceived danger, the knowledge that one is dreaming automatically relieves anxiety because the individual knows events aren’t really taking place and no harm can occur.

Enhance Creativity – Because the brain is very active and unconstrained during lucid dreaming cycles, it is more creative than at other times. This creativity carries over into the dreamer’s waking life, allowing for greater problem-solving ability and artistic expression.

Embrace Adventure – Dreams offer a level of adventure that often isn’t possible in real life. Due to the realization that one is in a dream, anything can occur. The traditional limits of time or laws of nature no longer need apply. Whatever can be imagined can be fulfilled, and the experience can be very freeing.

Learn or Practice Skills – Thinking about or visualizing a task enhances the ability to perform that task. Mental imagination uses the same muscles that would be used if the action were actually performed. A study on the effect of imagery revealed that imagined exercise produced significant elevations in systolic blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen consumption.

Alleviate Depression – A study by the Department of Human Development at Cornell University revealed that the frequency of lucid dreaming is directly tied to depression. There is a positive link between lucid dreaming and how much control people feel they have over their lives. Because lucid dreaming gives one a sense of control while asleep, that same feeling of control can be felt while awake.

Lucid dreaming, like any skill, can be nurtured and developed. There are many techniques available for those who would like to learn or perfect the art of lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is a natural state when the conscious brain awakens during sleep, turning dreams into an alternate reality where all senses come to life, enabling one to do things limited only by their imagination.

Share your thoughts on lucid dreaming. PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

 

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Assessing Gifted Students: An Interview with Cecil R. Reynolds (Part 1)

Cecil R. Reynolds, co-author of the Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales (RIAS) and recently revised RIAS-2, is one of the leaders in the field of gifted assessment. The following is part one of a two-part interview conducted with Dr. Reynolds concerning the use of assessments in gifted and talented programs.

Q: Theoretically speaking, what do you believe would be the most effective way to identify a gifted student?

Cecil Reynolds: I am often asked what tests or other processes should be used to identify children for participation in a gifted and talented program in the schools. My answer is almost always something along the lines of “What are the goals of the program itself?” and “What are the characteristics of the children you wish to identify?” The most important thing we can do is match the children to the program so they have the highest likelihood of success. So, for example, if the program is intended to promote academic achievement among the most academically able students in the school, I would recommend a very different selection process and different tests than if the program was intended to take the most intellectually talented students in the school and provide them with a challenging, engaging curriculum that would enrich their school experience, motivate them to achieve, and allow them to fall in love with something and pursue it with passion. While the students in these programs would overlap, the two groups would not be identical and certainly the academic outcomes would not be the same. But, the point is that we must know what characteristics we need to assess to identify and to place students in programs where they will be successful, and that requires us to first know what it is our program is intended to do.

Q: What are some of the challenges that psychologists and diagnosticians face when attempting to identify a gifted student accurately?

CR: Regardless of the program and its goals for students, the tremendous diversity in the American schools is our greatest challenge. We have an obligation to be fair, and just, and to promote the best in all children, and that is our intention. However, no schools in any country serve the range of backgrounds and abilities such as are served in our schools. The demands upon school staff to be culturally competent in so many areas, and to devise methods of teaching and accurate measures of intelligence, academic outcomes, behavioral outcomes, and school success generally, and to understand and to motivate such a wide array of eager young minds, are just incredible and require a commitment from the school board on down to the teacher aides. Maintaining this commitment and acquiring these competencies are undoubtedly staunch challenges to us all. These challenges can be magnified in the domain of gifted education because how “giftedness” is defined and valued may vary tremendously from one cultural group to another. The biggest concerns I hear from practitioners and diagnosticians center around the lack of proportionate representation of some ethnic minority groups in GT programs and how it can change assessment practices to overcome these issues. The RIAS and RIAS-2 are well suited to assist in identifying more minority students for GT programs since the minority-white differences on mean scores on the RIAS and now RIAS-2 are smaller by about half the differences seen on most traditional intelligence batteries.

Q: A lot has been written about the idea that just because a student has been identified as academically gifted, it does not mean he or she will be successful. Identifying them is simply step one. What things do you find tend to hinder their progress in our schools?

CR: Often it is the mismatch between the program and the student. It is hard to overemphasize the importance of the match between the program goals and methods of achieving them and the students in the program and their characteristics. We simply have to get the right students into the right programs. We also have to attend to students’ motivation to achieve academically as well as focus on study skills, time management, organization skills, listening skills, and other non-intellective factors that go into academic learning. IQ generally only accounts for less than 50% of the variance on academic achievement, and that is one of the many reasons we also developed the School Motivation and Learning Strategies Inventory (SMALSI). Just because a student is bright does not mean he or she knows how to study and learn, has good test-taking skills, or is motivated to engage in school learning—we should assess these variables as well and intervene accordingly.

Come back next week for the second part of this interview!

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The Science of Lie Detection

Lying has always been a popular topic for exploration, especially in the entertainment industry. It is very common to see crime shows in which an alleged perpetrator is hooked up to a polygraph machine to determine his truthfulness, or lack thereof. A few years ago, a TV show called Lie to Me hit the airwaves. The show is based on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman, a scientist and author best known for furthering our understanding of nonverbal behavior. Actor Tim Roth plays Dr. Cal Lightman, a scientist and lie detection expert who uses facial expressions and body language to determine whether someone is lying.

Surveys have shown that the average person lies at least once a day, with college students lying as much as twice a day. Since dishonesty is encountered on a daily basis, lying should be easy to identify; however, this is far from the case. Attempts to deceive others in everyday life are as difficult to detect as they are common and, contrary to what’s depicted in Lie to Me, a large body of research reveals surprisingly few valid cues of deception.

Psychologist William Moulton Marston invented the first lie detector in the 1920s. Interestingly, Marston’s invention led to the creation of Wonder Woman, the female superhero who could compel people to tell the truth using her magic lasso. Marston’s invention became the prototype for modern lie detectors, which record on a chart physiological activity such as skin conductance, blood pressure, and respiration. Although physiological activity may offer helpful clues to identify lying, the lie detector is far from infallible.

The polygraph excels at determining increasing anxiety or nervousness, but does a poor job of pinpointing the reason for the anxiety, which may or may not be due to lying. Rather than a “lie detector,” the polygraph may more accurately be described as an arousal detector. On Lie to Me, Dr. Lightman demonstrated how the lie detector test can be manipulated. In the first case, he gave a witness valium and then had her deliberately lie while hooked up to the machine. However, because of her tranquility, the reading indicated that she was telling the truth. In the second case, Dr. Lightman asked a male witness an identical set of questions using two different administrators. The witness answered truthfully each time. When the questions were asked by a man, the machine indicated the witness was telling the truth, but when the questions were asked by an attractive woman, the machine indicated the witness was lying. His attraction to her raised his anxiety levels.

While Lie to Me is accurate about the unreliability of lie detectors, it isn’t as easy as the show makes it appear to read facial expressions and body language to determine honesty. Even people trained in the criminal justice field such as judges and police officers can’t always identify if someone is lying. While there are no conclusive clues that indicate deception, honing skills of observation is still helpful, as people often do provide signs that they are being untruthful.

What do you think? Can lying ever be perfectly identified? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

 

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Is Hypnosis Useful for Retrieving Lost Memories?

Among academics and mental health professionals, there is a widespread belief that hypnosis has the power to retrieve lost memories. In 1980, Elizabeth and Geoffrey Loftus found that 84% of psychologists and 69% of non-psychologists endorsed the statement that “memory is permanently stored in the mind” and that “with hypnosis, or other specialized techniques, these inaccessible details could eventually be recovered.”

The idea of whether people can truly forget traumatic memories has been debated for years. Early psychologists and psychiatrists such as Sigmund Freud, Joseph Breuer, and Pierre Janet also endorsed the memory-enhancing powers of hypnosis. In addition, belief in the power of hypnosis has spilled over into the mainstream with the help of TV shows, movies, and books. However, experts in general agree that “hypnosis either has no effect on memory or that it can impair and distort recall.” While people can certainly remember events they haven’t thought about for years, the issue at question is whether a special mechanism of repression exists that accounts for the forgetting of traumatic experiences.

While there are many reports of people who seem to have recovered memories of abuse through hypnosis, David Holmes reviewed 60 years of research and found no convincing laboratory evidence for repression. In his book, Remembering Trauma, psychologist Richard McNally concludes that repressed memories are “a piece of psychiatric folklore devoid of convincing empirical support.” In addition, McNally gives an alternate explanation for the recovery of repressed memories: “Children may be more confused than upset by sexual advances from a relative, yet years later recall the event with revulsion as they realize that it was, in fact, an instance of abuse.”

People sometimes forget significant life events, such as accidents and hospitalizations, even a year after they occur; therefore, a delay in the recall of events isn’t unusual. While hypnosis may not be the magic potion that uncovers traumatic memories, not all uses of hypnosis are scientifically problematic. Controlled research evidence suggests that hypnosis may be useful in pain management, treating medical conditions, eliminating habits such as smoking addiction, and as therapy for anxiety, obesity, and other conditions. Memories recalled even decades later aren’t necessarily false; however, it shouldn’t be assumed that recovered memories are valid unless corroborating evidence exists.

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

 

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Identifying and Preventing Psychopathic Behavior in Children

Many children are antisocial and have trouble making friends; they even lie and fight, but these traits may indicate a deeper problem that can develop into psychopathy if ignored. Researchers at the University of New South Wales have found that some children as young as three years old display callous-unemotional traits (CU traits), demonstrating a distinct lack of emotions. DSM-5 lists four behavioral indicators for CU traits: lack of remorse or guilt, callous/lack of empathy, lack of concern about performance, and shallow or deficient affect. Two of the four must be present for a diagnosis.

When adults within the criminal justice system have CU traits combined with antisocial behavior, they are labeled psychopaths; therefore, children who exhibit severe conduct problems and CU traits are at an increased risk for developing adult psychopathy, according to the research. These children demonstrate lack of concern or empathy for others, excessive and often inappropriate pursuit of rewards, and poor processing of punishment cues. Such conduct increases the risk of substance abuse, criminal behavior, and educational disruption.

Because CU traits often resemble normal misconduct, punishment is often used as a preventive measure. However, these children are relatively insensitive to punishment, threats, or the distress of others, so punishment is largely ineffective. It is more useful to focus on positive reinforcement to encourage positive behavior.

The good news about early diagnosis is that treatment can be effective in reducing levels of antisocial behavior and CU traits. New studies suggest that children with high levels of CU traits respond to warm parenting. For example, it’s better to emphasize what they did well rather than what they did poorly. In addition, another study by Dadds emphasizes that children with CU traits could benefit from training in emotional literacy and emotional recognition.

When considering CU traits, it is important to distinguish between children who are capable of premeditated violence and children whose violence is primarily impulsive and in reaction to a perceived threat.

Eva Kimonis was the lead author of a study that involved more than 200 children between the ages of three and six. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, she said, “Until now we didn’t really have a way to identify those traits in very young children. This is really the first study which uses tools adapted for very young children, and the sooner those children are identified, the earlier they can be helped.”

What do you think? Can psychopathic behavior be identified and prevented in young children? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

 

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Reading Disorders… Beyond Dyslexia

Dyslexia is often misunderstood and is used as a catch-all term for reading disorders. However, other lesser-known reading disorders often mimic dyslexia, such as Specific Reading Comprehension Deficits (S-RCD). While people with dyslexia struggle to sound out words and often confuse letters, people with S-RCD can decode words but struggle to understand what they read.

In an interview, celebrity Jennifer Aniston shared that she grew up believing she was stupid, revealing that she was finally diagnosed with dyslexia at age 20.  Other celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Tom Cruise also revealed they were diagnosed with dyslexia. It is very common for dyslexia not to be discovered until adulthood; therefore, people grow up with low self-esteem thinking they aren’t smart and that something is wrong with them. Yet according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, there’s no correlation between dyslexia and intelligence. Many people diagnosed with this disorder have normal or above-average intelligence.

S-RCD often goes undiagnosed until it becomes an unavoidable problem. According to Neuroscience News, “Neuroimaging of children showed that the brain function of those with S-RCD while reading is quite different and distinct from those with dyslexia. Those with dyslexia exhibited abnormalities in a specific region in the occipital-temporal cortex, a part of the brain that is associated with successfully recognizing words on a page.”

A few months ago, the Mississippi Board of Education notified 5,612 third grade students that they failed to pass the reading test that would allow them to enter the fourth grade. While some deemed the test unfair, Governor Bryant believes that taking a tough stance is the best course of action in the long run, crediting his own fourth grade teacher with discovering that his reading disability was caused by dyslexia, and helping him overcome it. “Repeating the third grade was the best thing that ever happened to me,” the governor said.

Because of its prominence in the news, dyslexia often overshadows other reading disorders. In schools, it is necessary to break down reading disabilities, or learning disabilities in general, and match the disability with intervention strategies to assist the student. Once the underlying causes of reading disabilities are understood, school personnel can use their knowledge to help students understand their strengths and weaknesses regarding reading and language.

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

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The Marriage of Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

When we think of self-esteem, the first thing that comes to mind is feeling good about ourselves. Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the classic, The Power of Positive Thinking, is considered the father of self-esteem. He made the idea of positive thinking a phenomenon. In his follow-up book, Positive Imaging: The Powerful Way to Change Your Life, he said, “There is a powerful and mysterious force in human nature that is capable of bringing about dramatic improvement in our lives. It is a kind of mental engineering… So powerful is the imaging effect on thought and performance that a long-held visualization of an objective or goal can become determinative… This releases powerful internal forces that can bring about astonishing changes.”

Merely thinking good thoughts and speaking positively may provide temporary benefits, resulting in pseudo-self-esteem. Psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden, author of The Psychology of Self-Esteem: A Revolutionary Approach to Self-Understanding That Launched a New Era in Modern Psychology, describes pseudo-self-esteem as “an irrational pretense at self-value” and “a nonrational, self-protective device to diminish anxiety and to provide a spurious sense of security.”

Genuine self-esteem goes beyond imaging and visualization. Those things may play a role, but they are just one piece of the puzzle. The other piece is doing good, according to Hartwell-Walker, a licensed psychologist and marriage and family therapist and author of Self-Esteem: A Guide to Building Confidence and Connection One Step at a Time. She states, “Cultivating genuine self-esteem takes work and awareness. It’s a lifelong process. It means balancing ‘our feelings with our doings.’”

Though self-esteem and self-confidence often seem to go hand in hand, it is possible to have one without the other. Confidence is often the result of successful activity. The more success one has, the more confident that person will be on the next attempt. Therefore, confidence largely operates within the realm of the known. But esteem has to do with perception of one’s own inherent value.

According to Hartwell-Walker, the two parts of genuine self-esteem constantly interact with each other. “Feeling good about ourselves is the outcome of doing good things and doing good things (things that contribute to our community and to others’ well-being) is what makes us feel good.” Positivity without action leads to pseudo-self-esteem, and action without positivity leads to confidence without esteem.

What do you think about the difference between self-esteem and self-confidence? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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