Small Conversations Big Value

Sandstrom, G. M., & Dunn, E. W. (2014). Social interactions and well-being: the surprising power of weak ties. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(7), 910 – 922.

This particular study was conducted to find out just how powerful social interactions as small as talking to acquaintances or strangers can be. The findings suggest that even the smallest interactions, like talking to someone in line at Starbucks can actually have a huge positive impact on a person’s overall well-being! In the studies conducted, they found that students who simply had more interactions with fellow classmates actually reported a greater sense of self-purpose, belonging, and happiness. The results were the same for the participants in a different study who simply had more daily weak tie interactions.

Sandstrom and Dunn did not limit their findings to just students however, they also did a study with participants that were all kinds of members of the community and they too, proved that more weak tie interactions positively increases emotional and social well-being. These results make sense if you really think about it because I believe most of us know that isolation is not in human nature. The average person becomes depressed and even delusional if left in isolation with no social interaction for extreme periods of time. This is something we know happens to prisoners who have long sentences in isolation. Something as little as the seeing the guard when they bring food can be of true value. Humans are literally built to be social creatures so it makes sense that our brain and body are rewarded by social interaction, regardless of its magnitude.

This is definitely proven in my daily life too, because when I am walking to and from class if I stop to compliment someone’s outfit, or just smile and say hello, those little interactions leave me bubbly and skipping on my way. It’s incredible to think that such little social interactions can have such a huge, long-lasting effect on your mindset and overall happiness! It is nice to feel recognized and worthy of discussion, especially when the person you are engaging with has no external reason for engaging in conversation with you. Weak tie social interactions are entirely voluntary and without motive so it is really rewarding to know someone is taking the time to acknowledge your presence and spread kindness!

Interestingly, most of my happiest moments involve conversations with strangers. I wonder if this is the case for most people?

Forgiveness Therapy

Wade, N. G., Hoyt, W. T., Kidwell, J. E. M., & Worthington, E. L., Jr. (2014). Efficacy of psychotherapeutic interventions to promote forgiveness: A meta-analysis. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. [PDF]

This particular article is a meta-analysis that breaks down therapeutic interventions that foster forgiveness. There is little research to back it up, but Wade and their colleagues believe that forgiveness results in additional benefits. According to Wade, Hoyt, Kidwell, and Worthington, interventions that specifically focus on increasing forgiveness also increase “forgiveness, hope, and self-esteem, and reduc[e] anxiety and depression.” (Wade, 2014) The idea here is to outline what psychotherapists should focus on when trying to increase forgiveness. According to the meta-analysis data, individual interventions are more productive than massed  interventions. In addition, the meta-analysis showed that “severe offenses were more difficult to overcome…” (Wade, 2014) Based on the results, therapists should focus on interventions that specifically address forgiveness, however, the type or method of “forgiveness treatment” does not matter. Lastly, it should be noted that longer treatments are most effective, and tend to produce long-term effects.

I really value forgiveness because it is something that unfortunately isn’t that common. A lot of the times when something bad happens to someone it results in a lot of questioning— “why me?” This type of attitude leads to a lot of anxiety and anger, and will persist even if there isn’t really a tangible person to blame. When my mom was battling cancer for 5 years, I would go to treatments  with her and talk to the patients. Most of the patients were positive and keeping their head up, however, there were always a few patients who were so angry, and specifically unable to forgive God or the universe for what had happened to them. Unfortunately, these patients were also the most ill. I noticed that this was a trend. The patients who were the most healthy, also had the most positive attitudes, while those who were the most ill, were also the most angry and unforgiving. One of the things that I can say changed my life was speaking with my mother at a seminar focused specifically on cancer patients and forgiveness. The seminar in short explained that staying positive and forgiving the universe would actually improve your health and quality of living even while battling cancer. I can surely say that from my experience, especially being a victim of abuse, once you let go of that anger and are willing to forgive, you can really begin to see a positive change in your mental health and quality of life. I will say however, it is not achieved easily and requires practice for the rest of your life.

I wonder though, if forgiveness interventions can be focused on cancer patients, what other groups would similar interventions be helpful? What groups do you think would benefit the most from forgiveness therapy?

Characteristics College Students Use To Describe Themselves

Karris, M. A., & Craighead, W. E. (2012). Differences in character among U.S. college students. Individual Differences Research. [PDF]

In this article, Karris and Craighead discuss their own research they conducted to examine the characteristics that college students (between the ages of 18-22) use to describe themselves. They used this questionnaire known as the Values in Action Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS), which I had not previously heard of. One flaw that I noticed in their study was that almost all of the students in their study were Caucasian. Therefore, the findings cannot necessarily be used to represent all university students, just those that are Caucasian and between the ages of 18-22. They recently had mentioned how no research has been done using the VIA-IS on people between the ages of 18-22, so I found it ironic that they still decided to use the student body of a primarily white school. Also, because this questionnaire relies on self-assessment, the results are already quite bias.

Stereotypically, female participants scored higher than males in fairness, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and prudence. Moreover, it should also be noted that contrary to stereotypical beliefs about women in relation to leadership ability, the female participants in this study scored higher than males in leadership qualities. It should be noted however, that the study defined “good leadership” as being kind, and great at being interpersonal. This is not the same as describing leadership ability through traits such as “competitiveness and power assertion.” (Karris and Craighead, 2012, p. 77)

As I stated before, this is the first study to address the VIA-IS scores of United States college students between the ages of 18-22. However, since this study was conducted in 2012, is this still the case since 4 years have passed? If not, I wonder how the findings of different student bodies would compare to Karris and Craighead’s study.

Substance Abuse in Adolescence

Conrod, P. J. & Nikolaou, K. (2016). Annual research review: on the developmental neuropsychology of substance use disorders. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. [PDF]

According to this article by Conrod and Nikolaou there are three major things that their findings suggest. First, beginning in early childhood, social experiences (that directly affect a child’s psychological development) and biological factors can increase risk factors for early onset of substance abuse. One of the main psychosocial factors that Conrod and Nikolaou identify as being a major cause in substance use (specifically alcohol and Cannabis) is heightened stress during adolescence. Second, adolescence itself is a potential risk factor for substance abuse because it is a time of a heightened false sense of immortality which leads to more risky, deviant behavior. Furthermore, during adolescence the brain is overstimulated while under the influence of drugs and actually rewards the drug use which results in a higher chance of addiction.  One major fault that Conrod and Nikolaou came across was the fact that despite the several longitudinal studies on alcohol use, there are few on Cannabis. According to Conrod, this can likely be explained by the fact that most adolescents that drink alcohol, also use smoke Cannabis. Therefore, it is hard to find studies that are able to explicitly lay out the individual effects on the brains of adolescents.

Personally, I think the likelihood of this is a lot less common than they would predict. Most of the people I knew in high school that drank alcohol, did not smoke marijuana, and many that did smoke marijuana didn’t drink alcohol. Most people separate the two and do not weigh them the same. Mostly because the legal charges for possessing alcohol are much different than the legal charges for the possession of marijuana. I would argue that it is harder to find studies that focus explicitly on the effects that Cannabis has on adolescent brains because most adolescents that do smoke marijuana are not going to be as open to being in a study than adolescents that drink. Again, the consequences of both are severely different. Now I am sure this won’t be the case in another decade as it appears that marijuana is on the road to being legalized in more and more states, therefore there will be more opportunity to study adolescents who do smoke marijuana.

At the end of the article, Conrod and Nikolaou state that despite the fact that it can be suggested that psychosocial and biological factors likely interact with one another, it has not yet been discovered how.

This would be the question that I wondered too, since as they mentioned, the data for each were separate. It is likely that when combined, they create a much stronger impact than when separate.

What Do Your Adult Relationships Say About Your Childhood?

Salvatore, J. E., Collins, W. A., & Simpson, J. A.  (2011). An organizational-developmental perspective on functioning in adult romantic relationships. In L. Campbell & T. J. Loving (Eds.), Interdisciplinary research on close relationships: The case for integration. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. [PDF]

This particular article begins by analyzing previous studies that examined the correlation between early attachment styles and adult relationships. Attachment meaning the relationship formed at infancy between the caregiver and the child. However, this confuses me because just by using that definition of attachment, this “bond” is usually between the child and a singular caregiver, not multiple. However, the studies they examined used an AAI scale based on the attachment style (secure, dismissing, or preoccupied) with and I quote “both parents.” This is rather ambiguous. So does this mean a person can only have a secure, dismissing, or preoccupied AAI score if they have two parents? What criteria do the “two parents” have to meet, if any at all? Where does this leave single parents, or same-sex parents, or even other pairings of guardians such as a mother and an older sibling, a father and an aunt, a grandmother and grandfather etc.? I have always understood attachment style as being based off the relationship between the primary caregiver (who could be anyone) and the child. So the fact that their scale assessed attachment styles between BOTH “parents” and the child seemed conflicting.

In sum, the studies they referred to in their article supported the conclusion that individuals with a secure AAI score stated that they have a positive relationship with both parents and could recall positive memories to support such claims. In addition, they were evaluated by their peers as having little anxiety and more “ego resilient”, less “hostile” and a tendency to respond more productively. People with secure attachments had stronger relationships, were better at conflict resolution, and were all around more positive individuals.

In one AAI study they referred to, they used a term “instrumental care” which I had not heard before. Based on the word instrumental, I am assuming it refers to things one physically does for another in order to care for them. In discussing this study, I also found it odd that the findings supported that there were obvious gender differences in how a parent responds to their child. This is just odd to begin with because they claim that their findings supported that men with secure attachment styles responded more positively to pre-school children than men with insecure attachment styles. Then the article states that “Women’s behavior, however, did not differ as a function of their attachment representations.” This statement is rather vague because it actually doesn’t say how the women (with both secure and insecure attachment styles) interacted with the children. Did they both tend to be more positive or negative when interacting with the children?

The last study they looked at was a longitudinal study, which I enjoyed reading because they are my favorite! Again, this study looked at the relationship between early attachment styles and adult relationships. The results of this study were almost identical to the previous ones mentioned.

As I mentioned earlier, I took issue with their AAI assessment score because it is based on the relationship between the child and two “parents” and not a just the child and their primary caretaker. Also, I was kind of confused as to why the second study was even done (the one that mentioned the gender difference) and why it was mentioned. It seemed odd and out of place in the article. Also, the studies made sure to mention that all their participants were heterosexual. Was there a real reason for this? Does this mean they actually went out of their way to select heterosexual participants, and how did they go about this? Overall though, early childhood development is crucial in determining adult functioning so it makes complete sense that the relationship that a person has as an infant with their caregiver plays a huge role in relationships later in life since most of a person’s understanding of social interactions stems from this individual. We learned the most from the individuals that surrounded us as young people!

How Can Positive Psychology Improve Work Environments?

In this article, Good discusses how new research on positive psychology can prove useful for people who work in management positions. The article first highlights its chosen Buddhist definition of mindfulness, then quickly dives into the several ways in which research has already stated the usefulness of mindfulness. Before Good and his colleagues specifically address the research on mindfulness in the workplace, they discuss how the practice of mindfulness impacts attention, cognition, emotion, behavior and physiology.

I found it interesting that mindfulness increases cognitive fluidity and cognitive flexibility. Perhaps what is more impressive, is that according to Good and his colleagues analysis of the literature on mindfulness, mindfulness actually shrinks the amygdala. If you know even a little about the amygdala and its functions, this statement is incredible. The amygdala plays a huge role in controlling our emotions, in particular how the body reacts to stress.  As a person practices mindfulness, not only does the amygdala shrink, but the pre-frontal cortex grows stronger! Basically, in short, mindfulness reduces the desensitizes us to stress, and increases our ability to focus! This is simply incredible. Recently, I read that Monks who are masters at mindful meditation can actually regulate their body temperature so effectively, that they can heat a damp towel with their body to the extent that the towel actually dries in 40-degree weather! I don’t know about you but just taking a second to really soak all this in, mindfulness is incredible! Not only does it have huge impacts on our brain, and how it functions, but also gives us the power to literally control our own core temperature through thought!

Recently, I read that Monks who are masters at mindful meditation can actually regulate their body temperature so effectively, that they can heat a damp towel with their body to the extent that the towel actually dries in 40-degree weather! I don’t know about you but just taking a second to really soak all this in, mindfulness is incredible! Not only does it have huge impacts on our brain, and how it functions, but also gives us the power to literally control our own core temperature through thought!

I digressed from the article a lot, but coming back to it, just thinking about how much of a positive impact mindfulness has on a single individual, imagine how powerful in could be if it was practiced in mass groups that worked together? That’s exactly where this article leads to, integrating mindfulness into the workplace. If you read the beginning of this article, then you probably can see how mindfulness could improve work performance, goal achievement, leadership, and even teamwork. What I found incredibly interesting about this article is its discussion on how mindfulness can actually make a person’s schemas more accurate! This is literally crazy! Schemas are essentially automatic

What I found incredibly interesting about this article is its discussion on how mindfulness can actually make a person’s schemas more accurate! This is literally crazy! Schemas are essentially automatic mental frameworks that influence how we take in and process information, and they have a huge effect on attention, encoding, and retrieval. Schemas play a major role in our lives, and for the most part make our thought process “easier” but not “accurate” so the fact that there is a way to make our brains shortcuts more accurate by simply being more mindful is amazing. I can only imagine how beneficial it would be for multiple people to have more accurate schemas would make teamwork just as fast, but more precise! 

Toward the end of the article, Good and his colleagues discuss the issues they came across during their research. One of the issues they address is the fact that the majority of the research conducted on mindfulness and it’s effect were done in laboratories! This is a really good point because though the research was more likely to be high in internal validity, it probably lacked external validity making it really possible that the results aren’t generalizable to the real world.

This is the one question I have after this article. How much external validity do these experiments really have? Can we really be confident that mindfulness would lead to the same results outside of the lab?

Just How Big of an Impact Do Positive Emotions Have?

Fredrickson, B. (2001) The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist, pp. 218- 226. [Online PDF]

In this article, Fredrickson discusses a newly emerged theory called the broaden-and-build theory which in short states that positive emotions improve several aspects of a person’s well-being ranging from an increase in brain responsiveness all the way to cardiovascular benefits. I’m not quite sure how popular the broaden-and-build theory is, but I was not familiar with it. To be entirely honest, the theory just kind of sounds like the assumption most people make when thinking of positive psychology and it’s impact on the mind and body.

The one thing that I found really interesting that was mentioned in this article was the undoing hypothesis, and in particular, the section that discussed how negative emotions are associated with increased cardiovascular activity and just having positive emotions can undo heightened cardiovascular activity. This immediately made me think of all the Hollywood movie scenes where the father would find out something about his daughter that displeased him, causing him to get really stressed/frustrated to the point where he has a heart attack. Honestly, in most scenes that I can recall, the person has a heart attack while experiencing a surge in negative emotions. Ironically, most of the characters in films and shows that have bad attitudes tend to end up with some form of cardiovascular issues later on. Basically, though this finding shocked me, it made sense to me because this is heavily represented in the media.

Fredrikson continues about how because positive emotions can undo the health issues associated with negative emotions and their impact, that one could even conclude that positive emotions actually have a huge impact on a person’s overall physical health.

One question I am left with after reading this article is this: Though cardiovascular benefits were the only physical health benefits mentioned in this article, what are some other examples of ways that positive emotions can benefit an individual’s physical health?

Health-Related Variables That Could Improve Your GPA

Trockel, T., Barnes, M., Egget, D. (2000) Health-Related variables and academic performance among first-year college students: Implications for sleep and other behaviors. College Health, pp. 125 – 131. [PDF] Retrieved from https://blackboard.vcu.edu/webapps/blackboard/execute/content/file?cmd=view&content_id=_6195878_1&course_id=_141450_1

In this article, Trockel, Barnes, and Egget discuss the ways in which certain health-related variables that when fostered in a positive direction, can help improve a college student’s GPA. Specifically, the study they conducted takes a closer look at the relationship between exercise, sleep habits, nutrition, mental health and stress management, time management, social support, and spiritual health, and how all of these factors can increase or decrease an individuals GPA in college. Interestingly enough, the one factor that had the largest impact on college students GPA was the time when they woke up during the week and on the weekends. I found this particularly interesting, especially that an individuals weekend wake up time could have such a huge impact on a student’s GPA.

This finding probably wouldn’t be so surprising to me if the research had found that individuals who slept in on the weekends, had higher GPAs. However, this wasn’t the case. In fact, it was the complete opposite. The students who woke up early on both the weekends and the weekdays had the highest GPAs. My own interpretation of this finding is that it’s possible the students who wake up early on the weekdays and weekends have more time in the day to work on their school work, which could include not only assignments but also studying. This would have a direct impact on exam scores, and thus resulting in a higher GPA.

I know that on days where I wake up early, as long as I was able to get adequate sleep, that I tend to be more productive with my time. Mostly because when I wake up early, I feel as though I have an abundance of time which encourages me to do as much work as I can while also still reassuring myself that I will also have time for myself at the end of the day.

One question I have about this study is whether my explanation about why waking up early has such a positive effect on a student’s GPA could be true.

Those Who Suffer In the Dark May Now Have More Options— Darian White

Gross, M. (2014) Silver linings for patients with depression? Current Biology. [Online Article] Retrieved from https://blackboard.vcu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-6195554-dt-content-rid-18791840_2/courses/UNIV-291-003-2016Fall/Gross%2C%20M.%202014.pdf

I absolutely love the ending sentence in this article: “Important discussions are to be had about how healthy or sane our Western culture is, where many millions aspire to the gilded lifestyle of celebrities, even if the very same celebrities are driven to despair.” (Gross, 2014) I think this is a brilliant thing to be said about our society. I feel like this is something many people come to realize, and are surprised. I know so many people who looked up to Angelina Jolie and when they all found out about her major depressive episode when she didn’t eat, sleep, leave her room, and even neglected to care for her kids and herself, they were so shocked. They were baffled that someone so wealthy, so beautiful, and so full of access to proper medical and psychiatric care could be that mentally ill.

I wasn’t, because unfortunately, this was my life. I grew up in a decently wealthy household with a mother who worked more than she slept. She flashed her smile at anyone who looked and gave money out like candy. The truth however, when no one looked she wasn’t that sweet smart pharmacist, she was a drunk who suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder and beat on her kids. I knew so many people who looked up to me in elementary school. They saw me as the lucky girl with the nice house and parents who were never around. Well, the truth was I was never really around my parents for the very reason that my family was dysfunctional. My mother was abusive. I was depressed. I didn’t get help, and I was living in a toxic environment that on the outside presented itself as any child’s pleasant dream.

In the article, Gross talks about depression. He addresses how depression and suicide can be defined positively, or problematically. He chooses to define depression as a “deadly disease like cancer” and suicide as a “fatal symptom” of depression. He discusses how when people define suicide as “an act of free will” it can actually encourage more suicides (Gross, 2014). This leads his discussion towards the fact that many people who suffer from depression are told things like “get over it” and unfortunately because of responses like these, never get the real treatment they need (Gross, 2014).

Gross then transitions into discussing the different kinds of treatments available and points out his “go to” is a combination of medication and cognitive therapy. I agree that is probably the best for those who actually respond to such treatments, instead of doing either or. Gross also introduces something that I have never heard before, a treatment called transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) which honestly sounded terrifying at first. According to Gross, TMS is said to be non-invasive and has less major side effects than other options.

After doing some outside research on TMS, my understanding is that TMS involves placing a coil under the patient’s head and small electric current is projected onto the brain. This doesn’t seem that much different from ECT, but I would have to do more extensive research to really decide how different the two procedures really are. If what Gross states in the article is accurate, then I can see how TMS would be a great option for people who suffer from major depressive disorder that do not respond well to cognitive therapy or medication.

I am left with the lingering question of how does TMS differ from ECT and why do those variations create such different side effects?

To answer this, I would obviously have to look into more research on both TMS and ECT to better my understanding of the two treatments.

Postive Psychology- Darian White

Seligman, M., Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2000) Positive psychology. American Psychological Association. [Online Article] DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.55.1.5

Postive Psychology written by Seligman, and Csikszentmihalyi discuss as the title emphasizes, positive psychology. The article summarizes the history of positive psychology, as well as the lack of support it was given in the past. Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi state that the purpose of positive psychology is “to begin to catalyze a change in the focus of psychology from preoccupation only with repairing the worst things in life to also building positive qualities.” (Seligman, Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) Both authors make an effort to point out how psychology became so focused on fixing the “broken” that it no longer tried to continue to improve on the “good”. This meaning, that psychiatrists and therapists began to spend more time on trying to cure what was wrong with someone, that they forget to nourish what was good about them. Psychology became too focused on the negative, and frankly still is. In doing so, psychology victimizes people and labels them as weak and damaged. The problem that I identify here is the fact that they are trying to make people happier by first putting them down. This doesn’t make much sense. The focus should be on uplifting individuals, and feeding the amazing qualities and strengths they have. In doing so, we can create happier healthier people, who in return will be more able to work through mental illness and things similar.

In the article, the authors note that “prevention researchers have discovered that there are human strengths that act as buffers against mental illness: courage, future mindedness, optimism, interpersonal skill, faith, worth ethic, hope, honesty, perseverance, and the capacity for flow and insight..” (Seligman, Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) I love that they highlighted this because I often tell individuals that some of these particular strengths are what allow me to flourish with mental illness. In the article, the authors discuss the differences between pleasure and enjoyment. Pleasure is most associated with the fulfillment of human needs, while enjoyment is achieved when an individual does things for themselves beyond what they need to do. The article notes that “enjoyment, rather than pleasure, is what leads to personal growth and long-term happiness.” (Seligman, Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) Ironically, many people tend to prefer pleasure over enjoyment. I think this is particularly true. It is common for individuals to seek sex when sad, or upset, just to feel dirty and worse than they did before. The same can be said for people who binge eat when depressed or stressed out. All that does is leave you bloated, uncomfortable, and again, feeling worse than you did before. Positive psychology can offer more productive things to do for enjoyment, to help improve an individual’s happiness. Not only can positive psychology teach positive techniques for flourishing, more importantly, it can offer people reasons as to what makes life worth living. 

The question I’m left with is this: If this article was written in 2000, and positive psychology was expected to “take off” would they consider the interest in positive psychology in 2016 to be sufficient enough, or not?

I would definitely agree the concept of positive psychology has grown more popular, but I still wouldn’t consider it prominent.