Watch the Webcast of the 2012 Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy

World of Psychology
Watch the Webcast of the 2012 Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy

Watch the Webcast of the 2012 Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health PolicyTomorrow I head down to Atlanta to attend the 28th Annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy at The Carter Center. This year’s meeting will bring together more than 200 mental health leaders, stakeholders, and providers to discuss moving beyond stigma and prejudice, and how we can take steps to build social inclusion of people living with mental illnesses.

While it’s a closed event, they do a live webcast of the event throughout the day, allowing anyone to gain from its presentations.

The stigma and prejudice surrounding mental diagnoses and mental health care remain a huge issue in the U.S. and throughout the world. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated to cost over $300 billion because of untreated mental illness.

The Carter Center’s Mental Health Program works tirelessly to try and reverse this trend.

Former U.S. First Lady and Carter Center Co-Founder Rosalynn Carter organizes the event each year to bring together many mental health policy leaders, stakeholders, and advocates. This is the 28th year for the meeting.

“Although we know much more about mental illnesses and how to treat them than ever before, stigma against these disorders remains,” said Mrs. Carter.

“One of the best ways to fight stigma and discrimination in the long run is to take action and develop public policies that provide communities with the foundations and tools to include and support people living with mental illnesses. We hope this year’s symposium will give many communities throughout the country the information they need to support all of their citizens and help improve life for everyone.”

We’ll be providing a summary of the meeting over the weekend.

Learn more about it and watch the live webcast here (starting Nov. 1, 9:00 am ET): The Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy


Doing What Doesn’t Come Naturally

World of Psychology
Doing What Doesn’t Come Naturally

Doing What Doesn't Come NaturallyWhen you’re feeling miserable, it’s the most natural thing in the world to want to wallow in your misery. Angry people do it by obsessing about what others have done to them. Sad people do it by summoning up their disappointments. Worried people do it by anguishing about the “what ifs” of life. Frustrated people do it by giving up their goals as soon as the going gets tough.

Though there is something to be said for feeling miserable from time to time (how else would you appreciate feeling great?), many people hold on to negative emotions for way too long.

They don’t just feel their emotions, they embrace them, defend them, indulge them — until these feelings morph into an identity.

The upshot? They no longer just feel angry, sad, worried or frustrated. They become people with a chip on their shoulder, despair in their heart, fear in their soul, and failure on their mind.

Don’t let this happen to you. Let go of your negative emotions by doing what doesn’t come naturally. That is, act contrary to the way you’re feeling.

When you’re feeling ticked off with someone, it’s easy to keep recalling all the affronts that you endured. Of course, you feel angry. But don’t stay angry. Instead, do something for yourself that you truly enjoy. (Remember the adage “living well is the best revenge.”)

When you’re down in the dumps, it’s easy to just hang around, feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, push yourself to do something that will lift your mood. Surround yourself with music. Dare to dance. Watch a funny movie. Walk on the beach. Contact an upbeat friend. Visit an engaging website.

When you’re anxious about the future, it’s easy to wallow in your worries about life’s insecurities. Do the opposite. Face what needs to be faced, do what needs to be done and get on with living your life. For creative ideas on how to do this, delve into my book, Master Your Fears: How to Triumph Over Your Worries and Get On With Your Life.

When you feel frustrated with the laborious work you need to do to reach your goals, it’s easy just to give up. Why keep struggling? Instead of giving in to frustration, take a short break. Remind yourself why you want to achieve this goal. Then begin again with a fresh approach. Persevere. Be smarter this time. Make a new mistake.

Edison claimed that it took him more than 1,000 tries to invent the light bulb. His attitude? He hadn’t failed. He had simply found 1,000 ways not to create a light bulb.

It undoubtedly will feel counterintuitive to act contrary to the way you feel. Yet that’s exactly what you need to do to expel the negative emotions that so easily drain your energy, your time and your life.

In the Brain, Empathy and Analysis May Be Mutually Exclusive

Psych Central News
In the Brain, Empathy and Analysis May Be Mutually Exclusive

In the Brain, Empathy and Analysis May Be Mutually ExclusiveFunctional magnetic imaging has allowed researchers to view the brain as it struggles to multi-task empathetic feelings and analytical thoughts.

The discovery may explain why even the most intelligent can fall for hard-luck stories or when significant decisions are viewed as insensitive or uncaring.

Investigators say the brain normally balances a neural pathway driven by hard analytical facts against a neural pathway that evokes a softer emotional response.

An individual’s moral compass can be compromised when a person becomes stuck in the analytical cycle. However, the opposite can happen as well with an individual presenting a proclivity for empathy without an ability to perform analytical decision-making.

In the study, Case Western Reserve University researchers found that when the brain activates neurons to allow us to empathize, it suppresses the brain network used for analysis. On the flip side, when the brain activates neurons to allow analytical thought processes, empathic pathways are subdued.

This finding may help to explain decisions that on second glance seem illogical and/or insensitive.

Indeed, researchers found that when the analytic network is engaged, our ability to appreciate the human cost of our action is repressed.

At rest, our brains cycle between the social and analytical networks. But when presented with a task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathway, say the investigators.

The study shows for the first time that we have a built-in neural constraint on our ability to be both empathetic and analytic at the same time.

The new findings promise to rewrite established theories about brain networks. Moreover, it provides insights into the operation of a healthy mind versus those of the mentally ill or developmentally disabled.

“This is the cognitive structure we’ve evolved,” said Anthony Jack, Ph.D., an assistant professor of cognitive science at Case Western Reserve and lead author of the new study. “Empathetic and analytic thinking are, at least to some extent, mutually exclusive in the brain.”

The research is published in the current online issue of NeuroImage.

Some prior studies hinted that two large scale brain networks are in tension in the brain — the default mode network the task positive network. However, other researchers have suggested that different mechanisms drive this tension.

One theory says that we have one network for engaging in goal directed tasks. This theory posits that our second network allows the mind to wander. The other theory says that one network is for external attention, and the second network is for internal attention.

The new study shows that adults presented with social or analytical problems – all external stimuli – consistently engaged the appropriate neural pathway to solve the problem, while repressing the other pathway.

Researchers were able to observe this vacillating brain activity by using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Jack said that a philosophical question inspired the study design: “The most persistent question in the philosophy of mind is the problem of consciousness. Why can we describe the workings of a brain, but that doesn’t tell us what it’s like to be that person?”

“The disconnect between experiential understanding and scientific understanding is known as the explanatory gap,” Jack said.

“In 2006, the philosopher Philip Robbins and I got together and we came up with a pretty crazy, bold hypothesis: that the explanatory gap is driven by our neural structure. I was genuinely surprised to see how powerfully these findings fit that theory.”

These findings suggest the same neural phenomenon drives the explanatory gap as occurs when we look at a visual illusion such as the duck-rabbit, he continued. The drawing of the head of the animal can be seen as a duck facing one direction or a rabbit facing the other, but you can’t see both at once.

“That is called perceptual rivalry, and it occurs because of neural inhibition between the two representations,” Jack said.

“What we see in this study is similar, but much more wide-scale. We see neural inhibition between the entire brain network we use to socially, emotionally and morally engage with others, and the entire network we use for scientific, mathematical and logical reasoning.

“This shows scientific accounts really do leave something out — the human touch. A major challenge for the science of the mind is how we can better translate between the cold and distant mechanical descriptions that neuroscience produces, and the emotionally engaged intuitive understanding which allows us to relate to one another as people.”

In the study, the researchers recruited 45 healthy college students, and asked each to take five 10-minute turns inside a magnetic resonance imager while being provided written or video problems.

During this time, participants were randomly presented with 20 written and 20 video problems that required them to think about how others might feel and with 20 written and 20 video problems that required physics to solve.

After reading the text or viewing the video, the students had to provide an answer to a yes-no question within seven seconds. Each student’s session in the MRI included twenty 27-second rest periods, as well as variable delays between trials lasting 1, 3 or 5 seconds. Students were told to look at a red cross on the screen in front of them and relax during the rests.

The MRI images showed that social problems deactivated brain regions associated with analysis, and activated the social network. This finding held true whether the questions came via video or print.

Meanwhile, the physics questions deactivated the brain regions associated with empathizing and activated the analytical network.

“When subjects are lying in a scanner with nothing to do, which we call the resting state, they naturally cycle between the two networks,” Jack said. “This tells us that it’s the structure of the adult brain that is driving this, that it’s a physiological constraint on cognition.”

Experts believe the finding are relevant for a variety of neuropsychiatric disorders, from anxiety, depression and ADHD to schizophrenia – all of which are characterized by social dysfunction of some sort.

“Treatment needs to target a balance between these two networks. At present most rehabilitation, and more broadly most educational efforts of any sort, focus on tuning up the analytic network. Yet, we found more cortex dedicated to the social network,” said Jack.

Perhaps most clearly, the theory makes sense in regards to developmental disabilities such as autism and Williams syndrome. Autism is often characterized by a strong ability to solve visuospatial problems, such as mentally manipulating two and three-dimensional figures, but poor social skills. People with Williams syndrome are very warm and friendly, but perform poorly on visuospatial tests.

But, even healthy adults can rely too much on one network, Jack said. A look at newspaper business pages offers some examples.

“You want the CEO of a company to be highly analytical in order to run a company efficiently, otherwise it will go out of business,” he said. “But, you can lose your moral compass if you get stuck in an analytic way of thinking.”

“You’ll never get by without both networks,” Jack continued. “You don’t want to favor one, but cycle efficiently between them, and employ the right network at the right time.”

The researchers continue to test the theory, studying whether brains will shift from the social network to the analytical when students in the MRI see people depicted in a dehumanizing way, that is, as animals or objects.

The group is also studying whether disgust and social stereotyping confound our moral compass by recruiting the analytical network and depressing social network activity.

Source: Case Western Reserve University

ADHD May Have Genetic Ties to Smoking

Psych Central News
ADHD May Have Genetic Ties to Smoking

ADHD May Have Genetic Ties to Smoking  A new study shows that children who have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are more likely to start smoking early and to smoke twice as much as those without the condition.

Researchers discovered a variation of a particular gene that links the behaviors typical of ADHD with those associated with smoking.

The researchers focused on five variations in DNA sequences (single nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs) in different genes that are associated with different aspects of smoking behavior to see if these were linked to hyperactivity in 454 children (ages 6 to 12) who had been diagnosed with ADHD. Smoking behaviors measured included things such as the number of cigarettes smoked every day, and taking up or quitting smoking.

They quizzed the children’s mothers about their smoking during pregnancy. Of those 394 mothers for whom they had information, 171 had smoked during pregnancy and 223 had not.

The researchers then assessed the extent of the children’s behavioral and emotional problems at home and at school, as well as their intellectual capacity, using a battery of tests.

They also took blood samples from the children, their parents, and siblings to see if any high risk variants — known as alleles — of the five genetic markers had been passed on, and if these were associated with the behaviors and impaired cognitive performance characteristic of ADHD.

They discovered that only one of the five SNPs (rs 1329650), which was associated with the number of cigarettes smoked, was more likely to be associated with ADHD.

The researchers report that the high risk C allele of rs 1329650 was significantly more likely to be passed on from the parents and to be associated with the more severe form of ADHD.

It was much more common among children who had higher scores on the validated behavioral tests, the researchers note, adding children who performed less well on tasks requiring more brain power and concentration were also more likely to inherit this risk allele.

The researchers hypothesize that the C allele of rs1329650 may increase the risk of both ADHD and smoking through prompting behaviors and impaired higher brain functions that are typical of childhood ADHD, and could act as a gateway to smoking later in life.

Source: British Medical Journal

Cigarette and lighter photo by shutterstock.

How Mindfulness Meditation Works

Psych Central News
How Mindfulness Meditation Works

How Mindfulness Meditation WorksMindfulness helps individuals release negative emotions and thoughts, while encouraging more positive feelings such as compassion and forgiveness. But how does this type of meditation actually work?

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital have devised a new model that sheds new light on the science behind mindfulness.

Instead of describing mindfulness as a single dimension of cognition, the researchers show that mindfulness involves a large framework of complex mechanisms in the brain that lead a person down the path of developing self-awareness, self-regulation, and self-transcendence (S-ART).

According to the researchers, in order to achieve self awareness during meditation, one must do the following:  reduce biases and negative thoughts, regulate one’s behavior, and increase positive, pro-social relationships with oneself and others.

The study emphasizes six active neuropsychological processes in the brain during mindfulness and which support S-ART. These include 1) intention and motivation, 2) attention regulation, 3) emotion regulation, 4) extinction and reconsolidation, 5) pro-social behavior, and 6) non-attachment and de-centering.

Therefore, a person must begin with an intention to attain mindfulness, and then follow it with an awareness of his or her bad habits. Once this is done, practitioners can begin training themselves to become less emotionally reactive and to recover more quickly from negative emotions.

“Through continued practice, the person can develop a psychological distance from any negative thoughts and can inhibit natural impulses that constantly fuel bad habits,” said David Vago, Ph.D., BWH Functional Neuroimaging Laboratory, Department of Psychiatry, and lead study author.

Vago adds that continued practice can also increase empathy and remove our attachments to things we like and aversions to things we don’t like.

“The result of practice is a new You with a new multidimensional skill set for reducing biases in one’s internal and external experience and sustaining a healthy mind,” said Vago.

The research is published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Source:  Brigham and Women’s Hospital


Why Some People Love Horror Movies While Others Hate Them

World of Psychology
Why Some People Love Horror Movies While Others Hate Them

Why Some People Love Horror Movies While Others Hate ThemSome people can’t get enough of scary movies. They’ve seen scores of scary films – over and over. They catch horror flicks on opening night. They have DVD collections at home.

Personally, I wouldn’t be caught dead watching a scary movie. They freak me out, leaving me unsettled for days — the images a record player in my mind. In fact, I have a hard enough time sitting through the scarier scenes of “Sons of Anarchy.” (I watch it with my boyfriend, and sometimes need to leave the room.)

With Halloween upon us — the prime season for horror films — I was curious to find out why some people savor scary movies. And others, like me, can’t stand them.

The Excitation Transfer Process

According to Glenn Sparks, Ph.D, a professor and associate head of the Brian Lamb School of Communication at Purdue University, one reason for the appeal is how you feel after the movie. This is called the excitation transfer process. Sparks’s research found that when people watch frightening films, their heart rate, blood pressure and respiration increases.

After the film is over, this physiological arousal lingers, Sparks said. (We’re just not aware of it.) That means that any positive emotions you experience – like having fun with friends – are intensified, he said. Instead of focusing on the fright you felt during the film, you recall having a great time. And you’ll want to come back for more, he said.

However, if your experience was negative, you might not. For instance, let’s say you were on a date that wasn’t going well or you got into a car accident on your way home, Sparks said. Again, because your lingering arousal heightens any emotions you experience, the negative feelings might sway you to skip a scary flick in the future.

Different Wiring

Some people are simply wired to enjoy high levels of physiological arousal, Sparks said. According to the literature, he said, about 10 percent of the population enjoys the adrenaline rush. (Not surprisingly, these individuals also love rollercoasters. Not surprisingly, I do not.)

Similarly, wiring may explain why others hate scary movies. Specifically, some individuals have a harder time screening out unwanted stimuli in their environment, Sparks said. For instance, they might be hypersensitive to the temperature in a room or the tag on their shirt. These same individuals are more likely to have intense physiological reactions to horror films.


Some people turn to scary movies because they’re novel. All of us are wired to pay attention to anomalies in our environment, Sparks said. Since danger disrupts routine, curiosity about change is important for survival. Sparks equated the pull of frightening films to stopping at the scene of a gory accident: “You don’t see that every day,” he said.

Something else you don’t see are the visual effects, which tend to be fantastic, he said. Some people get enamored with effects and like to figure them out, said Joanne Cantor, Ph.D, Professor Emerita and Outreach Director at the Center for Communication Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Still, negative emotions can trump novelty, Sparks said. If we experience high levels of fright, seeing a scary movie just isn’t worth it. “Negative emotions are stored in the amygdala [which] in contrast to positive emotions are particularly resistant to being extinguished,” Sparks said.

Individuals might “suffer lingering emotional fallout if something in the environment reminds them of a scene,” he said. After seeing “Jaws,” some people stopped swimming in the ocean and felt eerie about lakes and pools, Cantor said.

Others might avoid films that come too close to home. Students have told Sparks they avoid films featuring a terrorized babysitter because they babysit.

Gender Socialization

Research suggests that more men enjoy scary movies. This might be because men are socialized to be brave and enjoy threatening things, Sparks said. Men may derive social gratification from not letting a scary film bother them, Sparks said. It’s the idea of mastering something threatening, he said.

“Men often like [scary films] as date movies because women are more likely to seek physical closeness when they’re scared, and men can show off their strength and bravery,” Cantor said. (This is aptly called “the cuddle effect.”)

In one study males liked a horror movie more when they saw it with a female who was scared, and females liked the movie more when they saw it with a male who wasn’t scared.

Other Reasons

Some people may like scary movies because they enjoy the adrenaline rush of being scared while being safe, Cantor said. “Some people like anything that gets their minds off their own problems,” she said.

Individuals who are highly empathetic may not like scary movies, she said.

Kids & Scary Movies

Parents need to be especially careful about what their kids watch, according to both experts. Cantor’s research found that college students who watched scary movies or shows before 14 years old had trouble sleeping and felt anxious about typically safe activities or stopped engaging in them altogether. (You can download the full text here.)

“Until the age of 5 to 7, seeing is believing,” said Cantor, who wrote the book Teddy’s TV Troubles specifically for calming down kids after they’ve been scared by the media.

Even if it’s make-believe, she said, it’s still scary for young kids. For older kids, realistic threats, such as kidnappings and child molestation, are scary, she said. Teens, like adults, are more scared over abstract threats, such as disease and the supernatural, she said.

“Parents need to pay attention to how their children react to movies before deciding if a particular show is right for them. Intense fright reactions are much easier to prevent than to undo,” Cantor said.

?Why do you like scary movies? Why do you dislike them?

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

ADHD Studies Target Underlying Conditions, Parent and Teacher Input

Psych Central News
ADHD Studies Target Underlying Conditions, Parent and Teacher Input

ADHD Studies Target Underlying Conditions, Parent and Teacher Input Mayo Clinic researchers have presented two new studies on treating child and adolescent attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The interventions focus on improving early care for children as well as improving the diagnosis of underlying disorders that may complicate traditional treatment regimens.

Key to the intervention philosophy is obtaining input from parents and teachers of children who are being diagnosed with ADHD allowing for more effective treatment upon the first consultation.

In a second study, researchers developed a tool that can help clinicians better diagnose and treat children who have both ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder.

In the first study, Mayo Clinic researchers required parents and teachers of children coming in for their first ADHD consultation to complete extensive background forms and analysis.

Children were referred by parents and teachers if they exhibited some combination of problems such as difficulty sustaining attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

By offering incentives and stressing the importance of being prepared for the first consultation, clinicians were able to boost parent and teacher compliance from 25 to 90 percent at the Mayo Clinic Child and Adolescent ADHD Clinic.

As a result, researchers have been able to better recommend treatment and therapy right off the bat.

“I’d compare treating a child with ADHD for the first time to consulting with someone who has type II diabetes — we need to measure a diabetic patient’s blood sugar level before we can properly treat them,” says study lead author Jyoti Bhagia, M.D., a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist.

“The same goes for ADHD. The more we know about children in the early stages of treatment, the more quickly we can get them the help they need.”

In the second study, Mayo Clinic researchers gave 75 patients with ADHD at the Mayo Clinic Child and Adolescent ADHD Clinic a written, subjective evaluation to test for oppositional defiance disorder, a persistent pattern of tantrums, arguing, and angry or disruptive behavior toward authority figures.

They found that the test was far better able to pick up whether the child had the disorder than an anecdotal physician diagnosis. Of the 75 patients in the study, 27 percent, or less than a third, were diagnosed with oppositional defiance disorder by their providers.

After taking the subjective test, 48 percent tested positive for oppositional defiant disorder. That shows the presence of oppositional defiance disorder with ADHD is under-diagnosed and children may not be receiving the behavioral treatment they need.

Children who have both ADHD and oppositional defiance disorder benefit from a combination of medication and behavioral therapy, said Bhagia.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Child at school photo by shutterstock.