Body Language, Not Facial Expressions, Conveys Good or Bad Experience

Psych Central News
Body Language, Not Facial Expressions, Conveys Good or Bad Experience

New research has found that body language, not someone’s facial expression, provides better clues as to whether a person is undergoing a positive or negative experience.

Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, New York University and Princeton University say that when presented with photographs of just faces of people undergoing highly intense experiences, viewers were baffled as to whether the experience was positive or negative.

The researchers presented test groups with photos of dozens of highly intense facial expressions in a variety of real life emotional situations.

For example, in one study they compared emotional expressions of professional tennis players winning or losing a point. These pictures are ideal because the stakes in such games are extremely high from an economic and prestige perspective, according to the researchers.

The researchers showed different versions of the pictures to three groups of participants: The full picture with the face and body; the body with the face removed; and the face with the body removed.

The participants could easily tell apart the losers from winners when they rated the full picture or the body alone, but they were at chance level when rating the face alone, according to the researchers.

In what researchers called an ironic note, the participants who viewed the full picture with the face and body were convinced that it was the face that revealed the emotional impact. The researchers named this effect “illusory valence,” reflecting the fact that participants said they saw clear valence — either a positive or negative emotion — in what was a non-diagnostic face.

In an additional study, the researchers asked people to examine a broader range of real-life intense faces. These images included intense positive situations, such as joy (seeing one’s house after a lavish makeover), pleasure (experiencing an orgasm), and victory (winning a critical tennis point), as well as negative situations, such as grief (reacting at a funeral), pain (undergoing a nipple/naval piercing), and defeat (losing a critical tennis point).

Again, participants were unable to tell from the faces whether it was a positive or negative situation.

To further demonstrate how ambiguous intense faces are, the researchers “planted” faces on bodies expressing positive or negative emotion. The participants then determined emotional valence of the same face on different bodies by the body, flipping from positive to negative depending on the body with which they appeared.

“These results show that when emotions become extremely intense, the difference between positive and negative facial expression blurs,” said psychologist Dr. Hillel Aviezer of the Psychology Department of the Hebrew University, who led the study with Drs. Yaacov Trope of New York University and Alexander Todorov of Princeton University.

“The findings challenge classic behavioral models in neuroscience, social psychology and economics, in which the distinct poles of positive and negative valence do not converge.”

“From a practical-clinical perspective, the results may help researchers understand how body/face expressions interact during emotional situations,” he continued. “For example, individuals with autism may fail to recognize facial expressions, but perhaps if trained to process important body cues, their performance may significantly improve.”

The study was published in the journal Science.

Source: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem



6 Ways to Advocate for Your Mental Health

World of Psychology
6 Ways to Advocate for Your Mental Health

6 Ways to Advocate for Your Mental HealthOften there are many parts of the mental health treatment process that you can’t control.

“Providers can let patients down, medications may fail or cause uncomfortable side effects [and] there is enormous stigma around mental illness,” said Kelli Hyland, M.D., a psychiatrist in outpatient private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah.

But you can control your role. For instance, you can accept your symptoms, educate yourself about your illness, build your treatment team and speak “up when you feel small and scared,” she said.

Advocating for your mental health provides significant benefits. “Taking an active role in the healing process brings empowerment, confidence and can build quality of life independent of cure or physical wellness,” she said.

Below, Hyland shared several ways you can become your own best advocate.

1. Work with reputable experts.

Whether you’re looking for a therapist, an entire treatment team or a mental health facility, picking the right practitioner or place takes time and effort, Dr. Hyland said. (But, as she underscored, it’s your health.)

The key is to ask around, do your research, and “interview the providers like you are hiring an employee.” Look for knowledge and expertise, along with fit and rapport, she said.

You might interview several providers before picking the right one. And you might work with someone for several sessions and realize they’re not a good fit. (If that’s the case, keep your records, she said.)

As Hyland said, “Remember you are paying for a service. You do not have to hire someone that you do not like or doesn’t meet your current needs.”

Hyland often helps friends, family members and anyone who calls her find trusted practitioners she’d see herself — whether it’s a primary care physician, therapist, psychiatrist, substance abuse treatment or other specialist.

If you’re already seeing a therapist, ask them to refer you to several providers, she said. For instance, like Hyland, your therapist might be able to recommend a psychiatrist or treatment center.

If your city has a reputable training program, call their department, she said. Or “better yet, ask a trainee who they like working with, would send a family member to or see themselves.” As Hyland added, “they usually work the closest with providers or know the ‘inside scoop’ and aren’t going to give you a political answer.”

Another option is to call your state’s American Psychological Association or American Psychiatric Association, she said. “The executive assistant of the Utah Psychiatric Association has sent some great referrals my way and knows who all the docs are and keeps notes on who does what well.”

2. Be the best expert on you.

While you might not know much about medication or the mental health field, you do know a whole lot about yourself. “You are the most experienced person about you,” Hyland said. She identified several ways you can use your expertise: “Keep a sleep or mood journal, understand and share your narrative, process your emotions, write your story, ask yourself difficult and scary questions, ask for feedback from people you love and trust, follow your intuition.”

3. Face one issue at a time.

Dealing with a mental illness is challenging. (And some days this might seem like an understatement.) You have to traverse a confusing mental health system, stigma and judgment from others – even clinicians – along with intrusive symptoms, such as negative thoughts, intense anxiety and feelings of worthlessness, Hyland said.

This can seem incredibly overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to remind yourself to focus on one step at a time, she said. “Take breaks from the ‘fight’ and find and focus on even just one little thing that brings you any pleasure or brings you into this one moment.”

4. Lower your expectations.

Lower your expectations when it comes to yourself — such as the time and energy you dedicate to your health and wellness – and your treatment — such as your doctor or treatment plan, she said. Many of Hyland’s clients tend to “overdo it,” she said. She works with them to “focus less on outcome and more on small successes or quality of life issues versus cure.”

5. Seek out reputable resources.

“Avoid anything on the Internet that appears to be entertainment, voyeuristic, extremist or conspiracy-based,” Hyland said. Instead, visit trusted websites such as NAMI, which includes valuable patient education handouts and information on advocacy, she said.

For advocacy and education she also recommended William Marchand’s Depression and Bipolar Disorder: Your Guide to Recovery along with narratives such as Kay Jamison’s An Unquiet Mind.

Hyland recommends Susan Cain’s Quiet to her introverted clients, who also struggle with avoidance or anxiety problems.

“These are examples of smart books but also very personal stories, which can help patients feel less alone and ‘crazy,’” she said.

She also suggested Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and Al-Anon. “I often refer patients to Al-Anon, even if they are not in relationship with someone with addiction, but simply if they are struggling with enmeshment or over-caregiving in any context,” she said. AA’s Big Book or Big Blue Book is particularly “great for healthy coping skills and support,” she said.

6. Be kind to yourself.

“Please be kind to yourself about this hand you have been dealt,” Hyland said. She cited this quote from Caroline Kettlewell, which she keeps in her office:

If a heart could fail in its pumping, a lung in its breathing, then why not a brain in its thinking, rendering the world forever askew, like a television with bad reception? And couldn’t a brain fail as arbitrarily as any of these other parts, without regard to how fortunate your life might have been?

In addition, celebrate your accomplishments, and “surround yourself with people who are good at self-care and other-care,” Hyland said. Always speak up, and voice any questions or concerns to your providers. “Consider your healthcare treatment plan as dynamic, in flux, growing; a constant ongoing dialogue, a work in progress,” she said.

Further Reading

For more on therapy, check out Psych Central’s blog Therapy That Works.


Woman and doctor photo available from Shutterstock

Biomarker May ID Teens at Risk for Depression, Anxiety

Psych Central News
Biomarker May ID Teens at Risk for Depression, Anxiety

Biomarker May ID Teens at Risk for Depression, AnxietyResearchers have found a cognitive biomarker that may identify teens at high risk for developing depression and anxiety.

The marker is a variation of a certain gene — the short form of the serotonin transporter gene 5-HTTLPR.

For the study, scientists at the University of Cambridge recruited 238 teens (ages 15 to 18) to receive genetic testing and an environmental assessment.

The participants were then given a computer test to determine how they process emotional information. The teens  had to decide whether words were positive, negative, or neutral (examples included “joyful” for positive, “failure” for negative, and “range” for neutral).

Those teens who were both homozygous for the short allele of 5-HTTLPR had significant difficulty evaluating the emotion within the words, suggesting an inability to process emotional information.

These same teens also had exposure to sporadic family arguments for over six months and witnessed violence between parents before the age of six.

Prior research has linked a disturbed perception and response to emotions with a much greater risk of depression and anxiety.

The researchers concluded that cognitive and emotional processing problems may be an intermediate marker for anxiety and depression in genetically susceptible individuals exposed to early childhood adversities.

The scientists say the test, which can be done on a computer, could be used as an inexpensive tool to screen teens for common mental disorders. As the cognitive biomarker may appear before the symptoms of depression and anxiety, early intervention could then be initiated.

“Whether we succumb to anxiety and depression depends in part on our tendencies to think well or poorly of ourselves at troubled times,” said Ian Goodyer, M.D., principal investigator on the study.

“How it comes about that some people see the ‘glass half full’ and think positively whereas other see the ‘glass half empty’ and think negatively about themselves at times of stress is not known.

“The evidence is that both our genes and our early childhood experiences contribute to such personal thinking styles.

“Before there are any clinical symptoms of depression or anxiety, this test reveals a deficient ability to efficiently and effectively perceive emotion processes in some teenagers — a biomarker for low resilience which may lead to mental illnesses.”

The study is published in the journal PLoS One.

Source:  University of Cambridge


Behavioral Problems, Not Depression, Linked to Poor Grades

Psych Central News
Behavioral Problems, Not Depression, Linked to Poor Grades

Behavioral Problems, Not Depression, Linked to Poor Grades A new sociological study finds that behavior problems, not depression, are linked to lower grades for depressed adolescents.

Researchers believe the findings may suggest a new classroom approach that moves away from a disciplinary approach to methods that integrate students into a broad melting pot.

Investigators discovered that depression per se does not result in academic problems, rather an adolescent’s behavior, including attention problems, which cause poor grades.

“Behavior problems including attention issues, delinquency, and substance use are associated with diminished achievement, but depression is not,” said the study’s lead author, Jane D. McLeod, Ph.D., a sociology professor and an associate dean at Indiana University.

“Certainly, there are depressed youths who have trouble in school, but it’s likely because they are also using substances, engaging in delinquent activities, or have attention issues.”

McLeod’s study uses data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), which followed thousands of U.S. adolescents from their middle and high school years through their transition to early adulthood.

McLeod’s analysis focuses on students who were in high school when Add Health began in 1994. To determine academic achievement, McLeod considered the high school GPAs of students after the first wave of Add Health in 1994 and the highest educational degrees they received by 2008-2009.

“There’s a fairly sizable literature that links depression in high school to diminished academic achievement,” said McLeod.

“The argument we make in our study is what’s really happening is that youths who are depressed also have other problems as well, and it’s those other problems that are adversely affecting their achievement.”

Unlike students who experienced depression, the study found that adolescents who experienced attention issues, delinquency, or substance use had lower average GPAs than youths without any such problems.

Similarly, delinquency and substance use were associated with receiving lesser degrees while depression was not.

Adolescents who experienced two problems typically earned lower GPAs and lesser degrees than those who experienced only one problem, although some combinations of problems had more harmful effects than others.

For example, substance use increased the educational risks associated with depression, attention issues, and delinquency.

In contrast, experiencing depression in combination with attention issues, delinquency, or substance use was not linked to GPAs or levels of educational attainment lower than those of students who had any of these problems alone.

Interestingly, attention issues were not associated with lower levels of educational attainment whereas they were related to lower GPAs.

“It could be that attention issues adversely affect high school GPA, but not level of educational attainment because success in college and graduate school may be less closely tied to behavior and interactions within the classroom than it is in high school,” McLeod said.

Researchers say that once a teen enters higher education, attention problems may be glossed over because of scale.

“For example, if you’re in a large college classroom and you’re someone who needs to be bouncing your knees or tapping your pen, that’s not going to come to the notice of the instructor in the same way that it might in a smaller high school classroom.”

The analysis controlled for academic aptitude, meaning the researchers took into account whether the youths in the study had the ability to do well in school.

“What we found is that there are adolescents who have the ability to succeed, but who are not succeeding in school because of their troubling behavior—attention issues, delinquency, substance use or a combination,” McLeod said.

“This suggests to me that schools should reconsider the approach they take to dealing with these students. Perhaps, they should think about moving away from punitive approaches towards approaches aimed at integrating these students into the school community.”

Source: American Sociological Association

Best of Our Blogs: November 30, 2012

World of Psychology
Best of Our Blogs: November 30, 2012

I’d argue that our most challenging enemy isn’t the obstacle in front of us. It’s not the fact that our child/partner is being difficult or things just aren’t going well. It’s our attitude, our perception of what we’re encountering right now that directs our life.

When you look at successful, happy people, they aren’t blessed with an easy life. On the contrary, most have suffered, struggled and climbed their way out of deep wells to survive. Peace, happiness, well-being are there for all of us. The key is to trick our eyes into seeing the road ahead not as a challenging, unforgiving, unwanted obstacle. But to view it simply as an opportunity.

Whatever you’re going through right now could feel like the worst thing that could ever happen to you. Maybe you feel unheard or misunderstood by a friend or family member, or you’re undergoing significant and unwelcome changes in your life. Even though you feel stuck or helpless, you do have choices. Our bloggers this week highlight a few things you can do right now to change your situation. Scroll down to find out how you can, for example, reconnect with others by spending a few minutes practicing mindfulness or learn ways you can start taking care of yourself. It’s not the easier path to stop playing victim and be a victor. But it’s a road that will inevitably lead toward a happier, healthier life.

Effective Mental Healthcare for All: Improving Mental Health Disparities

(Therapy That Works) – Mental health disparity exists because of the lack of cultural awareness involved in treatment. Here Clinical Psychologist, Dr. L. Kevin Chapman discusses some of the issues responsible for mental health disparities today with recommendations on how we can eliminate them in the future by improving mental health treatment for minorities.

Sex Addiction, Paraphilias, and Offending… Oh My!

(Sex & Intimacy in the Digital Age) – What are the differences between sexual addiction, paraphilic behavior, and sexual offending? This post details the differences, provides a definition for each and explains how they are interrelated.

2 Mindful Minutes to Better Relationships

(Mindfulness & Psychotherapy) – It takes just two minutes to reconnect. If you’re feeling isolated or separate from, or frustrated with a co-worker, a family member, or a friend, listen to this two minute video and feel a greater sense of compassion and connection with anyone in your life.

Mindful Parenting? First, Self-Care!

(Mindful Parenting) – Self-care is one of those high priority tasks that doesn’t seem so high priority when you’re sick, trying to get ahead in your career, or being a parent. Yet it’s most important. Learn what four things this blogger is doing to take better care of herself.

Embracing Change, The Great Teacher

(Parenting Tips) – Most people perceive change as a four letter word. It’s scary, uncomfortable, and overwhelming. But it’s also exciting and gives us an opportunity for self-growth. Go here to discover the five lessons you and your children can learn from change.

Child Maltreatment Linked To Mental And Physical Health Disorders In Later Life

Mental Health News From Medical News Today
Child Maltreatment Linked To Mental And Physical Health Disorders In Later Life
Child physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect is linked to mental health disorders, drug use, suicide attempts, sexually transmitted infections and risky sexual behaviour in adulthood, according to a study released today by researchers at The University of Queensland (UQ)…

Cannabis-Induced Psychosis May Be in the Genes

Psych Central News
Cannabis-Induced Psychosis May Be in the Genes

Cannabis-Induced Psychosis May Be in the GenesIn a new study, scientists have identified a gene variant that is linked to an increased risk for mental impairment after marijuana use. 

This may help explain why some marijuana users develop psychosis while others do not.

During psychosis, a person may experience personality changes and disordered thinking. Depending on its severity, this may include unusual or bizarre behavior, as well as having trouble with social interaction and problems with carrying out daily life activities.

The growing acceptance of medical and recreational marijuana means more people will be at risk for cannabis-induced psychosis, the researchers noted.

They also said there is growing evidence that marijuana use during the teen years may increase the risk of developing schizophrenia, a serious psychotic disorder.

For the study, researchers focused on the AKT1 gene in more than 700 participants. This gene is involved in dopamine signaling, which is known to be abnormal in psychosis. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in mental health.

“We found that cannabis users who carry a particular variant in the AKT1 gene had a twofold increased probability of a psychotic disorder and this increased up to sevenfold if they used cannabis daily,” said Dr. Marta Di Forti, of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry in England, and colleagues.

“Our findings help to explain why one cannabis user develops psychosis while his friends continue smoking without problems.”

The study results “could also help to design health educational campaigns tailored to reach those young people at particular risk,” Di Forti said in a journal news release.

Although identification of this gene variant will not lead to the development of a test to gauge a person’s risk for marijuana-related psychosis, it does reveal a genetic factor that could help lead to new treatments for the problem, said journal editor Dr. John Krystal in the news release.

The study is published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Source:  Biological Psychiatry