Emotional Resilience Blog from The Fear Course

The latest research, realisations and thinking in the world of emotional resilience, anxiety and fear reduction from around the world.

Do controlling parents have any effect on their children's development?

Do controlling parents have any effect on their children's development?

Most parents try to provide a guiding hand as their children grow up with a mixture of control, support and encouragement. But as there isn't exactly a manual or formula for parenting it's often hard for parents to know what the best course of action is at times. As a father of five (4 girls and a boy) I often wondered whether we were being too hard, too soft,etc. However recent research is showing some interesting and more importantly useful ways forward.

One consistent question what is the ideal amount of control parents should exert over their children as they grow?

Now obviously that is going to depend on a lot of different things or variables. Things like how old the child is, how responsible the child is, what the situation or context is, what the attitude the parent has to the situation and their child for example.

An interesting study published this year in the Journal Parenting: Science and Practice looked at the effects of different levels of parental control on adolescents and in particular how parental control effects how well adjusted the adolescent is and how parental control might effect the childs' ability to regulate or control their own emotions.

The researchers, from five universities across the US and Canada* looked at the responses and outcomes of 206 adolescents (10 - 18 years old) and their parents in terms of reported levels of parental control (from both the adolescents and the parents), the levels of adolescent anger regulation, depression and aggressiveness.

The researchers found that the higher the level of parental control the lower the level of adjustment and flexibility the child was able to maintain. This was even more pronounced with adolescents who had emotion regulation problems to start with, which may be connected to the level of psychological control the parents exerted before the age of 10.

In effect the greater the level of psychological control parents exert on their children the less well adjusted they become. This is not however an argument for no control or laissez faire parenting. This also causes adjustment and emotion regulation problems.

 

References:

Barber, B. K. (1996). Parental psychological control: Revisiting a neglected construct.
Child Development, 67, 3296–3319. doi:10.2307/ 1131780

Barber, B. K., & Harmon, E. L. (2002). Violating the self: Parental psychological control of children and adoles-
cents. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents (pp.15–52). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10422-002

Buckner, J. C., Mezzacappa, E., & Beardslee, W. R. (2003). Characteristics of resilient youths living in poverty: The role of self-regulatory processes.
Development and Psychopathology,15, 139–162. doi:10.1017/ S0954579403000087

Cui, L. teal (2014) Parental Psychological Control and Adolescent Adjustment: The Role of Adolescent Emotion Regulation. Parenting: Science and Practice. 14:1, 47-67, DOI:10.1080/15295192.2014.880018

Han, Z. R., & Shaffer, A. (2013). The relation of parental emotion dysregulation to children's psychopathology
symptoms: The moderating role of child emotion dysregulation. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 44, 591–601. doi:10.1007/ s10578-012-0353-7

Kunz, J. H., & Grych, J. H. (2013). Parental psychological control and autonomy granting: Distinctions
and associations with child and family functioning. Parenting: Science and Practice, 13, 77–94. doi:10.1080/ 15295192.2012.709147

Pettit, G. S., & Laird, R. D. (2002). Psychological control and monitoring in early adolescent: The role of
parental involvement and earlier child adjustment. In B. K. Barber (Ed.), Intrusive parenting: How psychological control affects children and adolescents
(pp. 97–123). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10422-004

 

 

* Oklahoma State University, The University of Toronto, Oklahoma State University, Indiana University-Purdue University and The University of Pittsburgh

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This week's Emotional Resilience Podcast Episode 6

This week's Emotional Resilience Podcast Episode 6

 

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The effects of pre-operation anxiety on the recovery of heart surgery patients

The effects of pre-operation anxiety on the recovery of heart surgery patients

A study just released in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology looked at the connection between pre-operation anxiety levels in patients and how well those patients improved during the first year after the surgery.

The study by a group of cardiologists looked at the anxiety levels of patients just before they were to undergo heart surgery. They then tracked those patients for the first year of their recovery after the surgery to see if there was any impact of the anxiety levels on their quality of life during recovery. The study followed 720 patients who were operated on and measured their levels of anxiety just before the operation. They found that almost half (347 or 48%) of the patients had what could be described as high levels of anxiety just before the operation.

The researchers found that both the high and low anxiety groups had similar operation success rates, however the recovery of the high anxiety group was much slower and their quality of life had significantly poorer improvement outcomes.

This level of evidence should be a call to health providers and patients to ensure the patients are equipped to lower their levels of anxiety before surgery. occurs.

Reference

Mohanty, S. et al (2014) Baseline anxiety impacts improvement in quality of life in atrial fibrillation undergoing catheter albtion. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2014;63(12_S):. doi:10.1016/S0735-1097(14)60395-8

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How exercising an avatar can reduce anxiety and improve self-body image

How exercising an avatar can reduce anxiety and improve self-body image

Exergaming or video fitness games that require bodily movement of the player to play, and usually drive the movements of an avatar may have more going for them than might at first appear. The Wii Fit and Kinetic are two examples of these types of exergaming. A number of research studies have found that exergames with activities such as dancing, kickboxing and aerobics for example can have a number of beneficial health effects. However a series of previous studies have also found that people who exercise with other people tend to report more positive wellbeing and less anxiety as opposed to those who exercise on their own.

There is a group of people for whom group exercise is not an appealing thought. People with poor self-image perception or put another way, high levels of body image dissatisfaction, tend to find group or social exercise both demotivating and anxiety increasing, for obvious reasons. This especially occurs in situation where the majority other members of a workout group appear to be fitter or look better and in environments which have large mirrors.

So is it really better to exercise with others or on your own?

There is a syndrome known as social physique anxiety, where people have the feeling that their bodily looks are being negatively evaluated by others and as a result they suffer from embarrassment in many social settings. This is actually a subset of social anxiety. As one can imagine in such situations the motivation to exercise in front of others is quite low. In fact in some situations the anxiety can be so pronounced that a complete aversion to exercise can develop with the obvious health consequences.

A study to be published in July looks at the effects of solitary exergaming using avatars in situations where social physique anxiety and high levels of body image dissatisfaction occur.

You can probably see where this research is going, however there is an interesting twist in this study and it's called the Proteus Effect.

The Proteus Effect refers to a phenomenon noticed years ago in the online gaming world. It was found that people often tend to take on the attributes of the digital persona or avatar or character they are operating with. Studies have found for example, that people who use tall lean avatars in games tend to close the physical space between themselves and other people's avatars more than if they are using short fat avatars. Other studies have shown shifts in a range of persona attributes including general attitude, confidence, aggression levels, empathy, communication style, problem solving style etc. Researchers have been finding that it's not just online behaviour that can change as a result of the Proteus Effect. There have been a number of successful therapeutic interventions using avatars in areas such as weight loss, addiction, aggression / anger and confidence problems using avatars as role models.

The term Proteus Effect comes from the Greek sea god Proteus who is mentioned in Homers 'Odyssey'. Proteus, who lived in the sea, knows everything, everything that has happened, everything that is happening and everything that will happen and consequently was much valued. The only problem was that Proteus was somewhat of an elusive god and didn't like to give up his secrets. If approached Proteus would hide by transforming himself into other sea creatures so you couldn't work out who he was and get hold of this powerful knowledge.

The proteus effect refers then to the taking on of the attributes and persona of the avatar by the game player.

Not only can the shape, attractiveness and general attributes of an avatar change our online behaviour, but it also affects how we feel about the game or activity, other people and ourselves. Game designers have known for some time that people with more attractive and successful hero type avatars tend to build deeper affiliations with the game and other players and consequently tend to stay with the game longer. Avatar based games such as the ever popular Warcraft and online environments such as Second Life measure player engagement in terms of years as a direct result of this effect.

The thing to note here are these are emotional reactions. Emotions such as enjoyment, attachment, confidence and even grief are experienced whilst operating through an avatar. Not only are these emotions real for the participant but they are being altered as a direct result of the percieved personality of the avatar. In effect we tend to take on the personality projected by the character we are in effect role playing.

This study (remember that?) looked at three research questions:

1. How do body image dissatisfaction and exercise context affect individuals' (a) enjoyment, (b) mood, and (c) perceived exercise accomplishment during exergame play?
2. In the group context, will social physique anxiety be reduced during exergame play?
3. What is a role of self-presence in predicting perceived exercise accomplishment?

They had 732 people attend both group exercise classes and do solitary exergaming. Half of the population reported suffering from some form of body image anxiety.

  • The researchers found that all the participants significantly improved their enjoyment of solitary exercise using an avatar over doing the exercise in a live group situation. People with high levels of body image dissatisfaction had even greater levels of enjoyment than those with less of an issue about their body image.
  • When it came to an increase in positive mood, people with high body image dissatisfaction reported a significantly elevated effect on their mood as well whilst using an exergaming programme.
  • Again when it came to the perception of having accomplished something, everyone reported a significant increase whilst engaging in solitary exergaming over group exercise. This effect I assume is quite likely to be down to the progress bars and the like such games produce.
  • The big win from the research was that everyone saw a significant decrease in body image anxiety during exergaming when compared to social exercise and the effect was significantly more pronounced for those with higher levels of body image dissatisfaction than those with lower levels of body image anxiety.
  • Finally for the last question the researchers found that the role of the avatar was significant in these results. Basically what happens is that people identify emotionally and physically with their avatar and begin to experience the world through the percieved avatars personality, what scientists call self-presence. In other words, when playing such games we tend to experience the game as the avatar might rather than from our own perspective. The Proteus Effect in action.

So you can get into or more into exercise, reduce body image anxiety and feel better about the whole exercise thing by exercising an avatar!

References

Ball, K., Crawford, D., & Owen, N. (2008). Obesity as a barrier to physical activity.
Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 24, 331–333. http://
dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-842X.2000.tb01579.x.

Belling, L. R. (1992). The relationship between social physique anxiety and physical
activity. Unpublished master's thesis, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Ersner-Hershfield, H., Bailenson, J. N., & Carstensen, L.L. (2008). Feeling more
connected to your future self: Using immersive virtual reality to increase retirement
saving. Paper presented at the Association for Psychological Science Annual
Convention, Chicago, IL.

Fox, J., & Bailenson, J. N. (2009). Virtual self-modeling: The effect of vicarious
reinforcement and identification on exercise behaviors. Media Psychology, 12,
1–25. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15213260802669474.

Song, H et al (2014) Virtual vs. real body in exergames: Reducing social physique anxiety
in exercise experiences. The journal of Computers in Human Behaviour. July 2014. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2014.03.059

Yee, N., & Bailenson, J. (2007). The proteus effect: The effect of transformed self-
representation on behavior. Human Communication Research, 33, 271–290.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2007.00299.x.

Yee, N., Bailenson, J. N., & Ducheneaut, N. (2009). The proteus effect: Implications of
transformed digital self-representation on online and offline behavior.
Communication Research, 36, 285–312. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0093650

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Children's emotional problems associated with TV, Video and other media

Children's emotional problems associated with TV, Video and other media

The number do small children under five who have increasing exposure to audio visual media, such as TV, video, tablets and the like is growing. There also appears to be a growing trend for such media to be used as pasifers in as much as children end up watching TV whilst they are eating to keep them busy/quiet, as well as in the evening. In many households stories at bed time are via video and similar media instead of being read a book by a parent.

There is growing evidence about the harm these practices are having on the development of children.

There is a growing body of research showing the problems early viewing of media is having on children. For example a series of research studies have shown that exposure to television (TV), videos and similar media before 3 years of age is associated with later problems with language development, cognition and thinking, attention spans and attention deficit disorders, executive functioning such including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, planning, the execution of tasks and also later school achievement. The problem early years media exposure is considered to be so important that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children under the age of 2 should not have any access to media.

A new study published in Pediatrics this week adds to weight of this body of evidence by demonstrating that early years exposure to media is also linked to emotional problems for children, particularly with their ability to regulate their own emotions. The study by researchers from the Department of Pediatrics, Boston Medical Center, and the Seattle Children's Research Institute, University of Washington, looked at the outcomes for 7450 children aged between 9 months and 2 years old. They found that on average two year olds are watching 2.3 hours of media a day and as a result of this study they defined excessive media watching as 2 hours or more a day.

The researchers looked at a whole raft of factors to explain poor emotion regulation abilities in the infants and toddlers including wether a parent smoked, the marital status of the parent(s) single, married, divorced, employment status, number of siblings etc. However the one consistent finding they had for poor emotion regulation ability was media exposure. Even a mild increase of just 10-15 minutes extra a day had an impact on the ability of the infant to deal with their own emotions.

Now at the moment it is not clear why this is the case nor exactly what long term effect this is having, but watching TV and video certainly is having a significant negative effect on a child's ability to regulate their own emotions. We do know that the habits formed at these early ages can often last a lifetime and the habit of passive media watching and low levels of emotion regulation ability are habits to avoid.

Reference

Radesky, J.S. Et al (2014) Infant Self-Regulation and Early Childhood Media Exposure. Pediatrics April 2014. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2013-2367

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This week's Emotional Resilience Podcast.

This week's Emotional Resilience Podcast.

 

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Sleep and anti anxiety drugs increase your risk of dying - new study

Sleep and anti anxiety drugs increase your risk of dying - new study

A study of the effects of anti-anxiety and sleeping drugs published in the British medical Journal by researchers from the universities of Warwick, Keele, and two health trusts in the UK earlier this month have alarmed the health profession with results which are worrying to say the least.

Drugs to help people sleep and deal with anxiety are prescribed widely around the world, and are relied on by many on a regular basis. This collection of drugs, known as psychotropic medicines have already been the subject of a series of studies that have shown that they are addictive. However this study, has shown a direct link between these drugs and increase risk of early death.

The study looked at the death or mortality rates of people prescribed either anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) or hypnotic (sleep) and a control group who were not taking any prescribed medicines. Overall the records of 34,727 patients taking one of these drugs were compared to the records of 69,418 patients not taking them over a 7 and a half year period. What the researchers found was that there were 4% more deaths in the psychotropic drug taking group than in the control group over a 7 year period. The study also found that the more of these types of drugs you take the greater the risk of death becomes.

There are other issues with this collection of drugs. Studies have found that people taking these drugs are at 6 times the risk of hospitalisation due to car accidents, and also have increased risk of stroke, heart problems, birth defects, suicide and cancer.

Another issue from my perspective is that these drugs hide rather than deal with the underlying problem. Anxiety and sleep issues are largely cognitive or psychological issues which can successfully be dealt with as such, rather than reaching for what is turning out to be a quick fix. A fix that doesn't really solve the problem on a long term basis and as these studies are showing, can be dangerous.

Reference

Weich. S., (2014) Effect of anxiolytic and hypnotic drug prescriptions on mortality hazards: retrospective cohort study. BMJ 2014; 348 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g1996 

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How to deal with bad memories

How to deal with bad memories

What happens when you find yourself thinking about a bad memory? It could be a sad memory of the death of someone close or something embarrassing like making a fool of yourself in front of other people for example. How do you end up feeling?

Quite often these types of bad memories can just arrive out of the blue and the frequently show up when we are feeling down or anxious.

A team of researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois have been researching a series of strategies for dealing with such bad memories. The findings of the study, published yesterday in a journal paper reveal a strategy that makes a significant difference to the emotional effect of such memories, and can really reduce the negative emotion associated with such memories.

These memories, known as episodic memories are common and everyone has them. An episodic memory is a memory trace which is laid down in the brain which includes the associated feelings present at that time. So when we come back to the memory we also tend to get the feeling present at the time the incident was occurring. The interesting thing about episodic memories is that a lot of other information also gets encoded, especially during significant emotional events like a funeral or a wedding for example. Information like the weather, what people were saying, who was there etc.

Police use this effect in a process called cognitive interviewing, to get more detailed pictures of what happened during high emotion events like accidents, robberies and the like. As these memories are strung together using an emotional thread, it is possible to use the emotion and the cognitive linking to get the detail back out from such an incident.

In the study, participants were asked to share their most emotional negative and positive memories, such as the birth of a child, winning an award, or failing an exam, for example. A number of weeks later the subjects were given cues that would trigger those memories whilst they were in an MRI scanner, to see what was happening in their brains as they recalled the memories and put a series of strategies into effect to reduce the negative impact of this memories.

Before each memory cue, the participants were asked to remember each event by focusing on either the emotion surrounding the event or the context. For example, if the cue triggered a memory of a close friend's funeral, thinking about the emotional context could consist of remembering your grief during the event. If you were asked to remember contextual elements, you might instead remember what outfit you wore or what you ate that day.

What the researchers found was that focussing on the context of the memories, rather than the emotional element had a significant effect to both reduce the impact of bad memories but also improve and enhance positive memories.

"One thing we found is that when participants were focused on the context of the event, brain regions involved in basic emotion processing were working together with emotion control regions in order to, in the end, reduce the emotional impact of these memories." explained Ekaterina Denkova the lead author of the paper.

So if you find yourself, like many of us do, stuck in a bad memory, focus on the context, what were people wearing, what was the weather like, or the decor of the room, the temperature etc.

And if you have treasured memories doing the same will give you greater pleasure.

I have an Exam Nerves Class running here in Oxford on the 10th May 2014. There are a few seats left. Click herehttp://www.fearcourse.com/Exams.html

Reference

Denkova, E., Dolcos, S. & Dolcos, F. (2014) Neural Correlates of 'Distracting' from Emotion during Autobiographical Recollection. Journal of Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. 9 (4) doi:10.1093/scan/nsu039

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Emotion regulation: When acceptance can cause problems

Emotion regulation: When acceptance can cause problems

Acceptance is part of the culture of mindfulness, aspects of which are often used successfully deal with conditions such as anxiety and depression. Certainly there is evidence to show that just accepting things as they are can be beneficial - but not always.

An interesting series of studies looking at the difference between eastern asian and western cultures in terms of their general ability to regulate their own emotions are coming up with some interesting and counter-intuitive results.

It has been found that people from more predominantly eastern cultures have greater difficulty with both labelling and regulating or changing their emotions than people from western cultures. An intriguing set of explanations has arisen for this state of affairs. I covered one of them in my last post. Briefly this explains this phenomenon in terms of the hedonic or the importance of the pleasure and happiness of the individual in the west and primacy of duty, loyalty and the group or family in the east. The principle here is that people in the west strive for individuals happiness and are therefore much more attuned recognising personal emotional states and fixing them if they are negative. Even the idea of a negative emotion is a western construction.
This explanation is growing in credibility at there moment but it is not the only explanation.

Another explanation I find fascinating is that acceptance is much more a feature of cultures in the east. The simple side of this explanation is that people from the east are much less likely to challenge their own feelings as acceptance rather than challenge of the status quo is a cultural norm. In the west the opposite is true. The 'we are never happy' syndrome as it has been called, means that westerners will readily challenge each other and therefore their own internal states as well. This suggests that change is much more likely to be driven from a challenge perspective rather than an acceptance perspective.

A deeper explanation is that it is not just a general acceptance that features so much here. In the east an acceptance of contradiction and in particular psychological contradiction is the norm. What I mean by this is that an individual who can accept psychological contradiction is much more likely to accept and therefore live with happiness and sadness. Confidence and anxiety. This comes from the eastern understanding of the duality of all things or Yin and Yang. There is in everything both light and dark, strength and weakness, good and bad etc. Therefore there is no negative emotion, rather there is negative and positive in every emotion.

In the west there is much more of a drive for certainty. One or the other. Westerners are much more likely ascribe a single attribute to something than allow a duality to exist. this is a negative or a positive emotion. The idea that happiness (or freedom) for example could be a negative is a rare position to take in the west.

The philosophy of duality is based on three principles:

1. The principle of contradiction - Two opposing positions can easily be true. You don't need to decide which one is right or true, they can be both true. Happiness can be both a positive and a negative at the same time.
2. The principle of change - The universe is in a constant state of flux and change. Change is happening all the time. Everything is changing from second to second. You just need to notice it.
3. The principle of holism - everything is connected and interrelated. Therefore acceptance = balance and vice versa.

In the west by contrast, there tends to be right or wrong, a drive for stability and certainty and linear thinking. In moments of contradiction there is a drive to resolve incongruities rather than accept them. Several decades of research have shown that Westerners experience cognitive dissonance or confusion and discomfort when their values, preferences, and actions are incongruent or not aligned.

Add to these the two perspectives on life that is the difference between individualism, the drive for pleasure and freedom on the one hand and selfless devotion to duty and the group or family on the other we find a culture (east) which accepts ambiguity, change and uncertainty and a culture (west) which tries to resolve it.

It would appear that in terms of the motivation to be more ready to recognise when things 'aren't right' for the individual and then have the drive to change things and to put them 'right', a lower tolerance for ambiguity helps! Somewhat counter intuitive.

References

Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stan- ford University Press.

Lewin, K. (1935). Dynamic theory of personality. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lewin, K. (1951). Field theory in social science. New York: Harper.

Peng, K., Ames, D., & Knowles, E. (2001). Culture, theory and human
inference: Perspectives from three traditions. In D. Matsumoto (Ed.), The handbook of culture and psychology. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Peng, K., & Nisbett, R. (1999). Culture, dialectics, and reasoning about contradiction. American Psychologist, 54, 741-754.

Spencer-Rodgers, J., et al (2004) Dialectical Self-Esteem and East-West Differences in Psychological Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology bulletin. Vol. 30 No. 11, November 2004 1416-1432 DOI: 10.1177/0146167204264243

Thompson, M., Zanna, M., & Griffin, D. (1995). Let's not be indifferent about (attitudinal) ambivalence. In R. Petty & J. Krosnick (Eds.), Attitude strength: Antecedents and consequences (pp. 361-386). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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This week's podcast

This week's podcast

Episode 4 of my 'Calm, composed and confident' podcast is now available from iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/calm-composed-confident/id847626776?mt=2

or

Podbean http://fearcourse.podbean.com/2014/04/13/calm-composed-and-confident-episode-4/

Enjoy.

Dave

 

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How our beliefs alter our ability to change our emotions

How our beliefs alter our ability to change our emotions

Following on from the last post "Why we make ourselves feel worse" where I looked at why we make our feelings worse or up-regulate our negative feelings, today I am going to look at some recent evidence to show that our cultural beliefs change our ability to change (up and down regulate) our emotions.

It is widely accepted that people from the east have a different sets of beliefs or logic systems than those in the west. This makes comparisons of such cultures an easy target for researchers, especially given that there are enormous amounts of research data about those differences. The research not only chronicles the logic/belief system or dialectical differences between east and west but has also found that there are significant emotional differences. For example people from east asian cultures tend to report lower levels of self-esteem than people in the west. A whole raft of research has show that Japanese, Chinese, and Koreans report lower life satisfaction, more negative affect (e.g., guilt and shame), and greater anxiety, depression, and pessimism than do western cultural groups. Judgments of happiness and well-being are also lower among individuals in many East Asian countries than in Western nations. Likewise, within various multicultural societies, such as the UK and the US, East Asian minority groups report lower self-esteem, poorer life satisfaction, and greater anxiety and depression than do caucasians and other racial/ethnic groups.

Part of this difference at least is put down to the more collectivistic view of the east where the unity of the group is seen to be more important than any one individual. This situation is almost the opposite in the west, where individual freedom is more important than loyalty to any particular group. Not only that but in the west positive self-regard is a very strong part of the culture, making it highly valued, and one of the aims of many family systems in the home, work and educational systems.

Given the primacy of being happy and of pleasure in the west or what is known as hedonic focus and the primacy of duty, selflessness, service and unity in the east, it is may not be surprising that these broadly different cultures place different levels of importance and therefore expertise in regulating emotions.

A study published this week found that easterners are less motivated to engage in hedonic emotion regulation that westerners. In other words people in the west are much more likely to engage in up-regulation (boosting) of positive emotion and down-regulation (reduction) of negative emotion. Indeed there is evidence that easterners are just much less likely to engage in emotion regulation at all compared to their western counterparts.

The study also found that westerners tend to be able to reduce negative emotions far quicker than easterners and this isn't just about practice. The study found that the main factor are the beliefs of the individual. If your set of beliefs include the fact that you matter less than the group, that emotions have little importance compared to thought, you are much less likely to engage in or understand (at an emotional level) the emotions you are having, how they are connected, how they differ, their associations etc. (emotional literacy) than if you live in a world with beliefs about the importance of being happy for example.

However the story doesn't end there. Our ability to regulate our emotions also appear to be connected to our cultural beliefs about ambiguity and uncertainty, which I will explore in my next blog. The outcomes of which may surprise you, it did me.

There is very strong evidence that our ability to cope and deal with our emotions goes a lot deeper than cultural beliefs. Personal beliefs have been shown to make an impact too. i will look at this in later blogs. 

For a free course in understanding your fears and anxiety click here.

References

Crocker, J., Major, B., & Steele, C. (1998). Social stigma. In D. Gilbert & S. Fiske (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 504- 553). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Diener, E., & Diener, M. (1995). Cross-cultural correlates of life satis- faction and self-esteem. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 653-663.

Diener, E., Suh, E., Smith, H., & Shao, L. (1995). National differences in reported subjective well-being: Why do they occur? Social Indica- tors Research, 34, 7-32.
Heine, S., & Lehman, D. (1997a). The cultural construction of self- enhancement: An examination of group-serving biases. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1268-1283.

Kitayama, S., Markus, H., & Kurokawa, M. (2000). Culture, emotion, and well-being: Good feelings in Japan and the United States. Cog- nition and Emotion, 14, 93-124.

Kitayama, S., Markus, H., Matsumoto, H., & Norasakkunkit, V. (1997). Individual and collective processes in the construction of the self: Self-enhancement in the United States and self-criticism in Japan. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1245-1267.

Lee, Y., & Seligman, M. E. (1997). Are Americans more optimistic than Chinese? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 32-40.

Spencer-Rodgers, J., et al (2004) Dialectical Self-Esteem and East-West Differences in Psychological Well-Being. Personality and Social Psychology bulletin. Vol. 30 No. 11, November 2004 1416-1432 DOI: 10.1177/0146167204264243

Miyamoto, Y., Ma, X., & Petermann, A. G. (2014) Cultural differences in hedonic emotion regulation after a negative event. Emotion, Apr 7 , 2014, doi: 10.1037/a0036257

 

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Why we make ourselves feel worse.

Why we make ourselves feel worse.

It is usually expected that as human beings we all want to feel positive and would prefer to avoid negative feelings. There is evidence to show that in the west at least, people do tend to prefer to up-regulate positive emotions, and we also tend to do things that down-regulate negative emotions. The most common ways of doing this tend to be by the use of devices such as listening to music that makes us happy, doing nice things, being with friends, having treats, having a bath, meditation, relaxing etc to create and hold onto positive feelings and negate negative feelings. This is called hedonic emotion regulation or doing things to increase pleasure and reduce negative emotions. It makes sense and why wouldn't anyone want to do this?

Well as it turns out there are times when we actually down-regulate or dampen positive emotions and up-regulate or increase our negative emotions. for example researchers have found that people with low self-esteem tend to find themselves worrying about being too positive or happy. This can often be accompanied by thoughts such as, 'if I get too happy someone will ruin it all and i'll be even worse off'.

It is often the same when we are feeling down. We can also down-regulate emotions out of feelings of guilt, like finding yourself laughing whilst grieving for example or dampening positive emotions around someone who is depressed or grieving.
It is common for therapeutic clients to up-regulate negative emotions when they are with their therapist. I have watched clients park their car, cross the road and enter the building and wait in reception looking fine, until they see me, then suddenly drop their shoulders and start crying. Another scenario is when playing the social game 'ain't it awful' This is where two or more people do the 'did you see the news last night about x or y disaster - ain't it awful' and actively increase the negative feelings whilst engaging in this type of conversation and then snapping out of it as they walk away.

People who are trying to prove a point about how badly they have been treated frequently up-regulate the negative emotions in front of the people they blame for their misfortune. Any parent of a teenager will recognise that one.

It has also been discovered that we often down-regulate or dampen positive emotions when we are about to meet and interact with strangers, especially in group situations. So if you enter a meeting room with people you don't know too well you are quite likely to reduce 'overly' positive emotions before you do so. We also tend to reduce positive emotions just before we have to engage in any confrontational engagement.

In my next post I will have a look at how cultural differences in our beliefs about emotion significantly alters the way we go about regulating or changing our feelings and also some recent surprising findings about which cultures find it harder to learn how to regulate or change things like anxiety or low feelings.

 

 


References

Gross, J. (1998). The emerging field of emotion regulation: An integrative review. Review of General Psychology, 2, 271-299.

Parrott, W. (1993). Beyond hedonism: Motives for inhibiting good moods and for maintaining bad moods. In D. Wegner (Ed.), Handbook of mental control (pp. 278-305). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Tamir, M. (2009). What do people want to feel and why?: Pleasure and utility in emotion regulation. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 18, 101-105.

Wood, J., Heimpel, S., & Michela, J. (2003). Savoring versus dampening: Self-esteem differences in regulating positive affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 566-580.

 

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The happiness fallacy and the wisdom of sitting in it.

The happiness fallacy and the wisdom of sitting in it.

In the last few weeks I have been a bit 'flat'. Not happy but not depressed or anxious, just flat and down. The kind of feeling that things aren't going the way I want them too, that I'm not getting traction on the projects I am working on. This has been accompanied by strong sense of frustration and I have been questioning my direction and what I am doing. I suppose I would describe it as a downer or feeling low.


I'm normally a pretty high energy kind of person, motivated, productive and active in my field so the change has been quite marked. The interesting thing has been the reaction of my family, friends and colleagues. Many of them have, out of love and good intention, focussed on getting me 'out of it'. There have been a legion offers of cakes, trips out, motivational talks, sympathy, and a myriad other ways to help. I learned sometime ago not to run from these emotions, not to try to artificially fix them. When I have explained that 'it's ok i just need to sit in it for a while' most, who know me smile and realise I don't need to be fixed. For some others there is a shake of the head and bemusement as to why I wouldn't want to be pulled out of the trough I am in. Others who know me less well others ignore my "it's ok, I will be ok, sometimes you just need to be where you are' and switch into fixing it mode with a vengeance despite my protestations.

As I am frequently explaining, emotional resilience is not the absence of feeling, as is a common misperception, it is almost the opposite. It is the ability to feel, recognise those feelings and bounce back. There is another aspect to emotional resilience however and that is not being afraid of our emotions. Having the ability to recognise and observe the emotion without feeling the need to run away from the emotion or to fix it.

The thing about a trough is that you must have had a crest before it and there will inevitably be a another crest on it's way. Such cycles are not just a part of life but they have a reason for being. I am in an emotional trough because of patterns of thought which, if I allow them to be and observe, point to the fact that things aren't quite going as I wish. Listening to that message is important as it usually heralds change. Sitting in it and observing it means that I am starting to see what are called the emergent properties or patterns in the reality I am currently in. These emergent properties are showing me the way to the next change. I am starting to see my 'where next'.

There is a happiness fallacy that we need to be happy all the time and downers or troughs are to be avoided at all costs. As long as the downer doesn't turn into negative rumination about the emotion which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and become habituated as depression, as long as you just sit in it and observe, a process known as decentering, you turn the situation into a positive and productive episode. In years gone by, I would have pulled myself out of it or gone into a depressive episode.

I am already starting to see the patterns or the emergent properties in this trough. It is just an emotion, nothing to run from or avoid. The emotion is there for a reason and if you watch carefully, that reason or reasons will become apparent, leading the way to new ways of doing things, new things to do and new ways to be. It's called learning and growth. So I am very happy to be down!

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This Weeks Fear Course Podcast

This Weeks Fear Course Podcast

You can find a round up of articles and blogs on this weeks podcast;

 

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You think too much....

You think too much....

One of the things that appears to separate us from the rest of the animal kingdom is our ability to know we are thinking, what is known as meta-cognition.

Connected to this meta-cognitive ability is our capacity for reflecting on things that have happened. This ability to remember at will, and in effect go over things again, lie at the heart of one of our learning systems. Because we can go back and 're-live' a situation, we can also come to conclusions about an event and then plan what to do the next time something like this event occurs again. So image you have just had a conversation with the boss about a job he or she gave you and the boss got angry during the conversation. Under normal circumstances when we are well balanced and have things in perspective we should be able to go over the events again and work out what went wrong, even to the extent to realising that maybe we should have handled things a bit differently and it's not surprising the boss got angry, or what ever conclusion we come to.

This ability to reflect on things is a vital part of our reflexive learning processes (exploring the relationships between cause and effect). If you reflect, come to a conclusion and make a plan, and maybe even put it into action, you have engaged in learning.

This is normal and you will move on. What can occur for many people however is that they get stuck in a cycle between reflecting on what happened, or worse still on what hasn't but could happen (a projection) and coming to a conclusion. So the individual goes from reflection, to conclusion to reflection and so on, without breaking out of the reflective process and never reaching a final conclusion. This can occur in some individuals many many times where they find it hard to let go of the reflective phase of the process. This rumination particularly occurs when there are negative emotions present in the scenario and is the hallmark of depression and episodes of anxiety.

So given the situation above, the individual would keep coming back to the conversation with the boss in their head and start to feel the uncomfortable feelings of embarrassment, anger, anxiety or whatever. The emotion then blocks the progression of thinking (to conclusion) and the individual goes back to reflection and so starts another (vicious) cycle of reflection or rumination.

The problem with rumination is that every cycle of reflection can intensify the negative emotion and make the next cycle of reflection even more likely and emotionally worse.
These ruminative traps are more likely when we are feeling anxious, depressed or even stressed. OCD is also based on this process, but has become more of a habit or trait for the individual. Rumination keeps us stuck in the emotion.

Like the conclusion of my blog yesterday, going and doing/focussing on something else is the way out of this cycle, and getting some help from stress, depression or anxiety of course.

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