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.

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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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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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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Does 'venting' anger actually help? The research.

Does 'venting' anger actually help? The research.

There is a common belief that as far as emotions are concerned, it is better for us to let it all out, rather than keeping it bottled up inside. The 'better out than in' philosophy of emotion regulation pervades many areas of therapy as well as common understanding. But is it true of every emotion, and in particular is it true of anger?
The idea of 'letting it all out' goes back at least as far as the ancient greeks with what they called catharsis. Catharsis, or a cathartic release means letting it all out and is considered to be therapeutic by many people. The modern idea of catharsis comes from the Greek word katharsis, which literally translated means a cleansing or purging. According to catharsis theory, acting aggressively or even viewing aggression is an effective way to purge angry and aggressive feelings.

Many books and self-help gurus suggest that people vent their anger either as it arises or vent their anger by punching pillows or some other inanimate object to rid themselves of the emotion as well as the negative effects (stress) of the emotion. The question is, does venting really help with emotions like anger?

Brad Bushman from Iowa state university conducted a series of research studies where he looked at this very issue. He looked at 600 people (300 men and 300 women) in whom he provoked anger by getting another participant to unfairly criticise some work they had done. They finished the wholly negative evaluation of their work by saying "this is the worst (piece of work) I have ever seen"!

After reading the evaluation, the participants rated how much they wanted to perform each of 10 activities on a list. Included in this list of activities was "hitting a punching bag." Other activities were relatively passive, included playing solitaire, reading a short story, watching a comedy, and playing a computer game. Ratings were made on a 10-point scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 10 (extremely).

One third of the subjects where then allowed to punch a punch bag (and if they wanted, see a picture of the person who had criticised their work so unfairly), one third were distracted and one third did nothing.

In short the participants who were allowed to vent their anger actually became significantly angrier and more aggressive than the people who were either distracted or did nothing.

There are largely two different strategies people use when they get angry. They either turn the issue or person they are angry about over and over in their heads, thinking about it and feeling the emotions, or they distract themselves with something else. Bushman found that people who tended to ruminate or pick over the issue and think about the other person also got angrier as time went on compared to those who were given a distraction or even those who were given nothing to do.

Considering that the definition of emotional resilience is the ability to be able to bounce back to a productive emotional state as quickly as possible, rumination and venting, at least as far as anger is concerned, are not helpful strategies. You are far better distracting yourself and getting on with something else. Churning stuff over and over only makes the situation worse. 

I will talk a bit more about the effects of rumination on other emotions like anxiety and depression in my next blog.

Reference

Bushman, B.J. (2002) Does Venting Anger Feed or Extinguish the Flame? Catharsis, Rumination, Distraction, Anger, and Aggressive Responding. Pers Soc Psychol Bull June 2002 vol. 28 no. 6 724-731 doi: 10.1177/0146167202289002

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The Key to a Happy Marriage lies ... with the wife.

The Key to a Happy Marriage lies ... with the wife.

One of the factors which helps us have successful interpersonal and social relationships is the ability to regulate our own emotions. For example if someone we like does something we don't like quite often we will just gloss over the incident. The same applies, but in a slightly different way, if the boss does something we don't like, we might mutter about it but we 'bite our tongue' and get on with it. If however we have reached the end of our tether we might just let it all go and have an angry outburst. There are some obvious career limiting aspects about this last option.


In a study just published in the journal Emotion, researchers from Stanford University found that the secret to martial satisfaction lay in the ability of the couple to be able to recover effectively and quickly from conflict or "hot button" incidents. The quicker and more fully the couple are able to recover from such incidents, and not hold on to them, the greater the levels of satisfaction the couple tend feel about the relationship.

However the research goes further.

They discovered that the key to a satisfying relationship lies with the wife. If the wife is able to up-regulate positive emotions and down-regulate negative emotions (see this article for an explanation of up and down regulation) then there is a much higher chance of the relationship being happier. The researchers found that wives who calmed down quickly also tended to be able to employ constructive communication strategies. Such strategies include behaviours like clearly expressing her feelings and suggesting solutions and compromises to the problem at hand. This contrasts with destructive communication strategies, such as criticizing, blaming and holding on to hurt. Constructive communication is more likely to result in conflict resolution, thereby positively impacting marital satisfaction.

Why exactly it is the wife that holds the key to the emotional health of the relationship is open to speculation.

The point for me is that if both members of the marriage work together to actively deal with conflicts, as opposed to blaming, criticising or just avoiding the issue, both are likely to have a happier and more satisfying relationship.

It would appear, for whatever reason, a calm wife equals a calm marriage which in turn is more likely to equal a satisfying marriage. 

 

Reference

Bloch, L., Haase, C. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2014) Emotion regulation predicts marital satisfaction: More than a wives' tale. Emotion, Vol 14(1), Feb 2014, 130-144. doi: 10.1037/a0034272

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Feeling low? It could be your social media friends...or the weather... or you!

Feeling low? It could be your social media friends...or the weather... or you!

Are you having a good day? Share it! Having a bad day? Keep it to yourself!

An interesting study published last week by a team of researchers from The University of California, San Diago, Yale and Facebook have found that a phenomenon I am currently writing about in my next book, emotional contagion, or how we catch emotions from each other, is present in social networks like twitter and Facebook. 
This paper has been quite widely reported in a number of news networks in the last few days, however there are some other findings that were not reported.

The main finding you may have read about, is that if someone in your online social network expresses a negative or a positive emotion we are likely to be influenced by that emotion. So say one of your Facebook friends days she is feeling depressed today, this is quite likely to have a negative effect on the other people in her network. This is called emotional contagion. We catch other peoples emotions.

What has not been reported as widely however, when you read the actual paper, is that this effect works for both negative and positive emotions. So happy people spread happiness and miserable people spread misery. Emotional contagion is a well documented phenomenon and I am not surprised to find it happening across social networks. However another finding from this paper is a little more interesting. If a thread starts on a negative, say someone in your network posts a message that they are not happy and this feeling effects other people and messages of sympathy start to build one positive post in the thread can stop the contagion and even turn it around. The opposite was also found. If there is a positive wave of emotion being expressed between friends one negative post can often stop the positive emotions dead in their tracks. 
This then, gives us the possibility to turn around and control the wave of emotion contagion.

A third and lesser finding was a fairly direct correlation with rain and chance of negative emotions being expressed and therefore caught even in places it isn’t raining!

There was one side effect happening I noticed in the data. The study was done across 100 US cities and I also noticed that people in New York City appeared to be influenced more negatively by rain than people in almost any other city. They also tended to be more vocal about it and affected, in turn, negatively, more people! 

Oh and to end on a positive, the researchers found a trend (not significant and therefore could be due to chance) that positive emotions tend to spread further.

Have a good day. :-)

Reference:

Coviello L, Sohn Y, Kramer ADI, Marlow C, Franceschetti M, et al. (2014) Detecting Emotional Contagion in Massive Social Networks. PLoS ONE 9(3): e90315. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090315What's your social media poison? Facebook, Twitter, Pinetrest? A study published

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