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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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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