Tag: mental illness research

The running factor

Millions of runners around the world lace up they’re running shoes, spurred on by the psychological, health and social benefits that running delivers.

Photo by Jenny Hill on Unsplash

The birth of Parkrun in 2004 – now an international activity with more than 20 countries involved — is credited with a sharp rise in the popularity of running in the past decade, but with benefits like downsides.

Research paper by University of South Australia Adjunct Professor Jan de Jonge and his team reveals the price that runners (and society) pay when the sport becomes an obsession.

Prof de Jonge, based in the Netherlands at Eindhoven University of Technology and Utrecht University, surveyed 246 recreational runners aged 19 to 77 years to investigate how a person’s mental outlook (mental recovery and passion for running) affects their risk of running-related injuries.

Not surprisingly, the more “obsessively passionate” runners – where the sport fully controlled their life to the detriment of partners, friends and relatives – reported far more running-related injuries than those who were more “harmoniously passionate” and laid back in their approach to running.

The latter group, who are in full control of their running and integrate the sport into their life and other activities, reported faster mental recovery after a run and sustained fewer running-related injuries. They were more likely to heed the early warning signs of injuries and take both physical and mental breaks from running whenever necessary. 

Obsessively passionate runners disregarded the need to recover after training and failed to mentally detach from the sport, even when running became harmful. Their approach to running delivered short-term gains such as faster times but resulted in more running-related injuries. 

Age and gender played a part. The older runners were able to mentally detach and recover a lot faster after a run than those in the 20-34 age group – especially females – who were more prone to running-related injuries. 

“Most running-related injuries are sustained as a result of overtraining and overuse or failing to adequately recover, merely due to an obsessive passion for running,” Prof de Jonge says. 

“The majority of research focuses on the physical aspects of overtraining and lack of recovery time, but the mental aspects of running-related injuries have been ignored to date. 

“When running becomes obsessive, it leads to problems. It controls the person’s life at the expense of other people and activities and leads to more running-related injuries. This behaviour has also been reported in other sports, including professional dancing and cycling.” 

In the Netherlands, where the study was undertaken, running-related injuries costs the economy approximately €10 million a year (A$16 million) in medical costs, work absences and reduced productivity. Next to soccer, running is the Dutch sport with the highest number of injuries. 

While there are no comparative figures available for Australia, a study by Medibank Private lists running as the 4th most injury-prone sport in Australia after Aussie Rules, basketball and netball, with sporting injuries overall costing the economy more than $2 billion a year. 

No Empathy!

Research Links Borderline Personality Traits with Lowered Empathy

Photo by Abigail Keenan

Those with borderline personality disorder, or BPD, a mental illness marked by unstable moods, often experience trouble maintaining interpersonal relationships. New research from the University of Georgia indicates that this may have to do with lowered brain activity in regions important for empathy in individuals with borderline personality traits.

The findings were recently published in the journal Personality Disorders: Theory, Research and Treatment.

“Our results showed that people with BPD traits had reduced activity in brain regions that support empathy,” said the study’s lead author Brian Haas, an assistant professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences psychology department. “This reduced activation may suggest that people with more BPD traits have a more difficult time understanding and/or predicting how others feel, at least compared to individuals with fewer BPD traits.”

Credit: University of Georgia
Brian Haas is an assistant professor in the University of Georgia’s psychology department.

For the study, Haas recruited over 80 participants and asked them to take a questionnaire, called the Five Factor Borderline Inventory, to determine the degree to which they had various traits associated with borderline personality disorder. The researchers then used functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain activity in each of the participants. During the fMRI, participants were asked to do an empathetic processing task, which tapped into their ability to think about the emotional states of other people, while the fMRI measured their simultaneous brain activity.

In the empathetic processing task, participants would match the emotion of faces to a situation’s context. As a control, Haas and study co-author Joshua Miller also included shapes, like squares and circles, that participants would have to match from emotion of the faces to the situation.

“We found that for those with more BPD traits, these empathetic processes aren’t as easily activated,” said Miller, a psychology professor and director of the Clinical Training Program.

Haas chose to look at those who scored high on the Five Factor Borderline Inventory, instead of simply working with those previously diagnosed with the disorder. By using the inventory, Haas was able to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the relationship between empathic processing, BPD traits and high levels of neuroticism and openness, as well as lower levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness.

“Oftentimes, borderline personality disorder is considered a binary phenomenon. Either you have it or you don’t,” said Haas, who runs the Gene-Brain-Social Behavioral Lab. “But for our study, we conceptualized and measured it in a more continuous way such that individuals can vary along a continuum of no traits to very many BPD traits.”

Haas found a link between those with high borderline personality traits and a decreased use of neural activity in two parts of the brain: the temporoparietal junction and the superior temporal sulcus, two brain regions implicated to be critically important during empathic processing.

The research provides new insight into individuals susceptible to experiencing the disorder and how they process emotions.

“Borderline personality disorder is considered one of the most severe and troubling personality disorders,” Miller said. “BPD can make it difficult to have successful friendships and romantic relationships. These findings could help explain why that is.”

In the future, Haas would like to study BPD traits in a more naturalistic setting.

“In this study, we looked at participants who had a relatively high amount of BPD traits. I think it’d be great to study this situation in a real life scenario, such as having people with BPD traits read the emotional states of their partners,” he said.

An abstract of the study, “Borderline Personality Traits and Brain Activity During Emotional Perspective Taking,” is available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26168407.