Tag: psychology

Spending time in nature reduces stress

ITHACA, N.Y. – New research from an interdisciplinary Cornell team has found that as little as 10 minutes in a natural setting can help college students feel happier and lessen the effects of both physical and mental stress.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Pexels.com

The research, published Jan. 14 in Frontiers in Psychology, is part of a larger examination of “nature therapy” and aims to provide an easily-achievable dosage that physicians can prescribe as a preventive measure against high levels of stress, anxiety, depression and other mental health issues college students face.

“It doesn’t take much time for the positive benefits to kick in — we’re talking 10 minutes outside in a space with nature,” said lead author Gen Meredith, associate director of the Master of Public Health Program and lecturer at the College of Veterinary Medicine. “We firmly believe that every student, no matter what subject or how high their workload, has that much discretionary time each day, or at least a few times per week.”

Meredith and her co-authors reviewed studies that examined the effects of nature on people of college age (no younger than 15, no older than 30) to discover how much time students should be spending outside and what they should be doing while they’re there. They found that 10-50 minutes in natural spaces was the most effective to improve mood, focus and physiological markers like blood pressure and heart rate.

“It’s not that there’s a decline after 50 minutes, but rather that the physiological and self-reported psychological benefits tend to plateau after that,” said co-author Donald Rakow, associate professor in the School of Integrative Plant Science.

To enjoy the positive effects of being outside, students need only to be sitting or walking, the two primary activities the researchers examined in an effort to provide accessible recommendations.

“We wanted to keep this access to nature as simple and achievable as possible,” says Rakow. “While there is a lot of literature on longer outdoor programs, we wanted to quantify doses in minutes, not days.”

For Cornell students, there are a multitude of options for escaping into nature. For urban universities, research suggests that adding green elements to a built space can produce the same results. It is the time spent in nature, not necessarily nature itself, that’s beneficial.

“This is an opportunity to challenge our thinking around what nature can be,” says Meredith. “It is really all around us: trees, a planter with flowers, a grassy quad or a wooded area.”

The impetus for this work is a movement toward prescribing time in nature as a way to prevent or improve stress and anxiety, while also supporting physical and mental health outcomes. The researchers wanted to consider what “dose” would need to be prescribed to college-age students to show an effect. They are hoping that when it’s applied at universities, it becomes part of a student’s routine and is consumed in regular doses, like a pill.

“Prescribing a dose can legitimize the physician’s recommendation and give a tangible goal” says Meredith. “It’s different than just saying: ‘Go outside.’ There is something specific that a student can aim for.”

Meredith and Rakow’s co-authors include Erin Eldermire, head librarian at the Flower-Sprecher Veterinary Library; Cecelia Madsen ’12, M.P.H. ’19; Steven Shelley, M.P.H. ’19, epidemiologist at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention; and Naomi Sachs, assistant professor at the University of Maryland.

Borderline Personality Disorder Potentially at Higher Risk for Heart Attacks

Mental health professionals should recommend screening patients for cardiovascular risks

Middle-aged adults who show symptoms of borderline personality disorder may be at greater risk for a heart attack, as they show physical signs of worsening cardiovascular health more than other adults, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Although borderline personality disorder is well studied for its relationship to psychological and social impairments, recent research has suggested it may also contribute to physical health risks,” said Whitney Ringwald MSW, MS, of the University of Pittsburgh and lead author of the study. “Our study suggests that the effects of this disorder on heart health are large enough that clinicians treating patients should recommend monitoring their cardiovascular health.”

The study was published in Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment.

Borderline personality disorder is characterized by intense mood swings, impulsive behaviors, and extreme emotional reactions. Their inability to manage emotions often makes it hard for people with borderline personality disorder to finish school, keep a job, or maintain stable, healthy relationships. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1.4% of adults have BPD, but that number does not include those with less severe symptoms, who nevertheless may experience clinically significant impairments, said Aidan Wright, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh and another author of the study.

“It can be challenging to treat BPD because you are seeking to change a person’s longstanding patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that are very well ingrained,” he said. “There are several evidence-based treatment options that can be helpful, so there are many reasons to be optimistic, but treatment may take a long time.”

The researchers analyzed health data from 1,295 participants in the University of Pittsburgh Adult Health and Behavior Project. This is a registry of behavioral and biological measurements from non-Hispanic white and African American adults, 30 to 50 years old, recruited between 2001 and 2005 in southwestern Pennsylvania. The researchers looked at self-reported basic personality traits, as well as those reported by up to two of the participants’ friends or family members, and self-reported symptoms of depression. By combining several physical health measurements, including blood pressure, body mass index and the levels of insulin, glucose, cholesterol and other compounds in the blood after a 12-hour fast, the researchers established a relative cardiovascular risk score for each participant.

They found a significant association between borderline personality traits and increased cardiovascular risk. The researchers also looked at the potential role of depression, as people with BPD are also often depressed. While borderline personality traits and depression were both significantly associated with cardiovascular risk the effect of borderline traits was independent of depression symptoms.

“We were surprised by the strength of the effect and we found it particularly interesting that our measure of borderline personality pathology had a larger effect, and a unique effect, above and beyond depression in predicting heart disease.” said Wright.  “There is a large focus on depression in physical health, and these findings suggest there should be an increased focus on personality traits, too.”

The researchers said their findings have important implications for primary care doctors and mental health professionals who treat patients with BPD.

“Mental health practitioners may want to screen for cardiovascular risk in their patients with BPD, ” said Wright. “When discussing the implications of a personality disorder diagnosis with patients, practitioners may want to emphasize the link with negative health outcomes and possibly suggest exercise and lifestyle changes if indicated. Primary care physicians should attend to personality as a risk factor when monitoring patients for long-term health as well.”

Article: “Borderline Personality Disorder Traits Associate with Midlife Cardiometabolic Risk,” by Whitney R. Ringwald, MSW, MS, Aidan G.C. Wright, PhD,  Stephen B. Manuck, PhD, University of Pittsburgh; and Taylor A. Barber, BS, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment, published online Oct. 28, 2019.

Letter to my best friend

I am so proud of you

By Giusi Nigro

I know you since you were a child, I saw you getting bigger and I noticed the sadness in your look, the tearing eyes of who remembers things you would want to forget. They pulled your hair and they forced, you to do something that you, incredulous, struggled to understand, in that dark corner, where traces of blood, cleared by the rain, are no longer there even if you still see them and that rip you inside when you re-think about the scene.

During the night, you do not dream anymore to be grabbed with force and troughed on the ground, and being dominated by two monsters, you dream now to be strong and combatant: one night you shoot, armed with shot gun, the following night you cut them with a kitchen knife and yet you stab or you tie them with a rope. During the night, in your loneliness, you are strong, not impotent like that evening, you announce victory, then you wake up in tears and the reality vehemently slams just in front of you impudently. Another shower delete, like to wash from your body that smell, those dirty hands which infiltrate between the underwear, and you leave the water running on the stolen innocence.  

Many years of “why me?”, and why you? You will never find an answer, you will never understand, there is no why, it was your turn, everything just to dominate, like the savage instinct of somebody without breaks in front of the weak, like the temporary victory which gives you the title of a champion for a moment, like the forever losers which try to get even and act in group to recharge, to feel better, those sick in their head collecting trophies, fake trophies, imaginary, earned only due to the physics’ strength against a fragile person, and weaker. You were not the target but your skirt. The suffered humiliation, and the silence, have been like a boulder for you, carrying it on your shoulders for many years. The judgement of people who did not know.

Those severe accusations which yet resound: “she was easy!” told by who was not there but wanted to believe to the story of the trophy. The popular judgement of the small town there to protect the predators and strike the victim. You were young and innocent, afraid, defenseless, you could not know you were going to regret the silence, that if you had a guide, you could have sent them to prison. You believed the treats: “if you speak, you are dead! “and you were dead anyway.   Living without existing, feeling invisible and less than nothing, believing to be wrong, abandoning yourself to cheap thoughts, cowardly take the blame: “I deserve it, I trusted the wrong people”, I do not deserve anything good, I choose always the wrong because I am wrong, refusing the good things. No, you are not wrong, you needed that therapist to make you understand. You or somebody else did not make difference to them.

Do not be ashamed, do not let them win, they have to be ashamed of their committed crime, those fouls ex-cons. You did not report them, not to be an accomplice, but for fear, for irresponsibility, because nobody teaches to a young girl in her early teens how to deal with these cases. We are thought to be ashamed, to the mocking of the truth, in a small town where it is possible to perpetrate violence and they all will be from the side of the strong, even if the strong is not in the right side.   You cannot erase the past, I know it, and it will be your burden forever, but you can make this weight you carry around, as a good luck holder. Look at your inner side, you are not like them, you are a lot of more, you are sensitive, deep, and you are what they would like to be, you know how to dance, to dance under the rain, to look at the stars and shine with them, you know how to look at the horizon and create more joint lines, you can inspire. Look at them and ask yourself: “What are they good at? Who do they hang with?”.

You are the living success that you can heal from the pain. Look at your eyes now, shining, look at them inside, they are the reflection of a balance you asked from so long, they scream loud that the past is behind and need to move forward, they sum the price you paid, overpaid, but paid off. Now it is your turn to live, do it, do not hesitate, stand up to change everything you do not like it, stay far from pointless people, laugh! Remember when you were laughing to void to cry? My dear friend, it will not be the same anymore, I see the light in your eyes, the strength of a healed after a terminal disease, the grit of a fighter winning against a bear. Their witch laugh which still echoed in your ears, is now your smile of happiness, calm, quiet, understanding that the torment is not a drug to be addicted of, but it is a victory against the pain, it is strength, it is putting the soul. The rest do not matter. He who laughs last laughs best!  

Your friend,

Giusi Nigro

A collective narcissism

Credit: (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)

“Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You!”

As the United States celebrates its founding on July 4, new research on “collective narcissism” suggests many Americans have hugely exaggerated notions about how much their home states helped to write the nation’s narrative.

New research on collective narcissism suggests that residents of many American states, including Texas, have an inflated sense of their home state’s role in U.S. history.

newswise-fullscreen Sorry Virginia, U.S. History Isn’t All About You

Heat map of residents’ ratings of their state’s contributions to U.S. history. Darker colors and higher percentages represent a larger estimated contribution to U.S.

“Our study shows a massive narcissistic bias in the way that people from the United States remember the contributions of their home states to U.S. history,” said Henry L. “Roddy” Roediger, professor of psychological and brain sciences in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis and senior author of the study.

The study, published June 24 in the journal Psychological Science, is based on a national survey of nearly 4,000 U.S residents, including about 50-60 respondents from each of the nation’s 50 states.

Asked to estimate their home state’s contribution to U.S. history, participants routinely gave their home state higher scores than those provided by non-residents of the state.

“As we originally hypothesized, the original 13 colonies, Texas and California showed high levels of narcissism, but there were also some surprises,” said Adam Putnam, the study’s first author and assistant professor of psychology at Furman University in South Carolina. “For example, people from Kansas and Wyoming thought much more of their state than nonresidents.”

Collective narcissism — a phenomenon in which individuals show excessively high regard for their own group — has been studied extensively in smaller social circles, such as workplaces and communities. Psychologists have explored the idea that people over-claim responsibility for shared tasks for a long time, but this study is among the first to research its effects among huge virtual groups of loosely connected individuals scattered across entire states.

While it is difficult for anyone to accurately estimate an individual state’s contribution to the nation’s history, it is mathematically reasonable to expect the sum total of individual state contributions to add up to a figure in the vicinity of 100 percent.

Instead, the average percentage contributions estimated by residents of each state in this study added up to a staggering 907 percent, more than nine times higher than logic suggests.

Roediger grew up in Virginia and was not surprised that his home state was on the high end of the continuum, claiming responsibility for 41 percent of the nation’s history.

“We would study U.S. history one year, then Virginia history the next. Many of the events are the same: Jamestown, the Revolution, four of the first five presidents being from Virginia, all the Civil War battles,” he recalls.

When people in other states were asked about Virginia’s percentage contribution to U.S. history, they also gave a high number: 24 percent.

In an effort to see if state narcissism could be reduced by exposure to the realities of U.S. history, researchers divided the sample into two groups, requiring half to take a quiz designed to remind them of the true breadth of U.S. history before they answered the relevant question. The other half answered the question first, before they took the quiz. However, placement of the question about how much the person’s state contributed did not matter. The average across the 50 states was 18.1 percent whether the question was posed first or was placed last.

“The responses are even more amazing because we explicitly tell people in the question that there are 50 states and the total contribution of all states should equal 100 percent — even with that reminder Americans give really high responses,” Putnam said. “Being reminded about the scope of U.S. history before making the estimate doesn’t seem to lower the responses.

Putnam, who earned a doctorate in psychology from Washington University in 2015, has worked with Roediger on other studies of collective narcissism, including a just-published paper that applies the same methodology to 35 nations around the globe.

That study, which found that residents of Malaysia considered themselves responsible for 39 percent of world history, has important implications for how residents of these countries view one another and interact on the world stage.

Roediger and Putnam offer several explanations for the skewed perceptions uncovered in the study of collective narcissism among residents of American states.

State of the union’s perception

Most humble states, according to the Narcissism Index:
1. Washington. Less than 1 percent
(Tie) 2. Colorado. 1 percent
Iowa
Kentucky
Mississippi
6. Arizona. 2 percent
(T) 7. Alabama. 3 percent
Maine
Texas
Utah
(T) 11. Missouri, with 6 others. 4 percent

Most immodest states:
(T) 1. Delaware, Virginia. 18 percent
3. Georgia. 15 percent
(T) 4. Kansas. 12 percent
Massachusetts
Wyoming
(T) 7. Idaho. 11 percent
Louisiana
New Jersey
(T) 10. Rhode Island, Hawaii. 10 percent

For starters, people know a lot more about their home state than other states: they study state history in school, visit museums and so on. All of this information comes to mind quickly and easily compared to information about other states (a phenomenon known as the availability heuristic).

A second factor is that social psychology research has clearly shown that people like to associate with successful groups and think of themselves as being slightly above-average on a variety of positive traits.

Finally, people might not be particularly good at making quantitative estimates about small numbers.

“The most important take away from this research is that people may appear to be egocentric or narcissistic about their own groups, but there isn’t necessarily anything malicious or evil about it — it is just the way we view the world,” Putnam said. “There is certainly concern about tribalism in today’s culture, so this project is a nice reminder to try and think about how people from different backgrounds see things.”

Bullying children with autism

Photo by Quin Stevenson

BINGHAMTON, NY – Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to experience bullying than children without ASD and this bullying gets worse with age, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

Hannah Morton, a graduate student in the clinical psychology PhD program at Binghamton University, aimed to conceptualize bullying in children with ASD in order to specifically identify different bullying and behavior types. Her research also emphasizes the need to establish better definitions of bullying behaviors.

“This research is important because it contributes to our understanding of how bullying is nuanced,” said Morton. “This variability means it is crucial to establish a definition for bullying and have standard assessments to know when and what types of bullying are occurring.”

Morton, along with Binghamton psychologists Jennifer Gillis, Richard Mattson and Raymond Romanczyk, focused this study on teachers and parents of children with ASD, and community members without an ASD child. Participants took a survey containing 80 scenarios of interactions between two school-aged children. The scenarios varied from children ages four to fifteen. Sixty-four of these scenarios contained a type of bullying behavior (i.e. physical, verbal, interpersonal and cyber). The participants were randomly presented with 16 scenarios, and were asked to rate the severity of the interaction between the two children, as well as indicate which types of bullying were present.

Results showed that a child’s increased age predicted higher bullying severity ratings. The findings also showed that bullying among older children with ASD is viewed as especially problematic by their parents, and that perceived bullying severity differed according to the type of bullying behavior (i.e., physical, verbal, interpersonal, and cyber). 

“This paper emphasizes that bullying is a really broad construct,” said Morton. “What any two people might be referring to when they use the term ‘bullying’—regardless if they are parents, teachers, researchers, etc.— likely differs, and perhaps in subtle ways.”

Morton plans to further her research on this topic by focusing specifically on the bullying behaviors that children with ASD experience compared to children without ASD.

This research was conducted through Binghamton University’s Institute for Child Development, which offers early intervention services, speech services and more to children and families in the Binghamton region. 

The paper, “Conceptualizing bullying in children with autism spectrum disorder: Using a mixed model to differentiate behavior types and identify predictors,” was published in Autism.