It’s healthier to be sad sometimes than happy all the time

WRITTEN BY Frank T. McAndrewProfessor, Knox College

As happiness in one area of life increases, it’ll often decline in another.

Source: It’s healthier to be sad sometimes than happy all the time

In the 1990s, a psychologist named Martin Seligman led the positive psychology movement, which placed the study of human happiness squarely at the center of psychology research and theory. It continued a trend that began in the 1960s with humanistic and existential psychology, which emphasized the importance of reaching one’s innate potential and creating meaning in one’s life, respectively.

Since then, thousands of studies and hundreds of books have been published with the goal of increasing well-being and helping people lead more satisfying lives.

So why aren’t we happier? Why have self-reported measures of happiness stayed stagnant for over 40 years?

Perversely, such efforts to improve happiness could be a futile attempt to swim against the tide, as we may actually be programmed to be dissatisfied most of the time.

You can’t have it all

Part of the problem is that happiness isn’t just one thing.

Jennifer Hecht is a philosopher who studies the history of happiness. In her book The Happiness Myth, Hecht proposes that we all experience different types of happiness, but these aren’t necessarily complementary. Some types of happiness may even conflict with one another. In other words, having too much of one type of happiness may undermine our ability to have enough of the others—so it’s impossible for us to simultaneously have all types of happiness in great quantities.

For example, a satisfying life built on a successful career and a good marriage is something that unfolds over a long period of time. It takes a lot of work, and it often requires avoiding hedonistic pleasures like partying or going on spur-of-the-moment trips. It also means you can’t while away too much of your time spending one pleasant lazy day after another in the company of good friends.

On the other hand, keeping your nose to the grindstone demands that you cut back on many of life’s pleasures. Relaxing days and friendships may fall by the wayside. As happiness in one area of life increases, it’ll often decline in another.

A rosy past, a future brimming with potential

This dilemma is further confounded by the way our brains process the experience of happiness. By way of illustration, consider the following examples.

We’ve all started a sentence with the phrase “Won’t it be great when…” (I go to college, fall in love, have kids, etc.). Similarly, we often hear older people start sentences with this phrase “Wasn’t it great when…” Think about how seldom you hear anyone say, “Isn’t this great, right now?” Surely, our past and future aren’t always better than the present. Yet we continue to think that this is the case.

These are the bricks that wall off harsh reality from the part of our mind that thinks about past and future happiness. Entire religions have been constructed from them. Whether we’re talking about our ancestral Garden of Eden (when things were great!) or the promise of unfathomable future happiness in Heaven, Valhalla, Jannah, or Vaikuntha, eternal happiness is always the carrot dangling from the end of the divine stick.

There’s evidence for why our brains operate this way; most of us possess something called the optimism bias, which is the tendency to think that our future will be better than our present.

To demonstrate this phenomenon to my classes, at the beginning of a new term I’ll tell my students the average grade received by all students in my class over the past three years. I then ask them to anonymously report the grade that they expect to receive. The demonstration works like a charm: Without fail, the expected grades are far higher than one would reasonably expect, given the evidence at hand. And yet, we believe.

Cognitive psychologists have also identified something called the Pollyanna Principle. It means that we process, rehearse, and remember pleasant information from the past more than unpleasant information. (An exception to this occurs in depressed individuals who often fixate on past failures and disappointments.)

For most of us, however, the reason that the good old days seem so good is that we focus on the pleasant stuff and tend to forget the day-to-day unpleasantness.

Self-delusion as an evolutionary advantage?

These delusions about the past and the future could be an adaptive part of the human psyche, with innocent self-deceptions actually enabling us to keep striving. If our past is great and our future can be even better, then we can work our way out of the unpleasant—or at least, mundane—present.

All of this tells us something about the fleeting nature of happiness. Emotion researchers have long known about something called the hedonic treadmill. We work very hard to reach a goal, anticipating the happiness it will bring. Unfortunately, after a brief fix we quickly slide back to our baseline, ordinary way-of-being and start chasing the next thing we believe will almost certainly—and finally—make us happy.

My students absolutely hate hearing about this. They get bummed out when I imply that however happy they are right now is probably about how happy they will be 20 years from now. (Next time, perhaps I will reassure them that in the future they’ll remember being very happy in college!)

Nevertheless, studies of lottery winners and other individuals at the top of their game—those who seem to have it all—regularly throw cold water on the dream that getting what we really want will change our lives and make us happier. These studies found that positive events like winning a million bucks and unfortunate events such as being paralyzed in an accident do not significantly affect an individual’s long-term level of happiness.

Assistant professors who dream of attaining tenure and lawyers who dream of making partner often find themselves wondering why they were in such a hurry. After finally publishing a book, it was depressing for me to realize how quickly my attitude went from “I’m a guy who wrote a book!” to “I’m a guy who’s only written one book.”

But this is how it should be, at least from an evolutionary perspective. Dissatisfaction with the present and dreams of the future are what keep us motivated, while warm fuzzy memories of the past reassure us that the feelings we seek can be had. In fact, perpetual bliss would completely undermine our will to accomplish anything at all; among our earliest ancestors, those who were perfectly content may have been left in the dust.

This shouldn’t be depressing; quite the contrary. Recognizing that happiness exists—and that it’s a delightful visitor that never overstays its welcome—may help us appreciate it more when it arrives.

Furthermore, understanding that it’s impossible to have happiness in all aspects of life can help you enjoy the happiness that has touched you. Recognizing that no one “has it all” can cut down on the one thing psychologists know impedes happiness: envy.

The ConversationThis post originally appeared at The Conversation. Follow @ConversationUS on Twitter.

14 psychological reasons why good people do bad things

What causes these smart, successful people to get wrapped up in illegal activities and unethical behavior?


Why do good people do bad things? Oftentimes it stems from one of many psychological phenomena.

Source: 14 psychological reasons why good people do bad things

It’s an old story: the star executive who gets caught waist-deep in a fraud scandal; the finance phenom who steals millions by skimming off the top.

What causes these smart, successful people to get wrapped up in illegal activities and unethical behavior? Dr. Muel Kaptein of the Rotterdam School of Management tackled this question in a paper about why good people do bad things.

These major crimes usually escalate from smaller offenses or lapses in judgment that are rationalized by a slew of psychological reasons.

Business Insider collected 14 insights from Kaptein that explain a few of the various reasons why good people lie, cheat, and steal.

This is an update of a story originally reported by Max Nisen and Aimee Groth. 

The Galatea effect

Self image determines behavior. People who have a strong sense of themselves as individuals are less likely to do unethical things.

Alternatively, employees who see themselves as determined by their environment or having their choices made for them are more likely to bend the rules, as they feel less individually responsible.

Source: Muel Kaptein

Social bond theory

In large organizations, employees can begin to feel more like numbers or cogs in a machine than individuals.

When people feel detached from the goals and leadership of their wo

rkplace, they are more likely to commit fraud, steal, or hurt the company via neglect.

Source: Muel Kaptein

The power of names

When bribery becomes “greasing the wheels” or accounting fraud becomes “financial engineering,” unethical behavior may be seen in a more positive light.

The use of nicknames and euphemisms for questionable practices can free them of their moral connotations, making them seem more acceptable.

Source: Muel Kaptein

Environmental influence

Employees reflect their environment. If corruption, major or minor, is a part of their workplace, they become blind to its occurrence and its possible costs.

A study incorporating participants from a variety of countries found that the less transparent and more corrupt the participant’s country of origin, the more willing they were to accept or give bribes.

Source: Muel Kaptein

The compensation effect

John Raoux/AP

Sometimes people, having been moral and forthright in their dealings for a long time, feel as if they have banked up some kind of “ethical credit,” which they may use to justify immoral behavior in the future.

An experiment from Nina Mazar and Chen-Bo Zhong found that people who have just bought sustainable products tend to lie and steal more afterwards than those who bought standard versions.

Source: Muel Kaptein

Acceptance of small theft

There are dozens of small temptations in any workplace. Stationery, sugar packets, and toilet paper frequently go home with employees.

Those small thefts are ignored. So are slightly larger ones, like over-claiming expenses or accepting unauthorized business gifts. It doesn’t take long for people to begin pushing those limits.

Source: Muel Kaptein

Reactance theory

Abbas Atilay/AP

Rules are designed to prevent unethical behavior, but when they’re seen as unjust or excessive they can provoke the opposite reaction.

This is known as reactance theory. People resent threats to their freedom, and they often manifest that resistance by flouting certain rules.

Source: Muel Kaptein

Tunnel vision

Setting and achieving goals is important, but single-minded focus on them can blind people to ethical concerns.

When Enron offered large bonuses to employees for bringing in sales, they became so focused on that goal that they forgot to make sure they were profitable or moral. We all know how that ended.

Source: Muel Kaptein 

The blinding effect of power

Powerful people appear more corrupt because they’re caught more publicly. However, a recent study found that when given power, people set ethical rules much higher for others than they do themselves.

If someone is influential and sets rules for others, they can begin to see themselves as morally distinct from their employees, and not subject to the same rules.

Source: Muel Kaptein

Broken window theory

Scott Olson/Reuters

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani popularized the “broken window theory” when he led a sweeping effort to lower crime rates. The idea was to crack down on smaller, petty crimes, and clean up the city to create some semblance of order and discourage larger crimes.

When people see disorder or disorganization, they assume there is no real authority. In that environment, their threshold for overstepping legal and moral boundaries is lower.

Source: Muel Kaptein

Time pressure

In a study, a group of theology students were told to preach the story of the good Samaritan, then walk to another building where they’d be filmed. Along the way, they encountered a man in visible distress.

When given ample time, almost all helped. When they were deliberately let out late, only 63% helped. When encouraged to go as fast as possible, 90% ignored the man.

Source: Muel Kaptein

The free-rider problem

“If nobody else steals stationery, the company won’t notice if I do. If nobody else in the area pollutes, they won’t notice if a tiny bit of waste is released.”

Positive and ethical behavior can sometimes engender an opposite reaction. If total damage is limited, people feel as though they can take more liberties.  

Source: Muel Kaptein

Cognitive dissonance and rationalization

When people’s actions differ from their morals, they begin to rationalize both to protect themselves from a painful contradiction and to build up protection against accusations.

The bigger the dissonance, the larger the rationalization, and the longer it lasts, the less immoral it seems.

Source: Muel Kaptein

The Pygmalion effect

The way that people are seen and treated influences the way they act. When employees are viewed suspiciously and constantly treated like potential thieves, they are more likely to be thieves.

This effect occurs even in employees who aren’t initially inclined towards unethical behavior.

Source: Muel Kaptein

There is a second “window of opportunity” for learning in late adolescence and early adulthood

By guest blogger David Robson

We may have multiple sensitive periods for different kinds of skills depending on the brain’s development at that time. By David Robson

Source: There is a second “window of opportunity” for learning in late adolescence and early adulthood

If you want to maximise a person’s intellectual potential, the general consensus for a long time has been that you need to start young. According to this traditional view, early childhood offers a precious “window of opportunity” or “sensitive period” for learning that closes slowly as we reach adolescence. It’s the reason that toddlers find it easier to master the accent of a foreign language, for instance.

This view has even shaped educational policy. If you want to help people from disadvantaged backgrounds, for instance, some psychologists had argued that you would do better to target primary schools, with diminishing returns for interventions later in life, as if badly performing teenagers were something of a lost cause.

Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at University College London has spent the last decade over-turning some of these assumptions, showing that the adolescent brain is still remarkably flexible as it undergoes profound anatomical changes. “The idea that the brain is somehow fixed in early childhood, which was an idea that was very strongly believed up until fairly recently, is completely wrong,” she told Edge in 2012. The transformation is particularly marked in the prefrontal lobes (located behind the forehead) and the parietal lobes (underneath and just behind the top of your head): two regions that are involved in abstract thought.

The upshot is that teenagers may go through a second sensitive period, in which they are particularly responsive to certain kinds of intellectual stimulation. A new paper from Blakemore’s lab, published in Psychological Science, builds on this idea, showing that our ability to learn certain kinds of analytical skills doesn’t diminish after childhood, but actually increases through adolescence and into early adulthood.

ravensThe team – led by Lisa Knoll – recruited more than 600 participants aged 11 to 33, and randomly assigned them to three groups, each trained in a different skill. They taught the first group “numerosity discrimination”, which involved rapidly guessing the number of coloured dots to appear on a screen. They trained the second group in “relational reasoning”: the ability to detect abstract rules and relationships using the kind of non-verbal puzzles (known as Raven’s Matrices) that are common in some IQ tests (see image left). The third group, meanwhile, honed their facial perception: they judged repeatedly whether two photos, shown in rapid succession, represented the same person or not.

It’s worth noting that these skills don’t require any advanced factual knowledge. Instead, they represent a broader capacity for abstract thought and pattern recognition that might be useful for many kinds of academic work.

The online training sessions were short but frequent, lasting a maximum of 12 minutes a day for 20 days. The participants were then tested – with the same kinds of puzzles used in training – shortly after they had finished their last session, and again a few months later, to see whether the skills had stuck

Sadly, the participants in the third group would have been disappointed if they ever had hopes of being a “super-recogniser” – their facial perception showed next to no improvement.

But the hard work paid off for many of the other participants: those learning the relational reasoning and the numerosity discrimination had all boosted their scores. Based on these successes, Blakemore, Knoll and colleagues next examined whether those gains depended on the participants’ age.

According to the accepted wisdom, they should have seen the greatest dividends among the youngest subjects aged 11-13, when they were closest to that childhood window of opportunity. But as the psychologists had expected, the older participants turned out to gain the most from the training. The late adolescents (aged 16-18) improved their relational reasoning by around 10 per cent, for instance: nearly twice the gains of younger participants. Even the adults in the group tended to perform better than the youngsters, suggesting that our 20s and early 30s may still be a fertile time for self-improvement.

At least in these kinds of analytical skills, the window of opportunity was still wide open, perhaps reflecting the greater neuroplasticity – the ability to forge new neural circuits – of the prefrontal cortex that Blakemore had previously observed in the brain scans. If so, it supports her idea that we may have multiple sensitive periods for different kinds of skills depending on the brain’s development at that time. As one window of opportunity closes, another may open.

There are other potential explanations, though. The researchers tried to control for the participants’ motivation, showing that the results still held when you took into account the number of completed training sessions. It seems the older participants weren’t just trying harder. But it’s also possible that the teenagers and adults had developed better cognitive strategies for learning: deliberate mental procedures that don’t necessarily reflect greater anatomical plasticity.

Given the recent controversies surrounding brain training, it’s also worth noting that we don’t know whether these improvements led to meaningful changes in other areas of the participants’ lives. Blakemore and Knoll couldn’t find any corresponding boost in working memory, for instance, and we don’t know if these abstract analytical skills would correspond to a greater aptitude for mathematics or science at school or university.

Even so, I’m intrigued about the potential implications and the promise this holds for future research, adding further evidence to the growing body of work showing that adolescence is a fascinating and potentially fertile period of intellectual growth. Contrary to our sometimes dim view of teenagers, there’s much more to those years than the acne and the angst.

A Window of Opportunity for Cognitive Training in Adolescence

Ravens pic credit: Wikipedia commons.



Post written by David Robson (@d_a_robson) for the BPS Research Digest. David is BBC Future’s associate editor.

Four Types of Depression Revealed By 1,100 Brain Scans – PsyBlog

Brain scans of four different types of depression could aid in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Source: Four Types of Depression Revealed By 1,100 Brain Scans – PsyBlog

Four types of depression have been newly identified by researchers using brain scans.

The brain scans revealed distinctly different types of brain activity in each sub-type.

The finding may eventually lead to treatments targeted to the particular sub-type of depression.

Dr. Conor Liston, who led the research, said:

“The four subtypes of depression that we discovered vary in terms of their clinical symptoms but, more importantly, they differ in their responses to treatment.

We can now predict with high accuracy whether or not a patient will respond to transcranial magnetic stimulation therapy, which is significant because it takes five weeks to know if this type of treatment works.”

The four different types of depression they identified are:

  • Biotype 1 is characterised by anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue.
  • Biotype 2 is characterised by exhaustion and low energy.
  • Biotype 3 is characterised by an inability to feel pleasure as well as slowed movements and speech.
  • Biotype 4 is characterised mostly by anxiety with insomnia along with the inability to feel pleasure.

They are called ‘biotypes’ because of the biological means (brain scans) used to identify them.

Previously, symptoms have been used to identify different types of depression.

But this can produce unsatisfying answers.

It is hoped that a biological approach will help to provide some extra precision for diagnosis and treatment.

Dr Liston said:

“Depression is typically diagnosed based on things that we are experiencing, but as in election polling, the results you get depend a lot on the way you ask the question.

Brain scans are objective.”

The conclusions come from a study of over 1,100 fMRI brain scans of people with depression, compared with healthy controls.

Researchers at seven different institutions worked to identify the abnormal patterns of connectivity in the brains and how they were linked to depressive symptoms.

They found the patterns clustered together.

For example, one group had reduced connectivity in the part of the brain that is important for fear-related behaviour.

This was most often seen in sub-types 1 and 4, both of which are characterised by high levels of anxiety.

Dr Liston concluded:

“Subtyping is a major problem in psychiatry.

It’s not just an issue for depression, and it would be really valuable to have objective biological tests that can help diagnose subtypes of other mental illnesses, such as psychotic disorders, autism and substance abuse syndromes.”

The study was published in the journal Nature Medicine (Drysdale et al., 2016).

Dependency, Counter-Dependency, and Interdependency

By Gregg Henriques Ph.D.,  Theory of Knowledge

Understanding the green line on the Matrix.

Source: Dependency, Counter-Dependency, and Interdependency

“Maybe I should just tell them to go to hell,” Sharon was saying to me, clearly upset and angry. She had gotten in a major fight with her friend group and at this moment was feeling strongly the urge to distance herself from them. “I don’t need them, they just give me grief.” Ten minutes later, Sharon was in a different place. Fearing the isolation that would follow leaving her friend group, she said tearfully, “It will be awful. I won’t have anyone to do stuff with or share what is going on.”

Sharon was experiencing a “Dependent/Counter Dependent” split in her relational system. Such a conflict is not uncommon, and here I help readers get a clearer handle on the drives and emotions underlying this dynamic.The picture I use to map the human relationship system is called the Influence Matrix. According to the Matrix, humans have a system of adaptation that is automatically framing, tracking, and reacting to changes in one’s relational field on a number of key dimensions.

The first and most important dimension that is tracked is represented by the black line and it is called the Relational Value-Social Influence line. The Matrix posits that all humans have the need for Relational Value, which is the need to be known and valued by important others in one’s life. Positive changes in being valued generally elicit positive emotions, and the reverse is also true.

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

In addition to the black line, there are three other relational process dimensions on the Matrix. The blue line tracks competitive rank and status-type interactions (i.e., who has more control, power, more ability, or status in a domain). The red line tracks cooperative and affiliative processes (i.e., the extent to which we are attached to and share in other’s interests).

The blog is about the green line, which in some ways is the most complicated. The green line tracks your involvement with others. It ranges from extreme dependency on the one hand (a state where someone is completely emotionally dependent on the attitudes and approvals of others—this is exemplified in Dependent Personality Disorder) to extreme independence on the other (which is where an individual denies any needs for connection, attachment or approval—this is exemplified in Schizoid Personality disorder).

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

Let’s discuss the green line from the position of development. At birth, human infants are completely dependent on the investment from others for their protection and survival. Of course, much of the variance on whether or not such investment occurs resides in the desires and abilities of the primary caretakers. Nonetheless, as any parent who has heard an infant cry in distress or cooed in satisfaction can attest, human infants have powerful capacities to influence caretakers and elicit investment. Care eliciting behaviors can be conceptualized as expressions of the infant’s dependency needs. Broadly speaking, there are two related but separable kinds of dependency needs, physiological and socio-emotional. Physiological needs refer to basic survival needs and include protection from harm, food, temperature regulation, and so forth. Socio-emotional needs refer to relational needs and include cuddling, eye contact, and the expression of positive emotion by the caretakers in the service of fostering a sense of emotional security. We can turn to John Bowlby’s attachment theory and the way it was extended by Mary Ainsworth to get additional insight into how differences in relational systems might develop.

Mary Ainsworth introduced the concept of the caretaker being a “secure base” from which to operate and explore the world. Ainsworth proceeded to identify three different attachment styles; secure, insecure ambivalent, and insecure avoidant. These attachment styles, examined from the vantage point of the Influence Matrix, can clearly be understood as representing different socio-emotional strategies for influence. Securely attached children have their basic needs for relational value and social influence met and, consequently, feel more positive, safe, and comforted by the presence of the caretaker. In contrast, insecure children are theorized to not have their dependency needs met at least in some ways, which results in a general registering of low relational value, and this is associated with negative emotions, most notably fear.

The two insecure attachment styles represent two different influence strategies on the green line, autonomy-dependency axis. Namely, ambivalent children adopt a hyper-dependent strategy, characterized by strong emotional displays of need and fear of not receiving the necessary parental investment. In contrast, avoidant children adopt a hyper-autonomous strategy that can be understood as minimizing dependency needs and care-eliciting displays.

Although dependency is an inevitable starting condition, it nevertheless is, by definition, a rather vulnerable state. If the interests or capacities of the individual on whom one is dependent changes away from the individual, then difficulties inevitably follow. In addition, achieving social influence via competition and altruism are endeavors that take time and energy that could potentially be spent doing other things. These opportunity costs occur in the best of cases. In worst case scenarios, social exchanges can result in individuals either being dominated and controlled or sacrificing without receiving any beneficial return. As a consequence of all of these dynamics, individuals are theorized to be motivated toward self-reliance and the avoidance of excessive dependency on others (see here for more on counter dependency).

Autonomy, which is defined as the capacity to function independently and be free from the undue influence of others, has been emphasized as a key psychological motive or need by a number of clinical theorists and researchers. For example, Carl Jung emphasized the importance of individuation, and the separation-individuation dynamic remains central to many psychodynamic theories. Similarly, autonomy versus shame and doubt is the second developmental task in Erikson’s model of ego development. Carl Rogers argued the fully functioning person had an internal locus of evaluation, and Marie Jahoda argued that self-direction and the freedom from the control of others were central to mental health. More recent psychological researchers, like Carol Ryff, have argued strongly that a sense of autonomy is crucial to psychological well-being.

Of course with too much independence, the opportunities for one’s social needs to be met are greatly diminished. Indeed, extreme independence is likely to be a function of counter-dependence, meaning that the individual separates from others out of fear of failure, betrayal, rejection, or other costly social encounters. There is, thus an important difference between healthy individuation and counter-dependence. The former is an “approach mindset” where an individual takes pride in discovering themselves and their capacities as unique individuals, whereas the latter is an “avoidance mindset”, where the focus is on dangers to be protected against. According to the Influence Matrix, a balance between independence and dependency, what might be called a state of healthy autonomous-interdependence, is expected to be associated with optimal relational functioning.

Gregg Henriques
Source: Gregg Henriques

How can this map help Sharon? First, it can help her understand herself and what her feelings are telling her. Without a map, she might be really confused as to why at one moment she is proclaiming that her friends can go to hell and that she does not need them and then 10 minutes later she is flooded with fears of being alone. What is happening to her is that her mind is cycling through the different poles on the green line. The separation/counter-dependent pole is attempting to protect her from betrayal and is attempting to minimize the power others have over her. The dependency pole is acknowledging her need for relational value, social influence and involvement, and human companionship.

She can also recognize that although both poles are helpful, the most adaptive place is usually found in the sweet spot between them. The task of her self-consciousness system is to take the strong feelings from both of the poles and find a way to integrate them. How could she do this? First, she can notice that she is “splitting” a bit, that is, that she is feeling all one way and then all another. That is natural, but the next task is to be able to hold the two feeling poles at the same time. For example, it is the case that she will survive without her friends and she clearly has some normal healthy dependent feelings and thus to lose them will hurt. And, although it will hurt, it also is the case that she has capacities to function independently if absolutely necessary and will then have more opportunities to form different relationships. And it was the case that she was involved in these relations for good historical reasons, so it is very important that she thinks through the conflict and makes sure she is making the best overall decision.

In sum, the green line on the Matrix maps a key socio-emotional process, which ranges from extreme counter-dependency on one end to extreme dependency on the other. Both extremes are problematic for adults, and the most adaptive place is in the sweet spot between these poles, a healthy autonomous interdependent state.

Sleep helps process traumatic experiences

Source: Sleep helps process traumatic experiences

If we sleep in the first 24 hours after a traumatic experience, this may help process and integrate the distressing memories more effectively, as researchers from the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich demonstrate in a new study. Sleep could thus be used as an early prevention strategy for posttraumatic stress disorders.

Does help process stress and trauma? Or does it actually intensify emotional reactions and memories of the event? This previously unanswered question is highly relevant for the prevention of trauma-related disorders, such as (PTSD). How extremely distressing experiences are processed right at the outset can influence the further course and development of posttraumatic stress disorders. PTSD patients experience highly emotional and distressing memories or even flashbacks where they feel as if they are experiencing their trauma all over again. Sleep could play a key role in processing what they have suffered.

A study conducted by a team from the Department of Psychology at the University of Zurich and the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich has now tackled the question as to whether sleep during the first 24 hours after a trauma has a positive impact on highly emotional distress and memories related to traumatic events. In the lab, the researchers showed test subjects a traumatic video. The recurring memories of the images in the film that haunted the test subjects for a few days were recorded in detail in a diary. Virtually out of the blue, the would see a snapshot of what they had seen in their mind’s eye, reawakening the unpleasant feelings and thoughts they had experienced during the film. The quality of these memories resembles those of patients suffering from posttraumatic stress disorders. Other than after a traumatic event, however, they reliably disappear after a few days.

Fewer Distressing Emotional Memories

Study participants were randomly assigned to two groups. One slept in the lab for a night after the video while their sleep was recorded via an electroencephalograph (EEG); the other group remained awake. “Our results reveal that people who slept after the film had fewer and less distressing recurring emotional memories than those who were awake,” explains first author Birgit Kleim from the Department of Experimental Psychopathology and Psychotherapy at the University of Zurich. “This supports the assumption that sleep may have a protective effect in the aftermath of traumatic experiences.”

On the one hand, sleep can help weaken emotions connected to an existing , such as fear caused by , for instance. On the other hand, it also helps contextualize the recollections, process them informationally and store these memories. However, this process presumably takes several nights.

According to the authors of the study, recommendations on early treatments and dealing with traumatized people in the early phase are few and far between. “Our approach offers an important non-invasive alternative to the current attempts to erase or treat them with medication,” says Birgit Kleim. “The use of sleep might prove to be a suitable and natural early prevention strategy.

More information: Birgit Kleim et al. Effects of Sleep after Experimental Trauma on Intrusive Emotional Memories, SLEEP (2016). DOI: 10.5665/sleep.6310

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Is there such a thing as an emotional hangover? Researchers find that there is

Source: Is there such a thing as an emotional hangover? Researchers find that there is

Emotional experiences can induce physiological and internal brain states that persist for long periods of time after the emotional events have ended, a team of New York University scientists has found. This study, which appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience, also shows that this emotional “hangover” influences how we attend to and remember future experiences.

“How we remember events is not just a consequence of the external world we experience, but is also strongly influenced by our internal states—and these internal states can persist and color future experiences,” explains Lila Davachi, an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science and senior author of the study.

” ‘Emotion’ is a state of mind,” Davachi continues. “These findings make clear that our cognition is highly influenced by preceding experiences and, specifically, that brain states can persist for long periods of time.”

We have known for quite some time that are better remembered than non-emotional ones. However, in the Nature Neuroscience study, the researchers demonstrated that non-emotional experiences that followed emotional ones were also better remembered on a later .

To do so, subjects viewed a series of scene images that contained and elicited arousal. Approximately 10 to 30 minutes later, one group then also viewed a series of non-emotional, ordinary scene images. Another group of subjects viewed the non-emotional scenes first followed by the emotional ones. Both physiological arousal, measured in skin conductance, and brain activity, using fMRI, were monitored in both groups of subjects. Six hours later, the subjects were administered a memory test of the images previously viewed.

The results showed that the subjects who were exposed to the emotion-evoking stimuli first had better long-term recall of the neutral images subsequently presented compared to the group who were exposed to the same neutral images first, before the emotional images.

The fMRI results pointed to an explanation for this outcome.

Specifically, these data showed that the brain states associated with emotional experiences carried over for 20 to 30 minutes and influenced the way the subjects processed and remembered future experiences that are not emotional.

“We see that memory for non-emotional experiences is better if they are encountered after an emotional event,” observes Davachi.

More information: Emotional brain states carry over and enhance future memory formation, Nature Neuroscience,

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