Best & Worst in Psychology & Psychiatry – October 2015


Usually, we provide the top five best and top five worst findings coming from topical psychology and psychiatry research publications. However, this October there was an overwhelming number of good news findings worth shouting about. So this month’s roundup is a little different. Below there are SEVEN best findings. The bad news, for once, is taking the back seat.


CBT helps chronic pain sufferers get a good night’s sleep

Meta-analysis research published in the journal Sleep indicates that CBT was either moderately or strongly effective in tackling insomnia in patients with long-term pain. What’s more, they didn’t just benefit from improved sleep but also experienced a wider positive impact on pain, fatigue and depression. Although, when delivered electronically by phone or via the internet, CBT was found to be less effective in benefitting insomniacs with long-term pain.

Online CBT benefits for depression and anxiety

A review of high quality studies on smartphone and tablet applications delivering CBT for the treatment of psychiatric illness states that CBT combined with clinical care has been shown to benefit people with depression, anxiety and emotional distress from illness, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Some studies showed that patients using internet-delivered CBT had better outcomes than placebo controls and equal or better outcomes than those with traditional in-person CBT.

Women drive better if not stereotyped

It is a commonly held stereotype endorsed by women and girls well before they take their driving licence that women are poor drivers, despite statistics suggesting they drive safer and are involved in less accidents than men.

By making the stereotype that women are poorer drivers more salient prior to participating in a driving simulation, two seperate experiments confirmed that women doubled the number of mistakes when stereotyped. The take home message is that by not stereotyping women as poor drivers they will more likely perform better, making less mistakes, which ultimately could save lives.

Regular physical activity protects against depression after heart attack

Researchers investigated whether the pattern of leisure time physical activity among 189 patients prior to being hospitalized with their first heart attack was associated with level of depressive symptoms after the initial heart attack.

The research suggests that those performing regular physical activity over 10 years prior to their first heart attack had almost 20% less odds of being depressed compared to their counterparts being inactive during the same period. Moreover, those who changed from being inactive to becoming physical active prior to their first heart attack had greater protection against depression compared to those that changed from being physical active to inactive.

Purpose in life protects against negative effects of stress

In a study including 985 adults, greater life purpose predicted lower levels of allostatic load at 10-year follow-up. Allostatic load is the “wear and tear” on the body in response to stress that is measured by dysregulation across multiple physiological systems, which in this instance included cardiovascular, lipid, glucose metabolism, inflammation, sympathetic nervous system, parasympathetic nervous system and hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis analysis.

Greater life purpose was also a strong predictor of having strong beliefs about being able to control their own health (i.e. self-health locus of control), which, in turn, partially mediated the association between purpose and allostatic load.

Men’s testosterone levels can determine parenting skills, empathy and marital quality

175 men whose partner was pregnant with their second child participated with their first child in a videotaped experiment. The children were isolated from their father briefly as the father watched their child being recorded getting increasingly upset from the separation. For some fathers, a drop in testosterone levels upon viewing their distressed child predicted the father’s positive parenting behaviors during a subsequent father–infant interaction, as well as measures of paternal involvement, including empathy and marital quality.


Side-effects of antidepressants disrupt multimodal treatment for child OCD

Activation syndrome (AS) is a suicide-promoting side-effect of antidepressants that includes symptoms of irritability, mania, self-harm and disinhibition. In a double-blind randomized-controlled trial of 56 children and adolescents with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the relationship between antidepressant-induced AS and CBT treatment effects were investigated.

Results suggest that high levels of AS symptoms interfered with CBT treatment and explained 18% of the variance in OCD symptoms during treatment.

Religion makes children less generous

Previous research demonstrated that religious people aren’t more likely to do good than their non-religious counterparts, with this research now extended to children. The new study involved 1,100 children between the ages of five and twelve from the US, Canada, Jordan, Turkey, South Africa and China, playing a game about sharing stickers in a test of altruism — most of the children identified as Christian, Muslim or not religious.

Researchers concluded that a child’s religious rearing environment fundamentally shapes their altruistic tendencies, with more-religious children showing less generosity. Additionally, the data also showed that religious children judged interpersonal harm as being meaner and deserving of harsher punishment than did children from non-religious households.

This may partly be due to “moral licensing,” a phenomenon in which doing something “good”, such as practicing a religion, can result in less concern about the consequences of immoral behavior — a timely reminder that religion and morality are not one and the same.

Rates of mental health problems to increase in months after UK troops return from Afghanistan

According to research coming from the King’s Centre for Military Health Research (KCMHR), King’s College London, mental health problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety are likely to increase in UK military personnel within the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army and Royal Air Force, during the months after returning from Afghanistan.

While the researchers had expected to find an improvement in symptoms between baseline measurements taken at decompression and follow-ups taken three and six months later, PTSD symptoms in particular increased to a statistically significant extent. This highlights the pressing need to provide greater psychological support for troops as they transition from operational deployment overseas to civilian life back home.

Being depression symptom free reduces risk of relapse

There is a high risk of depression relapse for those who have had an episode of major depression. Research published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that the risk of recurrence is significantly lower for people with complete, rather than partial depressive symptom resolution. Specifically, the researchers found that four consecutive weeks at the asymptomatic status was virtually as strong an indicator of stable recovery as eight weeks.

The profound significance of the results is that there is a need to mark full symptom recovery as the end of a major depressive episode, and that changes in the management of depression to this endpoint could effectively bring an end to the all-too-common depression relapse and “recovery” cycle.


Banwell, E., Greenberg, N., Smith, P., Jones, N., & Fertout, M. (2015). What happens to the mental health of UK service personnel after they return home from Afghanistan? Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps DOI: 10.1136/jramc-2015-000425

Decety, J., Cowell, J., Lee, K., Mahasneh, R., Malcolm-Smith, S., Selcuk, B., & Zhou, X. (2015). The Negative Association between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism across the World Current Biology, 25 (22), 2951-2955 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.09.056

Ernstsen, L., Rangul, V., Nauman, J., Nes, B., Dalen, H., Krokstad, S., Lavie, C., Blair, S., & Wisløff, U. (2015). Protective Effect of Regular Physical Activity on Depression After Myocardial Infarction: The HUNT Study The American Journal of Medicine DOI: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.08.012

Figueroa, C., Ruhé, H., Koeter, M., Spinhoven, P., Van der Does, W., Bockting, C., & Schene, A. (2015). Cognitive Reactivity Versus Dysfunctional Cognitions and the Prediction of Relapse in Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry DOI: 10.4088/JCP.14m09268

Gratzer, D., & Khalid-Khan, F. (2015). Internet-delivered cognitive behavioural therapy in the treatment of psychiatric illness Canadian Medical Association Journal DOI: 10.1503/cmaj.150007

Kuo, P., Saini, E., Thomason, E., Schultheiss, O., Gonzalez, R., & Volling, B. (2015). Individual variation in fathers’ testosterone reactivity to infant distress predicts parenting behaviors with their 1-year-old infants Developmental Psychobiology DOI: 10.1002/dev.21370

Moè, A., Cadinu, M., & Maass, A. (2015). Women drive better if not stereotyped Accident Analysis & Prevention, 85, 199-206 DOI: 10.1016/j.aap.2015.09.021

Reid AM, McNamara JP, Murphy TK, Guzick AG, Storch EA, Geffken GR, & Bussing R (2015). Side-effects of SSRIs disrupt multimodal treatment for pediatric OCD in a randomized-controlled trial. Journal of psychiatric research, 71, 140-7 PMID: 26495770

Tang, N., Lereya, S., Boulton, H., Miller, M., Wolke, D., & Cappuccio, F. (2015). Nonpharmacological Treatments of Insomnia for Long-Term Painful Conditions: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Patient-Reported Outcomes in Randomized Controlled Trials SLEEP, 38 (11), 1751-1764 DOI: 10.5665/sleep.5158

Zilioli, S., Slatcher, R., Ong, A., & Gruenewald, T. (2015). Purpose in life predicts allostatic load ten years later Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 79 (5), 451-457 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2015.09.013

Image via Monkey Business Images / Shutterstock.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor and a scientific consultant, writer and researcher in fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology and biophysical chemistry. She is also our newly appointed Digital and Social Media Manager. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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