Best and Worst in Psychology and Psychiatry – August 2016

Every month we scour the 1000s of new research publications in psychology and psychiatry for trending and field progressing findings. Making the top five best findings this month include the influence our bank balance has on our mental state, and how our mental state can also help empty our bank balance. The worst findings, the bearers of bad news, include how Youtube may add to misunderstanding schizophrenia, the lack of advantages from giving children antidepressants, and the longterm psychological effects of earthquake disasters.

August 31st also marks the birthdate of American psychologist, the late Edward Lee “Ted” Thorndike (1874 – 1949). Celebrated for his work on comparative psychology (studying the psychology and behavior of animals) that led to the theory of connectionism in 1940, it forever changed the fields of artificial intelligence, neuroscience, philosophy of mind, and of course, psychology. The main principle of connectionism is that functions of the mind and cognition can be described by interconnected networks of simple units. Low and behold, today, neural networks and their role in making us who we are, both in health and disease, is bordering on common knowledge.

BEST: Higher Spiritual Intelligence for Improved General Health and Happiness

384 students from Shahid Bahonar University of Kerman in Iran filled out questionnaires that are established measured of one’s level of spirituality, overall health and happiness. Researchers looked for links between spirituality level, health and happiness and found levels of spiritual intelligence are related to general health and happiness.

However, not all aspects of spirituality lead to greater health and happiness. In particular, an aspect of spiritual intelligence called, existential critical thinking (i.e. the capacity to critically contemplate the nature of metaphysical issues (e.g. reality, universe, time, and death) predicted poorer health but greater happiness.

In addition, the researchers suggest that a high sense of personal meaning may create resilience even in the face of hardship, which would account for a strong sense of personal meaning being correlated with higher levels of happiness.

BEST: Compassion Meditation Increases Charitable Donation

Two studies were designed to identify the “active ingredients” of compassionate meditation, and to see if these active ingredients influence charitable donations. In a randomized-controlled trial, relative to control conditions, compassionate mediation increased charitable donations via meditation changing certain feelings and attributions.

The feelings that compassion mediation can change that then lead to greater charitable donations are tenderness, personal distress, instrumentality (how much would a donation help the sufferer), and blamelessness (how much the sufferer is to blame for their position). A sense of similarity towards the person in need can lead to increased helping behaviour, but this was only if associated with the aforementioned prosocial feelings.

BEST: Mindfulness During Pregnancy Improves Mental Health, Well-being and Self-Confidence Towards Childbirth

The review assessed 8 studies examining mindfulness intervention effects on prenatal well-being in expecting mothers. Findings indicate potential benefits of mindfulness interventions for reducing levels of depression, anxiety, and negative moods during pregnancy. There is also evidence for improved self-compassion and perceived childbirth self-efficacy.

Importantly, expecting mothers practicing mindfulness that are at risk of low wellbeing during pregnancy had even greater positive results from mindfulness interventions.

BEST: Having “Cash On Hand” is Important for Life Satisfaction

In a field study using 585 bank customers in the UK, researchers looked for connections between liquid wealth (the cash you have on hand) and responses to the Satisfaction With Life Scale questionnaire. It was found that individuals with higher liquid wealth were found to have more positive perceptions of their financial well-being, which, in turn, predicted higher life satisfaction, suggesting that liquid wealth is indirectly associated with life satisfaction.

This relationship remained even for those in debt or in the green, for big spenders or frugal spenders, and investors or non-investors. Therefore, to improve the well-being of citizens, the researchers suggest that policymakers should focus not just on boosting incomes but also on increasing people’s immediate access to money.

BEST: Uncalculating Cooperation is a Sign of Trustworthiness

Humans often help one another as there are benefits for everyone involves, but sometimes people are helpful without any obvious benefit for themselves. A study published in PNAS asked why people help others when presumably there is no obvious worthwhile benefit for them to do so?

Participants in the study played economic game experiments, and were shown to be more likely to engage in seemingly selfless uncalculating cooperation when their decision-making process was observable to others. Additionally people who help out of the kindness of their hearts were seen as more trustworthy than people who help in a calculating way.

Researchers in the present study took these combined findings to suggest that reputation concerns provide an answer as to the motives behind uncalculating cooperation: people cooperate in an uncalculating way to signal their trustworthiness to observers.

WORST: Schizophrenia Presentations on YouTube Offer a Distorted Picture of the Disorder

The accuracy of depictions of schizophrenia in 4,200 YouTube videos was rated independently by two consultant psychiatrists. Only 35 of the 4,200 videos were non-duplicates and actually claimed to involve a patient with schizophrenia.

Out of the 35 videos that met the eligibility and adequacy criteria, only 12 accurately depicted acute schizophrenia. Accurate videos were characterized by persecutory delusions (83%), inappropriate affect (75%), and negative symptoms (83%).

Despite 10 of the 12 accurate videos having good educational utility, the 23 inaccurate videos had similar view counts. Finding a truly educational and accurate depiction of schizophrenia on YouTube is a bit like finding a needle in a haystack.

WORST: Poor Efficacy and Tolerability of Antidepressants for Major Depressive Disorder in Children

Meta-analysis of 34 research trials, including 5260 participants and 14 antidepressant treatments, was used to compare and rank the effectiveness of antidepressants and placebo for treating major depressive disorder in young people.

Trials of amitriptyline, citalopram, clomipramine, desipramine, duloxetine, escitalopram, fluoxetine, imipramine, mirtazapine, nefazodone, nortriptyline, paroxetine, sertraline, and venlafaxine were included.

The quality of evidence for use of antidepressants was rated as very low due to low efficacy and high levels of adverse effects, with only fluoxetine (Prozac) being statistically significantly more effective than placebo.

WORST: Exercise Addicts are Similar to Workaholics

Currently, it is uncertain what truly constitutes an exercise addiction, despite an increasing need for understanding addictive exercise behaviour in order to develop effective interventions.
The study in question, involving participants from sport and exercise relevant domains, including physicians, physiotherapists, coaches, trainers, and athletes, identified 63 features of exercise addiction, and found that these fit well with a model that describes workaholics, the Work Craving model.

The features fit well with the three components of the model: the learned component, negative perfectionism; the behavioral component, an obsessive – compulsive drive; and the hedonic component, involving improving self-worth and reducing negative mood and withdrawal symptoms.

Additionally and importantly, there was a strong consensus among experts that excessive exercise can exist without a concurrent eating disorder.

WORST: Link Between Inflammatory IL-7 and Depression Differs with Gender

Interleukin 7 (IL-7), a protein involved in B and T cell development and differentiation, has been shown to be altered in depression, although the role between inflammation, the immune system and depression is poorly understood.

Lower levels of IL-7 were found to be associated with higher scores for depression in both men and women. However, this depended on the fraction of blood used. Low IL-7 in the serum of blood (the clear liquid that blood cells and clotting factors float in) was linked with depression in men, while low Il-7 in the plasma (the red fluid composed of blood cells and clotting factors) was linked with depression in women.

While researchers can only speculate what this gender difference means, it may be important when considering development of targeted therapeutic interventions utilizing anti-inflammatory medications for individuals with depression.

WORST: Long-term Psychological Consequences Among Adolescent Survivors of the Wenchuan Earthquake in China

The study assessed the longer-term psychological consequences of teenage survivors of natural disasters through analyzing data from secondary school students who were living in Sichuan province 6 years after the Wenchuan earthquake.

Having two or more kinds of traumatic experiences was associated with higher psychological symptom scores and suicidal ideation as compared with having no traumatic experience.

Although causality could not be inferred, severely traumatized adolescent survivors of the earthquake were found to suffer from psychological symptoms even 6 years after the disaster, indicating a need for long-term psychological support.


Amirian, M.-E. and Fazilat-Pour, M. (2015) ‘Simple and Multivariate relationships between spiritual intelligence with general health and happiness’, Journal of Religion and Health, 55(4), pp. 1275–1288. doi: 10.1007/s10943-015-0004-y.

Ashar, Y.K., Andrews-Hanna, J.R., Yarkoni, T., Sills, J., Halifax, J., Dimidjian, S. and Wager, T.D. (2016) ‘Effects of compassion meditation on a psychological model of charitable donation’, Emotion, 16(5), pp. 691–705. doi: 10.1037/emo0000119.

Cipriani, A., Zhou, X., Del Giovane, C., Hetrick, S.E., Qin, B., Whittington, C., Coghill, D., Zhang, Y., Hazell, P., Leucht, S., Cuijpers, P., Pu, J., Cohen, D., Ravindran, A.V., Liu, Y., Michael, K.D., Yang, L., Liu, L. and Xie, P. (2016) ‘Comparative efficacy and tolerability of antidepressants for major depressive disorder in children and adolescents: A network meta-analysis’, The Lancet, . doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(16)30385-3.

Hall, J.R., Wiechmann, A., Edwards, M., Johnson, L.A. and O’Bryant, S.E. (2016) ‘IL-7 and depression: The importance of gender and blood fraction’, Behavioural Brain Research, 315, pp. 147–149. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2016.08.026.

Jordan, J.J., Hoffman, M., Nowak, M.A. and Rand, D.G. (2016) ‘Uncalculating cooperation is used to signal trustworthiness’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113(31), pp. 8658–8663. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1601280113.

Macfarlane, L., Owens, G. and Cruz, B. del P. (2016) ‘Identifying the features of an exercise addiction: A Delphi study’, Journal of Behavioral Addictions, , pp. 1–11. doi: 10.1556/2006.5.2016.060.

Matvienko-Sikar, K., Lee, L., Murphy, G. and Murphy, L. (2016) ‘The effects of mindfulness interventions on prenatal well-being: A systematic review’, Psychology & Health, , pp. 1–20. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2016.1220557.

Nour, M.M., Tsatalou, O.-M. and Barrera, A. (2016) ‘Schizophrenia on YouTube’, Psychiatric Services, , p. doi: 10.1176/

Ruberton, P.M., Gladstone, J. and Lyubomirsky, S. (2016) ‘How your bank balance buys happiness: The importance of “cash on hand” to life satisfaction’, Emotion, 16(5), pp. 575–580. doi: 10.1037/emo0000184.

Tanaka, E., Tsutsumi, A., Kawakami, N., Kameoka, S., Kato, H. and You, Y. (2016) ‘Long-term psychological consequences among adolescent survivors of the Wenchuan earthquake in china: A cross-sectional survey six years after the disaster’, Journal of Affective Disorders, 204, pp. 255–261. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.08.001.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Lead Editor and Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor. A scientific consultant, writer, and researcher in a variety of fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology, and biophysical chemistry, you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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