BioPsychoSocial Health – Brain Blogger Health and Science Blog Covering Brain Topics Fri, 01 Feb 2019 16:17:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 What’s Personality Got To Do With Us? A Lot /2018/08/27/whats-personality-got-to-do-with-us-a-lot/ /2018/08/27/whats-personality-got-to-do-with-us-a-lot/#comments Mon, 27 Aug 2018 11:55:55 +0000 /?p=23899 Personality is understood as the consistent features we display in regards to our thinking, feeling, and behavior. It begins to emerge around the age of 3. Prior to that, we refer to the genetically primed aspects of who we are as temperament.

Personality is dynamically formed via multiple inputs from many others. It becomes consolidated in our late teens to early 20’s. Around age 30 or so it becomes relatively fixed.

According to Daniel Siegel personality is deeply rooted in the human mind by the flow of information in the brain and between brains, is created via neural/mental representations during this flow, and interpersonal exchanges shape its formation and maturation (1999).

Siegel further adds that these interpersonal interactions construct our personal interpretations of reality. And according to Siegel, maternal and paternal attachments are fundamental in creating the necessary foundation of intrapersonal and interpersonal development. And he indicates emotions are the primary linkage between our intrapersonal and interpersonal worlds. And I believe this early foundation sets for us a lifelong paradigm.

Our life trajectory involves a series of developmental opportunities to build a healthy sense of self and others. This constructs our self-concept in regards to how others see us and feel towards us. It impacts our sense of self-efficacy, confidence and competence, and how others perceive us as being prosocial, asocial, or antisocial; which I refer to as global personality orientation.

For example, Erik Erickson proposes a series of lifelong psychosocial stages. They consist of the following: Trust or Mistrust; Autonomy or Shame and Doubt; Initiative or Guilt; Industry or Inferiority; Identity or Role Confusion or based on my own clinical observations, Role Diffusion; Intimacy or Isolation; Generativity or Stagnation; Integrity or Despair (Plotnik, 2014). And I dare add an additional stage based on my clinical observations, Transcendence and Relief or Dread and Decay.

From the field of Sociology, I borrow the concept of Perceived Social Value (PSV). This applies to the various roles that all of us enact and the concepts of “front-stage and back-stage personas”. Some refer to this as our private and public selves. As a clinician, I am very interested in the extent of the concordance or disagreement between these selves. Those with disordered personalities tend to show a decided disconnect between the two!

Referring back to the notion of roles, over time, we enact multiple roles, sometimes simultaneously. For instance, I was a child, an adolescent, a male, a college student, an Air Force medic during the Vietnam Conflict. Now I am retired. I’m also a father, grandfather, brother, a former university faculty member and the like. Our personality shapes how well we do or do not in these various roles. Those with disordered personalities exhibit rigidity and dysfunction across the various roles.

So as you can readily see, personality has a heck of a lot to do with who we are, and how we interact with the many others we come in contact with!

Richard G Kensinger, MSW


Nevid, J., Rathus, S., & Greene, B. Abnormal psychology in a changing world.

Plotnik, R., & Kouyoumdjian, H. Introduction to psychology.

Siegel, D. (2001). The developing mind. New York: The Guilford Press.

Wolfe, D. Abnormal child psychology. (2010).

Image via VSRao/Pixabay.

/2018/08/27/whats-personality-got-to-do-with-us-a-lot/feed/ 5
Is Social Media the Bad Guy? Redefining Beauty in a Digital World /2018/07/20/is-social-media-the-bad-guy-redefining-beauty-in-a-digital-world/ /2018/07/20/is-social-media-the-bad-guy-redefining-beauty-in-a-digital-world/#respond Fri, 20 Jul 2018 15:30:11 +0000 /?p=23831 We’re living in an age of hyper-connectivity where social media is being widely used by almost every age group in the world. It’s connected people from all corners of the planet and given us the opportunity to have global conversations about practically any subject, event, or news piece.

However, many mental health and behavioral experts believe that social media has had a negative impact on the psychological well-being of those who use it because it gives people the illusion of being popular based solely on how many “likes” and “friends” they have on their profiles.

Psychologists have also observed that social media exacerbates the tendency for frequent users to develop a skewed impression of the world which is seldom accurate or healthy. Young girls and women, for example, may develop unrealistic standards when it comes to their looks and bodies based on what they see on social media.

But instead of labeling social media as the bad guy, I see it as a double-edged sword. The eventual effect that it has on your life really comes down to how you use it and for what purpose. The Internet is a neutral and open platform that levels the playing field when it comes to having access to knowledge that could help us live healthier, productive, and more fulfilling lives.

If anyone wants to avoid the negative impact that social media could have on her self-image, they need to become more conscious of their media diet. If they follow social media accounts and blogs run by people and institutions that are shallow and appearance-focused, such as Instagram models and celebrity fashion and gossip related profiles, it can hurt them if they aren’t mindful of its probable impact on them, especially on a subconscious level.

The negative impact of social media can be avoided if people are guided towards adopting a more empowering and all-encompassing standard of beauty which includes all aspects of being—intellect, aspirations, passions, talents and her morals.

In this way, they will be naturally drawn towards developing an identity that isn’t solely based on outward appearances but on character—this, in turn, will influence the use of social media for noble purposes that will expand the mind and provide a platform to express creative potential and to make a difference. In other words, we need to take an inside-out approach when it comes to combating the potentially harmful effects of social media, or any other forms of media.

Image via pixel2013/Pixabay.

/2018/07/20/is-social-media-the-bad-guy-redefining-beauty-in-a-digital-world/feed/ 0
VIDEO: How Facebook Preys on Our Mental Health /2018/07/18/video-how-facebook-preys-on-our-mental-health/ /2018/07/18/video-how-facebook-preys-on-our-mental-health/#respond Wed, 18 Jul 2018 15:30:40 +0000 /?p=23788 In an ironic turn, the recent controversy surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica eclipsed another controversy brewing months before. As 2017 came to close, the million-dollar question surrounding the company was, Does Facebook make us depressed?

Back in December, even Facebook itself posted an article on its official blog, titled, Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad For Us? The post cites a number of studies that prove spending time on Facebook can threaten well-being.

One study from the University of San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on four times as many links or liked twice as many posts as the average person reported decreased mental health in a survey. A broader study found that increases in “likes clicked,” “links clicked,” or “status updates” was associated with decreases in mental health.

But though these studies might prove that Facebook brings us down, they don’t ask the important question of how Facebook brings us down. For a more thorough dive into what truly addict us to the site, ultimately leaving us feeling unsatisfied, check out this video, which explains the subject in depth:

The video presents arguments from two former employees, Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya, who claim that Facebook was designed to prey on its users’ neurochemical reward systems. Dopamine, the chemical released in the brain during certain activities, such as exercising, finishing tasks at work, and finding food, has also been found to surge during social interactions. The brain desires cooperation and connection, so it sends reward signals in the form of dopamine when this cooperation or connection occurs. It could be something as simple as carrying a couch up a flight of stairs with a friend, or as profound as telling your partner you love her.

Because the brain cannot distinguish between, an interaction in real life and one on Facebook in terms of dopamine release, these rewards systems are integral to Facebook’s interface. Even the little red notification, or the ping sound we’ve all become accustomed to, produce a similar dopamine release.

The key insight in the video is that Facebook knows these dopamine hits are essential to their business model, the main driving force bringing people back to the site over and over and over again. Knowing this, they’ve ramped up notifications over the years, spiking our dopamine levels for something as mundane and uninteresting as someone having gone “live” a few hours ago, or a belated birthday, or even just to tell you that you haven’t posted in a while.

What happens, then, is a uniquely modern phenomenon. Your brain is rewarding you with dopamine for a successful social interaction, but in reality, no genuine connection has occurred, creating a disconnect between the chemical reward system in your brain and your actual lived experience.

Obviously, Facebook can depress its users in a number of ways. People often assume others’ lives are happier than theirs because of how their friends present themselves online. Teen brains are now trained to be distracted based on the interface alone. But this feeling, the dopamine hit followed by immediate disappointment with the reality of a meaningless notification, seems central to the deflating feeling Facebook can produce.


Shakya, H., & Christakis, N. (2017). Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study. American Journal Of Epidemiology. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww189

Verduyn, P., Lee, D., Park, J., Shablack, H., Orvell, A., & Bayer, J. et al. (2015). Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(2), 480-488. doi: 10.1037/xge0000057

Image via geralt/Pixabay.

/2018/07/18/video-how-facebook-preys-on-our-mental-health/feed/ 0
How Taking Facebook Breaks Effects Stress and Wellbeing /2018/04/09/the-effects-facebook-breaks-and-on-stress-and-well-being/ /2018/04/09/the-effects-facebook-breaks-and-on-stress-and-well-being/#respond Mon, 09 Apr 2018 12:00:43 +0000 /?p=23658 Inadvertently, in the wake of recent Facebook data harvesting scandals, Elon Musk and Brian Acton spurring on Facebook users to #DeleteFacebook in past weeks and the resulting Facebook breaks could (potentially) do some good for the average users stress levels. While differences between being deleted, deactivated, or abandoned have yet to be explored, new research is the first to report that the average user can relieve physiological measures of stress by taking a break from Facebook—at least in the short-term.

Findings from a 2013 survey in the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, posit that 61% of current Facebook users reported taking a “Facebook vacation,” in which they voluntarily stopped using Facebook for several weeks or more. Moreover, 20% of adults reported having once used Facebook but that they no longer did so.

In a study that was just published in the Journal of Social Psychology, researchers in Australia investigated how taking a Facebook break (i.e., abstaining from using Facebook) effects stress and wellbeing. They recruited 138 active Facebook users and split them into two groups: the Facebook use as normal and five-day Facebook break groups.

Taking a break from Facebook lowered levels of salivary cortisol (a stress biomarker) after just five days. Yet despite this physiologically stress-relieving effect, users taking a Facebook break reported feeling lower levels of life satisfaction and wellbeing than users that continued Facebook use as normal (as measured by subjective reports from the users).

These seemingly contradictory effects are consistent with the general love-hate feelings about Facebook that may typify most active users, exemplified by “I’m done with Facebook” posts one minute and regular selfies and check-ins the next—its a super social tool with tonnes of obvious benefits, but often feels taxing, addictively time-wasting, forces social comparison, lowers self-esteem, and can be an information overload.

Its important to remember that Facebook users in this study were not users that had reached Facebook breaking point and desired a Facebook vacation themselves. They were essentially “cut off” from Facebook for the purpose of the experiment, with the researchers reasoning that subjective feelings of life-satisfaction and well-being were lowered by removing a currently desired means of contact and connection with others, despite the break lowering stress levels by other means.

At first glance, two other Facebook break studies may seem to contradict the reduced wellbeing observed from taking a Facebook break. They reported that subjects reported feeling increased wellbeing when taking a Facebook break over a one-week (study 1) or two-week (study 2) period, particularly for the heaviest Facebook users.

The 5-day break in the newly published cortisol study was perhaps too short to observe the decline in subjective wellbeing previously reported from longer periods of regular Facebook use. Moreover, the Facebook break was also over a weekend, which is typically a wellbeing booster and may have counteracted negative effects of regular Facebook use.

It is also important to note that the participants were recruited based on a willingness to give up Facebook for five days (and not naturally occurring Facebook vacations), and may have over-selected for people already overburdened by Facebook and seeking a good reason to have a Facebook break. However, this didn’t seem to be the case as only a handful of users reported that they expected the Facebook break to be a pleasant experience—the majority of the participants did not think a Facebook break would be a nice experience. As one participant speculated:

I will probably feel…upset as my social life will be totally stopped if I cannot use Facebook and
cannot find my friends in Facebook, I will also feel like left behind as I will not be able to know
what has happened with my Facebook friends in the coming five days.

Many participants (unprompted) expressed happiness that they could get back onto Facebook again because they felt so cut off. Naturally occurring Facebook breaks, on the other hand, may come with better improvements in stress levels that coincide with improved wellbeing because the break is truly desired and needed.

This may also be why the self-reports of stress were not significantly affected (statistically speaking), despite a trend towards reporting lower stress, where their negative perceptions about being cut off from Facebook (e.g., “I’m disconnected!”) influenced their perceived stress.

Additionally, a moderator effect was found when participants were divided on the basis of Dunbar’s number, 150—the number of individuals with whom Dunbar suggested that any one person can maintain stable relationships with. Those with 150 or fewer friends showed a decline in cortisol, whether they took a break or continued to use Facebook as usual. However, the small number of participants who actually had fewer than 150 friends prevented them from having sufficient power to fully test these effects.

To really get to the bottom of all this, researchers should be asking what happens to cortisol levels (and subjective stress and wellbeing) when people are disconnected from Facebook for much longer periods (e.g., months), the mechanisms involved, and to what extent naturally occurring cyclical patterns of Facebook activity occur (where stress from Facebook builds, users disconnect and go cold turkey, and then return as their desire to feel connected again builds).

The amounting evidence supports that taking short breaks from Facebook could be beneficial to both mental and physical health due to the significant role of stress and the HPA axis in mental and physical disorders. This is particularly beneficial for people who heavily use the platform or experience too much social comparison and envy that harms their wellbeing.

Soon, research will likely tell us how long the breaks should be and how often and under what circumstances they should occur to get the most out of being both connected and disconnected from Facebook and perhaps social media use in general. Science can’t yet say with confidence the ways that deleting facebook and the #DeleteFacebook movement could impact users health and wellbeing, but it certainly suggests taking a #FacebookBreak if your #donewithfb. Maybe consider taking a Facebook break for lent next year.


Kross, E., Verduyn, P., Demiralp, E., Park, J., Lee, D. S., Lin, N., Shablack, H., Jonides, J., & Ybarra, O. (2013). Facebook use predicts declines in subject well-being in young adults. PLOS ONE, 8(8), e69841-e69841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0069841

Pew Internet and American Life Project (2013). What teens said about social media, privacy, and online identity. Pew Internet., accessed on January 5, 2017.

Tromholt, M. (2016). The Facebook experiment: Quitting Facebook leads to higher levels of well-being. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 19, 661-666.

Vanman, E., Baker, R., & Tobin, S. (2018). The burden of online friends: the effects of giving up Facebook on stress and wellbeing. The Journal Of Social Psychology. doi:10.1080/00224545.2018.1453467

Image via geralt/Pixabay.

/2018/04/09/the-effects-facebook-breaks-and-on-stress-and-well-being/feed/ 0
Blonde Vs Brunette Science: More #metoo for Blondes? /2018/03/28/blonde-vs-brunette-science-more-metoo-for-blondes/ /2018/03/28/blonde-vs-brunette-science-more-metoo-for-blondes/#respond Wed, 28 Mar 2018 12:00:49 +0000 /?p=23604 Blonde women are arguably the most sexually objectified and stereotyped women, but could this equate to more #metoo scenarios for blondes? Women often report experiencing increased attention and harassment from strangers ‘as a given’ when going blonde. With an increased level of sexual attention and harassment, do women with blonde hair (from the bottle or not) have a greater risk of sexual assault than brunettes?

My First Day as a First-Time Blonde…

Yesterday I was a brunette. Using the magical powers of bleach I am now a first-time “blonde” (#silverhairtrend). It’s only hair…right? I immediately learned my error the moment I exited the hairdressers!

The streets felt different: there was immediately more regular catcalling and leering, and it seemed like the creep/stalker factor definitely went up a very hefty notch. I mean, being a woman (#metoo), unwanted sexual attention is certainly not unusual, but at this frequency (#nonstop) and extra level of invasiveness…really?

I had no idea that blonde women have it this bad.

Why? Is it just me? Or do all blondes get harassed more on the street…and beyond? Should I be brushing up on my Krav Maga? Is it time to invest in my first pepper spray? If in doubt, research!

What Research Says…

Question 1: Are Blondes Stereotyped as Sex Objects? Sources say YES!

There are no statistics released regarding hair color and rates of harassment or sexual assault. One thing research has made clear is that blonde women are more sexually objectified than brunettes, i.e., reduced to a sexual object, rather than being seen as a full person. Similarly, research strongly demonstrates that the greater the sexual objectification the less deserving of respect a woman is considered to be.

Looking at the brain, research suggests that women that are more sexually objectified are considered less human in the male brain. In one study published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience entitled “From agents to objects: sexist attitudes and neural responses to sexualized targets”, 21 heterosexual men viewed short 200 millisecond flashes of images showing sexualized and fully-clothed men and women while in an fMRI brain scanner. The higher the men scored in tests of hostile sexism, the less activity in brain regions associated with social cognition and mentalizing there were when passively viewing images of sexualized women as compared to looking at sexualized men or clothed women. Relatedly, studies have found the processing of sexually objectified women to resemble object processing in male viewers, where as women viewers process sexually objectified men more like other human beings.

As reported in both qualitative research and popular media, some women who have been on both sides of the peroxide bottle report more encounters with strangers (as a blonde) where they feel: more like an object, are presumed to be dumber, receive less respect, are taken less seriously, and receive aggression more readily than when they are brunettes.

Tired of being a sexual object in the workplace, accomplished CEO Eileen Carey says that she made the decision to dye her blonde hair darker to fend off unwanted sexual attention, to be taken more seriously, allowing her to be perceived as the strong business leader that she is.

She is not alone. This ‘going brunette to escape the blonde stereotype’ trend is echoed in a qualitative study of the challenges facing female undergraduate engineering students. One student refused to return to blonde hair from fear of negative treatment from her male peers:

I don’t want to go back to being a blonde because I feel like I’m getting enough grief as it is as a woman. I feel like honestly, a woman with blonde hair, they just take you like a stereotypical Barbie. I feel like the brunette gives me a little more power. They [male peers] seem to take me more serious.

Question 2: Are Blondes harassed more by strangers? Initial sources say YES!

Empirical research exists on what makes blondes more attractive. For example, one study found that men (on average) judge women with blonde hair to be ‘significantly’ younger- and healthier-looking. Findings from other studies include blonde women being perceived as more popular and less intelligent than brunettes (i.e., the dumb blonde stereotype), especially so for platinum blondes. But research asking if or why blonde women are sexually harassed, abused, or assaulted more is nearly nonexistent. At least for peer-reviewed research.

Although certainly not highly controlled experiments, some modern-day superwomen have come to science’s rescue with their own blonde Vs brunette experiments.

One such woman is Devin Lytle, a lifetime-long brunette, she dyed her hair platinum blonde to conduct her own set of social experiments. As generally echoed in more hardcore science, she was seen as more attractive, got more tinder swipes, and was viewed as sweeter and less uptight than her native brunette alter ego. Importantly, this seemed to come hand in hand with getting more catcalls on the street (three as a blonde and zero as a brunette, despite wearing the exact same outfit).

Hayley Quinn, another natural brunette, did three social experiments using a blonde wig (a chivalry test, a tinder test, and a street attractiveness test). She couldn’t even get started with street experiments without being approached as a blonde. Although there was no “catcalling experiment” per se, her personal experience was that:

I love being a brunette, it’s easier and nicer. But if you want to go blonde we can definitely say that blondes might not have more fun, but they definitely get noticed more, definitely get approached more, and definitely get judged more.

Some very early research from the 1980s supports our DIY scientists, concluding that objectified women—and by extension, blondes in particular—are subject to more sexual harassment, sexual coercion, and unwanted sexual attention in public spaces by strangers. Today, in research settings, the tendency towards female harassment has been shown to intensify simply by showing men videos that objectify women—which is not rare for blondes in popular media.

Question 3: Does the objectification and dehumanization of blondes increase risk of sexual assault? It does for objectified women generally, why not blondes!?

Although context is always king, its fair to say that the blonde woman stereotype is one of the most, if not THE most, sexually objectifying and therefore one of the most dehumanizing of all the hair color stereotypes. But is this dehumanization a prelude to violence and increased risk of sexual assault?

Research undoubtedly shows that dehumanization as a consequence of sexual objectification has dire consequences. This is pretty evident in research on rape perceptions, where sexual objectification increases victim blaming and diminishes rapist blame in cases of stranger rape. Just like a torturous death of an animal can be seen as less torturous if the animal is considered to be for food object, the sexual assault of a woman is seen as less of an assault if the woman is considered to be sex objects—like blondes—making them more vulnerable to violence.

In some studies, men with hostile or aggressive views toward women are more likely to objectify. In reverse, if a man tends to view women more like animals or objects they are more likely to be sexually aggressive towards women. The latest study showed that sexual objectification increases physical aggression toward women without provocation (i.e., even if there is no negative behaviour that could provoke aggression, if you’re seen as a sex object, aggression towards you is generally higher). It doesn’t look good for blondes.

Although currently there is no direct research exploring causal relationships between women’s hair color, associated stereotypes, and rates of harassment or assault, connecting the dots between the early evidence makes it clear we would be “very blonde” not to do so.


Awasthi B. From Attire to Assault: Clothing, Objectification, and De-humanization – A Possible Prelude to Sexual Violence?. Front Psychol. 2017;8. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00338.

Bernard P, Loughnan S, Marchal C, Godart A, Klein O. The Exonerating Effect of Sexual Objectification: Sexual Objectification Decreases Rapist Blame in a Stranger Rape Context. Sex Roles. 2015;72(11-12):499-508. doi:10.1007/s11199-015-0482-0.

Bratanova B, Loughnan S, Bastian B. The effect of categorization as food on the perceived moral standing of animals. Appetite. 2011;57(1):193-196. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.04.020.

Cikara M, Eberhardt J, Fiske S. From Agents to Objects: Sexist Attitudes and Neural Responses to Sexualized Targets. J Cogn Neurosci. 2011;23(3):540-551. doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21497.

Fairchild K, Rudman L. Everyday Stranger Harassment and Women’s Objectification. Soc Justice Res. 2008;21(3):338-357. doi:10.1007/s11211-008-0073-0.

Fitzgerald L, Shullman S, Bailey N et al. The incidence and dimensions of sexual harassment in academia and the workplace. Journal of Vocational Behavior. 1988;32(2):152-175. doi:10.1016/0001-8791(88)90012-7.

Galdi S, Maass A, Cadinu M. Objectifying Media. Psychol Women Q. 2013;38(3):398-413. doi:10.1177/0361684313515185.

Sorokowski P. Attractiveness of Blonde Women in Evolutionary Perspective: Studies with Two Polish Samples. Percept Mot Skills. 2008;106(3):737-744. doi:10.2466/pms.106.3.737-744.

Swami V, Barrett S. British men’s hair color preferences: An assessment of courtship solicitation and stimulus ratings. Scand J Psychol. 2011;52(6):595-600. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9450.2011.00911.x.

Vaes J, Paladino P, Puvia E. Are sexualized women complete human beings? Why men and women dehumanize sexually objectified women. Eur J Soc Psychol. 2011;41(6):774-785. doi:10.1002/ejsp.824.

Vasquez E, Ball L, Loughnan S, Pina A. The object of my aggression: Sexual objectification increases physical aggression toward women. Aggress Behav. 2017;44(1):5-17. doi:10.1002/ab.21719.

Image via artursfoto/Pixabay.

/2018/03/28/blonde-vs-brunette-science-more-metoo-for-blondes/feed/ 0
Is Your Own Mind Trapping Your True Self? /2018/02/23/is-your-own-mind-trapping-you/ /2018/02/23/is-your-own-mind-trapping-you/#respond Fri, 23 Feb 2018 13:00:45 +0000 /?p=23393 If you were to ask most people if they are in charge of their life, the majority of people would likely respond that they themselves were. Yet what most people don’t understand is the tremendous power their subconscious mind has on the choices they make and how they approach life on a daily basis.

In order to live your ideal life—the one you were innately designed to live rather than the one your family or society may have designed for you—it is important to learn to be more conscious of the programming you may have inherited.

The Difference Between Your True Self and the Database of Your Mind

When we are first born, we are grounded in our unique consciousness—an awareness that begins to explore the world that is our true self. This true self enters the world with a unique set of potentials (physically, athletically, musically, artistically, and personality wise) that only we could bring to the world. The metaphor that I like to use when referring to our true self is that of an acorn. An acorn contains the full potential of an oak tree, it is never going to be a maple or pine no matter what. Similarly, each of us comes with the potential to fulfill purposes that only we can.

Our unique consciousness enters the world with two incredible tools at its disposal, our bodies and the database of our mind. From the moment we start observing the world, our subconscious or implicit mind is continuously collecting information like a sponge without the need for our conscious attention. This implicit mind first forms mental models about ourselves, others, and the world. As our ability for language emerges, we then start putting words to these mental models and forming our core beliefs about ourselves and life in general. Examples of key core beliefs include: “I’m loveable just for who I am (or not)”; “Relationships are a source of comfort (or not)”; “I’m designed for a unique purpose” or rather, “I need to do what others want in order to be worthwhile.”

When we develop the ability to use language our conscious explicit mind also develops. This rational part of our mind’s database is what people are referring to when they say they’re remembering something. This part of our mind has several key advantages in that it organizes information based on logic and chronology. It is the “smart” part of our mind’s database. Unfortunately, because it relies on our conscious attention to get information into it, the explicit mind is very limited in the amount of and speed at which it can accumulate information.

Our implicit subconscious mind is a far more dominant part of our mind’s database. Because it does not require our conscious attention, it can collect far greater amounts of information than our explicit mind ever could and do it at significantly greater speeds. One of the major drawbacks of the implicit subconscious mind, however, is that it is not smart per se. When it collects information, it organizes it based on neural associations (things that occur together become linked) or classical conditioning (as Pavlov demonstrated in his work with dogs) rather than logic or chronology. Also, once an association is made, the implicit mind is not good at contextually updating this association. In other words, it doesn’t take into consideration that we may have grown, matured or gathered more resources that would dramatically change the nature of that association.

How Our Mind Traps Us

When we are first born, we are firmly grounded in our unique consciousness—there is relatively little information in the database. But as we develop, particularly as we acquire language, the information in the database grows exponentially. Instead of staying grounded in our unique consciousness and using the incredible problem-solving thinking machine that is our mind’s database to help us fulfill our true purpose, we all too often get trapped by the very mind that was supposed to help us.

As the core beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world get more and more entrenched in our mind’s database, in essence, we get enveloped by the database. We end up living life from inside the database, believing those core beliefs as if they were absolute truths rather than recognizing them as reflections of the relative health or dysfunction of our families, friends, schools, society, and media. We, unfortunately, lose sight of the fact that we are much greater than our mind’s database would ever have us believe. We lose sight of our true self or the unique consciousness with which we began life.

The path to self-actualization or living the life you were innately designed to live involves becoming increasingly aware of the programming of your subconscious implicit mind, regrounding yourself in your unique consciousness and then learning to consciously program your mind constructively. I outline this process in greater depth in my book Constructive Thinking: How to Grow Beyond Your Mind.

However, another book that I would like to bring your attention to is My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. Through the traumatic life-changing experience of having a stroke in her left hemisphere, brain scientist Dr. Taylor shares one of the most poignant examples of freeing oneself from the dysfunctional programming of one’s database and rediscovering one’s true self. Because Dr. Taylor’s stroke was in her left hemisphere, where the ability for language resides, in essence, the stroke wiped out her mind’s database (as if all the programming on the whiteboard of her mind was instantly wiped clean).

Dr. Taylor describes the ironic euphoria she experienced being freed from this programming leaving her to connect only with her true self—the unique consciousness. Through her long arduous recovery from the stroke, Dr. Taylor was given the unique opportunity to program her mind’s database consciously from scratch (beginning with having to relearn how to read and write again). She describes how she was much more deliberate about being sure to program her mind’s database more constructively, leaving much of her dysfunctional ways of relating to herself and others with her pre-stroke self. Ironically, from Dr. Taylor’s depiction, it appears that the whole experience led to deeper contentment and a more self-actualized path than she may have ever discovered had the stroke not occurred.

While Dr. Taylor’s journey is obviously an extremely dramatic case, the path she discovered—freeing herself from her mind’s database, rediscovering her true self and then learning to program her mind constructively—is the path to self-actualization. It is this path that I’m most passionate about helping as many people as possible to discover. For the greater number of individuals who discover and live their lives on the path of self-actualization the greater the exponential positive impact will be on the world.

Lisa Manzi Lentino, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Sudbury, MA and author of Constructive Thinking: How to Grow Beyond Your Mind and the children’s book The Littlest Acorn. She can be reached by email at


Bolte Taylor, J. (2009). My stroke of insight. New York, NY: Penguin Group

Hayes, S (2005) Get out of your mind and into your life: the new acceptance and commitment therapy Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications

Lentino, L. (2014) Constructive thinking: how to grow beyond your mind. Sudbury, MA: Grow Beyond Your Mind Press

Siegel, D (2012) The developing mind (2nd edition). New York, NY: The Guilford Press

Tolle, E (1999) The power of now: a guide to spiritual enlightenment Novato, CA: New World Library

Image via geralt/Pixabay.

/2018/02/23/is-your-own-mind-trapping-you/feed/ 0
The Future of Addiction Recovery: Holistic Tech-Assisted Rehab /2018/02/06/the-future-of-healing-addiction-holistic-tech-assisted-rehabilitation/ /2018/02/06/the-future-of-healing-addiction-holistic-tech-assisted-rehabilitation/#respond Tue, 06 Feb 2018 16:55:36 +0000 /?p=23454 Statistically, if you know ten people in the US, at least one of them is expected to enter a near futile battle with addiction—chances of long-term recovery are low. Traditional drug rehabilitation alone isn’t working for enough people, not even slightly. Finally, the foundations for the creation of next-generation therapies have been laid that could help turn these numbers on their head.

Recent developments in our understanding of the biological and neural networks involved in substance abuse disorders and psychological theories of behavioral change, coupled with the rapid evolution of technology-assisted therapy mean that the pivotal time is now.

As we speak, over 30 of the World’s leading experts on ending addiction and facilitating life-long recovery—including expert scientists and therapists, TED speakers, thought-leaders, and international best-sellers—are speaking at the online Healing Addiction Summit.

And that is what it is going to take: The knowledge from the best minds in their respective fields, being united at the frontline in creating holistic, multipronged, therapeutic systems that adapt to the individual and their support network to effectively prevent relapse round the clock and reliably promote lifelong, successful recovery.

We are failing addiction sufferers and their families

Most addicts in the US never receive treatment (estimated at 10% or less), and although heatedly debated it is clear that most conventional addiction recovery programs alone do not result in lifelong recovery for the majority of people. Tragically, this equates to lifelong suffering that ripples through the addict’s lives to their loved ones and our communities and society as a whole. As put by Summer Felix-Mulder, co-founder of Clear Health Technologies and host of the currently running Healing Addiction Summit

Addiction doesn’t just affect the addict, it affects families, it affects friends, it affects every relationship.

Ultimately, the seemingly endless addiction cycle of sobering up, relapsing, and hitting rock bottom often ends in drug-related death. In the US, a shocking 100> people die every single day from the number one cause of injury-related death, drug overdoses and poisoning.

With such high stakes at risk, failing to treat and heal those suffering from addiction, the addicts themselves, and their families, is not an option.

Why do addicts relapse?

Behavioral change maintenance, also known as sustainable behavior change, is the ultimate goal in addiction recovery, where a recovering addict refrains from old addiction sustaining behaviors (e.g., drug seeking and use) and maintains new abstinent behaviors (e.g., use of craving coping and wellness strategies).

Think of a Jenga tower as the power to resist cravings and desires to use. It is made of many useful, interconnected blocks that represent the perhaps 100s of factors that can help prevent relapse:

  • Some of these blocks are red. They represent the emotional and physiological resources (e.g., good sleep, low stress, neutral/positive mood) needed to start entraining a new behavior to make it an automatic habit while resisting an old habit.
  • Some of these blocks are green. They represent the tools and abilities one has to self-regulate and exercise self-control over old addiction habits and behaviors.
  • Some of these blocks are blue. They represent the good habits that prevent drug relapse. Self-control requires fewer resources the more that the behaviors that prevent relapse and promote recovery are entrained in the brain and become a habit.
  • And then add contextual factors into the mix. Changes to the addict’s physical and social environment can shake things up. An emotional rock of a friend moves away, having to attend a wedding with an open-bar, or a new club opens next door and it’s like pointing a power fan at the Jenga tower. You better hope the right blocks are in the right places!
    • In reality, some of the blocks can be removed without too much fuss. One night’s bad sleep, so what? The tower might sway, cravings might even go through the roof in stressful moments throughout the day, but balance is regained and relapse is resisted—the tower stands strong. Remove a few more blocks and another couple fall off, create weak patches, or remove some of those important foundational blocks and, very quickly, when just a second ago the tower stood steady, it all comes tumbling down.

      This is how falling off the wagon seems to creep up on addicts and their support network. No one can monitor all of these blocks all of the time, not even the addict, and certainly not their counselors, therapists, friends, and family.

      All it takes is the wrong block to be removed at the wrong time. For non-addicts wanting to start new healthy habits or quit bad ones this equates to an “off day” or moment of poor self-control, but for addicts, this can be devastating and life-threatening.

      Why aren’t conventional drug rehab programs enough?

      One of the current mainstays of drug and alcohol rehab treatments involves engagement in a 12-step program pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous that the majority of rehabilitation centers rely upon.

      About 60% of public treatment programs in the U.S. report that the 12-step model is their primary approach, and most encourage or mandate 12-step involvement, with about half holding 12-step meetings onsite.

      Research on the effectiveness of these programs is controversial and is subject to widely divergent interpretations and will not be discussed in this article. Nonetheless, it is resoundingly clear from the latest reviews and meta-analysis that while there are undoubtedly recovery-related benefits for some people, the most effective programs of the future will NOT be based on the 12-steps.

      And why should we expect 12-steps-based rehab programs and treatments to work across the board today? It was created in 1935 (when we knew next to nothing about addiction) and is essentially a set of religious/spiritual principles that have changed surprisingly little over the years. It is not a carefully crafted system based on proof of what works best for the majority of people or under various circumstances. And it is certainly not tailored to the individual to maximize effectiveness and ensure that the recovering addict has maximal protection against relapse 24/7.

      There is not one single reason to expect such drug rehab programs to be universally effective.

      And how can future drug rehab programs be better at preventing relapse and promoting recovery?

      • By evidence-based design.
      • By providing round the clock assessment and care.
      • By developing holistic approaches that take into behavioral change theory and account for psychology (mind), biology (the body and brain), and, for some, spirituality (soul).
      • By helping addicts use interventions and tools tailored to the individual’s needs at the exact moment they need them, not simply learning about them in a meeting and hoping they are used when times are tough. Prompts and guidance are needed to guarantee success under stress.
      • By helping addicts maintain the healthy habits and quality of life needed to stay clean that even the most healthy and successful individuals can struggle to maintain on the daily.
      • By being affordable, desirable, and accessible for all.

      This can only be achieved realistically by designing programs that integrally capitalize on smart devices. Objective biosensors and mobile phone applications can be used to detect and tell the addict and their support network when one block has been removed from the tower, when two blocks go, and when that power fan is trying to blow the whole blooming tower down. And can provide the tools to prevent relapse both before and when the crisis moments strike.

      With recent research demonstrating both the effectiveness of predicting relapse from wearables and smart device-derived data, as well as reports of high user compliance and adherence to wearables and mobile phone applications that are used to tackle and study addiction, the time is now to develop dynamic, research-based, person-centered, technology-assisted drug rehab programs.

      The future of substance abuse disorder treatment is bright, is holistic, is personalized, is round the clock, and most importantly, will be designed to help heal from addiction, brick by brick.


      Grant, B., Saha, T., Ruan, W., Goldstein, R., Chou, S., & Jung, J. et al. (2016). Epidemiology ofDSM-5Drug Use Disorder. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(1), 39. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.2132

      Huhn, A., Harris, J., Cleveland, H., Lydon, D., Stankoski, D., & Cleveland, M. et al. (2016). Ecological momentary assessment of affect and craving in patients in treatment for prescription opioid dependence. Brain Research Bulletin, 123, 94-101. doi:10.1016/j.brainresbull.2016.01.012

      Humphreys, K., Blodgett, J., & Wagner, T. (2014). Estimating the Efficacy of Alcoholics Anonymous without Self-Selection Bias: An Instrumental Variables Re-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. Alcoholism: Clinical And Experimental Research, 38(11), 2688-2694. doi:10.1111/acer.12557

      Kaskutas, L. (2009). Alcoholics Anonymous Effectiveness: Faith Meets Science. Journal Of Addictive Diseases, 28(2), 145-157. doi:10.1080/10550880902772464

      Kwasnicka, D., Dombrowski, S., White, M., & Sniehotta, F. (2016). Theoretical explanations for maintenance of behaviour change: a systematic review of behaviour theories. Health Psychology Review, 10(3), 277-296. doi:10.1080/17437199.2016.1151372

      McCarthy, M. (2015). Drug overdose has become leading cause of death from injury in US. BMJ, 350(jun22 3), h3328-h3328. doi:10.1136/bmj.h3328

      Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2011) National Survey of Substance Abuse Treatment Services (N-SSATS): 2010. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

      Substance Aabuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2017). Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Rockville, MD: Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

      Volkow, N., Wang, G., Fowler, J., & Tomasi, D. (2012). Addiction Circuitry in the Human Brain. Annual Review Of Pharmacology And Toxicology, 52(1), 321-336. doi:10.1146/annurev-pharmtox-010611-134625

      Image via lechenie-narkomanii/Pixabay.

      ]]> /2018/02/06/the-future-of-healing-addiction-holistic-tech-assisted-rehabilitation/feed/ 0 Why is Forgetting Good for Your Brain and Health? /2017/09/20/why-forgetting-is-important-for-the-brain-functions/ /2017/09/20/why-forgetting-is-important-for-the-brain-functions/#respond Wed, 20 Sep 2017 15:25:01 +0000 /?p=22836 The idea that forgetting is important for the proper functioning of the brain and memory may sound counterintuitive. However, forgetting is part of the process of memorizing, and it does not make us any less smart. Research shows that our brain has active mechanisms for forgetting. Both storing and losing memories are important for selecting and holding the most relevant information. Forgetting helps to get rid of outdated information. Forgetting the details also helps to generalize past experiences into specific categories and thus create appropriate responses to similar situations in the future.

      Forgetting details helps us to remember what needs to be remembered. You cannot craft a good text without deleting and proofreading its parts. As the saying goes, it is the empty space between the notes that makes the music.

      When we talk about forgetting in this article, we are not discussing forgetting related to dementia or any other neurodegenerative disease. We are talking about forgetting processes that take place in a healthy individual and are essential for the healthy working of the brain.

      On a daily basis, our brain is bombarded with too much information. Most of this information is more like noise that interferes with our decision-making and reduces the clarity of thoughts. Something needs to be done with this unneeded information. Forgetting improves the flexibility of the brain by removing such outdated and unnecessary information. It also helps to streamline our memory by eliminating useless details and generalizing the concepts involved. The function of memory is not to simply pass information through time, but also to optimize future decision-making.

      Forgetting has a special function in the memorizing process. Remembering things has a cost for memory, thus forgetting irrelevant things is a cost-saving process. Our memory change is bi-directional. Some memories are made stronger, while others are either repressed or completely deleted. This makes the process of retrieving important information more efficient, as the brain uses fewer resources. Although forgetting may be frustrating, it has some fundamental benefits that aid our ability to remember.

      Forgetting is also essential for our mental health. If this sound like an exaggeration, think about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Forgetting is essential for post-traumatic recovery. People with difficulties forgetting things are more prone to depression and psychological trauma. This is the reason why one of the key components of treating PTSD is memory repression or forgetting. Thus, the ability to forget can be used as a protective mechanism that helps to improve mental health.

      Some researchers even believe that forgetting is related to ethics. If unjust thoughts continue to linger in your mind, they may finally result in unethical actions. Forgetting helps us to get rid of the wrong kind of thoughts and actions. Forgetting is important for leaving behind previously experienced humiliations and continuing on with pride. Forgetting helps us to move towards the future, leaving the past behind. Both memory and forgetting contribute to the continuation of life, allowing us to forget the anger and pains of the past.

      Forgetting helps us to construct our life’s plot as we want. Without forgetting unnecessary things, we cannot create a design of our liking. We cannot tell a beautiful story without omitting some secondary details.

      For proper balance in life, both conservation of memory and forgetting are important. Yoni Van Den Eede aptly wrote that:

      In this doubled Faustian bargain, we must ask ourselves towards which of the two sides we have been biased, and how we can reach a balance that combines enforcement with—consciously sought-after—limitations.


      Kearney, R., Dooley, M., 1999. Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy. Psychology Press.

      Richards, B.A., Frankland, P.W., 2017. The Persistence and Transience of Memory. Neuron 94, 1071–1084. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.04.037.

      Rossouw, P., 2013. PTSD & Voluntary Forgetting of Unwanted Memories. The Neuropsychotherapist 2, 122-124.

      Schlesinger, H.J., 1970. The Place of Forgetting in Memory Functioning. J. Am. Psychoanal. Assoc. 18, 358–371. doi: 10.1177/000306517001800206.

      Image via Pezibear/Pixabay.

      /2017/09/20/why-forgetting-is-important-for-the-brain-functions/feed/ 0
      Trans — From the Moment of Birth /2017/09/11/trans-from-the-moment-of-birth/ /2017/09/11/trans-from-the-moment-of-birth/#respond Mon, 11 Sep 2017 15:25:31 +0000 /?p=22591 The moment I was born, the doctor looked at my nether regions, saw a penis, and announced to my parents, “It’s a boy”. Along with that announcement came a long list of expectations about how a boy’s life should unfold in rural Nebraska in the 1940s and ’50s. No ambiguity. No nuance. Boys will be boys—or else!

      Gender reveal parties are a hot trend among today’s expectant parents.1 At about twenty weeks of gestation, an ultrasound is completed, and family and friends are called together for “the reveal,” a celebration of the newly identified biologic sex of the child. Sometimes a baby-carriage-piñata filled with candy is struck until the candy, wrapped in either pink or blue, comes rolling out—along with all the expectations about gender roles that will be established even prior to birth.

      Although it could be confusing to guests, I think those parties might better be called “sex reveal parties,” but I understand that guests might come with a different set of expectations. You see, what is being revealed isn’t gender at all but the biological sex of the child. Sex and gender are not the same, although they are often confused and the terms used interchangeably.

      Humans have a natural tendency to categorize, sometimes out of respect, sometimes based on stereotypes. At birth, infants are assigned a sex by a third party. It’s a binary choice based on their external genitalia or, in some cases, by chromosomes. Sex is binary: boy or girl. Gender is more of a psychological and societal concept. Gender is not binary; it may not even be linear. Enter the world of the transgender. (A discussion of intersex children who may have incomplete physical characteristics is beyond the scope of this article.)

      Transgender individuals are those who identify with a gender that differs from the biological sex they were assigned at birth. They are born biologically male or female but express their gender in ways more consistent with the opposite sex.

      Although it may seem like we have a wave of newly identified transgender people, the percent of trans people remains consistent at about 0.3%, and rather than a change in incidence, we are likely experiencing more visibility. While interviewing me, MJ Schwader said that he first came out as a lesbian at age nineteen and only many years later came out as a transgender man. He said:

      Something wasn’t right; even without language around it, I knew from a very early age that I wasn’t going to be able to stay there. When I came to a realization that I was trans, there was this complete peace inside.2

      Whether speaking of sexual orientation or gender orientation, many people live in a kind of purgatory of sexual confusion until they acquire the words to describe their individual identity.

      Another layer of confusion is added when considering “drag,” that is practiced by people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The term “drag” is used when someone wears clothing that is more conventionally worn by a person of the opposite sex, especially when a man wears women’s clothes. Drag is a performance; it does not refer to people who wish to assume a gender different from their assigned sex. Transgender women want to dress as women because they are women, transgender men are men.

      One morning I heard a television pundit who opposes transgender rights say that if men can gain an advantage by saying they are women, many will do so. He was wrong on so many levels. In our patriarchal society, most would agree that not many advantages accrue to women over men. He also implied that all a man had to do was put on a dress and a wig and suddenly he is transformed into a woman. His statement ignores the complexities and pain of a trans person’s decision to transition to a different gender. Some trans people work hard to leave no doubt as to the gender they believe they are.

      When a conflict exists between one’s biological sex and the gender with which one identifies, it creates gender dysphoria, a clinically significant form of distress. A report titled “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults” states that over 40% of trans men and women have attempted suicide, with the prevalence being highest among the young, economically disadvantaged, less educated, and ethnic minorities.3

      Until a recent change in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, this condition was labeled “gender dysphoria disorder.” Although trans men and women experience dysphoria (anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts) at a higher rate than the general population, it is no longer considered a “disorder.” For many, their psychiatric symptoms disappear or markedly diminish once they have decided to transition to the gender with which they identify.

      Why would anyone, then, choose to assume a gender different from the biological sex with which they were born? Many studies on the causes of transsexuality have been widely discredited, particularly psychological studies. A recent review of literature on the causes of gender identity concluded that a fixed, biologic basis exists for gender identity and that the best clinical outcomes are associated with hormone therapy and surgical sexual transition.4

      One classic way for scientists to test whether a trait is influenced by genetics is twin studies. Identical twins have the same chromosomes; fraternal twins are raised in the same environment but share only half their genes. Several studies have shown that among twins, both identical twins are transgender more often than both fraternal twins. Studies of the brain structure have also shown that the brains of transgender males or females are more similar to the brains of the sex with which these people identify than the brains of the sex they were assigned at birth.5

      Transgender identity is complex. It is not binary; it may not be linear. It is also most certainly not a capricious choice made to seek a particular advantage. It may also be more fluid than once thought. Sex and gender are most likely a matrix of identities without one precise set of causes. The most promising choices for understanding transsexualism is in epigenomics, a study that combines the effects of the environment on genetic expression.

      More than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color.6 Although more than half of Americans oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their birth sex, the current political environment is a very difficult one for transgender men and women. “Bathroom bills” have become the focal point of anti-LGBT measures across the country. In most cases, bathroom bills have been proposed by politicians up for re-election. The bills are being used to energize these politicians’ conservative base now that the issue of same-sex marriage has been resolved, and the arguments that they are using are the same that were used against same-sex marriage—for example, to protect children.

      President Trump, indebted to conservative Christians, has reversed his pre-election position and has rescinded President Obama’s rule that trans people must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with the sex with which they identify. In an administration that so easily dismisses science, the evidence that transsexualism is biologically determined will have little impact.

      We have a great deal to learn about transsexualism. For example, we know that the earlier hormonal treatment is given, the more apparent the physical transformation will be, but what are the long-term consequences of putting children on hormones with irreversible effects?

      One thing we can be certain of is this: issues of sexual orientation and gender identification are complex and will not be resolved at a gender reveal party during the twentieth week of gestation.

      1. Sirois M. (2017) A Word of Caution on Gender Reveal Parties. HuffPost. Available here.

      2. Olson L. (2017) Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight with Loren Olson, MD. OMTimes Radio. Available here.

      3. Haas A, Rodgers P, Herman J. (2017) Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults – Williams Institute. Williams Institute. Available here.

      4. Saraswat A, Weinland J, Shafer J. (2015) Evidence Supporting the Biologic Nature of Gender Identity, Endocrine Practice, 21(2), 199-204. doi: 10.4158/EP14351.RA.

      5. Wu K. Between the (Gender) Lines: the Science of Transgender Identity – Science in the News. Harvard University – The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. 2017. Available here.

      6. (2017) Anti-Violence. National Center for Transgender Equality. Available here.

      Image via congerdesign/Pixabay.

      /2017/09/11/trans-from-the-moment-of-birth/feed/ 0
      One In Four US Children Exposed To Weapon Violence: Helping Kids Cope with Trauma /2017/09/06/one-in-four-children-exposed-to-weapon-violence-helping-kids-cope-with-trauma/ /2017/09/06/one-in-four-children-exposed-to-weapon-violence-helping-kids-cope-with-trauma/#respond Wed, 06 Sep 2017 15:25:22 +0000 /?p=22663 An important study published in Pediatrics1 indicated that over 17.5 million (or 1 in 4) school-aged children in the United States have been exposed to weapon violence in their lifetime, as either witnesses or victims. The results also suggest that more than 2 million (1 in 33) children have been directly assaulted with lethal weapons, including guns and knives.

      The data was collected as part of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. The sample (N = 4114) was a nationally represented survey conducted in 2011 of children (51% boys, 56.7% Caucasian, 18.8% Latino, 15.1% Black, and 9.4 Another Non-Latino Race) between the ages of two and seventeen years.

      According to the authors, children’s exposure to violence is a primary national healthcare crisis, even greater than pediatric diabetes or cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics2 suggests an even higher concern, stating that gun violence is the second leading cause of death for children in the United States. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics3 supports these concerns, indicating that firearms are in the top 10 leading causes of injury deaths for children as young as 1 year old.

      The Brady Campaign4 also reports staggering statistics, including a daily average of 40 children and teens being shot and surviving, American children being killed by gun violence 11 times more often than children in other high-income countries, and the incidence of over 160 school shootings since the Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012.

      The medical, psychological, and economic cost of these statistics are profound, but frequently neglected or unknown. It is estimated that homicide- and assault-related injuries cost the US $16 million annually.1 Being a victim, a victim of multiple incidents (poly-victim), or even a witness of violence results in significant levels of symptoms of trauma, depression, anxiety, anger, and aggression in youth.1,5 The authors report that children exposed to lethal weapon violence, such as a knife or gun crime, were significantly more likely to report these symptoms than children who had not been exposed to such weapon violence, even after taking into consideration and removing the variables of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect that are also associated with trauma symptoms.

      It is important to note that research indicates that witnessing violence is also a significant risk factor, and is often more frightening to children.6 Moreover, high lethality risk weapon violence is a greater contributing factor to trauma symptoms, even more than that of multiple victimization incidents.1

      The incidence, prevalence, and research indicate that weapon violence is frighteningly high in the United States, and a substantial number of children may be at risk for significant mental health issues. Yet, program development and implementation focused on intervention and prevention related to the consequences of weapon violence are sparse and often unavailable to communities who need it most. It is imperative that we focus our resources on what is being defined by experts as a “national youth crisis” in delivering cost-effective, immediate, and community-based mental health programs to children exposed to weapon violence.

      Although it may take years to diminish the prevalence of weapon violence in the US, simple therapeutic tools may be the first step for immediate intervention. One such resource is a new book, Where Did My Friend Go? Helping Children Cope With A Traumatic Death that can serve as an excellent first step in the journey of healing. Where Did My Friend Go? is a children’s picture book for therapeutic coping that is to be read by an adult to a young child (3–8 years) who has witnessed or survived a traumatic death.

      The purpose of the book is to facilitate the child’s processing and coping with the fear, loss, and confusion associated with the trauma in developmentally appropriate and safe ways. Thorough guides for adults and child-based interventions are provided at the beginning and end of the book. The book is versatile and can be utilized for incidents of gun violence, other-weapon violence, terrorist attacks, car accidents, and plane crashes.

      Parents, teachers, pediatricians, ER doctors, counselors, and social workers in schools, shelters, community clinics, and hospitals, who are the first to observe socio-emotional and physical symptoms in children, can use Where Did My Friend Go? as a first step assessment and intervention tool. The professionals on the front lines working with affected children need to be proactive in asking children about their exposure to weapon violence, and this book can serve as a helpful resource in the process. The play-based interventions at the end of the book are also an effective guide for parents and professionals on how to explore, shift, and reassure young children’s trauma, anxiety, and loss to more adaptive functioning.

      Mental health professionals need to begin to develop and deliver intervention and prevention programs in schools, clinics, and shelters for the staggering number of children and teenagers exposed to lethal weapon violence. Teachers and healthcare professionals can play a critical role in identifying victims of violence and making appropriate referrals. Establishing and implementing standardized screenings for exposure to lethal weapon violence for children and teenagers as part of a general well-visit exam at the pediatrician’s, as well as in all schools, Head Starts, ERs, and shelters may further allow us to intervene at the early stages of symptom presentation.

      As we well know, violence begets violence. Early intervention is prevention, and if one in four American children are being directly exposed to weapon violence, we need to step in now to break the intergenerational cycle of violence and the emerging mental health crisis related to trauma and weapon violence.


      Mitchell, K., Hamby S., Turner, H., Shattuck, A., and Jones, M. (2015). Weapons involvement in the victimization of children. Pediatrics, 136 (1), 10-17. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-3966.

      American Academy of Pediatrics (2013). Retrieved from

      National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. 10 Leading causes of injury deaths by age group highlighting violent-related injury deaths. PDF.

      Brady Campaign. Retrieved from

      Turner, H.A., Shattuck, A., Hamby S, and Finkelhor, D. (2013). Community disorder, victimization exposure, and mental health in a national sample of youth. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 54 (2), 258-275. doi: 10.1177/0022146513479384.

      Hamby S., Finkelhor D., and Turner H. (2013). Perpetrator and victim gender patterns for 21 forms of youth victimization in the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. Violence and Victims, 28 (6), 915–939. doi: 10.1891/0886-6708.VV-D-12-00067.

      Image via kellepics/Pixabay.

      /2017/09/06/one-in-four-children-exposed-to-weapon-violence-helping-kids-cope-with-trauma/feed/ 0
      The Laws of Attraction: A Neurology and Psychology Expert Explains /2017/09/04/the-laws-of-attraction-a-neurology-and-psychology-expert-explains/ /2017/09/04/the-laws-of-attraction-a-neurology-and-psychology-expert-explains/#respond Mon, 04 Sep 2017 15:25:10 +0000 /?p=22849 Have you ever wondered why you could be crazy attracted to some people but not to others even if they are objectively very attractive?

      Attraction is a multifaceted part of life that is both simple and complex. Certain aspects, such as becoming instantly attracted to a good-looking person are simple, while other aspects, such as sharing a stimulating conversation or enjoying the same types of interests, are much more complex. Interestingly, taking a closer look at biology provides several answers that can help us better understand the laws of attraction. There are a number of studies that explain how science is strongly related to attraction.

      What does science have to say about the laws of attraction?

      Clinical research shows that factors such as physical features, natural body scent, and sharing similar traits all help promote attraction. Research specifically shows that people tend to view more attractive (e.g., physically handsome or beautiful) individuals as more sociable, interesting, sensitive, kind, outgoing, and modest [Dion, Wang]. Therefore, physical appearance promotes attraction to a new partner in a lot of cases. However, body language also plays a role in attraction and approachability. One particular study showed that moderately attractive women who displayed bodily gestures such as smiling, flicking the hair, and quick glances to gain attention, were approached more often by potential partners than more attractive women who did not display any of these types of gestures [Moore].

      In regards to natural body scent, research shows that women who breathe in a testosterone-like substance in male sweat, called androstadienone, feel more attracted to men they may not have otherwise been attracted to [Saxton]. After breathing in this substance for at least 15 minutes, a woman may feel more aroused, happy, and attentive to the man she is interacting with. This initial level of attraction can help facilitate a deeper conversation and connection that may lead to a new relationship.

      In both men and women, pheromones create the body’s natural scent and also stimulate attraction. More specifically, there are genes that produce pheromones that give each individual a special scent. These particular genes also generally encourage individuals who are distinctly different to become attracted to each other’s scent in order to strengthen the DNA of future generations for partners who have children together [Chaix].

      Partners who share similar interests experience positive and rewarding interactions that further encourage individuals to want to stay in a relationship [Byrne]. This means that even though factors such as attractiveness, body scent, and body language may stimulate the initial attraction between two people, persistent attraction also involves discovering that you share common interests with your new partner.

      How should this come into play when looking for a partner?

      Overall, the laws of attraction are a complex science that facilitates a wonderful and often lasting bond between two compatible individuals. For individuals who are ready to start a new relationship, it is important to remember to keep an open mind and try not to focus solely on a person’s physical appearance. There is nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful or handsome partner, but if that is the main factor you focus on when you are trying to meet someone new you may miss an opportunity to build a strong relationship with an extraordinary individual. In addition, presenting a kind, warm, amiable, and easy-going personality to people that you meet, helps potential partners find you more attractive. Research actually shows that having a positive, pleasant personality increases perceived facial attractiveness [Zhang].

      Furthermore, if your first impression of someone is not exactly what you expected, consider giving yourself a little more time to get to know the person before you make a relationship decision. Sometimes nervousness can prevent individuals from being themselves, especially during first dates. Lastly, make sure that finding a new partner does not take up all of your private time. Focus on enjoying your favorite activities and spending time with your friends or loved ones. This will help you remain happy, healthy, and ready to meet that special someone.


      Byrne, D., & Nelson, D. (1965). Attraction as a linear function of proportion of positive reinforcements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1(6), 659-663. doi: 10.1037/h0022073.

      Chaix R, Cao C, Donnelly P. (2008). Is mate choice in humans MHC-dependent? PLoS Genet, 12;4(9):e1000184. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000184.

      Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(3), 285-290. doi: 10.1037/h0033731.

      Moore MM. Nonverbal courtship patterns in women: Context and consequences. Ethology and Sociobiology. 1985;6(4):237-247. doi: 10.1016/0162-3095(85)90016-0.

      Saxton TK, Lyndon A, Little AC, Roberts SC. (2008). Evidence that androstadienone, a putative human chemosignal, modulates women’s attributions of men’s attractiveness. Horm Behav, 54(5):597-601. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.06.001.

      Wang J, Xia T, Xu L, Ru T, Mo C, Wang TT, Mo L. (2015). What is beautiful brings out what is good in you: The effect of facial attractiveness on individuals’ honesty. Int J Psychol. doi: 10.1002/ijop.12218.

      Zhang Y, Kong F, Zhong Y, Kou H. (2014). Personality manipulations: Do they modulate facial attractiveness ratings? Personality and Individual Differences, 70:80-84. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.06.033.

      Image via StockSnap/Pixabay.

      /2017/09/04/the-laws-of-attraction-a-neurology-and-psychology-expert-explains/feed/ 0
      What’s Your Drunk Personality Type – Nutty, Naughty or Nice? /2016/11/24/discover-your-drunk-personality-type-nutty-naughty-or-nice/ /2016/11/24/discover-your-drunk-personality-type-nutty-naughty-or-nice/#respond Thu, 24 Nov 2016 16:00:12 +0000 /?p=22181 There are certainly different types of drunks. “Sober Dave is boring, you should hang out with Drunk Dave, he’s wild!” or “She is usually a sweetheart, but watch out, she’s a mean drunk”. Having documented the transition to our drunk alter-egos for 100s of years, we are no strangalers to the concept of drunk personality types. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that alcohol can change our personalities from a sober type to a drunk type.

      Today, research pioneered by University of Missouri graduate student, Rachel Winograd, supports the existence of at least 4 categories of drunk personalities. Importantly, she reveals if one’s type of drunk personality puts them at greater risk of alcohol-related harms (e.g. regrettable sexual encounters or drunken injuries), as well as alcohol addiction.

      187 pairs of undergraduate drinking buddies answered questions linking their drunk personality to the “big five” personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). Cluster analysis of these answers led to the description of four main drunk personality types as outlined below.

      Not only is it a bit of fun to ask, “What kind of drunk are you?”, the drunk personality research field holds promise for the development of novel interventions to help problem drinkers.

      Drunk Personality Type 1: The Ernest Hemingway

      Drunk Personality Type Ernest Hemmingway

      As Ernest Hemingway wrote, he ‘‘can drink hells any amount of whiskey without getting drunk.” Thankfully, this is the most common drunk personality type shared by 42% of the undergrads, who reported behaving roughly the same and only slightly changing when intoxicated.

      Compared to the other personality types, the personality factors that tend to change the most when drunk — i.e. conscientiousness (being prepared, organized, prompt) and intellect ( understanding abstract ideas, being imaginative) — do not change drastically. It is no surprise then that this drunk personality type was not linked with experiencing more negative consequences or alcoholism symptoms.

      Drunk Personality Type 2: The Mr Hyde

      Drunk Personality Type Mr Hyde

      Unfortunately, the second most common drunk personality type (23% of the sample) is the monster of a drunk named after the twisted alter-ego of Dr. Jeckyll, Mr. Hyde. They are characterized by being less conscientious, less intellectual and less agreeable than their sober selves or other drunk personality types.

      Their drunk personality being the perfect recipe for increased hostility when under the influence, they are statistically more likely to have alcohol use disorder symptoms (i.e. have a higher risk of alcohol addiction). They also suffer a whole range of negative consequences from drinking, from blacking out to being arrested for drunken behavior.

      Drunk Personality Type 3: The Nutty Professor

      Drunk Personality Type Nutty Professor

      This type of drunk, comprising 20% of the study participants, does a personality 360 when they get drunk. They are particularly quiet and introverted when sober, but their drunken persona has a large increase in extraversion and decrease in conscientiousness (compared to the other drunk types and their sober self). This is likened to the the Disney character, Shermen Clump, when he transforms from taking his secret chemical formula in The Nutty Professor.

      Despite having the most drastic personality change, Nutty Professors were not associated with experiencing more negative alcohol-related consequences from drinking.

      Drunk Personality Type 4: The Mary Poppins

      Drunk Personality Type Mary Poppins

      The least common drunk personality type in the study, found in 15% of the participants, was ‘The Mary Poppins. They are not only particularly agreeable (i.e. embodying traits of friendliness) when sober, they are also agreeable and friendly when drunk. Like Hemmingways, they also decrease less than average in conscientiousness and intellect when getting drunk.

      Their drunken sweetness sets them apart from less agreeable Hemmingways. They are essentially the opposite of the Mr Hyde drunk type of drunk, resulting in significantly less negative consequences from getting drunk.


      Hemingway, E., & Baker, C. (1981). Ernest Hemingway, selected letters, 1917-1961. New York: Macmillan Pub Co.

      Winograd, R. P., Littlefield, A. K., Martinez, J., & Sher, K. J. (2012). The drunken self: The Five-Factor model as an organizational framework for characterizing perceptions of One’s own drunkenness. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 36(10), 1787–1793. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01796.x

      Winograd, R. P., Steinley, D., & Sher, K. (2015). Searching for Mr. Hyde: A five-factor approach to characterizing “types of drunks.” Addiction Research & Theory, 24(1), 1–8. doi:10.3109/16066359.2015.1029920

      Images via accsalgueiro0, skeeze, Alexas_Fotos and RyanMcGuire / Pixabay.

      /2016/11/24/discover-your-drunk-personality-type-nutty-naughty-or-nice/feed/ 0
      Can Our Immune System Drive Social Behavior? /2016/10/24/can-our-immune-system-drive-our-social-behavior/ /2016/10/24/can-our-immune-system-drive-our-social-behavior/#respond Mon, 24 Oct 2016 15:00:31 +0000 /?p=22171 The immune system is our main defense mechanism against disease. Dysfunctions in the immune system are therefore associated with a myriad of complications, including several neurological and mental disorders.

      Yet, for a long time the brain and the immune system were considered to be isolated from each other – it was believed that the brain was not supplied by the lymphatic system (which carries white blood cells and other immune cells through a network of vessels and tissues) because no evidence of lymphatic supply to the brain had ever been found.

      But recently, a research team from the University of Virginia School of Medicine was able to find lymphatic vessels in the meninges that cover the brain. This was a huge discovery that shattered the long-standing belief that the brain was “immune privileged,” lacking a direct connection to the immune system.

      After discovering the direct link between the brain and the lymphatic system, the same group has demonstrated that immune cells can influence learning behavior, exerting their effects apparently from the meninges, the membranes that cover the central nervous system. Now, the same group has shown that the immune system has another surprising effect on the brain – it can directly affect, and even control social behavior, such as the desire to interact with others.

      Using mice with impaired immunity, the authors showed that partial elimination of immune cells from the meninges was sufficient to induce deficits in social behavior. These social deficits were reversed when the mice were repopulated with immune cells. These immune impaired mice also exhibited hyper-connectivity in specific brain regions associated with social behavior. Again, repopulating mice with immune cells reversed the abnormal hyper-connectivity observed. Other functionally connected regions not directly implicated in social function were not affected by a deficiency in adaptive immunity.

      Despite their proximity to the brain, immune cells in the meninges don’t enter the brain. Their effects therefore have to be exerted by releasing molecules that can cross into the brain. The authors were able to identify which molecule acts as a messenger between the immune system and the brain in regulating social behavior.

      The molecule is called interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) and it can be produced by a substantial number of meningeal immune cells. Blocking the production of this molecule caused similar social deficits and abnormal hyper-connectivity in the same brain regions as in immune impaired mice. Restoring the levels of the molecule restored the brain activity and behavioral patterns, through the action of IFN-gamma in GABAergic inhibitory neurons. Importantly, the authors also demonstrated that rodents living in a social context (group-housing) had natural increases in the production of IFN-gamma, whereas rodents in social isolation had a marked loss of IFN-gamma. Zebrafish and flies showed a similar pattern.

      These striking results thereby show how that a molecule produced by the immune system can have a determining influence on social behavior. But such as the immune system can drive sociability, it is possible that immune dysfunctions may contribute to an inability to have normal social interactions and play a role in neurological and mental disorders characterized by social impairments, such as autism spectrum disorder, frontotemporal dementia, and schizophrenia, for example.

      Social behavior is crucial for the survival of a species through foraging, protection, breeding, and even, in higher-order species, mental health. On the other hand, social interaction also brought about an increased exposure to different pathogens; as a consequence, our immune system had to develop new ways to protect us from the diseases to which social interaction exposed us. And social behavior is obviously beneficial to pathogens, since it allows them to spread.The authors of the study therefore hypothesized that the relationship between humans and pathogens may have driven the development of our social behavior. There may have been a co-evolutionary pressure to increase an anti-pathogen response as sociability increased, and it is possible that IFN-gamma may have acted as an evolutionary mechanism to simultaneously enhance social behavior while also enhancing our anti-pathogen responses.

      The implications and the questions that arise from these findings are tremendous. Is it possible that our immune system modulates our everyday behaviors or even our personality? Can new pathogens influence human behavior? Can we target the immune system while treating neurological or psychiatric disorders? New research avenues are wide open.


      Derecki NC, et al (2010). Regulation of learning and memory by meningeal immunity: a key role for IL-4. J Exp Med, 207(5):1067-80. doi: 10.1084/jem.20091419

      Filiano AJ, et al (2016). Unexpected role of interferon-? in regulating neuronal connectivity and social behaviour. Nature, 535(7612):425-9. doi: 10.1038/nature18626

      Kennedy DP, Adolphs R (2012). The social brain in psychiatric and neurological disorders. Trends Cogn. Sci. 16, 559–572. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.09.006

      Kipnis J (2016). Multifaceted interactions between adaptive immunity and the central nervous system. Science, 353(6301):766-71. doi: 10.1126/science.aag2638

      Louveau A, et al (2015). Structural and functional features of central nervous system lymphatic vessels. Nature, 523(7560):337-41. doi: 10.1038/nature14432

      Image via allinonemovie / Pixabay.

      /2016/10/24/can-our-immune-system-drive-our-social-behavior/feed/ 0
      9/11 Survivors – Prolonged Mental and Physical Health Problems /2016/09/13/911-survivors-still-suffering-mentally-and-physically/ /2016/09/13/911-survivors-still-suffering-mentally-and-physically/#respond Tue, 13 Sep 2016 15:30:25 +0000 /?p=22210 Emerging research discovers significant health problems continue to affect people exposed to hazards 15 years after the terror attacks of 9/11 and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

      Dr. Steven Stellman, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health is co-author of four new studies through the World Trade Center Health Registry. The articles report on outcomes, including cancer, PTSD, acid reflux, asthma, as well as job loss, and early retirement.

      Led by scientists at the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the studies appear in a special 9/11-themed issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, and are put into context by Dr. Stellman:

      A decade and a half after the terrorist attacks of September 11, we have the clearest picture yet on the effects of the events on the health and wellbeing of those most affected…

      While the full extent of cancer risk to the affected population may not be known for years, the new research reveals that, as of 2011, rescue/recovery workers at the World Trade Center site had an 11 percent greater overall cancer risk compared to New York State norms.

      Other survivors experienced an eight percent increase. The increases among both groups were most notable for cancers of the prostate and melanoma of the skin. As described by Stellman:

      On the day of the attacks, people in the vicinity of the site were exposed to intense concentrations of fine particulate dust containing hazardous substances, including many known carcinogens including asbestos and silica. Fumes and dust also penetrated people’s homes and workplaces in lower Manhattan, leading to a lengthy and difficult decontamination process.

      Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is one of the most common health conditions reported among persons exposed to the attacks, affecting one in five Registry enrollees in the first two years after 9/11.

      In the new research, Stellman and his co-authors find that half of those with early GERD symptoms continued to report persistent symptoms ten years after 9/11, and were more likely to report continuing symptoms if they both had asthma and PTSD during the first three years after 9/11.

      Many researchers think that GERD, PTSD, and asthma are all related to to 9/11 exposures and have proposed biological mechanisms by which each of these diseases might exacerbate the others.

      However, Stellman said, there is still some uncertainty as to causal relationships since persons with one or two of these conditions are likely to have more medical exams that could lead to increased likelihood of the third diagnosis.

      Ten years after the disaster, about seven percent of non-uniformed rescue and recovery workers left their jobs prematurely, about half through early retirement and half due to health-related job loss.

      Among non-uniformed rescue/recovery workers age 60 or younger who were still working in 2008, those who endured the most serious 9/11-related health burden were most likely to retire early before reaching the age of 60, and most likely to be unemployed for health reasons.

      For the one in five study participants with PTSD, the risk was compounded. Those with a chronic health condition and symptoms of 9/11-related PTSD had double the chances of early retirement, while the odds of health-related job loss increased as much as 10-fold, compared to relatively healthy workers.

      The Registry, which opened in 2003, has enrolled 71,000 people who lived, worked, or went to school in the area of the disaster, or were involved in rescue and recovery efforts.

      Over the past 14 years, scientists have published nearly 70 papers using Registry data, covering many outcomes including physical and mental health, health care access and utilization, birth outcomes, child and adolescent behavior, quality of life, disaster response, and the added impact of Hurricane Sandy on 9/11 exposed persons.

      According to Stellman, the Registry will continue to monitor the population to assess changes in health over time, emphasizing chronic illnesses that may take longer to appear, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as broader questions of health care access and utilization, and quality of life:

      We generously respond to disasters by providing immediate humanitarian aid, but disasters can also have a long lasting effect on many people. Fifteen years is not a long time, particularly considering much of the data that we’re reporting ends about three to five years earlier than today. For chronic diseases, much of the story is still to be written.

      This guest article originally appeared on Myriad Health & Other Problems Linger 15 Years After 9/11

      Source: Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

      /2016/09/13/911-survivors-still-suffering-mentally-and-physically/feed/ 0
      The Golden Years – 5 Ways to Ensure a Happy and Healthy Retirement /2016/09/11/happy-retirement-5-ways-to-prolong-the-golden-years/ /2016/09/11/happy-retirement-5-ways-to-prolong-the-golden-years/#respond Sun, 11 Sep 2016 15:00:53 +0000 /?p=22071 After a lifetime of hard work, thousands of baby boomers are retiring in record numbers across the globe. Like any life transition, embarking on the transition from working life to retirement can be wrought with challenges and stressors, especially for those forced into retirement. Yet, it also opens up a window of opportunity to take a few simple steps to secure a healthy and happy retirement.

      After retirement, some people plummet down the slippery slope to physical and mental health decline and premature death, while others are rejuvenated by the positive health effects of retirement and protect themselves from the bad, bolstering health and happiness and prolonging a vivacious and meaningful life into ripe old age.

      The good news is that science is gradually unearthing the many secrets to a happy retirement, providing the retirement planning blueprints needed to capitalise on the health benefits of promoting positive lifestyle change on the healthy transition to retirement.

      The power of belief in the golden years

      Believe the hype; believe the stereotype… well the positive one anyway. Research shows that people that believe in positive and happy retirement stereotypes (e.g. living a hopeful, active, involved, healthy and meaningful life with more time for family, friends and pleasurable activities) have been shown to live up to 7.5 years longer than those who believe in negative retirement stereotypes (e.g. living a hopeless, inactive, uninvolved, lonely and meaningless life).

      Some estimates indicate that simply believing in the golden years being golden provides a 41% decreased mortality risk and reinforces a happy retirement being a reality.

      Other research indicates that fear of being lumped into an ‘old and unhealthy’ stereotype, known as healthcare-stereotype threat, can lead to healthcare avoidance and is linked with poorer global physical and mental health.

      It has been suggested that simply knowing the powerful effects of believing and/or fearing stereotypes is half the battle. Reading this blog article may be enough to help people beat the negative effects of stereotypes down and invite the golden years in.

      The power of world views

      The hostile world scenario (HWS) is a personal belief system regarding the perceived threat to one’s own physical and mental health and wellbeing, which is more severe among minorities that suffer from stigma, such as members of the LGBT community.

      Healthy uses of the HWS system include serving as an internal monitor of both actual and potential threats and adverse circumstances in the individual’s life, allowing vigilance towards dangers and maintenance of a sense of safety and wellbeing.

      If this system is over activated however, it can lead to an overwhelming sense of a catastrophic world and is associated with a whole load of negative health outcomes that put both mental and physical health in jeapordy.

      These include:

      • having increased difficulties in activities of daily living (e.g. eating, dressing, bathing, preparing a hot meal, shopping in a store, managing money etc.)
      • movement difficulties (e.g. reaching or extending one’s arms above shoulder level, lifting or carrying weights over 5 kilos such as a heavy bag of groeceries)
      • worse physical symptoms (e.g. resistant cough, swollen leg etc.)
      • worse medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, osteoporosis etc.)
      • worse depression symptoms
      • less satisfaction with life
      • less social activities

      What makes having an overactive and negative HWS system be strongly predictive of poor mental and physical health in old age is currently unknown. Some suggest that an overactive HWS may amplify stress-related thinking leading to ill health, and/or that the HWS is actually a reflection of future predictions of the self and therefore may be like a self-fulfilling prophecy, a route to self-sabotage and self-defeat.

      Conscious aging practices have been shown to help transform negative world views into positive ones that benefit health and wellbeing in retirement years. Conscious aging and world view transformation involves exploration of the pivotal role that our world view plays in how we see, understand and behave by using a multitude of exercises, such as meditation and nature-walks, that encourage self-reflection, self-discovery and reshaping of our world view.

      The power of exercise

      Research shows that some people get more physically fit after retirement, while others put their physical and mental health and wellbeing at risk, as well as their families, due to further increases in sedentary behaviour after stopping work.

      For those that exercise regularly, benefits include: lower blood pressure; improved balance and reductions in mobility difficulties; improved health for those with conditions like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis; stress management and improved mood; an improved memory and prevention of cognitive decline.

      However, research cannot yet tell us with any confidence what exactly helps some people get into healthy exercise habits after retirement compared to others. Nonetheless, it is resoundingly clear that adopting daily lifestyle habits, hobbies and activities that promote physical activity and avoid sitting down for long periods of time is a must for those wanting a healthy and happy retirement.

      The power of socializing

      It has been shown that how long a person expects to live is linked with future mental and physical health. Sadly but fortuitously, for lonely older adults, reminding themselves they have not so many years left protects against their feelings of loneliness fueling depression.

      Rather than adopting this otherwise bleak outlook on life to keep one’s sanity, multiple lines of research indicate that working on having a thriving social life doesn’t only prevent the negative impact of loneliness, it can truly do wonders for health and happiness following retirement.

      Meta-analytic evidence shows that people’s social relationships can predict how long they will live, and in fact, is a stronger predictor than other health behaviours such as physical exercise, smoking or alcohol consumption. Other studies also link vibrant social lives in older years with reduced depression and enhanced cognitive health.

      A brand new study found that social group memberships in retirement, like book and lunch clubs, or arts or exercise groups, are associated with reduced risk of premature death. Specifically, retirees who had two group memberships prior to retirement had a 2% risk of death in the first 6 years of retirement if they maintained membership in the two groups, a 5% risk if they stopped attending one group and a 12% risk if they lost both groups. Furthermore, for every group membership that participants lost in the year following retirement, their experienced quality of life 6 years later was approximately 10% lower.

      All in all, joining social groups and engaging in social activities is a smart move to ensure happy retirement. Also, if the social activity also happens to be physical, reinforce positive beliefs in retirement and reinforce positive views of the world it’s a win, win, win, win in support of healthy and happy retirement.

      The power of driving

      There is no legal age at which you must stop driving, but driving cessation is beginning to be considered an inevitable transition in the years around or following retirement, depending on one’s health. Some people may have decades of retirement years before stopping driving is on the cards, for others it may come hand in hand with retirement.

      However, very few plan to stop driving and those that don’t make plans are at higher risk of poorer health, depression, institutionalization, attending less out-of-home activities and reduced productive social engagement, and the kicker, death. In fact, in one study, nondrivers were found to be four to six times more likely to die than drivers during the subsequent 3-year period following driving cessation.

      Finding ways to maintain a future nondrivers’ productive roles and out-of-home activities may be key to preventing the negative effects of driving cessation.


      Abdou, C., Fingerhut, A., Jackson, J., & Wheaton, F. (2016). Healthcare Stereotype Threat in Older Adults in the Health and Retirement Study American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 50 (2), 191-198 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.07.034

      Bodner, E., & Bergman, Y. (2016). Loneliness and depressive symptoms among older adults: The moderating role of subjective life expectancy Psychiatry Research, 237, 78-82 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.01.074

      Cacioppo, J., Hughes, M., Waite, L., Hawkley, L., & Thisted, R. (2006). Loneliness as a specific risk factor for depressive symptoms: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Psychology and Aging, 21 (1), 140-151 DOI: 10.1037/0882-7974.21.1.140

      Curl, A., Stowe, J., Cooney, T., & Proulx, C. (2013). Giving Up the Keys: How Driving Cessation Affects Engagement in Later Life The Gerontologist, 54 (3), 423-433 DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnt037

      Edwards, J., Perkins, M., Ross, L., & Reynolds, S. (2009). Driving Status and Three-Year Mortality Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 64A (2), 300-305 DOI: 10.1093/gerona/gln019

      Ertel, K., Glymour, M., & Berkman, L. (2008). Effects of Social Integration on Preserving Memory Function in a Nationally Representative US Elderly Population American Journal of Public Health, 98 (7), 1215-1220 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.113654

      Feng, X., Croteau, K., Kolt, G., & Astell-Burt, T. (2016). Does retirement mean more physical activity? A longitudinal study BMC Public Health, 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12889-016-3253-0

      Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., & Layton, J. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review PLoS Medicine, 7 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

      Mosca I, & Barrett A (2016). The Impact of Voluntary and Involuntary Retirement on Mental Health: Evidence from Older Irish Adults. The journal of mental health policy and economics, 19 (1), 33-44 PMID: 27084792

      Ng, R., Allore, H., Monin, J., & Levy, B. (2016). Retirement as Meaningful: Positive Retirement Stereotypes Associated with Longevity Journal of Social Issues, 72 (1), 69-85 DOI: 10.1111/josi.12156

      Shenkman, G., & Shmotkin, D. (2013). The hostile-world scenario among Israeli homosexual adolescents and young adults Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43 (7), 1408-1417 DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12097

      Shmotkin, D., Avidor, S., & Shrira, A. (2015). The Role of the Hostile-World Scenario in Predicting Physical and Mental Health Outcomes in Older Adults Journal of Aging and Health, 28 (5), 863-889 DOI: 10.1177/0898264315614005

      Steffens, N., Cruwys, T., Haslam, C., Jetten, J., & Haslam, S. (2016). Social group memberships in retirement are associated with reduced risk of premature death: evidence from a longitudinal cohort study BMJ Open, 6 (2) DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010164

      Image via PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay.

      /2016/09/11/happy-retirement-5-ways-to-prolong-the-golden-years/feed/ 0