|Playing With Politics vs. Playing Politics
||Is the game of politics play?
||Have you ever heard someone being described as having no culture? Of course that’s idiocy, everyone has culture. The culture that developed during kitchen parties in log cabins in the … ...
|How depression can muddle thinking
||Depression is associated with sadness, fatigue and a lack of motivation. But people with depression can also have trouble processing information and solving problems. Now scientists studying a rat model for depression are identifying on a molecular level how the condition could affect thinking. The findings could lead to the development of new depression treatments that would address associated cognitive problems.
|Brain study: Motor cortex contributes to word comprehension
||Researchers have experimentally confirmed the hypothesis, whereby comprehension of a word's meaning involves not only the 'classic' language brain centers but also the cortical regions responsible for the control of body muscles, such as hand movements. The resulting brain representations are, therefore, distributed across a network of locations involving both areas specialized for language processing and those responsible for the control of the associated action.
|Are You Lacking Confidence?
||Self confident people do not live in the past or the future, they live in the present. They are willing to take a risk and do what reality requires rather … ...
|Today I Love Being Joyous
||Today I love being joyous, and I have a recommendation from my doctor to do just that, so I accept the challenge. Joyous it is, stand back world, this is … ...
|8 Signs You're in a Relationship With a Gaslighter
||How gaslighters emotionally manipulate, traumatize, and exploit victims in personal and professional relationships.
|Neurotrophic factor GDNF is an important regulator of dopamine neurons in the brain
||New research results are expanding our understanding of the physiological role of the glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor GDNF in the function of the brain's dopamine systems. In a new article, researchers establish that GDNF is an important physiological regulator of the functioning of the brain’s dopamine neurons.
|What Don’t We Know about Gratitude and Youth?
||When I was nine years old I came down with a serious case of encephalitis. I spent a couple of weeks drifting in and out of sleep, hooked up to tubes and IVs, unable to talk—and then I slipped into a coma. A doctor warned my mom and dad that I might not come out “normal” or be able to walk again. When I came through a week later, I was happy to see my parents and my aunt standing in front of me, masks covering their mouths, their eyes open with relief and trembling with concern. I figured something was wrong, but didn’t understand what.
“I want pizza,” I uttered.
I had to wait a week before I could eat regular food. But my parents and relatives talked with me about the things I could do when I got out, which helped me to set my sights on getting better. And the many prayers from loved ones mattered; I believed them. When one nurse, named Flo, asked me about my hobbies and interests, it made me feel special and it focused me on things I wanted to do again. She was surprised to learn that I had never had a shake. As soon as I could eat regular food again, Flo showed up with a chocolate shake for me! I was filled with gratitude.
Knowing that people were there for me and believed in me guided my focus and gave me strength. It was the highlight of each day when my parents arrived with a treat or homemade food. I believed their encouragement that I was strong and would get out soon. I surprised the doctor with my recovery by the end of the week and, after leaving the hospital, with my progress through physical therapy.
My life-long interest in the positive power of relationships started with this negative life event. 23 years later, I began scientifically exploring gratitude in postdoctoral work with Michael McCullough at the University of Miami. Though I started out studying forgiveness, I was surprised to learn that there was virtually no research on the development of gratitude. I had found my niche!
As an immigrant who had always gravitated towards adults who personally cared about my development, gratitude seemed particularly valuable to me and to the topic of supporting youth achievement. In 2007 Michael Furlong at UC Santa Barbara invited me to write a chapter on the potential of gratitude in school. Research on gratitude in youth was just emerging, mainly being done by a psychologist at Hofstra University by the name of Jeffrey Froh. Jeff and I wrote two chapters about gratitude, and as we embarked on more research together, we sought a grant to support our work. In 2011, thanks to funding from the John Templeton Foundation, the Youth Gratitude Project (YGP) was born. We’re working with hundreds of students and educators to understand how to measure and cultivate gratitude in schools and at home.
Today, I’m often asked, “What’s the secret to instilling gratitude in kids?” This question is tough to answer in a few sentences because gratitude is a complex social behavior that we must personalize and work at regularly to grow (just like nutritional or exercise habits that last). It will emerge spontaneously, in situations like the one I faced. But can we cultivate gratitude and its benefits in our daily lives? The truth is that the science of gratitude is just starting out—and there’s a lot we still don’t know. Here’s an overview of what we’ve discovered about kids and thankfulness, and the questions we’re still trying to answer.
Figuring out what happens when kids say “thanks”
To start, we tried to figure out how to measure gratitude in children and teens. Research had yet to verify if existing measures of gratitude were suitable for assessing gratitude in 10-19 year olds. We examined this in a study six years ago, and our main findings were that the standard for measuring the grateful personality in adults, the GQ-6, did not perform well for 10-13 year olds but was sufficient for 14-19 year olds.
We recommended that better measures needed to be developed for children younger than 13. We are now examining if modified versions of the GQ-6 that use more age-appropriate wording or formatting perform with greater consistency and accuracy for 7-19 year olds. We also need a measure for preschoolers, and we’re currently conducting assessment studies with that group. Lack of such measures hinders basic and applied research on gratitude in youth.
The YGP also addressed the effects of gratitude on children and teens. An early study of 14-19 year olds linked gratitude to outcomes like better GPA, less envy and depression, and more life satisfaction and flow. We also found that materialism tended to negatively affect these outcomes.
We’re examining these and other relationships longitudinally—meaning that we’re following how they unfold over time—and findings so far show that gratitude is related to more prosocial behavior, satisfaction with life, hope and search for purpose, and less antisocial behavior and depression over a period of four years. One study we just submitted for publication shows that gratitude and prosocial behavior reinforce each other—and that adolescents who show more gratitude are more likely to be skilled at identifying goals and strategizing ways to reach them, and they tend to be more empathic and trusting. These findings suggest that gratitude helps youth develop their competencies and become their own person by gradually improving themselves and how they interact with others.
Finally, another study of ours found that 8-11 year old students could be taught to think gratefully (i.e., be better at appraising gifts they receive from benefactors) in school and that doing so supports their emotional well-being over a period of five months. It also, unsurprisingly, leads them to express thanks more, compared to students who were not taught grateful thinking. We are also examining the effects of a gratitude and purpose curriculum on students in grades 4-12.
So far, so good. So, what’s next?
What good is gratitude to students?
However, a recent paper by Tyler Renshaw and Rachel Olinger at Louisiana State University casts all this work into doubt. Their study examined research on whether gratitude is beneficial for youth in schools by meta-analyzing studies from 2006 to 2014, including some of ours. They basically found that measures of gratitude in youth are not as accurate or consistent as they need to be for scientific purposes, that gratitude interventions with youth in school and in after-school programs were ineffective, and that enthusiasm for promoting gratitude in youth and in schools should be tempered with further research in this area.
According to Renshaw and Olinger, researchers like us are facing two main obstacles: the homogenous samples and narrow theoretical scope of the research base. For instance, a majority of studies they could include in their review focused on adolescents, and the intervention studies have all been done with ethnically homogenous populations. Also, little is known from these studies about how gratitude influences outcomes that are important to schools (e.g., academic skill proficiency, prosocial and academic behaviors, social emotional skills, school-specific subjective well-being, and quality of school climate).
This meta-analysis highlights how much more work we still have to do. Indeed, overcoming these two limitations are major goals of the Youth Gratitude Project. As part of this effort, the research is targeting a wide age range of students (ages 4-18) from multiple ethnic backgrounds, and it is examining outcomes relevant to schools, like achievement motivation and school satisfaction.
Renshaw and Olinger also found that gratitude interventions have not proven effective. Here, however, their findings might be premature. The small number of interventions that have been done formally—and, specifically, the six that could be included in their review—has been limited by the types of gratitude induction activities (such as counting blessings or letter writing) and settings (during school and in afterschool programs). In other words, researchers and educators are still trying to figure out what techniques and settings work best in fostering gratitude among kids—and we’re still a few years away from definitive conclusions.
It is, for example, worth considering variables that could moderate intervention effects before drawing conclusions about the effectiveness of gratitude interventions, such as how often students engage in gratitude practices—a major factor influencing the effects of any positive psychology technique. Other variables matter too, such as students’ enjoyment of the lessons, and the effectiveness with which the lessons are delivered.
Unlike other intervention research, the YGP curriculum addresses these critical variables head-on by including teachers training, so that lessons can be experienced as a natural part of the school day and be better personalized by students and educators. Including such variables will undoubtedly go a long way in helping to craft more standard techniques for interventions, and to determine intervention effectiveness.
The main idea of the YGP curriculum is that varied gratitude practices, such as journaling, that genuinely build on students’ strengths and guide them to have more meaningful interactions and discussion with peers, teachers, and other adults more regularly should help students feel more socially competent and connected, be more satisfied with school, have better mental health and emotional well-being, and be more motivated about school and their future.
Preliminary evidence for the effects of our gratitude and purpose curriculum so far indicate that it is helping to decrease depression, anxiety and antisocial behavior and increase hope, emotional regulation, and search for purpose. We will soon explore effects on other outcomes of interest to schools (social relationships, satisfaction with school, achievement) and move to fill many of the crucial gaps in this research area.
In short, research on what good gratitude is to youth development and in-school youth is trickling in, and better tools for measuring gratitude in children will soon be available to help advance basic research and applied research.
In the meantime, schools participating in the YGP curriculum have shared anecdotes about students’ and parents’ enthusiasm for the gratitude lessons. In my opinion, this may be because the lessons are helping students to appreciate the value of altruistic choices in school and recognize the good intentions of others. It’s hard to say where gratitude research will lead us. But my childhood experiences tell me that it’s a project well worth pursuing.
|6 Things to Consider When You Have a Depression...
||Following my post on my recent depression setback, I heard from many readers who were comforted to know that they were not alone. As I said in that piece, if you suffer from chronic depression, you know all too well that setbacks happen — even … ...
|A Multivocal Self
||An interview with Julie Choi, author of “Creating a multivocal self”, about the ambiguity and vulnerability of multilingual existence and the pros that outweigh the cons.
|Artists and Meditation
||“No matter what, the first moments of my day are dedicated to breath, meditation, and silence.” Musician Bibi McGill goes on to explain why self-care and meditation are important to … ...
|4 Ways Trauma Can Complicate Mental Health Treatment
||Do you have a history of trauma (i.e., abuse, neglect, psychological or emotional chaos growing up, etc)? Trauma can include a host of experiences, too many to name here. But … ...
|Paranoia my old friend
||The other day, while sitting and rehashing all of my thoughts over to my psychiatrist through the computer screen, I began to feel annoyed. There he was, blissfully writing away … ...
|Study of Christians uncovers the key moral intuition behind anti-atheist prejudice
||Believers’ prejudicial attitudes toward atheists is heavily influenced by one moral intuition, according to research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. The study of 630 U.S. Christians was based on the Moral Foundations Theory, which holds there are five moral foundations: compassion/harming, fairness/cheating, ingroup-loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. The researchers found that anti-atheist prejudice was linked [...]
|Study examines the risk of repeated self-harm in children, adolescents and young adults
||New research has found the risk of repeated self-harm is associated with certain sociodemographic characteristics. The study found repeated self-harm was more likely to occur among younger emerging adult males, adolescent females, females using self-cutting, and individuals who previously self-harmed. The study, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry, was based on data from 28,700 individuals [...]
|Study: Red Bull energy drink boosts memory performance
||New research suggests the Red Bull energy drink can temporarily boost some aspects of cognition. The randomized, placebo controlled, double-blind study of 24 healthy volunteers found Red Bull had a positive effects upon memory performance. In particular, the study found significant improvements to the accuracy and speed of working and episodic memory 30 minutes after consuming [...]
|When choosing your next move, your brain is always ready for plan B
||Whether we’re navigating a route to work or browsing produce at the grocery store, our brains are constantly making decisions about movement: Should I cross the street now or at the intersection? Should I reach for the red apple or the green apple? When you’re presented with two options, your brain’s motor neurons prep for [...]
|More serotonin, less motivation? It depends on the circumstances
||A new study in mice shows that increasing serotonin, one of the major mediators of brain communication, affects motivation – but only in certain circumstances. Furthermore, the study revealed that the short and long term effects of increased serotonin levels are opposed – a completely unforeseen property of this neurotransmitter’s functional system. A surprising behavioral [...]
|Evidence of brain damage found in former soccer players
||Evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a potential cause of dementia caused by repeated blows to the head, has been found in the brains of former association football (soccer) players examined at the UCL Queen Square Brain Bank. The study, funded by The Drake Foundation and published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica, looked at 14 [...]