An excessive focus on past failures can make learning about new situtations more difficult.
- A new study confirms that anxiety and depression can lead to difficulties in analyzing data.
- Test subjects with symptoms of those conditions were slower to realize that changes in the game they were played occured.
- The study is not the last word on the topic, but its findings will prompt further investigations.
The learning curve gets harder to climb when you’re anxious<p> In two separate experiments, researchers at UC Berkeley had participants play games for cash prizes. </p><p>The first involved test subjects playing a game, with correct answers being awarded a prize. A wrong answer would lead to a mild electric shock, euphemistically deemed "stimulation" in the study. Participants had to select either a circle or a square, with the correct answer sometimes being predictable but always subject to change. Players showing symptoms of depression or anxiety had a more difficult time than others in keeping track of the changes. </p><p>In the second, players remotely played a similar game without the risk of electric shock. Wrong answers resulted in a loss of prizes. Again, those test subjects reporting anxiety or depression symptoms had a more difficult time keeping up as the conditions of the game changed compared to their peers without those symptoms. </p><p>The findings are in line with several previous studies, including <a href="https://news.berkeley.edu/2015/03/02/anxious-people-decisions/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one</a> involving some of the same authors, suggesting that anxiety disorders impact people's ability to predict future events using past data. The thought is that an excessive focus on previous failures prevents people from using data on changing conditions as effectively as possible.</p><p>The study also provides new evidence that people with depressive symptoms have similar difficulties in decision making as those with anxiety symptoms. Previous research had suggested the two conditions impacted decision making differently, with the ability to focus on gaining rewards or avoiding pain being affected differently.</p><p>Senior author Sonia Bishop explained the findings to <a href="https://news.berkeley.edu/2020/12/22/in-shaky-times-focus-on-past-successes-if-overly-anxious-depressed/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Berkeley News</a>:</p><p>"When everything keeps changing rapidly, and you get a bad outcome from a decision you make, you might fixate on what you did wrong, which is often the case with clinically anxious or depressed people. Conversely, emotionally resilient people tend to focus on what gave them a good outcome, and in many real-world situations that might be key to learning to make good decisions."</p><p>These findings also point towards treatment options. Techniques, such as those promoted by cognitive behavioral therapy, which help people focus on previous successes rather than failures, can help improve symptoms of various conditions and, by the implications of this study, decision-making ability.<br><br>The limited size of the study and its new findings mean that further investigations will have to take place before these ideas will be widely accepted. However, even the attempt to confirm or deny them will help advance our understanding of these conditions, how we learn, and the human brain in general. As the number of people with symptoms of anxiety and depression increase, these advances can come none too <a href="https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/sask-covid-mental-health-1.5848388" target="_blank">soon</a>. <br></p>
There's no such thing as a miracle drug.
Allergies might never be a concern again.
- University of Portsmouth researchers held play sessions with real dogs and their biomimetic counterparts.
- The more time school children spent with the robot dog, the higher their opinion of him.
- Robotic dogs could offer an entirely new line of emotional support animals.
Credit: goodmoments / Adobe Stock<p>Study supervisor, Dr Leanne Proops, knows the emotional impact that real dogs have on children and adults alike. Yet many people suffer from allergies, while others are on high alert for diseases transmitted across species. There's also liability concerns; lawsuits over biting dogs happen. And, of course, the expense of animals is prohibitive to some. Robots could fill a void.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This preliminary study has found that biomimetic robots -- robots that mimic animal behaviours -- may be a suitable replacement in certain situations and there are some benefits to using them over a real dog."</p><p>Move over Animal Assisted Interventions. Welcome to Robot Assisted Interventions. </p><p>As the authors note, robot pets already exist. A <a href="http://www.parorobots.com/" target="_blank">robotic seal named Paro</a> is designed to keep seniors company. Social robots help stroke victims during rehabilitation and have proven useful in communicating with autistic children. </p><p>Despite the fascination, this story doesn't end like the film "Her." The pre-teens preferred the real animals, not the metal imposter. That said, the more time they spent with the robot, the fonder they became of him. The team chose dogs for this pilot study given their ubiquity and our longstanding positive relationship with them. </p><p>As part of the study, each participant filled out a questionnaire about their biophilic beliefs. Interestingly, animistic beliefs played a role—how willing they were to ascribe agency to the robot. The "realer" the robot felt, the more positive the affect. </p><p>Moving forward, robot support animals could help people unable to care for or be around actual animals. As Proops concludes, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"This is a small-scale study, but the results show that interactive robotic animals could be used as a good comparison to live dogs in research, and a useful alternative to traditional animal therapy."</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
After the unrelenting negativity of 2020, we may need a refresher on the benefits of a positive affect.
1. Positivity correlates with better health<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="67cab64f293633035f0c699f71a5d426"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vyJ_hhninDw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>It's difficult to say whether a positive outlook nurtures health, success, and life satisfaction or if people who are healthy, successful, and satisfied maintain a positive outlook for, well, obvious reasons. While establishing a causal relationship has been difficult, research does suggest that happiness, extraversion, and optimism—the traits of a <a href="https://www.verywellmind.com/positive-affect-and-stress-3144628#:~:text=%22Positive%20affect%22%20refers%20to%20one's,negativity%20in%20relationships%20and%20surroundings" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">positive affect</a>—influence beneficial life outcomes as much as it is a byproduct.</p><p>A longitudinal study published in <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0956797620953883" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Psychological Science</a> found that enthusiastic, cheerful people experienced less memory decline with age. The researchers tested nearly 1,000 middle-aged and senior U.S. adults and found a strong association between having a positive affect and a stronger performance on the memory test.</p><p>As study authors Claudia Haase and Emily Hittner, an associate professor and a Ph.D. graduate at Northwestern University, respectively, <a href="https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/2020-oct-positive-outlook-memory.html" target="_blank">said in a release</a>: "Our findings showed that memory declined with age. However, individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade."</p><p>Preliminary research looking at <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3122271/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the broaden-and-build theory</a> suggests that a positive affect not only helps people cope with stress but makes them more psychologically resilient to future stressors. And <a href="https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/the-power-of-positive-thinking" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">studies have found</a> that a positive outlook boosts immune responses while reducing the likelihood of heart attacks or other coronary problems. (Though, again, it is unclear in the literature whether positive people make healthier choices or if the positive affect influences these boons).</p>
2. Positivity is contagious<p>The <a href="https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201210/emotions-are-contagious-choose-your-company-wisely" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">emotional contagion phenomenon</a> describes the tendency for us to acquire the emotions of the people around us. Hanging out with happy, enthusiastic people, researchers have discovered, makes us happier and more enthusiastic ourselves, leading to windfalls such as less stress and increased energy. Of course, the phenomenon works in the opposite direction, too. Our minds can become the harbors of others' misery. </p><p>"Just as some diseases are contagious, we're found that many emotions can pulse through social networks," sociologist Nicholas Christakis told <a href="https://hms.harvard.edu/magazine/science-emotion/contagion-happiness" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Harvard Medicine in an interview</a>. Unlike a real disease, however, emotions don't have to be transmitted through contact. They can infect our minds through social networks and even online.</p><p><a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/10/071004135757.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">A study out of the University of Chicago</a> found that researchers could alter people's opinions of a product by simply revealing peer evaluations. Sharing the negative opinions of others turned previously positive opinions sour and entrenched the already negative ones. </p><p>As Christakis added later in the interview, "Rather than asking how we can get happier, we should be asking how we can increase happiness all around us. When you make positive changes in your life, those effects ripple out from you and you can find yourself surrounded by the very thing you fostered."</p>
3. Social connections support positivity<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d5c6236f760ae82fc9ed12daecff4847"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OAsTZGwc3Kw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>If emotions are contagious, then it stands to reason that positive social connections support personal positivity. And that's exactly what the research shows. </p><p>In 2019, the American Psychological Association published <a href="https://doi.apa.org/fulltext/2019-55803-001.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a meta-analysis</a> surveying two decades of longitudinal research. All told, the report analyzed more than 47,000 participants across 52 studies looking at the effect social relationships had on self-esteem. The researchers found that social relationships, social support, and social acceptance helped develop positive self-esteem throughout people's lives.</p><p>"For the first time, we have a systematic answer to a key question in the field of self-esteem research: Whether and to what extent a person's social relationships influence his or her self-esteem development, and vice versa, and at what ages," Michelle A. Harris, study author and psychologist at the University of Texas, Austin, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/09/190926092416.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said in a release</a>. "The reciprocal link between self-esteem and social relationships implies that the effects of a positive feedback loop accumulate over time and could be substantial as people go through life." Harris added that the effect did not differ significantly across the studies analyzed, suggesting a robust finding.</p>
4. We have a bias toward positive language<p><a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150209161143.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Researchers at the University of Vermont</a> wanted to test the Pollyanna Hypothesis, the idea that there is a universal human tendency to—feel free to whistle along—look on the bright side of life. </p><p>To test it, they asked the native speakers of ten different languages to rate individual words on a 9-point scale. Nine equaled broad-smiley face, while one was for deep-frowny face. For example, among English speakers, "laugher" rated a happy 8.5, "the" a neutral 4.98, and "terrorist" a depressing 1.3. The researchers then gathered a data set containing billions of words from 24 sources in those languages, from books to tweets, websites to music lyrics, and, of course, news stories.</p><p><a href="https://www.pnas.org/content/112/8/2389" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">An analysis of the data</a> showed that humans typically use language to imbue a, in the researcher's words, "usage-invariant positivity bias." Every one of their 24 sources rated above the neutral score of five across all ten languages. Though it's certainly not true of all songs or novels—no amount of data massaging could turn "<a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Road" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="">The Road</a>" into anything other than a bummer—the researchers found that overall humanity "use[s] more happy words than sad words." Counterintuitive as it sounds, Twitter really is a gathering of the Pollyannas.</p>
5. Positivity is not a self-fulfilling prophecy<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="adc4ace82b7a0f39e0c2ba4fd07f8201"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-xA5xgAqj1I?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Do these findings mean we should give ourselves over to the cult of positivity come 2021? Should we ignore every one of life's difficulties, view every rain cloud as a cotton-candy-laced fantasy, and use positive thinking to ween away our every foible until we become new-age Übermenschs? Absolutely not. Without realism to serve as ballast, positivity can become a flight of fancy that drifts us over dangerous territories.</p><p><a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0146167220934577" target="_blank">One study</a> compared people's financial expectations in life with their ultimate outcomes over 18 years. They found that participants who set realistic expectations based on accurate assessments of their situations had higher well-being than those who set unrealistic expectations based on overly positive attitudes. Crucially, realists had a higher well-being score than pessimists, too.</p><p>"I think for many people, research that shows you don't have to spend your days striving to think positively might come as a relief. We see that being realistic about your future and making sound decisions based on evidence can bring a sense of well-being, without having to immerse yourself in relentless positivity," Chris Dawson, study author and associate professor of business economics at Bath University, said <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200707113230.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in a release</a>.</p><p>Positivity must also be measured against a realistic accounting of our emotions. Sometimes, life just sucks. It isn't fair. We lose the people we love, our hard work goes under-appreciated, and we struggle to traverse the paths that others seem to bypass. To just think positively and assume everything will be fine is what psychologist Susan David calls the "tyranny of positivity." Rather than ignore these parts of our life, David suggests that we should accept them.</p><p>"Difficult experiences are part of life. They are part of life's contract with the world. They're part of our contract with the world simply by virtue of being here," David told <a href="https://bigthink.com/videos/susan-david-on-our-unhealthy-obsession-with-happiness" target="_self">Big Think during an interview</a>. "It is really important that as human beings, we develop our capacity to deal with our thoughts and emotions in a way that isn't a struggle, in a way that embraces them and is with them and is able to learn from them."</p><p>Positive realists don't ignore life's hardships and challenges, nor do they let the negativity bias worsen such struggles. They approach both rationally and with measured expectations. When remembering a year or period in their lives, they may also choose to treasure its positive qualities. And after a year like 2020, we can all be forgiven if, in 2021, we err on the bright(er) side of life. </p>
A new study shows that the top rap songs in the U.S. are making increasingly frequent references to depression and suicidal thoughts.
- The most popular rap songs in the U.S. are more frequently making references to mental health problems, particularly suicide and depression.
- A research team analyzed lyrics from the top 25 most popular rap songs released in the years 1998, 2003, 2008, 2013, and 2018, examining the lyrics of artists such as Eminem, Drake, Post Malone, Lil' Wayne, Juice WRLD, Kanye West, and Jay-Z.
- References to suicide rose from 0% to 12%, and references to depression from 16% to 32% over the last 20 years.
Lyrics and mental health<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDk3NTMwNC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNzY1MTAzOX0.LucgHFKGAeqMPYhdVTgEZBN1qlPW1C2DX77M4A17PlE/img.png?width=980" id="520ba" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="d770fd1d5acafd765747a28c344b3efa" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="944" data-height="573" />
Credit: Alex Kresovich et al. / JAMA Pediatr.<p>The lyrics were analyzed for references to anxiety (e.g. "Do you experience nervousness or shakiness inside, faintness and dizziness?"); depression ("Went through deep depression when my mama passed…"), and suicide or suicidal ideation ("Only once the drugs are done / Do I feel like dying.").</p><p>Overall, the researchers found that about about one-third of the 125 songs referred to anxiety, 22 percent to depression, and 6 percent to suicide. Alarmingly, these percentages had more than doubled in 2018 as compared to 1998. </p><p>Zooming in closer, general mental health-related metaphors in the lyrics had increased from 8 percent to 44 percent over the two decades. References to suicide rose from 0 percent to 12 percent, and references to depression from 16 percent to 32 percent over the last 20 years. Anxiety-related references did not increase significantly. </p>