SAD?

If you are anything like me, then you are either cursing the winter Gods or Canada for causing us to risk life and limb leaving our front door in the unbearable New England cold. While I may not be struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), I can certainly sympathize with those that do. As it looks, it should heat up around July, and while cursing our neighbors to the north might be one option for alleviating our disgruntlement, there are other options as well…

Research has found that the majority of those suffering from the SAD experienced relief solely from the regular use of light boxes. Light boxes emit high intensities of light of 2,500 to 10,000 lux (as compared to a normal light fixture that emits 250 to 500 lux) and produce similar effects to the sun’s natural rays. The high intensities of light improve the mood of those suffering from the winter blues because they restrict the secretion of melatonin in the brain.

Exercise has proven to help people combat feeling of the blues in the winter. Not only does exercise improve mood, but it also has been shown to reduce stress, which often exacerbates feelings of depression brought on by the winter blues. Studies had pointed out that one hour doing aerobic exercise outside (even with a cloudy skies overhead) had the same benefits as 2.5 hours of light treatment indoors.

Many people (like me) who suffer from the winter blues crave junk food and soft drinks as the days get shorter. The reason some people indulge in high-sugar foods is because carbohydrates are often effective in increasing energy levels in the brain. A better strategy for anyone with the winter blues would be to eat larger portions of complex carbohydrates, like pasta and rice, and healthy simple carbohydrates like fruits and fruit juices during meals.

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Information Processing and Technology

Edward Thorndike, a pioneer in learning theory once beliefs Psychology as being the science of the intellect, character and behaviors of animals including man. Considering the technological advancements of the twenty first century, Thorndike might be amazed by the way web architects have applied learning theories in their websites designed for educational purposes. A good example of how learning theory has been applied in technology is the popular kids site PBSKids.org.

 

PBSKids.org is a website designed for kids in which they can play games, watch web clips, and find activities such as coloring and music that enhance learning. PBS claims that its online programing and interactive games such as ‘Between the Lions’ and ‘Word World’ has a significant impact in children’s literacy skill development and math skills.  PBS may be correct that their website design and programing can make a positive impact for school age children, particular given recent studies done on the topic. For example, emerging research suggests that educational computer games and online activities, as well as linking online and offline content through cross-platform learning has a positive impact on learning.  MediaKidz an Indiana Based Research & Consulting company conducted a two year study funded by the National Science Foundation and focused on PBSkids.org, and some of its multiple-media mathematics content. Nearly seven hundred kids in nine public schools in Michigan and Indiana participated in the study as they moved from third to fourth grade. Researchers tracked children’s informal use of their online activities, and measured the degree to which children use media from PBSKids.org in the real world. Children were assigned to groups that used different combinations of offline and online programming, (TV, online games, hands-on activities) over a two-month period to assess their impact on mathematical problem solving and attitudes toward math an e-series and supporting web games.  The study targeted children ages 8 to 11, and measured their enthusiasm for math, model math reasoning abilities and problem-solving skills.  The study found that by telling compelling online stories and narrative which incorporate familiar characters that serve as role models to demonstrate effective skills, provide a powerful means to convey and organize information, can have positive impact on all measured criteria. The study also found that children who utilized PBSKids.org were likely to stay on the site longer than other educational sites, and showed significant improvements in their (math) problem solving skills than children who were not using the site.

Other research has uncovered similar results as the study conducted on PBSKids.org. In a 2000 paper titled Examining information processing on the World Wide Web using think aloud protocols, researchers William Eveland and Sharon Dunwoody  found that certain website designs can increasing meaningful learning by utilizing a node-link type construction, mimic human information storage, and encourages users to process information efficiently and effectively. Critics however argue that web navigation increases cognitive load and often produces disorientation which decreases processing devoted to meaningful learning .

Interesting information – which you can learn more about in MSPPs media psych program!

Happy New Year

Making a case FOR technology

Fear is an incredibly powerful emotion; one that often accompanies change, and particularly when it comes to the development of new technologies (Thierer, 2012 p.13).  Fear and its relation to child safety and technology, is a sensitive topic for many parents, and subject to much debate. This is particularly pertinent with the plethora of tragic stories about cyber bullying, identity theft and child predators.

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New forms of technology, particularly social media, have offered new mediums in which predators can target children, especially since social media forums have become more accessible with the development of interactive mobile technologies.  Adam Thierer, author of  ‘Technopanics, threat inflation, and the danger of an information technology precautionary principle’ makes the point that kneejerk response to protect children through regulatory solutions or shielding kids from information will not have the desired effect to enhance child safety (Thierer, 2012). Instead, Thierer makes the case that education and resiliency is the most appropriate solution to prepare children for the digital world. Kids, Thierer believes, should be taught digital citizenship, defined as the norms of appropriate, responsible use of technology as early as possible (Ribble, 2013). He believes the most effective way to build teaching kids is to gradually assimilate them to online environments, in order to assure they understand the challenges, dangers, and potential (Thierer, 2012).

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Since the emergence of the digital age is still relatively new, and social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace less than ten year old, concepts on how to assimilate kids into the digital age are still being developed and tested. Thierers points emphasizes on incorporating concepts such as ‘Netiquette’ and ‘Think before your click’, into a class curriculum. ‘Netiquette’ is the social code of social networking communication, or a guide for effective internet communication which utilizes common sense, such as applying the ‘golden rule’ to online interactions (Chiles, 2012).  Leading experts in education, technology, and child development also agree with Thierers approach to utilize a smart and sensible approach to teach kids about appropriate online behaviors. For instance, Stephen Balkam, CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute believes that just as kids need to learn to call for help when at the scene of an accident, or calling authorities from the scene of a crime, they need to learn similar approaches to their online behaviors. Helping a child to adapt social and ethical norms in their online activities, educating children on the risks of technologies, and promote online civility will not only shape a more conscientious social media atmosphere today, but especially as we look towards the future (Thierer, 2012). 

A prime example of not heeding Thierer’s warning and opting for kneejerk legislative action instead of education is sexting. An estimated twenty percent of teenagers have sent a nude picture of themselves via their cell phones (Sex and tech, 2012), this is a felony according to recent legislation acted in Ohio (Reicosky, 2012). In fact, teenagers could potentially face charges that range from disseminating materials harmful to a minor to child pornography, which can mean being labeled a sexually oriented offender for life (Reicosky, 2012). Very serious consequences, and according to Thierer, perfectly avoidable by adopting a resiliency strategy to digital citizenship through education.

 

18995613_sAnother important aspect to media literacy education that has gained traction in recent years is cyberbullying (Toebben, 2010). Cyberbullying is a new type of bullying which many adolescents as well as adults have fallen victim too, and an important aspect in the media literacy discussion. Merriam Webster defines it as ‘the electronic posting of mean-spirited messages about a person (as a student) often done anonymously’(Merriam, 2012).  Others have expanded on the Webster definition, defining cyberbullying as a willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices (Hinduja, &. Patchin, 2010).  Several important studies have been conducted about the cause and effects of cyberbullying, particular because of it has the potential to reach a far wider audience than traditional bullying. A 2010 national survey conducted by Care.com (Sachs, 2010) found that cyberbullying is feared by parents more than terrorism, kidnapping or auto accidents (Anonymous, 2010). Some parents such as those of sixteen year old Phoebe Prince, and fifteen year old Michael Brewer, have experienced the tragic consequences of cyberbullying first hand, with their children committing suicide after having been exposed to vicious taunting by cyberbullies (Sachs, 2010). Research has corroborated that cyberbullying does in deed increase an adolescents likelihood to commit suicide (Saleh, L. (2011).  That said, bullying is not a new phenomenon, and hence may have always contributed to adolescent suicide risk. However, a possible contributing factor for the increase in suicide risk among victims of cyberbullies is a greater degree of humiliation and dread inflicted, because it is witnessed by more people (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010). 

 

Other research done on this topic has found the victims of cyberbullying are not the only ones impacted. In fact, a 2010 study published in the Journal for Youth and Adolescents (Sontag, Clemans, Graber, & Lyndon 2011), found that kids who have been victims of cyberbullying, were more likely to become bullies themselves more often than traditional victims. Another study suggested that the perpetrators of cyberbullying were also higher risk of suicide than the general population, almost at the same rate as victims of bullying (Klomek, Sourander., & Gould, 2011).

The venues for bullying have diversified, and with it, increased visibility. However, the impulse and reasons behind bullying behaviors has not changed, just the vehicle (Jane, 2011). One easy solution to protect a child from cyberbullies is to limit the time they spend online. But  this may be an unrealistic expectation, as there are ever more ways in which a user can connect online, and computers are becoming a more central part in education (Gabriel, 2011). Schools have begun to implement innovative solutions to this rising problem, such as one middle school in Ayer, Massachusetts which has set up anti-bullying committees, in which students are part of an advisory group with their peers and teachers. These groups have been charged with developing workshops for teachers and students around conflict resolution (Riccardi, 2012). Other schools have set up awareness groups, responsible with educating parents on warning signs that their children might be exposed to cyberbullying, and state and federal legislation have either been proposed or passed, establishing serious legal consequences for perpetrators (Riccardi, 2012).

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Facebook and social media memberships have spread at an incredible rate throughout the last several years, and there are no signs that it will slow down anytime soon. In response to the growth of social media and online media use in general, Congress passed the Children’s Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA) to protect online privacy and security of minors (Federal Trade Commission Office of the General Counsel, N.D.). Part of the legislation requires that no child under thirteen is allowed to join a social networking site. However, enforcing this has proven to be impossible. In fact, according to a 2011 Consumer Report survey (Magid, 2011), found that an estimated 7.5 million Facebook users in the U.S. are under the age of thirteen, and about 5 million users are under the age of 10. The report also found that a majority of underage users are unsupervised by parents, and over one million children were either threatened, victims of cyber bullying, or harassed online in 2010 (Magid, 2011).

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Part of the problem Facebook and other social networking sites are facing is that their reliance on data provided to them by users. Even though systems are in place to catch individuals who are lying about their age, they are far from perfect and very difficult to correct (Magid, 2011). The Consumer Report survey suggests that even though laws are in place to protect children, legislating online behavior is next to impossible. The disturbing aspect of the report however, is not the number of children under thirteen with Facebook accounts, but the large number of parents who are not aware of their kid’s online activities. In his book ‘Net Smart, How to Thrive Online’, author Howard Rheingold (2011), argues that parents should not feel intimidated by their limited understanding of social networking sites and technology, and hence should avoid focusing on it. Instead, Rheingold argues parents should focus on communicating with their children about their online behaviors, and ask their children questions should they not understand what their child is doing online (Rheingold, 2011 p. 246). Zuckerberg agrees with this position, and furthermore believes that COPPA restrictions have delayed the learning process for kids, and kept Facebook from developing additional safeguards to protect younger kids using social networking sites (Protalinski, 2011).

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The reality is that there is no silver bullet that safeguards online behaviors by minors (Magid, 2011). However, there is an increasing amount of information and resources available to parents that address children online use. For example, the Family Safety Center redesigned its site to accommodate parents who may be uncomfortable with technology, featuring articles and videos that help parents protect their kids (Protalinski, 2011). In addition, Facebook has developed guides for parents and teachers to assist them with educating kids about social networking.

Some experts in the field believe that COPPA is a ‘Cop Out’, and argue that parents, not government should be protecting their children’s interest on the internet (Hersh, 2000). An argument can be made that the high volume of underage kids using social networking sites, despite COPPA, showcases the inadequacy of the legislation. Legislation which was passed well before the growth Facebook, and other social networking sites.  COPPA is not the answer, but simply the failed attempt at statutory regulation (Hersh, 2000).

 

 

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References

Chiles, D. (2012, January 07). Netiquette. Retrieved from http://www.networketiquette.net/

Federal Trade Commission Office of the General Counsel. (n.d.). Coppa. Retrieved from http://www.coppa.org/coppa.htm

Gabriel, T. (2011, April 5). More pupils are learning online, fueling debate on quality. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/06/education/06online.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2010). Bullying, cyberbullying, and suicide. Archives of Suicide Research, 14(3), 206-221.           

Hersh, M. (2000). Is coppa a cop out? the child online privacy protection act as proof that parents, not government, should be protecting children’s interests on the internet. Fordham

Magid, L. (2011, May 10). Survey: 7.5m Facebook users below minimum age. Retrieved from http://news.cnet.com/8301-19518_3-20061298-238.html

Protalinski, E. (2011, 05 20). Mark zuckerberg: Facebook minimum age limit should be removed. Retrieved from http://www.zdnet.com/blog/facebook/mark-zuckerberg-facebook-minimum-age-limit-should-be-removed/1506

Riccardi, K. (2012). Cyber bullying: Responsibilities and solutions. Retrieved from http://www.guide2digitallearning.com/teaching_learning/cyber_bullying_responsibilities_and_solutions

Rheingold, Howard, (2012). Net smart: How to thrive online. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA.

Reicosky, L. (2012, June 20). Program warns kids, parents of lifelong consequences of cyberbullying.

Ribble, M. (2013). Digital citizenship. Retrieved from http://www.digitalcitizenship.net/

Sex and tech: What’s really going on. (2012). Retrieved from http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/sextech/

Sachs, W. (2010). Survey: cyberbullying is parents. Retrieved from http://www.care.com/child-care-survey-cyberbullying-is-parents-1-fear-p1017-q3629717.html

Saleh, L. (2011, Beating the bully. Islamic Horizons, 40(2), 18-18-23. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/857707464?accountid=34899

Sameer Hinduja, , Ph.D, & Justin W. Patchin, , Ph.D. (2010). Cyberbullying; identification, prevention and       response. Retrieved from http://www.cyberbullying.us/Cyberbullying_Identification_Prevention_Response_FactSheet.pdf

Sontag, L. M., Clemans, K. H., Graber, J. A., & Lyndon, S. T. (2011). Traditional and cyber aggressors and victims: A comparison of psychosocial characteristics. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 40(4), 392-392-404

Thierer, A. (2012, February). Technopanics, threat inflation, and the danger of an information technology precautionary principle. (Working Paper, Mercatus Center, George Washington University, 2012). No. 12-09

Toebben, K. (2010, November 21). Cyber bullying awareness increases. Retrieved from http://fhntoday.com/2010/11/10/cyber-bullying-awareness-increases/.

Merriam, W. (2012). Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cyberbullying

Urban Law Journal, 28(6). Retrieved from http://ir.lawnet.fordham.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2058&context=ulj

Warman, M. (2011, May 4). Mark Zuckerberg: children should be allowed to use Facebook. The Telegraph. Retrieved on March 8, 2013, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/8533429/Mark-Zuckerberg-children-should-be-allowed-to-use-Facebook.html

Positive Psychology and 21st Century Opportunities

Martin Seligman, author of ‘Flourish’ (Seligman, 2011) believes  that modern psychology has done good job utilizing a medical and pathological assessment models in treating patients dealing with any number of mental health issues, ranging from depression, post-traumatic stress, to bipolar disorders (Seligman, 2011). However, Seligman also believes this model may not be in the best interest of patients dealing with what can sometimes be debilitating and life altering illnesses (Seligman, 2011). Instead, Seligman proposes that practitioners adapt his strength and asset based model, which not only enables patients to change their lives almost immediately by challenging their negative thoughts, but also and perhaps more importantly, can have a life lasting impact (Seligman, 2011).  I will outline Seligman’s strength and asset based approach in the following pages, an approach which enables patients to develop and cultivate well-being, discuss ways in which technology such as mobile applications and online tools can be utilized to disperse his vital techniques to the masses, and provide case studies from my own clinical practice that highlight the effectiveness of using Seligman’s approach.

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In his book ‘Flourish’ (Seligman, 2011), Martin Seligman chronicles his journey in positive psychology, which he initially thought was about helping his patients discover Authentic Happiness (Seligman, 2011). Authentic Happiness consists of three components; positive emotion, engagement, and meaning, but this Seligman later discovered, may not the foundation for a person’s healthy longevity (Seligman, 2011). Instead, Seligman found that life is about discovering well-being, which can be established by adapting his model (PERMA), consisting of five elements (Seligman, 2011). The five elements making up PERMA are: Positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (Seligman, 2011).  Modern psychology, Seligman argues, has made tremendous strides in diagnosing and treating mental illness, but attempting to cure individuals with mental health problems is not the same as helping them lead a life full of meaning, engagement and positive emotions (Seligman, 2011). This is a particular important element of Seligman’s work, as he believes that mental health practitioners and pharmaceutical manufacturers too often focus on finding short term, acute solutions to long lasting disorders which include but are not limited to depression, bipolar, and post-traumatic stress (Seligman, 2011). It is thought that depression is caused by an imbalance of the three brain neurotransmitter chemicals; these are dopamine serotonin and norepinephrine (Beck and Alford, 2009). Anti-depression medications attempt to increase the availability of these neurotransmitters or by changing the sensitivity of the receptors for these chemical messengers (Beck and Alford, 2009).  The most common treatment for depressive disorders is cognitive therapy, along with Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) medications such as Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, Cymbalta and Zoloft (Dunlop, Kelley, Mletzko, Velasquez, Craighead, and  Mayberg, 2012; Seligman, 2011). The sheer number of psychopharmaceuticals interventions is not surprising, as they are money makers for its manufacturers, generating billions in profit (Seligman, 2011). Cymbalta alone generated well over five billion dollars in revenue in 2012 (Statista, 2012). This is a startling statistic, but even more startling is the insignificant impact SSRIs have on its consumers (Seligman, 2011). Research  indicates that the use of SSRI has little or no impact on individuals suffering from mild to moderate depression, and only has about a twenty percent edge over placebo’s given to individuals with major depression (Seligman, 2011).  Hence, Martin Seligman not only believes that SSRIs are not the answer, but makes the case that the large revenues generated by drug manufacturers through their anti-depression medications stack the odds against adapting alternative (long lasting) treatments (Seligman, 2011).

Drug Culture

If it were up to Seligman and other like-minded thinkers, more emphasis would be placed on a Medication-free SSRI model, which stands for ‘Strategies, Strengths, Resources, and Insights’ (Grenville-Cleave, 2010).  Through a strength and asset based approach, a person who is suffering from depression is shifted from the negative aspects of depression to positive abilities and actions (Seligman, 2011).  According to this theory, this can be done in several ways, one of them is an exercise in which a (depressed) individual is writes a story in which he is the hero, and is about his or her battle in overcoming depression  (Seligman, Rashid, Park, 2006).  Another exercise is Seligman’s  ‘Gratitude Visit’, in which a person writes a short letter which outlines a specific example of how an individual made a difference in their life, then visits the individual to read them the letter (Seligman, 2011). A third tool which evidenced based studies have concluded to impact depressive symptoms is Seligman’s ‘three good things exercise’. Here an individual lists three things that went well a particular day and most importantly, indicates as to why it did (Seligman, 2011). When compared to traditional treatments, results from these seemingly simple exercises are impressive and often felt immediate  – compared to SSRIs, which often take four to five weeks before they  may have an impact in alleviating depressive symptoms (Seligman, 2011).

The worst aspect of positive psychology is perhaps its name, which to some may imply that it is part of the pop psychology movement which gained in popularity in the eighties and nineties, and was accompanied by a plethora of self-help and motivational books and online resources (Leary, 2004). It might be this awareness, along with time served as President of the American Psychological Association that Martin Seligman places particular emphasis on evidenced based research studies when presenting his strength and asset based theory (Seligman, 2011).  For instance, Seligman conducted study which involved three hundred students at the University of Pennsylvania, some of the subjects were categorized as clinically depressed, and it evaluated the efficacy of using positive psychology interventions to impact depression symptoms. This study utilized several interventions to impact the subjects experience in having a meaningful life, positive emptions, along with levels of engagement (Seligman, 2011).  The results were promising, revealing that positive psychology exercises such as his ‘gratitude visit and ‘three good things’, were not only able to reduce depressive symptoms (compared to subjects with no intervention), but also provide life-long tools to combat negative thoughts and cultivate well-being (Seligman, 2011).

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On a personal level, I found Seligman’s theory grounded by his evidenced based research studies so compelling that I tried his exercises on several clients suffering from depression, post-traumatic stress, and co-occurring disorders in my clinical practice. The impact of using these exercises was revealing, enabling my patients to raise their baseline functioning in a short time frame.  Below are highlights of two patients who I have been treating for several months with conventional methods of cognitive therapy and SSRIs.

Patient 1: Jane Doe

Diagnosis: Post Traumatic Stress, Major Depression (recurrent)

Background:  Jane is a 26 year old female, with a long history of sexual, physical, verbal and emotional abuse. Jane was born into a wealthy family, both her parents were alcoholics, and by the time Jane was five had developed an addiction to crack cocaine. Jane was neglected as a child and abused, so much so that Jane’s mother broke her leg with a baseball bat when she was nine years old. She was in the hospital for some time, but her mother’s influence over her, along with her families influence in their community kept the Department of Children and Families (DCF) from intervening. Jane’s grades began to drop while she was a teenager, particularly after her mother remarried, and Jane’s new step father began sexually abusing her.  At fourteen DCF finally intervened and took her into a foster home. However, being in custody of the State did not benefit her much, while the physical abuse may have ended, emotional, and verbal abuse continued. Jane developed an addiction to food, perhaps using food as a coping mechanism to reduce her pain, and by the time she was twenty weight over six hundred pounds.  At this point her parents had died, and Jane was alone without social or family support. At twenty four Jane was in a relationship, and went under gastric bypass surgery. She was surprised when her fiancé at the time did not pick her up from the procedure, and found him deceased in their living room when she eventually returned home. Jane had undergone a number of treatments, primarily SSRI and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I began treating her after her third suicide attempt.

Result: I began treating Jane utilizing cognitive behavioral therapy, and while I was focused on opportunities for growth in my approach, I did not see concrete results until I began utilizing Seligman’s exercises. After just a week of Seligman’s ‘three good things’ exercise, which Jane did on a daily basis after dinner and before she went to bed, she reported improved sleep, motivation, and perhaps most importantly, recognize that a good day is not when ‘something bad did not happen’, but when she is able to recognize her own strength and resilience through incredibly adversities.

Patient 2: John Doe

Diagnosis: Post Traumatic Stress, Major Depression (recurrent)

Background: John is a thirty three year old while male, born in Colorado, and raised in many different parts of the world. John’s father was in the diplomatic circle, and moved his family long distances for relatively short periods of time. John’s depressive symptoms began as a teenager, and his parents who were both very busy, send him to a number of mental health experts to deal with his ‘issues’. John never disclosed to them that he was sexually abused by a baby sitter for several months, or that he is Gay. John moved away from his parents when he graduated high school, and attended an Ivy League University where he was able to cope with his depressive symptoms by self-medicating with Alcohol. John’s natural intellect enabled him to graduate in four years, and later began a career in music. Johns alcoholism slowly progressed, but became more severe after he was the first on the scene of a horrific twenty car pileup on a major highway. John witnessed individuals trapped in their cars, one individual decapitated, several individuals with missing limbs, and some fatalities. John began drinking daily, and a year after the accident attempted to take his life. He had previously been treated with Prozac, Paxil, Wellbutrin along with cognitive behavioral interventions.

Results: I began seeing John several months ago, and as with most clients, spend a significant time developing a trusting relationship through empathy and understanding. I saw some improvements in John’s symptoms, some of whom may have been due to his abstinence of alcohol and regularly attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. However, John made had a seemingly immediate transformation when I gave him Seligman’s exercises. John reported spending more time looking for happiness in what he has, instead of looking for things missing in his life. John made the following statement in our most recent session:

 “I was on the train coming to our appointment when I began having negative thoughts about things going wrong in my life and fears about my future. My heart began racing and I felt that I might have an anxiety attack when I stopped my thought pattern and began focusing on what is going right, and why. In the past I would have gotten off the train and gone to a liquor store, not anymore”.

 Seligman’s deviation from the traditional medical or pathological assessment model on psychology is not his only deviation, as he places particular emphasis on emotional intelligence (EQ) (Seligman, 2011). Traditionally, a person’s intelligence is based on his or her problem solving, and linguistic abilities (Seligman, 2011). Emotional Intelligence incorporates a number of measurements such as empathy, social skills, self-regulation and awareness, as well as motivation and kinetic intelligence (Seligman, 2011). Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be cultivated and increased as individuals get older, especially when emphasis is placed on strengths through self-reflection, awareness, and personal understanding (Seligman, 2011). Martin Seligman strongly believes that well-being and emotional intelligence should be a focus in education, and has taught his techniques to schools around the world with astounding success (Seligman, 2011).  Raising self-awareness as highlighted by the case studies above, focus on inner strengths and resilience in individuals who in the past may have thought their only salvation might come from external factors such as SSRIs or therapy (Seligman, 2011).

The twenty first (media) century has brought about many changes, none perhaps as significant as the digital revolution, which has enabled instant connectivity to billions of people in all parts of the globe (Kotkin, 2002).  Technological advancements are made on an almost daily basis, and have been accompanied by fear, and changing the narrative in which individuals see the world around them, wired to their mobile phones at the expense of human connectivity (Ducheneaut, Nickell and Moore, 2006).  Narratives derive much of their power from the fact that there is some consensus what people like to take from them (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). Narratives have the ability to drive social change on a cultural or national scale, beginning with the individual and his desires to influence change (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993).  However, even though the study of understanding personal attitude and belief change has been a very important topic among social psychologists for a very long time, very little attention has been paid to understanding the specific processes through which a narrative creates a persuasive effect (Eagly & Chaiken, 1993). For instance, to what extend do narratives create a shared cultural vision and what do we think about that vision?  What creates shared narrative impact popular books, TV programs, movies, news sources; provide a major source of the information consumed by people daily? Moreover, how is the emergence of technologies influencing society, human interaction, and what specifically is it that is influencing us? Psychologists Hugo Munsterberg and William James asked the very same questions nearly one hundred years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Biocca, 2002).  Another interesting side note is that just a few years after Charles Darwin published ‘On The Origin of Species’ in which he makes the case for evolutionary biology, English writer Samuel Butler was beginning to fear how technology was also beginning to evolve, and was calling that a book be written on ‘Evolution of Machines’ (DaSilva , 2009). Martin Seligman offers his own spin to the changed narrative during the technological revolution, by incorporating it into his effort to offer well-being to the masses, and ostensibly changing the narrative in the way we may view technology, and the benefits it offers in addressing mental health disorders (Seligman, 2011). One example of how Seligman has done this is through his collaboration with the U.S. Department of Defense in a ‘Comprehensive Soldier Fitness’ program (Seligman, 2011). This program utilizes technology through his Global Assessment Tool (GAT), which is an online self-reporting questionnaire designed to measure four domains: emotional fitness, social fitness, family fitness, and spiritual fitness (Seligman, 2011). Pending on a soldiers result, they were then directed into different training programs, basic to advance. Seligman notes that advancements in psychological assessment (which includes the use of technology), and other research judging an individual’s psyche have historically come during and after times of war (Saigh and Bremner, 1999) and later utilized by civilians (Seligman, 2011). The implementation of his comprehensive soldier fitness program has created one of the largest mental health related databases (Seligman, 2011).  Moreover, GATs innovative implementation has familiarized thousands of individuals with common mental health terminology, making small strides in reducing the stigma surrounding mental health services (Seligman, 2011). In addition, Seligman was able to conclude from his findings that as emotional fitness increases, PTSD symptoms decrease (Seligman, 2011). In turn, increased emotional fitness not only helps service members cope with the stress associated with war, but also lower health care costs as fewer individuals are in need for mental health treatment (Seligman, 2011).

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Several weeks ago I had a client having a panic attack in my office; it was a scary, but very common predicament for this person, as she has been having them for most of her life. We had covered grounding and breathing techniques in the past, but I thought I would try something different on that particular day. My goal was to help my client become less dependent on me, by teaching her skills she can utilize on her own. I knew my client loved her Ipad, so on this particular day I took out my own, and together we used an app called ‘Unstuck’ (Orensten, 2011). Unstuck is an innovative application which walks its user through specific steps that trace the source of the anxiety, and tools such as mediation, reframing, and strength and asset based  exercises to shift the users mainframe from defense to offense. It worked, and within minutes my client was able to forgo her usual solution of taking a benzodiazepine, and instead rely on her inner strength she was never recognized. The potential for mobile applications such as Unstuck, online exercises offered by Martin Seligman, along with innovative wellness initiatives which corporations are developing via social media are endless (Hawn, (2009).  The needs of a society drive technological advancements, as such, we as members of an evolutionary species need to focus on developing tools designed for the greater good, allowing us to grow personally and professionally along with them.

References:

Beck, A. T., & Alford, B. A. (2009). Depression: Causes and treatments. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Biocca, F. (2002). The Evolution of Interactive Media. In M. Green, J. Strange & T. Brock (Eds.), Narrative Impact: Social and Cognitive Foundations. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

DaSilva , E. (2009, December 20). It’s alive: The theory and consequences of technological evolution. Retrieved from http://gwynethllewelyn.net/2009/12/20/it’s-alive-the-theory-and-consequences-of-technological-evolution-by-extropia-dasilva/

Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E., & Moore, R. J. (2006, April). Alone together?: exploring the social dynamics of massively multiplayer online games. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems (pp. 407-416). ACM.

Eagly, A., & Chaiken, S. (1993). The Psychology of attitudes. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Bracex

Grenville-Cleave , Bridget, 2010. Positive Psychology Responses to Depression. Positive Psychology Daily. Retrieved from https://positivepsychologynews.com/news/bridget-grenville-cleave/2010053011260

Hawn, C. (2009). Take two aspirin and tweet me in the morning: how Twitter, Facebook, and other social media are reshaping health care. Health affairs, 28(2), 361-368.

Kotkin, J. (2002). The new geography: How the digital revolution is reshaping the American landscape. Random House Digital, Inc.

Leary, M. R. (2004). The curse of the self: Self-awareness, egotism, and the quality of human life. Oxford University Press.

Orensten, Evan, 2011. Unstuck, New iPad app inspires in-the-moment personal problem solving to help you live better every day. Retrieved from http://www.coolhunting.com/tech/unstuck.php

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.

Seligman, M. E., Rashid, T., & Parks, A. C. (2006). Positive psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 61(8), 774.

The Pharmaceutical Industries Dirty (not so) Little Secret…

Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for individuals ages fifteen to forty four (CDC, 2013), impacting one out of ten American adults (NIH, 2013). The most common treatments for depressive disorders is cognitive therapy, and Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) medications such as Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox, Paxil, Prozac, Cymbalta and Zoloft (Dunlop, Kelley, Mletzko, Velasquez, Craighead, and Mayberg, 2012)(Seligman, 2012). The manufacturing of anti-depression has generated billions in revenue for pharmaceutical companies (Seligman, 2012), Cymbalta alone generated nearly five billion dollars in revenue in 2012 (Statista, 2012). This is a startling statistic, especially when considering research which has uncovered that the use of SSRI has little or no impact on individuals suffering from mild to moderate depression, and only has about a twenty percent edge over placebo’s given to individuals with major depression (Seligman, 2012).  Hence, Martin Seligman not only believes that SSRIs are not the answer, but makes the case that the large revenues generated by drug manufacturers through their anti-depression medications stack the odds against finding alternative (long lasting) treatments (Seligman, 2012).

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Depression is a mood state that goes well beyond temporarily feeling sad or blue, depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Positive Psychology moves away from the traditional medical or pathological view on mental health and depression, and instead aims to help individuals find long lasting ways to live happier and more fruitful lives (Seligman, 2012). Seligman’s PERMA theory on Well Being consists of five elements, these are; positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (Seligman, 2012). Modern psychology, Seligman argues, has made tremendous strides in diagnosing and treating a number of mental illnesses, but attempting to cure individuals with mental illness is not the same as helping them lead a life full of meaning, engagement, and positive emotions (Seligman, 2012).

In his book Flourish, Seligman (2012) goes beyond citing research studies that support his theory on well-being, but offers Kindness Exercises which can help individuals find almost immediate relieve in their depressive symptoms. These exercises were of a particular keen interest to me, as my clinical focus is trauma, primarily among combat veterans and women, who are more prone to depression than men (NIH, 2013). His exercises include a ‘Gratitude Visit’, in which a person writes a short letter that outlines specific examples of how an individual made a difference in their life, and then visits the individual to read them the letter (Seligman, 2012). I gave this assignment to ten clients early in the week, and then touched base with them after their visit. All clients performed the task within a few days, one hundred percent reported improved moods, a higher zest for life, and feeling more hopeful about the future. I asked another group of patients to start a journal, in which they note three things that went ‘right’ for them on a particular day, and ‘why’. Again, all individuals performing this task noted improvements in mood and outlook on life. These are statistics not easily replicated with psychotropic interventions.

Alpha-Stim vs Anti-Depressant Drugs

The technology age offers new challenges to individuals already prone to depression, for instance, media and other information sources are riddled with negative images. This includes but is not limited too graphic images depicting natural disasters, victims of terrorist attacks, or suffering in third world countries. The ability to access this information instantly and all the time has also made its impact on mental health. New research in neuroscience is showing that we are all hard wired to register and remember negative events and images more quickly and deeply than positive ones (Krendl, Kensinger, and Ambady, 2012). This is because there are two different kinds of memory (Musen and Treisman, 2012).  The first of which is explicit memory, which refers to the ability to recollect specific things, such as the names of your friends, or where you parked the car, and implicit, or emotional memory, which is less specific. Emotional memory is powerful and visceral, rooted in the reptilian structures of the brain (Musen and Treisman, 2012).  It creates the inner atmosphere of the mind, a felt sense of who we are and what living feels like, along with the deepest assumptions and expectations about the world (Musen and Treisman, 2012). Media providers are well aware of the powerful impact of implicit memories, and play on the emotions generated and remembered when publishing or airing their stories. As a result we are seeing less news coverage on positive events, and are instead flooded with stories of human suffering chronicled on the internet and cable news providers (Schuck and de Vreese, 2012).

The focus of my clinical practice and personal life has been to help patients empower their lives by finding hope, meaning and opportunities in their adversities. Positive Psychology not only compliments my goals, but also assists individuals enrich their lives on their own. This is especially important since insurance companies continue to cut mental health benefits, and patients regularly come to the conclusion that the negative side effects of SSRIs outweigh the benefits.  There is no doubt that challenging the status quo in treating depression is tremendous. However, media outlets such as blogs, twitter, Facebook and youtube offer endless opportunities to take Seligman’s message directly to those who might benefit from it the most.

 

References

CDC (2013). An Estimated 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Report Depression. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/features/datastatistics.html

Dunlop, B. W., Kelley, M. E., Mletzko, T. C., Velasquez, C. M., Craighead, W. E., & Mayberg, H. S. (2012). Depression beliefs, treatment preference, and outcomes in a randomized trial for major depressive disorder. Journal of psychiatric research, 46(3), 375-381.

Krendl, A. C., Kensinger, E. A., & Ambady, N. (2012). How does the brain regulate negative bias to stigma? Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 7(6), 715-726.

Mayo Clinic, 2013. Depression (major depression). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression/DS00175

Musen, G., & Treisman, A. (2012). Implicit and explicit memory for visual patterns. From Perception to Consciousness: Searching with Anne Treisman, 378.

NIH (2013). The Numbers Count: Mental Disorders in America. National Institute of Health. Retrieved from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/the-numbers-count-mental-disorders-in-america/index.shtml

Schuck, A. R., & de Vreese, C. H. (2012). When Good News Is Bad News: Explicating the Moderated Mediation Dynamic Behind the Reversed Mobilization Effect. Journal of Communication, 62(1), 57-77.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being. New York: Free Press.

Statista, 2013. Top antidepressant drugs in the United States based on revenue in 2011-2012 (in million U.S. dollars). Retrieved from  http://www.statista.com/statistics/242644/revenues-of-top-depression-drugs-in-the-us-2011-2012/

 

Media & Violence, from a cognitive psych angle

Mitt Romney, during his presidential campaign, proclaimed, “Pornography and violence poison our music and movies and TV and video games. The Virginia Tech shooter, like the Columbine shooters before him, had drunk from this cesspool” (Ott, 2013). The argument that violent movies and videogame cause kids to become violent has been made for a long time. Some researchers found that Columbine High School shooters Dylan Harris and Eric Klebold were avid computer gamers (Anderson and Dill, 2000). Ironically, Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter was seen by his roommates as odd because he never joined them in video games (Shuchman, 2007).

With the staggering amount of violence on city streets, U.S. school systems, as well as acts of terror such as the recent bombings on Marathon Monday in Boston, an increasing amount of blame has been placed on gaming and violence portrayed in the media. While there is limited (credible) research on the relationship between violence portrayed in the media (inc. new technology) and violence, there are many things that can be done to reduce violence on U.S. City streets.

 

Psychological research, violence in the media:

  • A large number of U.S. adolescents actively play video games (Olson, Kutner, Warner, Almerigi, Baer, Nicholi and Beresin, 2007). According to one study (Lenhart et al., 2008), up to ninety seven percent of kids between the ages of twelve and seventeen play video games on the web, video console or computer. However, it is imperative that we keep in mind that of the psychological research that has been conducted in this area, there is still more that we do not know, than what we do understand about the relationship between video games, media, and violence (Ott, 2013). The majority of psychological research that has been conducted in this field has been on negative outcomes of playing video games, such as hostility, empathy, and aggression – yet developmental and social psychologists have focused very little on its positive impact (Adachi and Willough, 2012)
  •  Research has been unable to link causal relationship between violent video games and youth violence (Ott, 2013)
  • The United States has the highest homicide rate in the world, but, Japan who have an equally high rate of avid video game players have a homicide rate close to zero. The difference between the U.S. has been the restrictions on firearms (Anderson, Shibuya, Ihori, Swing, Bushman, Sakamoto and Saleem, 2010).

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  • Analyses of school shooting incidents from the U.S. Secret Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime do not support a link between violent games and real world attacks (Kutner and Olson, 2008). As such, US Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito in a majority opinion striking down a California law barring the sale or borrowing of certain video games argued that there was not enough evidence to determine the societal implications of violent video games (Hall and Day, 2011)
  • A 2004 study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital analyzed video games kids were playing, how much time they played and the possible relationship to delinquent behavior. It uncovered that a majority of the kids who played violent games,  played them to cope with their emotions,  enjoyed challenging situations, played to keep up with peers playing similar games, create their own worlds, and to relieve stress (Olson, Kutner, Warner, Almerigi, Baer, Nicholi and Beresin, 2007).

Using media to reduce violence, and self-efficacy

While research suggests that exposure to violent video games can boost aggression and increase bullying among adolescents, media exposure can also lead to improved behavior skills. This was substantiated in a 2013 study published by the Journal Pediatrics (Saint Louis, 2013), in which researchers limited preschool children’s exposure to violence-laden videos and television shows, and increased their time with educational programming that encourages empathy. Specifically, the study (Saint Louis, 2013) found that an increase in education type programming reduced children’s aggression toward others, compared with a group of children who were allowed to watch whatever they wanted.

Social cognitive theory offers a comprehensive understanding of how people learn behaviors in a range of contexts, including those based on media exposure. It is one of the most heavily referenced in media effects research, yet research is limited in its tests of the theory in media contexts. Social cognitive theory was developed by Psychologist Albert Bandura (1986), and is rooted in the notion of human agency, which suggests that individuals are proactively engaged in their own development and that they are able to exercise a measure of control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions (Bandura, 1996). In the era of globalization and advancement of technology, each and every person in this world is familiar with the new media technology.

 

9Elements-of-digital-citizenship

Today’s modern society is embedded within a technological context, which makes the understanding and evaluation of technological self-efficacy critical (LaRose and Eastin, 2004).  Self-efficacy is the beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and perform the sequences of action required to produce given achievement. In other words, self-efficacy determine on how people feel, think, motivate themselves and behave (LaRose and Eastin, 2004).  Todays, self-efficacy has come out accordingly with the new media, that is computer self-efficacy and Internet self-efficacy. Internet self-efficacy is an extension of computer self-efficacy, which is defined as ‘a person’s perception of their ability to learn and use computers and computer programs’ (LaRose and Eastin, 2004). Computer self-efficacy and self-efficacy generally is not only important when it comes to computer use, but the level of success one will experience when using a computer. This is because self-efficacy is also a specialist of the effort and persistence a person will put forth when faced with given task (Bandura, 2002). As such, we need to be aware that media can influence the way we think and feel, but not necessarily how we behave (Ott, 2013).

There is no doubt that social cognitive theory will continue to be a leading theory in understanding the effects of media on behavioral learning for years to come, and by more fully considering the nuances of this theory, media research will be far better positioned to benefit (Bandura, 2002).

 

References

Adachi, P. & Willoughby, T. (2012).  Do Video Games Promote Positive Youth Development?  Journal of Adolescent Research, 28(2) 155–165

Anderson, C. A., & Dill, K. E. (2000). Video games and aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behavior in the laboratory and in life. Journal of personality and social psychology, 78(4), 772-790.

Anderson, C. A., Shibuya, A., Ihori, N., Swing, E. L., Bushman, B. J., Sakamoto, A. & Saleem, M. (2010). Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosaically behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin, 136(2), 151-173.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory

Bandura, A. (2002). Social cognitive theory of mass communication. Media effects: Advances in theory and research, 2, 121-153.

Hall, R. C., Day, T., & Hall, R. C. (2011, April). A plea for caution: violent video games, the Supreme Court, and the role of science. In Mayo Clinic Proceedings (Vol. 86, No. 4, pp. 315-321). Elsevier.

LaRose, R., & Eastin, M. S. (2004). A social cognitive theory of Internet uses and gratifications: Toward a new model of media attendance. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 48(3), 358-377.

Kutner, L.,& Olson, C. (2008). Grand theft childhood: The surprising truth about violent video games and what parents can do. Simon & Schuster.

Olson, C. K., Kutner, L. A., Warner, D. E., Almerigi, J. B., Baer, L., Nicholi II, A. M., & Beresin, E. V. (2007). Factors correlated with violent video game use by adolescent boys and girls. Journal of Adolescent Health, 41(1), 77-83.

 Ott, B. (2013), Lecture 13 – Social Learning Theory and Violence. MSPP.

Saint Louis, C. (2013). Certain Television Fare Can Help Ease Aggression in Young Children, Study Finds. New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/18/certain-television-fare-can-help-ease-aggression-in-young-children-study-finds/

 Shuchman, M. (2007). Falling through the cracks—Virginia Tech and the restructuring of college mental health services. New England journal of medicine, 357(2), 105-110.

Online Communities Encouraging Eating Disorders

With the usage of social media and blogging sites on the rise, new interest groups develop and grow every day. A surge in online communities supporting and encouraging eating disorders has grown as well. On Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter, the hashtags representing these disorders like #pro ana, #ana, #thinspo, #pro mia, #ednos and #self harm are all too prevalent. Thousands of pictures are self-posted and shared with a click of the mouse depicted starving and emaciated women, girls, men and boys who support and glorify these negative behaviors.

According to a 2010 researchers study published in the American Journal for Public Health (Borzekowski, Schenk, Wilson, and Peebles, 2010), the web is rattled with an array of websites with so-called ‘pro-mia’ ‘pro-ana’ (for pro-bulimia and pro-anorexia) behaviors. Websites that encourage, support and motivate users to pursue their eating disorders. Many of these sites are open to teenagers without requiring passwords, and include pictures of emaciated fashion models and celebrities along with tips and techniques for staying dangerously thin. Most sites also allow user interaction through forums and message boards or through diet- and exercise-related tools, like body-mass index calculators and activity diaries (Borzekowski, Schenk, Wilson, and Peebles, 2010).

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Previous research has suggested that visiting pro-eating disorder websites tends to increase teenagers’ levels of body dissatisfaction, lower their quality of life and prolong their disordered eating behaviors. It’s possible also that young people who have not yet developed an eating disorder could be persuaded to adopt unhealthy behaviors after learning about them or discussing them with peers online.

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Given the topic of this week’s final assignment, I pose these question, how can these sites prevent users from posting content focusing on eating disorders and self-harm? Does the issue fall under the First Amendment and is it protected as freedom of speech? What should be done to end the online distribution of self-harm and eating disorder content? Some argue that blogs, and other related online content fall under protected speech per the First Amendment, or extremely difficult to monitor. Others believe encouraging such detrimental behavior should be classified as ‘hate speech’.

No matter which site of the debate we may align ourselves with; it is definitely a scary trend. There’s also little question that it is impossible to monitor and a protected form of speech since it’s not directed toward any one group in particular. As it may be to accept, the only way to combat negative speech is with more speech — more users on social media sites need to post content encouraging teens and young adults to have a positive body image.

Reference

Borzekowski, D. L., Schenk, S., Wilson, J. L., & Peebles, R. (2010). e-Ana and e-Mia: A Content Analysis of Pro–Eating Disorder Web Sites. American journal of public health100(8), 1526.