Entries in Psychology (15)


Unlocking Emotional Issues May Be Key to Extreme Weight Loss

ABC/CRAIG SJODIN(NEW YORK) -- Chris Powell, the man who orchestrates each jaw-dropping weight transformation on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, says his secret as a hard-charging trainer has less to do with exercising people's bodies than exorcising their demons.

"There is a tie to some kind of emotional trauma, in the past, of people I've worked with, and that trauma is typically unaddressed," he said.

Powell has helped 11 super-obese people lose more than a ton of weight on the show: 2,198 pounds, to be exact. But in addition to helping people shrink to half their size, Powell also has gotten them to open up about a whole range of psychological issues, including sexual abuse and alcoholism.

Although he admits he is "absolutely not" professionally qualified to advise on these issues, Powell said he approaches it like a friend would.

"I know what's out of my scope of practice with some of these deep-rooted psychological issues," he said. "That's why we have therapists on board with us."

"I think we all have a desire to feel significant in the world," he said. "It's not about me doing nice things for other people. I get something out of this, and its fulfillment. This is the best addiction in the world."

Watch the full story on ABC’s Nightline Friday at 11:35 ET/PT.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Here’s Your Brain When You Brag

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- For many, talking about themselves is an act of self-promotion, but according to a new study, there is a simple explanation for why people share so much information about themselves: It feels good.

According to the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, sharing activates the same pleasure region of the brain that lights up in response to food and money.

“The act of sharing information about yourself with other people is a rewarding activity to engage in,” said Diana Tamir, a graduate student in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neurosicence Lab at Harvard University, and an author of the study.

Using MRI, the researchers recorded the brain activity of volunteers and asked them to talk about themselves or another person. The scans showed that when volunteers spoke about themselves there was increased activity in the region of the brain associated with pleasure. In another test, the volunteers could make money by choosing to answer questions that weren’t about themselves, but instead of maximizing their earnings, they chose lower margins so they could talk about their lives.

“In our study our participants were willing to pay about a penny to self-disclose. In the real world I think people are often willing to pay much more than that,” Tamir told ABC News. “I do think this sheds some light on the way people share so much on the Internet.”

After looking at previous studies of naturalistic conversation, Tamir and her colleague Jason Mitchell found that about 30 to 35 percent of what people talked about was themselves, but on the Internet Tamir said that number skyrocketed to about 80 percent.

“With the Internet...we can kind of constantly reward ourselves repeatedly,” Tamir said. “The Internet is a great way to send out information, but I don’t think it can ever replace real conversations where people are sharing back and forth and soliciting information from other people.”

Tamir believes the fact that humans are hardwired to talk about themselves is not a bad thing. She said previous studies had found that people would pay money to solicit information from other people.

“If you were friends with somebody and they never told you anything about themselves, you’d probably stop being friends with them,” she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


You Are What You Type, or Something Like That

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Most of us have become so adept at using keyboards that we rarely stop to think about whether we type more words on the left side of the QWERTY keyboard or the right.

Well, researchers from the University College London and the New School for Social Research in New York have done the thinking for us and discovered that for some reason, keyboard users tend to have warmer feelings about words typed on the right side than the left, which induce more negative emotions.

Go figure.

The researchers found that their conclusion was the same whether volunteers typed words in English, Dutch and Spanish.

Such words or abbreviations like “LOL,” which are done on the right side, produced more positive emotions, even if they’re made up words like “plook” as opposed to words such as “red” or “saw” that are done on the keyboard’s left side.

One possible explanation is that words on the left are tougher to type since the left hand is responsible for 15 letters while the right only has to deal with 11 letters.

As a result, the researchers said, “People responsible for naming new products, brands and companies might do well to consider the potential advantages of consulting their keyboards and choosing the 'right' name.”

You also might want to think about changing your own name if most of the letters are on left side of the keyboard.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Nice or Nasty? New Research Answers Human Nature Question

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, British Columbia) -- New research is proving that humans are naturally pretty nice with “pro-social tendencies” and are not as “nasty” as previously thought, according to a top primate behavior expert.

Frans de Waal, a biologist at Emory University in Atlanta, told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science that new research was helping to challenge earlier beliefs -- popular until more than a decade ago -- that humans were competitive, aggressive and plain-old mean, according to the Discovery Channel.

He showed videos from laboratories of a monkey displaying emotional distress after being denied a treat that another had received as well as a rat turning down a snack to help another rat escape from a trap.

De Waal, the author of The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society, said the new research revealed that animals were naturally capable of “reciprocity, fairness, empathy and consolation.”

He told the audience in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Monday that human children and most higher animals, such as primates and elephants, are “moral” because they need to cooperate with each other to reproduce and pass on their genes, the Discovery Channel reported.

But he told reporters that animals empathized with those within their “in group” but that courtesy was not so easily extended in the human world.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Men’s Mag or Rapist? Study Claims Few Can Tell

Digital Vision/Getty Images(LONDON) -- What do men’s magazines and convicted rapists have in common? How they describe women, a British study has found.

When presented with quotes taken from popular men’s magazines like FHM or The Rapist Files -- a collection of interviews with convicted rapists -- men were unable to distinguish the source, according to the study coming out in the British Journal of Psychology.

“Our research showed an overlap in the content of popular lads’ mags and the kinds of things that convicted rapists say when they’re justifying sexual violence against women,” study co-author Peter Hegarty said in an interview posted on the University of Surrey’s website.

Hegarty and colleagues say the quotes from rapists, which cover topics ranging from how to tell a woman wants sex to what to do when caught “red-handed,” legitimize hostile sexist attitudes.

“Rapists try to justify their actions, suggesting that women lead men on, or want sex even when they say no, and there is clearly something wrong when people feel the sort of language used in a lads’ mag could have come from a convicted rapist,” lead author Miranda Horvath, senior lecturer in psychology at Middlesex University said in a statement.

See if you can guess the source of these quotes used in the study:

  1. “There’s a certain way you can tell that a girl wants to have sex… The way they dress, they flaunt themselves.”
  2. “You do not want to be caught red-handed… go and smash her on a park bench. That used to be my trick.”
  3. “I think girls are like plasticine, if you warm them up you can do anything you want with them.”
  4. “You’ll find most girls will be reluctant about going to bed with somebody or crawling in the back seat of a car… But you can usually seduce them, and they’ll do it willingly.”

In a follow-up study, men were asked to rank quotes based on how derogatory they were. Men’s magazines came out looking worse than rapists.

“We hope that our results inform policy debates by shifting attention to the possible dangers that lads’ mags might pose to their intended audience of young men, and to the young women with whom those men socialize,” the authors wrote.

Surveys suggest young men do look to magazines for advice about relationships and sex. But Hegarty says censorship is not the answer.

“Instead, I think it would be more useful if the government were to invest in really high-quality sex education for young men and women so that people didn’t have to rely on these kinds of media to fill the gap,” he said.

Answers: 1. Rapist, 2. Men’s Mag, 3. Men’s Mag, 4. Rapist

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Sweethearts Tend to Hit the Sweets, Says Study

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GETTYSBURG, Pa.) -- As Halloween approaches, parents around the country will warn their kids not to eat all their candy at once. It may rot their teeth out and make them gain a few pounds, but it also may show just how sweet they are.

That’s according to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Brian Meier, an associate professor of psychology at Gettysburg College, and his colleagues analyzed five studies that related to taste and behavior. Even after controlling for positive mood and reward, researchers found that people who eat sweet foods tend to be more agreeable and cooperative than those who eat non-sweet foods.

“It looks like metaphors related to taste sensations in terms of behavior are more than just devices for communication,” said Meier. “There is this theory of embodiment. People who we considered ‘sweet’ preferred sweet foods.”

Those who enjoyed sweets also seemed to be more likely to volunteer. Specifically for one study, people were more likely to help clean up their city after a major flood.

Of course, several limitations put the results in question. The studies were small -- the largest included 108 participants. The results were self-reported, correlated in result, and researchers did not test for other tastes (i.e. Are people who prefer bitter foods more bitter by nature?).

So, it’s a bit early to say that people who eat sweets are sweeter and those who load on the salt are saltier, but researchers plan to expand their research in the future by studying other tastes.

“We’d like to examine taste with other personalities,” said Meier. “It may tell us a lot more about how people differ in nature than we think it does.”

In the meantime, go ahead and eat that bit of chocolate. Hey, you’re just showing others how darn sweet you are.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Foster, Colts Teammates Could Struggle Mentally After Gruesome Injury

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images(TAMPA, Fla.) -- The Indianapolis Colts have a losing season on their hands, but that's not all that could be on their minds. The team's players have suffered multiple injuries in the season so far, including defensive tackle Eric Foster's gruesome ankle injury in Monday night's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sports psychologists say those injuries could take a toll on players' psyches, even on the ones who weren't injured.

Foster dislocated his ankle in the second quarter of the game when his leg got pinned and tangled under defensive end Tyler Brayton. He was taken out of the game.

Foster became emotional as doctors immobilized his leg on the field and loaded him onto a stretcher, and as he rode off the field, he pumped his fist in the air, rallying players from both teams and a stadium full of fans.

The severity of Foster's injury was obvious, both in video replays and based on the emotional reactions of his teammates. But sports psychologists say the mental challenges Foster may face because of his injury could make his road to recovery even rockier.

Dr. William Parham, a sports psychologist in Irvine, Calif., said a player's identity as an athlete makes injury hard to handle emotionally.

"Participation in athletics, especially at the professional level, is not just participation in a game. It's a part of who that player is. It becomes who they are and how they identify themselves," Parham said. "When somebody snatches from them the opportunity for them to express themselves through athletics, that can be devastating."

Psychologists say major injuries can bring up lots of questions for players about when and if they will recover and get back to playing. Those questions can lead to anxiety, depression, anger, fear and even guilt about letting down teammates and fans. And Parham said injured professional athletes such as Foster have an added burden -- worrying about how an injury will affect their job security.

Even after an athletes recover physically, they can still face lingering fears about their ability to perform. Daniel Gould, a professor of sports psychology at Michigan State University, said a full physical recovery may not be enough to prevent a crisis of confidence for some players.

"You've done all you could to recover, but until somebody takes a really hard shot at your knee or your ankle, and you can get up, you're not confident," he said.

Gould said athletic trainers treating Foster would probably watch for signs that he is becoming increasingly anxious or obsessed with his injury throughout his recovery.

Foster may not be the only Colt struggling with thoughts about his devastating injury. Offensive linemen Anthony Castonzo and Ben Iljanana both left the game with knee injuries in Monday's game, adding to a long list of Colts who are disabled, including quarterback Peyton Manning, who is out after having surgery on his neck. Parham said the team's healthy players undoubtedly feel the effects of their teammates' absences.

"When you're a band of brothers on a team, when one hurts, they all hurt," Parham said. "They'll definitely feel that missing link."

The impact of Foster's injury was apparent in his teammates' reactions Monday night. Several Colts players appeared to be fighting back tears, and a few circled around the doctors who were tending to Foster, offering him some encouragement.

Shilagh Mirgain, a sports psychologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said players who see a gruesome injury like Foster's may worry about their own vulnerabilities, even though they were not the ones suffering injury. But she said that may not necessarily be a bad thing.

"If the team has an opportunity to talk about and process what happened during that game, their reactions, and some of their own fears and concerns about injury, that can also allow the team to unify," Mirgain said.

In the season ahead, Mirgain said the Colts could even turn their negative fears into a positive performance.

"It's an opportunity for the Colts to commit to taking care of themselves, physically and mentally," she said. "They can still have a very successful season going forward."

Foster underwent surgery on his ankle Monday night in a Tampa hospital, and speculations are flying that the injury will end his season. But sports psychologists say a few things could make his recovery easier. Setting small, daily goals for recovery might help him feel accomplished, and leaning on friends, family and teammates for support can be essential.

The Colts' support for Foster was evident Monday night, as his teammates rallied at his side and fans roared when he was carried off the field. Mirgain said Foster's fist-pumping acknowledgement of this support is a good sign for his recovery.

On Tuesday, Foster sent a grateful tweet to his fans.

"Thank u all 4 such kind words. I thank u Lord in Advance. Women around the world gettn treated 4 cancer. May God have mercy on all o us."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Twitter Used to Track the World’s Mood; Shows We’re Happiest in Morning

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(ITHACA, N.Y.) -- Twitter is now so big, and so constantly used, that two Cornell University researchers were able to use it as a sort of “global mood ring” to monitor the world’s feelings.

By analyzing the tweets of 2.4 million people in 84 countries, they report, they found that people generally wake up in good spirits, but things go downhill as the workday goes on. On weekends the pattern holds as well, though everything happens two hours later because people sleep in.

The patterns were consistent across the globe, they say, despite widely varying cultures and religions.

The researchers, graduate student Scott Golder and sociology professor Michael Macy, say they ran 509 million tweets through a computer program designed to discern moods from the users’ use of key words. The results are published in this week’s edition of the journal Science.

“People criticize the Internet for being mundane or filled with gossip, but that’s really not so,” said Golder in a telephone interview. “The Internet records everything, so Twitter is a giant archive of time-coded conversations.”

The researchers said there are so many tweets that there were more than enough to show mood patterns around the world. They confirmed the weekend mood boost, for instance, by looking at traffic from the United Arab Emirates, where weekends are celebrated on Friday and Saturday instead of Saturday and Sunday.

The survey of course does have its limits. Golder admitted, “We’re measuring the expression of something, not the action itself.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Psychic Kindergarten' for Budding Mediums?

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(BERKELEY, Calif.) -- Long before J.K. Rowling ever conceived Hogwarts, a small group of students in Berkeley, Calif., were learning what Harry Potter would have called "divination."

It's called "psychic kindergarten," beginner lessons for clairvoyants, where they learn how to read colored spirits, feel chakras and "blow roses." Susan Bostwick, the president of the Berkeley Psychic Institute, is also one of its teachers.

"What we do is teach people to discover, go in and find out what your abilities are, and how do you want to use them for the greater good," she said.

Bostwick stressed that, unlike Harry Potter and his friends, what she and her students are practicing is not magic.

"We talk about magic and miracles, [but] it's allowing yourself to have what you're experiencing in life as a miracle," she said. "I'm teaching people to use their psychic ability. They already have it."

The institute, which is an offshoot of the Church of the Divine Man, is a new age religious group, which bases its teachings on the Bible's New Testament. The organization has been around for 38 years; 300,000 participants have reportedly come through, according to Bostwick.

When the students are asked to "blow roses" in "psychic kindergarten," it means they are being asked to imagine a rose as a way of focusing the mind. In their minds' eye, they then visualize the rose exploding, which is supposed to clear their thoughts, getting rid of any distracting psychic energy.

The students also spend time talking about colors of psychic energy. Each of the colors has different meanings. For example, gold means spiritually awakened or inspired.

"In kindergarten, you're just there to play and learn and discover," said Bingo Marasigan, director of the Berkeley Psychic Institute. "That's what we do here. We provide the space. It's a playground for you to play with energy."

Tune into Primetime Nightline: Beyond Belief special, "Psychic Power," airing on Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 10 p.m. ET/9 p.m. CT on ABC.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Dogs Have a New Trick: Helping Kids Read

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Bailey Benson turned 10 today, but she's already reading like a high school student thanks to her terrier tutor, Guthrie.

It's been a year and a half since Benson and her parents visited an animal shelter in Phoenix and came home with Guthrie, a mixed-breed dog that looks like Dorothy's Toto. In that time, Benson's reading skills and confidence have soared.

"She reads to him constantly," said Benson's mom, Maria. "At any given time, you can go into her room and she's reading to him out loud."

Guthrie's nonjudgmental presence and silent appreciation for the written word might be driving Benson's success. Based on the results of a pilot study, researchers from Tufts University in Boston say reading out loud to dogs can boost kids' ability and desire to read.

"Dogs are such good listeners," said Lisa Freeman, a veterinarian at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. "They really make reading a fun and pleasant experience for a child in what might otherwise be a challenging environment."

Small studies and personal anecdotes have touted the benefits of reading to dogs for more than a decade. As a result, programs that match young readers with furry friends at local libraries, group homes and community centers are in high demand.

"We want to be able to expand these programs -- get more funding and get them into more communities," Freeman said. Larger scientific studies, she hopes, will yield the hard evidence needed to convince naysayers and boost resources.

The psychological benefits of pet ownership are profound. Dogs can comfort college students panicking over midterms and calm hospital patients waiting for intimidating tests. They can even ease debilitating anxiety for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"We've always known that pets made us feel good, but we're increasingly realizing that pets are in fact good for us," said Marty Becker, an Idaho-based veterinarian and author of "The Healing Power of Pets." "Not everything has to be state of the art; we need things that are state of the heart."

Humans aren't the only ones who benefit from the relationship. Freeman said dogs in Tufts' Paws for People program are thrilled to do their jobs.

"We want to make sure both ends of the leash are benefiting from this," she said.

Guthrie seems content enough, having patiently listened to about 25 books. Benson tries to pick "things he likes," like poetry, "Harry Potter," and anything about dogs. She avoids "Lemony Snicket" -- the spooky series makes Guthrie anxious, she said.

Guthrie has also bolstered Benson's love for animals. About to enter the fifth grade, she's now torn between a career as a vet or as a gynecologist.

"Maybe I could be a veterinary gynecologist," she recently told her mom.

Benson celebrated her ninth birthday at her local Humane Society, to which she donated any money she was given so the dogs could find "forever homes." This year she asked for an e-reader.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio