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PsychNotes December 2014
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical and Sport Psychologist

Index        Previous        Next
December 27, 2014

Cognitive Story Audio:
Feeling Sad Because of Bullies

This is a cognitive story for children. The purpose is to help children learn how to handle different situations. A cognitive story teaches children how to think rationally about problems that commonly occur in childhood. These stories are often good at bedtime because the end of the story focuses on relaxing and drifting off to sleep.

This audio is a conversation between a wise old parrot and a child. The parrot advises the child when the child is feeling hurt because of being bullied. Many children feel bad about themselves when bullied. This story is to prevent those longer term consequences of bullying by helping the child understand that he or she is not wrong or bad, that it is the bully who was wrong. The story the audio is based on is also included so that it can be read to a child.


December 26, 2014

PsychNote: Curious About Improving Your Memory?

How often do you Google information just because you're curious? Interestingly, curiosity not only increases your ability to remember the information you are curious about, but you are also more likely to remember other unrelated information that occurred at the same time (Gruber, et al., 2014).

Recently, my family played a game of “Risk” which arouses the competitive spirit in all of us. During the game we Googled questions about rules or strategy. Of course, it is not unexpected that we are likely to remember that particular information in the future. However, according to the research, we are also more likely to remember other information such as who was winning at the time, where people were sitting, the color of their clothes, etc.

The research involved examining subjects' brains using a technique called Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). While the brain activity was measured the subjects were given trivia questions and showed photographs of strangers. In addition to answering the trivia questions, the subjects were asked to rate their curiosity regarding the question. Afterward, the subjects were tested for facial recognition and were more likely to remember faces that were shown with trivia items that had piqued their curiosity.

These results indicate that when people are curious the neural pathways of the brain involved with motivation interact with those involved with memory which boosts overall ability to remember during the time the brain is more receptive to learning.

What does this mean for you? Taking a more curious approach to life may enhance your memory for names, faces, dates, places and other information overall. Asking “why?” or “how?” will stimulate your brain to be more receptive, in general, resulting in enhanced memory.

Gruber, M.U, Gelman, B.D., Ranganath, C. (2014). States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit. Neuron, 84, 485-496.

December 23, 2014

PsychNote: Influence of Exaggerated News Stories: It's Not That You're Stupid, It's the Nature of Memory

The media is in the money business, not the information business. The more interesting the news, the more you will watch it. And the more money they make. Most people recognize this. In fact, 66% of people believe that news reports whether from TV or newspapers are often inaccurate.

Yet, even though we know the news can be inaccurate, we can't stop how these reports influence us! Why is that?

Researchers Lawson and Strange (2013) had people read and view exaggerated news reports and standard news reports and found that memory distortions occurred with the exaggerated reports. The interesting aspect of this finding is that the memory distortion went beyond the actual exaggerated information. It seems that when we view or read exaggerated information it triggers our imagination and our own tendency to speculate which affects our memory of the story. As a result, we tend to remember more distorted details that weren't included in the original story.

It's sort of like that game we played as children where the first child would whisper a message to the second who would pass it to a third and on down the line until the last child said out loud the final message. Always, it was completely different than the original. How funny we thought that was!

However, it is not so funny when you realize how much we are influenced by information. Inaccurate information can cause us to be fearful. It can elect one candidate over another. It can cause us to spend money when it may be unnecessary. It can cause us to be angry at certain groups of people. It can even cause us to act, or support actions, that are contrary to our nature.

The worst aspect about this is that even when we know we are being influenced we can't stop the process. In this study, the researchers warned the subjects prior to providing the news stories that the media can be inaccurate but that did not make a difference in the tendency to distort exaggerated stories.

We are victims of the nature of our memories. And the media, and politicians, and product marketing companies take advantage of that.

Lawson, V. Z., & Strange, D. (2013, December 23). News as (Hazardous) Entertainment: Exaggerated Reporting Leads to More Memory Distortion for News Stories. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/ppm0000015

December 21, 2014

Cognitive Story Audio:
So Hard to Speak Up in Class

This is a cognitive story for children. The purpose is to help children learn how to handle different situations. A cognitive story teaches children how to think rationally about problems that commonly occur in childhood. These stories are often good at bedtime because the end of the story focuses on relaxing and drifting off to sleep.

This audio is a conversation between a wise old parrot and a child. The parrot advises the child when the child is feeling afraid of what others might be thinking when answering questions in class. The story the audio is based on is also included so that it can be read to a child.


December 20, 2014

PsychNote: Can't Force Happiness on Someone

Certain methods have been shown to increase happiness in individuals. Researcher Lyobomirsky and colleagues (2011) examined whether choosing to engage in happiness-enhancing activities made a difference.

To determine this, they designed research in which students were given the option to participate in two different studies: a cognitive exercises study and a happiness intervention. Unknown to the students, however, both studies were exactly the same. When they received their directions, each group was told they were participating in a study to increase well-being and they would be provided instructions requiring 15 minutes of writing per week for 8 weeks.

The writing assignment for some was to express optimism about their future self with each week focused on a different aspect of their future: romantic life, educational attainment, hobbies/personal interests, family life, career, social life, community involvement, and health. The other writing assignment was to express gratitude by writing a letter to someone (but not sending it) to whom they were grateful.

The outcome of this research showed that those who had chosen to be in a happiness study did indeed increase their overall well-being and sense of happiness regardless of which assignment they completed. However, those who chose to be in a cognitive exercises study did not show an increase in happiness although they completed exactly the same assignment and put in the same amount of effort. In addition, no difference was found in level of happiness between the two groups at the beginning of the study so it can't be said that those who chose the cognitive exercises activity were already happier explaining why they didn't choose to be in a study about happiness.

Conclusion: A person needs to choose to increase happiness in her or his life for the effort to be effective.

Lyobomirsky, S., Dickerhoof, R.,Boehm, J.K. and Sheldon, K.M. (2011). Becoming Happier Takes Both a Will and a Proper Way: An Experimental Longitudinal Intervention To Boost Well-Being. Emotion , 11, 391–402. DOI: 10.1037/a0022575

December 19, 2014

Cognitive Story Audio:
Feeling Sad Because Friends Were Mean

Parrots: Listen to all advice This is a cognitive story for children. The purpose is to help children learn how to handle different situations. A cognitive story teaches children how to think rationally about problems that commonly occur in childhood. These stories are often good at bedtime because the end of the story focuses on relaxing and drifting off to sleep.

This audio is a conversation between a wise old parrot and a child. The parrot advises the child when the child is troubled about being hurt by friends. The story the audio is based on is also included so that it can be read to a child.


December 10, 2014

Successful Marriages Require Emotional Control

Emotional control is not emotional suppression. A good marriage requires access to emotions because emotions tell us when a problem occurs. However, the critical factor is how those emotions are expressed. Constructive expression of emotions allows for problem-solving. Emotions expressed through negative behaviors such as yelling, withdrawal, passive-aggressive comments, or violence are destructive to a relationship.

In a 13-year study of marriages, researchers Bloch and colleagues (2014) found that the more wives were able to control their emotional reactions, the greater both partners' marital satisfaction. Interestingly (although not commented on in the study), the husband's ability to control negative emotional behavior early in the marriage predicted the wife's marital satisfaction later in the marriage.

Perhaps this research suggests that although the wife's emotional control is critical for long-term satisfaction, the husband's initial emotional control may set the tone for the marriage. In addition, this research showed that the more the couple was able to engage in constructive communication, the more satisfying the relationship.

Controlling emotions can be done in various ways. The development of a mindful attitude can help. Regular practice of the Loving-Kindness meditation can manage angry emotions. Recognizing irrational thinking when it occurs and challenging it can also assist with emotional control.

Bloch, L., Haase, C.M. And Levenson, R.W. (2014). Emotion Regulation Predicts Marital Satisfaction: More Than a Wives’ Tale. Emotion, 14, 130–144. DOI: 10.1037/a0034272

December 8, 2014

PsychNote: What You Watch Influences Your Romantic Beliefs

The way you think about relationships can enhance or harm your relationship. And the type of movies or television shows you watch affect how you think about relationships. Thus, we can conclude that what you watch can make your romantic relationship satisfying or can be destructive to the long-term success of your relationship.

Specifically, researchers Lippman and colleagues (2014) found that romantic-themed movies tend to promote the belief that “love will find a way” and that romantic-themed reality TV shows strengthen the belief in “love at first sight.” Generally, these types of romantic beliefs are associated with greater success in relationships, greater commitment to the partner, and higher self-esteem in women. On the negative side, however, those who believe in a “one and only” soul mate are more likely to stay with an abusive partner and more likely to act aggressively when rejected.

Negative associations with romanticism were found for those who watch sitcoms. This may indicate that watching sitcoms may be potentially destructive to romantic relationships.

What are you watching?

Lippman, J.R., Ward, L.M., and Seabrook, R.C. (2014). Isn’t It Romantic? Differential Associations Between Romantic Screen Media Genres and Romantic Beliefs, Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 3, 128-140.

December 3, 2014

New Music Version of Relaxation Available: RAINY AUTUMN MORNING RELAXATION

autumn This audio relaxation exercise teaches mindful awareness by describing relaxing imagery. This audio describes a walk along a country lane in the woods on a rainy, autumn morning. Just allow yourself to picture the autumn colors and listen to the rain as it drips from the leaves into the stream bordering the lane.

This type of relaxation has several purposes. It teaches you how to be mindfully aware of your full experience. By practicing the methods of mindfulness, you can develop a greater awareness and appreciation of your daily experiences. In addition, it will help you develop greater relaxation skills. You can use these methods to reduce the symptoms of stress, manage anxiety, and improve your sleep.

This may be used while sitting or lying down in a quiet, comfortable place.  Just close your eyes and listen without trying to force yourself to relax.  If your mind wanders, gently bring yourself back to focus on the words.


December 2, 2014

PsychNote: This Is Your Brain On Change

brain: DOI: 10.1037/a0029896

“I can do this!” is processed differently in the brain than “There is nothing I can do.” The first is an example of “change talk” which is talking about solutions to problems and behavior change. The second is an example of “sustain talk” which is focused on the status quo or keeping things the same.

Researchers, Houck and colleagues (2013) showed through imaging of the brain that when clients in therapy sessions talk about making changes, their speech is processed in a different part of the brain than when they engage in “sustain talk.” What this illustrates is that talking out loud about change stimulates a different area of the brain.

It reminds me of the common joke we've all seen on TV: someone needs to talk about their problem but doesn't let the therapist or friend get a word in edgewise but then thanks them for their help and insight. All they needed was to hear themselves talk about the problem and solutions so as to stimulate a different part of the brain.

The neuro-imaging research is consistent with a metaphor I have used for years with my clients when describing how cognitive therapy affects the brain at a neural level: engaging in the repetition of rational challenges (“change talk”) creates a new pathway in the brain that competes with the old irrational self-talk (“sustain talk”) and eventually replaces it. This is the development of muscle memory for the brain. When you want to learn a new physical skill (or improve an old skill), you engage in repetitive practice until your body can react automatically. Cognitive therapy is the same process for the brain. Repetition = new pathway = change.

Houck, J.M., Moyers, T.B. And Tesche, C.D. (2013). Through a Glass Darkly: Some Insights on Change Talk via Magnetoencephalography. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, 27, 489–500. DOI: 10.1037/a0029896

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Dr. Monica Frank

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