Category: Optimism

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Expressing the Inner Voice May Bring Benefits

00Cognition, Featured news, Health, Optimism, Self-Help, Self-Talk November, 17

Source: geralt at Pixabay, Public Domain

An app called Dragon Anywhere allows people to talk to their smart phone with no word or time limits. Talking out loud with a piece of technology is socially acceptable these days, but what about when no one or no thing is listening?

Many associate hearing voices or talking to oneself with mental illnesses like schizophrenia. And because these behaviours deviate from the norm, they make people uncomfortable.

But might there be benefits to expressing inner voices out loud?

James McConnell, an American biologist and animal psychologist, has said that talking to oneself is psychologically healthy. And neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor, in her book My Stroke of Insight, argues that speaking out loud makes the mind more focused, and even calls it “a powerful instrument”.

In an article in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, Gary Lupyan and Daniel Swingley discuss the functions of talking to oneself, also known as self-directed speech. Compared to thinking about a word (e.g., chair), hearing a word out loud can make us better visual detectors of that word in our surroundings. Speaking facilitates the search. This phenomenon is called the label feedback hypothesis.

It is unclear, however, whether the label feedback hypothesis can be applied to broader concepts like happiness. Can happiness literally be spoken into existence?

Proponents of positive affirmations think so, noting the benefits of repeating positive statements directed toward oneself. A study at the University of California, Los Angeles, showed that students who repeated positive affirmations produced fewer stress hormones. And another study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin by a team of researchers from Columbia, Berkeley, and Google found positive self-affirmations help those in low-power positions perform better.

Self-talk has other benefits as well. In a PsychCentral piece, Talking to Yourself: A Sign of Sanity, psychologist Linda Sapadin notes that giving voice to our goals focuses attention, controls emotions, and keeps distractions away.

In fact, this may be the best way for some individuals to get organized. While a number of people are visual learners, using calendars and to-do lists, it may be that others do better by simply speaking out loud.

Matt Duczeminski explains in his book 6 Benefits of Talking to Yourself (No, You’re Not Crazy) that talking through your thoughts helps distinguish big tasks from smaller ones, for example, getting organized by talking through a to-do list.

But not all self-talk is useful. In fact, talking about our failures and putting ourselves down can be quite harmful. As Sapadin puts it, “That kind of self-talk is worse than no talk at all.” And it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, where we view ourselves negatively and act accordingly, attracting others who reinforce those beliefs.

The link between negative self-talk and depression is also quite strong. In fact, those who engage in more negative self-talk experience more stress and inferior health, both psychologically and physically. Language and cognition expert, Steven Hayes, says negative thoughts are like passengers in the backseat of the car you’re driving. You hear them, but your focus should be on the task ahead.

Another way of coping with negative self-talk is by giving your negative voice a name. Brené Brown, author of the New York Times Bestsellers The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly, calls her inner critic ‘The Gremlin’, making light of the little voice inside her head.

So… if you’ll listen to yourself, keep talking.

But be kind to you.

–Marjan Khanjani, Contributing Writer, The Trauma and Mental Health Report.

–Chief Editor: Robert T. MullerThe Trauma and Mental Health Report.

Copyright Robert T. Muller.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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Video Games Rated A for Addictive

00Addiction, Depression, Diet, Featured news, Health, Neuroscience, Optimism, Psychopharmacology, Self-Control, Sex, Sleep, Stress, Treatment December, 14

Picture if you will, flashing screens, loud noises, focused faces and a crowd gathered to watch high stakes games; games that end only when you run out of money.

This is not a casino. Those faces are staring at flashing computer screens in an arcade and the high stakes match is actually a video game.

Scenes like this make it possible to view video gaming as an addiction. Like a gambler endlessly playing slots, the video gamer can spend hours on the vice of choice.

Those who consider gaming as addictive highlight similarities between models of addiction and the behaviour of those who can’t seem to stop playing video games, despite the consequences 

What does it mean to be addicted to a video game? Addiction used to be a term reserved for drug use defined by physical dependency, uncontrollable craving, and increased consumption due to tolerance. Advances in neuroscience show that these drugs tap into the reward system of the brain resulting in a large release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is a system normally activated when basic reinforcers are applied, like food or sex. Drugs just do it better.

Gaetano Di Chiara and Assunta Imperato, researchers at the Institute of Experimental Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Cagliani, Italy, found that drugs can cause a release of up to ten times the amount of dopamine normally found in the brain’s reward system. This has led to a shift in how addictions are viewed. Any physical substance or behaviour that can “hijack” this dopamine reward system may be viewed as addictive.

When can you be sure that the system has been hijacked? Steve Grant, chief clinical neuroscientist at the National Institute of Drug Abuse, says it happens when there “is continued engagement in self-destructive behaviour despite adverse consequences.”

Video games seem to hijack this reward system very efficiently. Certainly Nick Yee, author of the Daedelus Project, thinks so. He explains, “[Video Games] employ well-known behavioral conditioning principles from psychology that reinforce repetitive actions through an elaborate system of scheduled rewards. In effect, the game rewards players to perform increasingly tedious tasks and seduces the player to ‘play’ industriously.” Researchers in the UK found biological evidence that playing video games and achieving these rewards results in the release of dopamine.

This same release of the neurotransmitter occurs during activities considered healthy, such as exercise or work. Since dopamine release is not bad per se, it is not necessarily a problem that video games do the same thing.

In her book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal writes, “A game is an opportunity to focus our energy, with relentless optimism, at something we’re good at (or getting better at) and enjoy. In other words, game-play is the direct emotional opposite of depression.” Playing games can be an easy way to relieve stress and get that satisfaction that comes with dopamine release.

But it is concerning when this search for the dopamine kick becomes preferable to real life, when playing video games replaces activities like socializing with friends and family, exercising, or sleep. Nutrition may begin to suffer as the gamer picks fast-food over proper meals. School-work and job performance suffer as gaming turns into an escape from life. It becomes troubling when video games are used as the main way of coping.

Psychologist Richard Wood says just that in his article Problems with the Concept of Video Game “Addiction”: Some Case Study Examples. “It seems that video games can be used as a means of escape…If people cannot deal with their problems, and choose instead to immerse themselves in a game, then surely their gaming behaviour is actually a symptom rather than the specific cause of their problem.”

Regardless, there are some unable to stop despite the consequences. In rare cases it has actually caused death, through neglect of a child or physical exhaustion. Excessive video game playing may represent a way of coping with underlying issues. But it becomes its own problem when the impulse to play just can’t be denied.

Psychiatrist Kimberly Young, Director of the Center for Internet Addiction Recovery argues that “[gaming addiction is] a clinical impulse control disorder, an addiction in the same sense as compulsive gambling.” Her centre is one of many that are now found in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and China.

These clinics treat those with gaming problems using an addiction model. They use detox, 12-step programs, abstinence training, and other methods common to addiction centres.

Notably, many people play well within healthy limits, and engage in the activity for diverse reasons. Stress relief, a way to spend time online with friends, or the enjoyment of an interactive storyline are all common reasons for playing. Whatever the reason for starting, when you can’t stop you have a problem. 

We are often critical of labels in mental health, for good reason; they can be misused. On the other hand, a label can sometimes be helpful. If we call it an addiction, then we recognize it as a problem worth solving.

– Contributing Writer: Bradley Kushner, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report 

Copyright Robert T. Muller

Photo Credit: Ben Andreas Harding

This article was originally published on Psychology Today

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New EEG Technology Makes for Better Brain Reading

00Cognition, Featured news, Health, Intelligence, Mind Reading, Neuroscience, Optimism, Personality, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Sleep, Sport and Competition, Therapy, Trauma September, 14

Clinical psychologists have a long tradition of attempting to understand what is “on the mind” of their clients by use of psychological tests. The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales, for example, have been used for decades to assess intelligence levels. And other empirically valid psychometric measures are commonly used to understand patient mood or personality functioning.

To this point, direct examination of brain activity as a window into the client’s mind has remained elusive. But advances in the field of brain examination using electroencephalographs (EEGs) may be changing all that.

The first EEG was developed in the 1920’s by the German psychiatrist Hans Berger. He developed it to test the biological electricity produced in the brain, and first used it during brain surgery performed in 1924 on a 17-year-old boy.

If the EEG has been around for almost a century, why is it so important now? Recent technological advancements may soon have a profound impact on how mental health practitioners diagnose mental illness.

Currently, we know that the EEG records activity in the brain through electrodes attached to the scalp. When neurons (electrical pulses the brain uses to send messages) fire, they produce a small current. The EEG reads and records this current between 250 and 2000 times a second. The graphs it makes of these readings are what we know as ‘brain waves.’

The EEG is primarily used to diagnose epilepsy. As of 2005, 70% of EEG referrals were for epilepsy. During an epileptic seizure there is a large spike in brain activity that the EEG has little difficulty detecting. Even then, it is used in conjunction with a clinical examination by a physician, not as the sole means of diagnosis.

The second most common use is to diagnose sleep disorders such as narcolepsy and sleep apnea. The EEG is effective at reading the brain waves produced during sleep, which show special patterns in those with sleep disorders.

Biomedical engineering professor Hans Hallez of Flanders’ University writes, “during the last two decades, increasing computational power has given researchers the tools to go a step further and try to find the underlying sources which generate [brain waves]. This activity is called EEG source localization.”

Source localization is the technique that tells us which part of the brain is communicating. With advances in neuroscience and imaging techniques, we know what activities are represented by different parts of the brain. For example, activity in the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe is related to vision and activity in special areas of the temporal lobe is associated with speech.

If you know what part of the brain is communicating and what it is responsible for, then you can start to build a picture of what brain waves from different parts of the brain mean. In theory, this is what some experts consider akin to mindreading

But the game-changer is this: recent developments in the field have led to a portable EEG that is relatively cheap, effective, and requires no human scoring.

Philip Low, who is the founder, CEO, and chief scientific officer of NeuroVigil Inc., developed a complex algorithm in 2007 that allows one electrode to do the work of many. His company has developed what they have named the iBrain. It uses one wireless electrode sensor the size of a quarter to record brain activity with an app that works on a smartphone.

Low says, “our vision is that one day people will have access to their brain as routinely and as easily as they currently have to their blood pressure.” He hopes to code brain wave profiles of those suffering from mental illnesses into a database at NeuroVigil that receives information from iBrain users’ cell phones. The iBrain 3 is expected to cost around $100 and be available to the public in the next few years.

Low isn’t the only one pushing the boundaries of EEG technology using single electrode devices. Hashem Ashrafiuon, a mechanical engineering professor at Villanova University’s College of Engineering has developed similar technology. His work is being used in sports helmets that can instantly diagnose concussions by detecting large changes in brain waves that occur immediately after impact.

Ashrafiuon sees many applications for his work. “It can basically be used to diagnose any health problem that affects brain activity. We hope to monitor brain health in patients with mild traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, mild cognitive impairment, and sleep and circadian disorders.”

It is the belief of technology developers Low and Ashrafiuon that we will one day have brainwave profiles of all mental illnesses stored. Diagnosing a mental illness would be assisted by comparing brain wave profiles of a patient to a database of stored sample profiles, allowing for rapid diagnosis.

Does it sound too simple? Perhaps. Diagnosis of mental illness involves a substantial behavioral component. What the brain looks like may be a far cry from the choices a given individual makes, and how those choices affect later functioning. 

Still, there is reason for guarded optimism about the developments in EEG technology. The portability and improved accuracy will help with the diagnosis of epilepsy and sleep disorders, allowing patients to be comfortable at home and still be monitored. The more physically and economically accessible it is the better.

In a few years you may be the proud owner of Low’s iBrain 3. But in all likelihood, it won’t replace mental health practitioners any more than a good toothbrush replaces a dentist.

– Contributing Writer: Bradley Kushnier, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

– Chief Editor: Robert T. Muller, The Trauma and Mental Health Report

Copyright Robert T. Muller

This article was originally published on Psychology Today