Posts tagged with "Clinical Psychological Science"

Mommy dearest: Your current relationship with your parent can distort memories of love

June 10, 2019

If “there is no love lost” between you and your mother today, your current relationship actually may distort your recollections of how affectionate she was while you were growing up.

Indeed, as we grow older and our memories fade, we rely on our current assessment of a person to remember how we felt about them in the past, based on findings of research conducted at the University of Southern Mississippi and published by Psych Central. This extends to some of the most central figures in our lives — our parents.

“Memories of the love we felt in childhood toward our parents are among the most precious aspects of autobiographical memory we could think of,” said lead author Dr. Lawrence Patihis, an assistant professor at the university and head of the Memory in Life, Practice, and Law Laboratory there. “Yet our findings suggest that these memories of love are malleable, which is not something we would want to be true.”

He added, “If you change your evaluation of someone, you will likely also change your memory of your emotions towards them and this is true of memory of love towards mothers in childhood.”.

For the study’s first experiment, Patihis and coauthors Cristobal S. Cruz and Mario E. Herrera recruited 301 online participants. Some wrote about recent examples of their mother’s positive attributes, such as showing warmth, generosity, competence and giving good guidance. Others wrote about recent examples of their mother’s lack of these attributes. Participants in one comparison group wrote about a teacher and participants in another comparison group received no writing prompt at all.

The participants then completed a questionnaire—the “Memory of Love Towards Parents Questionnaire”—assessing how they currently thought about their mother’s attributes, including her warmth and generosity.

The survey was geared to assess ten measures of love that the respondents could recall experiencing toward their mothers at different ages. Questions included “During the whole year when you were in first grade, how often on average did you feel love toward your mother?” and “During the whole year when you were in first grade, how strong on average was your love toward your mother?”

The MLPQ also measured participants’ current feelings of love for their mothers, according to the researchers. The participants completed the questionnaires again two weeks and four weeks after the initial session.

The results showed that the writing prompts influenced participants’ current feelings and their memories of love. Specifically, participants who were prompted to write about their mother’s positive attributes tended to recall stronger feelings of love for their mother in first, sixth, and ninth grade compared with participants who wrote about their mother’s lack of positive attributes.

The researchers plan to expand this research to explore whether the same effects emerge for other emotions and target individuals. They’re also exploring whether successes in life might similarly alter childhood memories of emotion. In addition, the researchers hope to discover whether these effects might influence later behavior.

“The significance of this research lies in the new knowledge that our current evaluations of people can be lowered if we choose to focus on the negative, and this can have a side effect: The diminishing of positive aspects of childhood memories,” Patihis said. “We wonder if wide-ranging reappraisals of parents, perhaps in life or in therapy, could lead to intergenerational heartache and estrangement. Understanding this subtle type of memory distortion is necessary if we want to prevent it.”

The study was published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Research contact: l.patithis@usm.edu

This holiday season, try being kind to ‘unwind’

December 21, 2018

While performing random acts of kindness definitely helps others, a study conducted in 2015 by researchers at Yale University and UCLA suggests that doing good also might be good for us—diffusing our own stress and improving our mental health.

“The take-home message is that, when we are stressed and we help others, we can also end up helping ourselves,” Emily Ansell, assistant professor of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine, told CBS News in an interview.

Ansell conducted the study along with co-authors Holly Laws, also of Yale’s School of Medicine; and Elizabeth Raposa, who was then at UCLA and is now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. It was published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association of Psychological Science. –

“The holiday season can be a very stressful time, so think about giving directions, asking someone if they need help, or holding that elevator door,” Ansell said. “It may end up helping you feel just a little bit better.”

To investigate whether this holds true in the context of everyday functioning in the real world, the researchers fielded a study in which people used their smartphones to report on their feelings and experiences in daily life. A total of 77 adults, ranging from 18-44 years of age, participated in the 14-day study. People who suffered from substance dependences, diagnosed mental illness, or cognitive impairment were not included for participation.

The participants received an automated phone reminder every night that prompted them to complete their daily assessment. They were asked to report any stressful life events they experienced that day across several domains (such as interpersonal, work/education, home, finance, health/accident) and the total number of events comprised the measure of daily stress.

In addition, they were asked to report whether they had engaged in various helpful behaviors (like holding open a door, helping with schoolwork, and bringing someone an extra coffee) that day.

The participants also completed a ten-item short-form of the Positive and Negative Affect Scale, a well-validated measure of experienced emotion, and they were asked to rate their mental health for that day using a slider on a scale that ranged from 0 (poor) to 100 (excellent).

The results indicated that helping others boosted participants’ daily well-being. Those who performed a greater number of helping behaviors experienced higher levels of daily positive emotion and better overall mental health.

The opposite also was true: Participants who reported fewer-than-usual helping behaviors experienced less positive emotion and more negative emotion in response to high daily stress.

In other words, helping behavior seemed to buffer the negative effects of stress on well-being.

“It was surprising how strong and uniform the effects were across daily experiences,” Ansell told CBS News. “For example, if a participant did engage in more prosocial behaviors on stressful days there was essentially no impact of stress on positive emotion or daily mental health. And there was only a slight increase in negative emotion from stress if the participant engaged in more prosocial behaviors.”

One avenue for future investigation, the researchers said, is to determine whether actively prompting people to engage in more helping behavior can further improve their mood and mental health.

“This would help clarify whether prescribing prosocial behaviors can be used as a potential intervention to deal with stress, particularly in individuals who are experiencing depressed mood or high acute stress,” Ansell said.

Research contact: @emily_ansell