Posts tagged with "Psychology Today"

Underestimate the raven? Nevermore.

December 16, 2020

A new study has found that ravens are anything but “birdbrained,” according to a report by Psychology Today.

By four months of age, the cognitive performance of ravens in experimental tasks testing their social intelligence and understanding of the physical world parallels that of adult great apes based on conclusions of  research conducted in Germany. The results indicate that not only do ravens possess sophisticated cognitive skills, but they also develop these skills rapidly.

“Even if you don’t know a lot about ravens or other corvids, their intelligence—and difference from most other bird species—becomes obvious when you observe them in the wild,” says Simone Pika, head of the Comparative BioCognition Group at the University of Osnabrück and co-author of the study.

Previous studies have demonstrated impressive cognitive abilities in ravens. These birds, members of the corvid family, are capable of forming coalitions, considering the visual perspective of others, planning for the future, and insightful problem-solving. Birds such as ravens have even been called “feathered apes” in recognition of their intelligence. But can they really compare with primates when it comes to higher cognition?

To put this question to the test, Pika and colleagues adapted a battery of experimental tests designed for primates to meet the needs of ravens. This let them quantitatively compare the performances of ravens with those of chimpanzees and orangutans who had completed primate versions of the same tasks in a previous study.

The tasks include both physical and social cognitive skills. Physical cognitive skills include spatial memory, object permanence, understanding relative numbers and addition, and causal reasoning, while social cognitive skills include social learning, communication, and theory of mind.

Pika and colleagues conducted their cognitive tests with eight hand-raised ravens. The birds were tested at four, eight, 12, and 16 months of age.

The researchers found that, at four months old, ravens already possessed a full-blown set of cognitive skills. The ravens’ performances on physical and social cognitive tasks were impressive at age four months and did not significantly change over the time period investigated.

Comparing the cognitive performance of the ravens with chimpanzees and orangutans, Pika and colleagues found that, with the exception of spatial memory, the ravens’ performance was on par with that of the great apes.

The findings strengthen the idea that ravens, like great apes, have evolved general, flexible cognitive skills, rather than being highly specialized in a few domains only.

However, the researchers caution that the performance of these eight ravens may not be representative of the species as a whole. The birds in this study were tested by two highly familiar people who had hand-raised them. Such socialization factors could affect how the birds perform in cognitive tests designed and administered by humans.

Pika says that there is still much to learn about how ravens think. “I want to know more about the fast pace of ravens’ cognitive development, but also investigate possible cognitive changes after 16 months of age,” she says.

“Our ravens showed individual differences and differences between tasks, so I would also like to study how their personality affects performance and how socialization influences their cognitive development.”

Research contact: @psychologytoday

Steps in the right direction: Walking together helps foster a new relationship

March 2, 2020

Some people take a new relationship step-by-step. Others jump right in. However, research recently conducted at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, suggests that, when you meet a stranger, taking a short walk together may increase your odds of hitting it off, according to a report by Psychology Today.

The study (Cheng et al., 2020) found that walking together side-by-side for less than ten minutes with someone you’ve never met before will help the two of you to “warm up” to one another—regardless of whether you amble in silence or converse.

Indeed, Psychology Today noted, even when no conversation was taking place, the researchers found that paired strangers with a favorable first impression of one another are more likely to synchronize their footsteps.

“Our analysis revealed a unidirectional relationship between synchrony and impression rating: A better first impression led to higher walking synchrony between two strangers walking side by side in silence,” the authors said of their findings.

“There is a growing awareness of the validity of interpersonal interaction research in real-world scenarios, but daily natural environments are rich in their contextual information, making experiment control a challenge,” first author Miao Cheng said in a news release.

For this study, participants who had never met before were paired together and instructed to walk side-by-side along a quiet path. While walking, a motion sensor disguised as a GPS device tracked the synchrony of each pairs’ footsteps.

The researchers also duped participants into thinking the study had nothing to do with how first impressions affect nonverbal communication (i.e., synchronous walking) so that participants wouldn’t be conscious of whether or not they were synchronizing their steps.

The distance of the out-and-back walk was just under a quarter-mile; it took about six-to-nine minutes to complete the round trip at a casual walking pace.

This paired walking experiment was conducted under three different conditions: 1) walking out to the turnaround point in silence, but conversing on the way back; 2) a silent walking condition in which participants were instructed not to speak for the entirety of their out-and-back walk; 3) a non-walking environment where participants sat quietly in a classroom with other study participants and filled out a questionnaire.

At the halfway turnaround point during each walk, the paired respondents were asked to rate first impressions of their walking partner using the interpersonal judgment scale (IJS). This scale was also used to rate first impressions after the walk was completed.

In general, people tended to have a better first impression of someone after walking together, regardless of whether or not they conversed. “This suggests that walking side by side, even without verbal communication, is sufficient to alter the social relation between two strangers,” the authors said.

What’s more, The researchers found that having a conversation while walking side-by-side enhanced positive first impressions, Psychology Today reported. And, as mentioned, paired walkers with better first impressions of one another at the outset of the experiment had a higher rate of footstep synchronization from the get-go.

“It is very surprising for us to discover that a person’s traits and our first impressions are reflected in the subtle action of walking. I think most people are not even aware that their steps are synchronized with other people as they walk,” senior author Chia-huei Tseng said in a news release. “It was previously known that a person’s physical parameters such as height and weight, affect how their movements interact with others. Now we know psychological traits also have an effect.”

These findings were published on February 21 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Research contact: @PsychToday

California considers ACE testing to determine how adverse childhood experiences affect adults

December 16, 2019

In California, where many social experiments seem to start, there currently is a movement to make it mandatory for all adults to be assessed for adverse childhood experiences (ACES), Psychology Today reports.

So, regardless of an adult patient’s presenting issue(s)—be they medical, psychological, or both— clinicians in public and private medical and psychotherapeutic settings would screen for childhood trauma.

The reason: Research clearly links early-life trauma, neglect, and other adverse experiences with adult-life medical, psychological, and intimacy issues.

The ACES test that is used in California to for ten forms of childhood trauma—five personal, five familial; as follows:

Personal traumas include physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect.

Familial traumas include addiction, domestic violence, incarceration, mental illness; and divorce or abandonment.

The ACES test is scored on a scale of one through ten, Psychology Today notes, with each type of trauma experienced counting as one point. So an individual with an alcoholic father— and an early-life history of verbal abuse and emotional neglect—would score three on the ACES screening.

Research consistently links ACES to adult-life physical, emotional, and relational issues. The higher a person’s ACES score is, the more likely that person is to experience physical ailments like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Similarly, the higher a person’s ACES score is, the more likely he or she is to experience psychological and behavioral issues like anxiety, depression, and addiction.

Indeed, according to the news outlet, research very consistently reaches these results. For example, one wide-ranging study found that individuals with an ACES score of four or higher are:

  • 1.8 times as likely to smoke cigarettes;
  • 1.9 times as likely to become obese;
  • 2.4 times as likely to experience ongoing anxiety;
  • 2.5 times as likely to experience panic reactions;
  • 3.6 times as likely to be depressed;
  • 3.6 times as likely to qualify as promiscuous;
  • 6.6 times as likely to engage in early-life sexual intercourse;
  • 7.2 times as likely to become alcoholic; and
  • 11.1 times as likely to become intravenous drug users.

The amount of research producing similar results is almost overwhelming. So there’s an undeniable link between early-life trauma and numerous adult-life physical and psychological disorders.

In a nutshell, research reveals that childhood trauma is very common among all races and social strata. Very often it is unidentified, unacknowledged, and unaddressed. And it contributes to all sorts of adult-life physical, emotional, and relational problems.

The basic ACES Screening test is a mere ten questions, and it’s limited to five personal and five familial categories. The instrument does not examine bullying, racism, financial struggles, severe illness or accident, and a thousand other possible forms of trauma

Additionally, there is a lack of explanation about what may qualify in a particular category. For instance, an overly enmeshed, covertly sexualized relationship with a parent is, from a psychological standpoint, a form of both sexual abuse and emotional abuse/neglect (adversely affecting the child’s emotional and relational development). But most people, especially those new to the process of healing, will not readily identify it as such.

Usually, however, forms of trauma not covered by the ACES screening and not-so-easily spotted forms of trauma that are covered will trigger at least one or two peripheral yes responses. At the very least, a client will say, “Hmmm, I’m not sure about this one.” Any yes response or any uncertain response should automatically cause the clinician to explore the matter further, recognizing that a full course of treatment, whatever the presenting issue happens to be, may eventually require the exploration, acceptance, and resolution of underlying ACES.

When early-life trauma is uncovered via assessment or during the course of another treatment, and when that trauma appears to be linked to the patient’s adult-life issues (physical, emotional, relational), it will need to be acknowledged and addressed, preferably with the assistance of a clinician who specializes in trauma work as part of his or her practice.

The ACES screening assessment can be found at this link.

Research contact: @PsychToday

Getting grief: Four types of sorrow you might suffer without support

May 6, 2019

The word, grief, is understood and acknowledged in our culture mainly as a reaction to a death or the loss of a relationship. But that narrow perception fails to encompass the range of human experiences that create and trigger sorrow, according to a report by Psychology Today.

In fact, family therapist Sarah Epstein says, we suffer true anguish over several types of deprivations or forfeitures—among them, loss of identity, loss of safety, loss of autonomy, and loss of expectations or dreams, with examples as follows:

  1. Loss of identity (a lost role or affiliation):
  • A person going through a divorce  feels the loss of his or her role as “spouse.”
  • A breast cancer survivor grieves her lost sense of femininity after a double mastectomy.
  • An empty nester mourns the lost identity of parenthood in its most direct form.
  • A person who loses his or her job, or switches careers grieves a lost identity.
  • Someone who leaves a religious group feels the loss of affiliation and community.

Whenever a person loses a primary identity, he or she mourns a lost sense of self and eventually creates a new story that integrates the loss into his or her personal narrative. In some instances, the identity feels “stolen,” as in the cases of the person who feels blindsided by divorce and the breast cancer survivor. For those individuals, the grief may feel compounded by the lack of control they had in the decision. Others choose to shed an identity, as in the case of switching careers or leaving a religious community. Although this may seem easier, those individuals may feel their grief compounded by the ambivalence of choosing to leave something that  they also will mourn. Indeed, Psychology Today says, that person may feel less entitled to grieve, because the decision was self-imposed.

  1. Loss of safety (the lost sense of physical, emotional, and mental well-being):
  • Survivors of physical, emotional, or sexual trauma  struggle to feel safe in everyday life.
  • Families who experience eviction and housing instability feel unprotected and unstable.
  • Children of divorce who grieve the loss of safety in the “intact” family (although they may be able to articulate it).
  • Members of a community that encountered violence feel destabilized and unsafe.
  • A person discovering his or her partner’s romantic infidelity may feel emotionally unsafe in the relationship.

On a basic level, we expect to feel safe in our homes, our communities, and our relationships. The lost sense of safety— be it physical (after a break-in) or emotional (after an affair), the research finds—can make a person’s world feel extremely unsafe. Symptoms of lost safety may include a sense of hypervigilance even in the absence of danger—or a sense of numbness. For many, especially those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, numbness and hypervigilance occur intermittently. For survivors of trauma, violence, and instability, that feeling of internal safety may feel hard to restore, even if circumstances stabilize.  In addition to healing from the trauma, the individual is tasked with grieving the lost sense of safety and learning to rebuild it.

  1. Loss of autonomy (the forfeiture of the ability to manage one’s own life and affairs):
  • A person with a degenerative illness grieves the loss of physical or cognitive abilities.
  • An older adult no longer able to care for himself or herself grieves that decline (which also may be tied to a lost sense of identity as a contributing member of society).
  • A person experiencing a financial setback feels a lost sense of autonomy as he or she must rely on others for help.

This type of grief cuts at the core of every person’s need to manage his or her body and life. Loss of autonomy triggers grief over the lost sense of control and the struggle to maintain a sense of self. In cases of illness and disability, lost autonomy (and often, lost identity) marks every step. A person suffering from a profound financial setback may experience this same feeling of loss, Psychology today says—manifested as a feeling of options shrinking, along with a sense of failure or despair.

  1. Loss of dreams or expectations (when personal goals are not fulfilled):
  • A person or couple who struggle(s) with infertility.
  • An overachieving student who is at pains to find his or her place in the “real world.”
  • A person whose career trajectory does not reflect their expectations.
  • A person whose community takes a political turn in an unwanted direction.

This type of grief, Psychology Today notes, is characterized by a deep sense of disorientation. Most of us walk around with a vision of how our lives will play out and how we expect the world to operate. When life events violate our expectations, we can experience a deep sense of grief and unfairness. For example, both those who are struggling to conceive and the student who is striving to make his or her way in the world may experience a sense of failure that compounds the grief process. They may find themselves comparing their process and outcomes to what others are achieving. Unexpected political shifts also can lead to a lost sense of assumptive reality and stability in the world.

Loss of identity, safety, autonomy, or expectations all warrant a sense of grief. Grief and mourning as a framework can help each of us work through a moment or chapter of chaos. The mourner receives compassion and is entitled to anger, sadness, numbness, disorientation, and nonlinear healing.

The word, grief, both accurately characterizes the internal reality of the process and legitimizes the process.

So, give yourself permission to tear up. Your loss is real.

Research contact: @PsychToday

Babies show introversion at four months old

April 23, 2019

Whether you are an extrovert or an introvert, chances are that you already know you were born that way. But did you know that, according to Dr. Marti Olsen Laney, author of “The Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child,”babies begin showing signs of introversion or extroversion around four months of age—and they generally remain true to their nature as adults?

Thus, once an introvert, always an introvert, Psychology Today reports in a story on Dr. Laney’s work.

So what are introverts like as kids? No two introverts are exactly alike, but introverted children tend to share some characteristics—and their tendency to keep to themselves initially may worry their parents.

Indeed, Dr. Laney says, introverted children are often misunderstood. Engaged by their interior world, they’re often regarded as aloof. Easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation, they can be seen as unmotivated. Content with just one or two close friends, they may be perceived as unpopular.

Parents fret that they are unhappy and maladjusted. But the truth is quite different: Introverted children are creative problem solvers. Introverted children love to learn. Introverted children have a high EQ (emotional IQ) and are in touch with their feelings. They take time to stop and smell the roses, and they enjoy their own company. They are dependable, persistent, flexible, and lack vanity.

Overall, they tend to share seven strong psychological characteristics—among them:

  1. They have a vivid inner world. It’s always alive and present for them. They rely on their inner resources rather than constantly turning to other people for support and guidance. “In their private garden away from the material world they concentrate and puzzle out complex and intricate thoughts and feelings,” writes Dr. Laney. Introverted children enjoy imaginative play and they prefer playing alone–or with just one or two other children. They often spend time in their own room with the door closed, doing solitary things like reading, drawing, or playing computer games.
  2. They engage with the deeper aspects of life. Introverted children are not afraid of the big questions. They want to know why something is the way it is or what it means on a deeper level. Astonishingly, even at a young age, many of them can step outside themselves and reflect on their own behavior. Often, introverted children want to understand themselves—and everyone and everything around them. They might wonder, what makes this person tick?
  3. They observe first; act, later. Generally, they prefer to watch games or activities before joining in. Sometimes appearing hesitant and cautious, they stand back from the action and enter new situations slowly. They may be more energetic and talkative at home where they feel more comfortable.
  4. They make decisions based on their own values. Their thoughts and feelings anchor them inwardly, so they make decisions based on their own standards rather than following the crowd. This can be an extremely positive aspect of their nature because it means they’re less vulnerable to peer pressure. They don’t do things just to fit in.
  5. Quiet initially, it can take time for their real personalities to come out.  Just like introverted adults, introverted kids warm up to new people slowly. They may be quiet and reserved when you first meet them, but as they become more comfortable with you, they come alive. Like introverted adults, introverted kids are generally good listeners—paying attention and remembering what the other person says. They may speak softly, occasionally pause to search for words, and stop talking if interrupted. They may look away when speaking to gather their thoughts but make eye contact when listening.
  6. They struggle in group settings. Sadly, the standards of being outgoing and assertive have been woven into every school and institution that an introverted child encounters. At a younger and younger age, children are spending time in group daycare and preschool. When they begin formal schooling, they may spend 6-7 hours a day with up to 30 other children, all the while being encouraged to participate and work in groups. This is challenging for introverts, who do better at home during their early years and adapt better to group settings as they grow older, writes Dr. Laney.
  7. They socialize differently than extroverts. They may have just one or two close friends and count everyone else as an acquaintance because introverts seek depth in relationships rather than breadth. They probably won’t spend as much time socializing as extroverted kids, and they’ll need to go off on their own after a while to recharge their energy. Like introverted adults, introverted kids have limited social energy. Too much time spent socializing might result in tears, meltdowns, and bad moods.

If you’re the parent of an introverted child, the best thing you can do for your child, Psychology Today reports,  is to honor his or her temperament. Help your child understand why they feel tired and cranky after socializing. Teach them that there’s nothing wrong with needing to spend time alone.

Above all, don’t ever let them think there’s something wrong with them because they’re introverted. When we embrace introverted kids for who they are, we give them the confidence they need to fully show up in the world.

Research contact: @PsychToday

Hypnotizing patients over Skype helps ease the symptoms of IBS

April 3, 2019

Teletherapy—the online delivery of speech, occupational, and mental health therapy services via two-way video conferencing—is gaining in popularity because it makes help available to busy, infirm, or remotely located patients.

Now, a study conducted at the Neurogastroenterology Unit of Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester, England—and published in February by the International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis—has found that combining teletherapy with hypnosis can offer an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.

The researchers, lead by Shariq S. Hasan, a public health specialist, found that the unusual combination of mind-body therapy—coupled with the use of Skype—helped ease IBS pain and distress, even from afar, Psychology Today reports.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a gastrointestinal disorder that affects roughly 10% to 15% of the population, and causes significant physical and psychological distress. People who have IBS suffer from frequent diarrhea, constipation, or both of these; as well as GI pain and other physical symptoms. For many, these symptoms generate considerable anxiety related to traveling due to fears of diarrhea and incontinence. The combination of distress and GI symptoms, including fears of losing control of one’s bowels, can thus make it difficult for IBS patients to make it to additional health care and other appointments.

Patients with IBS are frequently prescribed any of a variety of medications, as well as dietary changes, to manage symptoms. Yet, for some people, these approaches fail to result in adequate symptom relief.

That’s where hypnosis comes in: Hypnosis has been shown to help with a number of IBS-related symptoms. For example, once the patient is  in a more relaxed, yet focused state (often referred to as a trance state), he or she can more easily take in suggestions aimed at fostering greater bodily comfort; as well as decreased pain, stress, and anxiety.

For this study, the research team enrolled 20 IBS patients, who then received 12 sessions of hypnotherapy. The first session was conducted in person, but the remainder were conducted via Skype. The data from these 20 participants was then compared to that of another, original 1,000-person study.

The Skype study participants completed the same questionnaires as had the larger cohort—including measures of IBS severity, pain, anxiety and depression, and quality of life, Psychology Today notes. They also filled out a measure of noncolonic symptoms (such as nausea, heartburn, headaches, or lethargy), which frequently accompany IBS.

At the conclusion of the study, the researchers found significantly fewer participants reported having severe IBS symptoms. Hypnosis was also associated with statistically significant reductions in both noncolonic symptom severity and anxiety, and significant improvement in quality of life. The reduction in depression symptoms approached but did not quite reach statistical significance.

The data from the Skype group were also compared to those of participants in the larger, in-person hypnosis study. Although the degree of improvement on most outcomes was somewhat greater for in-person hypnosis, after adjusting for age, there was no statistically significant difference between the Skype and in-person groups with regard to improvement in IBS symptoms and pain. 

These findings seem important both for people who have inadequate relief from medications and dietary changes and in general for those dealing with painful gastrointestinal and related symptoms, the authors say.  It’s worth noting that the Skype study was small, and it will be important to conduct further research with larger numbers of participants.

Research contact:

Giving up the ‘ghost’: How people are ending relationships

January 28, 2019

Now you see them (and hear from them); now you don’t. In friendships, familial relationships, work situations, and, yes, romantic partnerships, “ghosting” has become the no-warning, no-fuss, no-closure way to exit.

Even job candidates have been known to ghost scheduled interviews in a thriving economy.

Indeed, the term, “ghosting,” has been used to describe the act of simply disappearing from somebody’s life by ignoring their calls, texts, and social media messages, Psychology Today reports.

But how common is ghosting, how do people feel about it, and who is likely to do it? New research by Gili Freedman of Dartmouth College and colleagues Darcey N. Powel of Roanoke College, and Benjamin Le of Haverford College—published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships—explores these questions. The team conducted two large-scale online surveys of American adults. The first included 554 participants; the second, 747.2

In both studies, about 25% of participants claimed that they had been ghosted by a previous partner, and about 20 percent indicated that they had ghosted someone else.

The second study also examined ghosting in friendships and found that it was somewhat more common: 31.7% had ghosted a friend, and 38.6% had been ghosted by a friend.

It’s no surprise that most people found ghosting to be an unacceptable way to end a relationship. However, how acceptable people found it to be depended on the type of relationship. In the first study, 28% of respondents felt it was acceptable to ghost after just one date, whereas only 4.7% believed that it was an acceptable way to end a long-term romantic relationship.

When it came to short-term relationships, 19.5% tjhought that ghosting was acceptable. In addition, the majority of participants (69.1%) said that knowing someone had ghosted a romantic partner would make them think more negatively of that person.

Respondents also generally believed that ghosting friends was not that acceptable, but they typically commented that it was more acceptable to ghost friends than romantic partners.

This is consistent with other research in which participants were asked how they felt about being on the receiving end of various break-up methods. Iin that study, cutting off contact was considered one of the least desirable ways to end a relationship.3

What individuals are most likely to ghost? The research showed that those higher in destiny beliefs—those who thought a relation either is “meant to be” or not—were more likely to think that ghosting was acceptable and were less likely to think poorly of the ghoster. What’s more, they also were likely to report that they would consider ghosting as a viable option for breaking up with a partner and to say that they had ghosted someone in the past.

Interestingly enough, the extent to which participants endorsed growth beliefs—those that thought that relationships take work—was, for the most part, not related to their ghosting behavior or attitudes.

It is likely that there are many other characteristics that predict ghosting, Psychology Today said.

Past research has shown that those who are insecure in their relationships tend to feel stronger negative emotions during conflict and experience more stress after a conflict, the news outlet reported. So those who are insecurely attached may be more likely to ghost as a way to avoid the upsetting experience and aftermath of conflict.

It is also likely that those high in narcissism would be more prone to ghosting, as they tend to lack empathy for partners and see them as a means to an end.8

Finally, the newer research also does not answer the question of whether ghosting has become more common in the modern age of texting and social media. It is reasonable to assume it has, Psychology Today says—given the large role that electronic communication plays in relationships. A partner’s ghosting may be the first sign that something is wrong, and once you’ve been ghosted, you may be unlikely to seek an in-person confrontation.

Ghosting may also be easier to get away with in certain modern relationship contexts. For example, online dating has become increasingly popular—with about 25% of young adults using it as a way to meet new partners. Without a mutual social network tying you to a partner, it may be a lot easier to just disappear and not be held accountable.

The magazine warns, if you’re considering taking the easy way out of a relationship, realize that ghosting will not only hurt your partner, but is likely to hurt your reputation.

Research contact: @psychologytoday

Unforgettable you: Why memory is such an alluring quality

December 28, 2018

Imagine that you accidentally cross paths with someone you befriended at camp. Ten years later, this person not only knows who you are; he or she enthusiastically recalls the experiences the two of your shared. You exchange phone numbers and agree to meet again. The experience makes your day.

Recent research has found that one of the ways in which people make themselves instantly attractive is the simple act of recollection: They remember us—fondly.

Indeed, as Selda Koydemir—director of the London-based  Research Maze and lead author of a paper published last May called “Feeling special, feeling happy”—recently told Psychology Today, being unforgettable is both flattering and humbling, and is tied to our sense of self-worth.

Good politicians always make sure to remember details about the constituents they encounter. Good friends and loved ones do so authentically. It’s a truism: Being genuinely interested in other people makes other people genuinely interested in us.

And the opposite is true as well, the researchers found. Another common human experience is the letdown of being forgotten. In an ever-more-competitive society, we want to feel that, regardless of our personal attributes and talents, we are valuable and special.

The recent study, reports Psychology Today, found that a personal sense of uniqueness is positively associated with authentic living; which, in turn, is positively related to happiness. Similarly, feeling special means gives a person the “permission” to walk his or her own path in life, rather than seeking to conform to external influences. Hence,  people who affirm our uniqueness—faults, flaws, and all—may become friends for life.

Here is the best part: It is easy to become a source of authentic self-worth for others. Share your fond memories, and make someone’s day.

Research contact: @seldakoydemir

Narcissistic eyebrows?

December 14, 2018

A 2018 study by researchers Miranda Giacomin and Nicholas Rule of the Psychology Department at the University of Toronto is “raising eyebrows” and prompting us to take another look at facial hair.

The researchers have determined that people can identify grandiose (or overt) narcissists by their distinctive eyebrows.

What exactly is grandiose narcissism? It is a flamboyant, assertive, and interpersonally dominant form of the well-known personality disorder. People with this type of narcissism have an inflated sense of self, are overconfident in making decisions, and don’t seem to learn from their mistakes, according to Psychology Today.

Given that grandiose narcissism is associated with aggressiveness and a tendency to exploit others, it is important to be able to identify this personality trait in others early on. But how?

Previous research has shown that narcissism can manifest itself in people’s appearance. For example, narcissists are more likely to look attractive; to groom themselves carefully; to wear clothes that are expensive, stylish, and flashy; and to have an organized and neat appearance, the report in Psychology Today explains.

Specifically,men are less likely to wear glasses. Women are apt to wear makeup, show cleavage, and pluck their eyebrows.

Previous research has concluded that people can detect grandiose narcissism even by looking at emotionally neutral faces. The present investigation—the results of which have been published in the May 2018 edition of Journal of Personality—attempted to determine what specific features of the target faces enabled people to do so.

Giacomin and Rule first examined participants’ perceptions of target faces as a whole. But participants were able to detect narcissism even in upside-down faces. The researchers then determined that the cues to identifying narcissists resided in the eye region—specifically, the eyebrows.

Using image manipulation, they confirmed their results, observing that a non-narcissist donning a narcissistic person’s brows was judged as more narcissistic, and that a narcissistic person viewed with a non-narcissist’s brows was judged as less narcissistic.

They further discovered that people considered femininity, grooming, and distinctiveness in judging the presence of narcissism in target faces. But only distinctiveness was related to accurate judgments.

Eyebrows help us express many emotions and communicate social messages—even unintentional ones. As Giacomin and Rule observe, brows “provide high-contrast lines that can reveal involuntary expressions or gestures from far away.” Among the factors that make eyebrows distinctive are their thickness and density, the researchers said.

In addition, brows can help us recognize faces, according to the Psychology Today report. For example, in one study, researchers found that the absence of eyebrows in familiar faces, such as celebrity faces, negatively impacted recognition.

Eyebrows may be particularly important to people high on the personality trait of grandiose narcissism. Why? Because they have a strong desire for admiration and recognition and, as a result, might “seek to maintain distinct eyebrows to facilitate others’ ability to notice, recognize, and remember them; thereby increasing their likability and reinforcing their overly positive self-views.”1

Finally, the eyebrows are often an unrecognized factor in mate selection. Giacomin and Rule posit that narcissists are very competitive and often successful in mate selection (mainly when it comes to acquiring short-term sexual partners)—and that their eyebrows could “signal this prowess to others.”

Research contact:

Mum’s the word: What mothers-in-law say about their daughters-in-law

December 11, 2018

It’s a fact of life that you don’t just marry a man or a woman; you marry their family–and their relationship with each member of that family—for better or for worse..

If a son is close to his mother, for example, many women would take that as a good sign–believing that, if he respects and loves the alpha female in his life, he also will be a good husband and provider.

Indeed, on a personal level, a woman might dream that she will be perceived by her partner’s mom as “the daughter she never had.” Meanwhile, his mom might have a fantasy of her own—assuming that, since her future daughter-in-law is ”crazy about her son,” this younger woman will appreciate every piece of advice about taking care of him and ensuring his happiness. After all, who knows him better than mom?

Wrong on both sides! In fact, fully 60% of women use words like “strained,” “Infuriating,” and “simply awful” to describe their mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship, according to psychologist Terri Apter of the UK’s Cambridge University who attributes such rifts to “the clash of the fantasy lives,” in a 2009 Newsweek interview.

It’s the disappointment felt by both women that “gives these relationships their distinctive negative charge,” Apter says. Add to that a mother’s conflicted feelings of pride and loss as a son marries; a wife’s insecurity that she’s adequately balancing work and home responsibilities, and the tendency of most women to be more sensitive to slights and criticisms than men, and you have the formula for years of trouble.

In some respects, Apter says, the ensuing jockeying for position has a lot of similarities to the games “mean girls” play in middle-school hallways. “Each is the primary woman in her primary family. As each tries to establish or protect her status, each feels threatened by the other.”

However, for a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, the benefits of working toward and maintaining a close relationship cannot be overstated, as Geoffrey Greif and Michael Woolley—both academicians at the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland in Baltimore—found in a study published in November by the journal Social Work.

The study, also covered in the December 7 edition of Psychology Today surveyed 267 mothers-in-law  on the factors that they felt were key in establishing closeness with their daughters-in-law.

From a 114 item survey, the researchers used the statement, “My daughter-in-law and I have a close relationship” as a dependent variable. Among the factors they found that encouraged a close relationship were the following:

  • The mother-in-law perceives the daughter-in-law as being helpful;
  • The mother-in-law perceives her son is happy with the relationship she has with the daughter-in-law;
  • The mother-in-law perceives she and the daughter-in-law share similar interests;
  • The mother-in-law feels close with her son;
  • The mother-in-law does not feel left out by her daughter-in-law and son; and
  • The mother-in-law spends time with her daughter-in-law.

For those mothers-in-law struggling with their relationship with their daughter-in-law, a few takeaways emerged from the findings, the authors told Psychology Today—among them:

  • First, a mother-in-law should engage her daughter-in-law in ways and situations in which she can be helpful. Are there opportunities that are not being used where some level of mutuality can be built?
  • Second, similar to the first, a mother-in-law should try to find shared interests with a daughter-in-law because such joint activities can help to build a relationship
  • Third, look at the relationship the son/spouse plays in the relationship with the daughter-in-law. It goes without saying that most mothers want to be close with their son; when they are close, they are more likely to be close with their daughter-in-law also. To help build closeness with the son, the mother-in-law should recognize that building a relationship with her daughter-in-law may facilitate closeness with the son who is an extremely important person in this relationship.
  • Fourth, the mother-in-law should work to explore her own feelings of inclusion or exclusion. Feeling left out is not pleasant. If there are ways to try to understand what is leading to these feelings (remembering the demands that couples, especially those raising children, are experiencing), a path may be found to experiencing them less often

Finally, author Geoffrey Greif says, don’t get discouraged: Building a close relationship may require time, patience, and effort:

Research contact: ggreif@ssw.umarylandedu