Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Emotional Trauma in the Womb
By SAMUEL LÓPEZ DE VICTORIA, PH.D.
The caller complained, “I’ve been sad all my life. I’ve been to many therapists and none have been able to help me get rid of my sadness. Do you think you can help me?”
Since I have seen many similar cases like this before, I told the caller, “I have a good hunch on what is going on. Come on over and lets see if I can help.” After briefly treating the person, the sadness was gone and it has stayed that way ever since. I have treated hundreds of these situations where individuals have been able to experience release of seemingly hopeless issues. What has made the difference?
There is a growing body of research showing that babies in the womb feel, taste, learn, and have some level of consciousness. One study had babies in the womb receiving “vibroacoustic stimulation” (Gonzalez-Gonzalez et al., 2006). That is a fancy way of saying sound waves were transmitted. For comparison purposes, there was also a control group that did not receive the treatment. After they were born, the babies who had received the stimulation were again given the same treatment. The result was that these babies recognized the signal and tended to calm down after receiving the signal. The researchers concluded that fetal life is able to learn and memorize with this capacity lasting into neonatal life (post-birth).
In other research, Anthony DeCasper and William Fifer created a nipple that was connected to an audio device (Kolata, 1984). This nipple test was given to 10 newborn babies. If a child sucked in one way they would hear their mother’s voice. Sucking in a different pattern would cause the child to hear another woman’s voice. The researchers found that the babies sucked in a way to hear their mothers. The same experiment was done using the sound of the mother’s heart beat and that of a male voice. The result was that the babies sucked in such a way as to hear the mother’s heart beat more often than the male voice.
DeCasper later did another test where he had sixteen pregnant women read a children’s book. They read the book out aloud twice a day for the last 6.5 weeks of their pregnancy. Once born, the babies were given the nipple test previously mentioned where they could listen either to their mother reading the original children’s book that was used or another book. The babies sucked to hear the original children’s book. What DeCasper concluded was that a prenatal auditory experience can influence auditory preferences after birth.
An author and well known obstetrician, Christiane Northrup (2005) shares that if a pregnant mother is going through high levels of fear or anxiety she creates a “metabolic cascade.” Hormones known as cytokines are produced and the mother’s immune system is affected, including her child’s. Chronic anxiety in the mother can set the stage for a whole array of trauma based results such as prematurity, complications of birth, death, and miscarriage. The opposite is also true. When the mother is feeling healthy and happy, she produces oxytocin. This is often called the molecule of belonging. The presence of this component creates feelings of bonding and strengthens immunity in the baby. Neurotransmitters moving inside the mother’s body creates a chemical and physical imprint on the baby’s brain and body. The message imprinted is that there is safety and peace. The baby feels secure and taken care of.
Can a baby learn while in the womb? The research seems to point in that direction. In terms of mental health, can this be a clue to psychological issues adults exhibit? In some cases, I think so. I feel this way, not because I have done peer-reviewed research on the matter, but because of the hundreds that I have treated for their fetal life traumas. They experienced significant or total reduction of their negative and dysfunctional issues. Many of these patients had previously exhibited spontaneous and abrupt feelings of anger, fear, sadness, loneliness, hyper-vigilance and even co-dependent enablement.
The next time you experience one of these emotions and you cannot figure out where it came from perhaps it came before your physical birth. You may have had a detached mother or a scared one. You could have had a mother that did not want to get pregnant and resented the father. Maybe your mother was depressed and lonely. Hopefully, you had a happy and content mother who nurtured you in her heart and enjoyed having you in her life.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Our brains evolved to code and interpret complex stimuli into sophisticated models of the world we live in, so it makes sense to feed our minds as diverse a set of data as possible. Memory makes use of various "triggers," known as mnemonics. These include:
• smells • tastes
To make your mnemonics most valuable:
• Use positive, pleasant images. The brain often blocks out unpleasant ones.
• Use vivid, colorful, sense-laden images — these are easier to remember than drab ones.
• Use all your senses to code information or dress up an image. Remember that your mnemonic can contain sounds, smells, tastes, touch, movements and feelings as well as pictures.
• Give your image three dimensions, movement and space to make it more vivid. You can use movement either to maintain the flow of association, or to help you to remember actions.
• Exaggerate the size of important parts of the image.
• Use humor! Make up jokes using facts and figures you need to recall. Funny or peculiar things are easier to remember than pedestrian ones.
• Make up rhymes such as the one we all learned in elementary school, "30 days hath September…"
• Symbols (red traffic lights, pointing fingers, road signs, etc.) can code complex messages quickly and effectively.
Once you've mastered mnemonics, the following guidelines can help improve your memory at any age:
1. Attention and Intention. Pay attention to what you're learning, and decide to remember it. We learn and retain information best when we have a strong motivation for committing the material to memory.
2. Relate to what you know. How does the new information relate to concepts with which you're familiar? Decide whether to emphasize memory devices, visualization, or reciting. Storage seems to increase if we pronounce the names of the items out loud—especially if they are grouped rhythmically. Grouping items into threes or fours also seems to aid recall.
3. Become the teacher. Grasp the basic idea and explain it to someone else in your own words.
4. Organize. Make notes, and remember that 7 items is the maximum your short-term memory can hold at one time. Categories with 7 or fewer items will work best.
5. Visualize. Your brain thinks in both words and pictures, so give it both: diagrams and charts, as well as pictures of what you need to know, such as a log cabin with Lincoln's birth date above the door.
6. Talk to yourself. Reciting as you read and reviewing notes out loud increases attention and motivation, and creates a stronger neural trace of memory by utilizing more senses.
7. ASAP review. If you go over what you've learned for just five minutes immediately after you've learned it, your retention will be far higher than if you skip this valuable step.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Maybe a new method to record and share life events in a concise format is not so new after all?
In reviewing volumes of 18th- and 19th-century diaries, Cornell University communication professor Lee Humphreys found many terse records about daily life – and many in a style similar to Twitter.
Diary entries ranged from dinner menus to reports of deaths, births, marriages and travel.
One example: “April 7. Mr. Fiske Buried. April 27. Made Mead. At the assembly,”– From the 1770 diary of Mary Vial Holyoke of Salem, Mass.
Diarists of that era wrote under the constraints of small notebooks that allotted only a few lines per date entry. Their work was intended to be semi-public and shared with others.
“We tend to think of new media as entirely new and different,” says Humphreys, who has studied social media for five years. “But often we see people using new media for old problems.”
In researching Twitter messages for 18 months, Humphreys has been coding tweets, with the help of undergraduate research assistants, by content in such areas as work, health, home and religion. She plans to continue work on the project and will analyze the results over the summer.
Humphreys said she supports the plan of the Library of Congress to archive all public tweets tweeted since March 2006.
“Tweets capture a moment in history in a really interesting way.”
Humphreys cautions that, as with centuries-old diaries, there is a limit to what we can learn from 21st-century tweets.
“We know Twitter tends to be used by urban, younger populations, so it’s not representing everybody, and no culture can be reduced to the texts that it produces,” she says.
“So as great as it is to have these diaries and these tweets, we recognize them as incomplete representations of society. It’s easy to see that with the diaries, but it’s just as important to see that with Twitter.”
Source: Cornell University
Monday, June 7, 2010
Study proves conclusively that violent video game play makes more aggressive kids
By Ekert Alert
AMES, Iowa -- Iowa State University Distinguished Professor of Psychology Craig Anderson has made much of his life's work studying how violent video game play affects youth behavior. And he says a new study he led, analyzing 130 research reports on more than 130,000 subjects worldwide, proves conclusively that exposure to violent video games makes more aggressive, less caring kids -- regardless of their age, sex or culture.
The study was published today in the March 2010 issue of the Psychological Bulletin, an American Psychological Association journal. It reports that exposure to violent video games is a causal risk factor for increased aggressive thoughts and behavior, and decreased empathy and prosocial behavior in youths.
"We can now say with utmost confidence that regardless of research method -- that is experimental, correlational, or longitudinal -- and regardless of the cultures tested in this study [East and West], you get the same effects," said Anderson, who is also director of Iowa State's Center for the Study of Violence. "And the effects are that exposure to violent video games increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior in both short-term and long-term contexts. Such exposure also increases aggressive thinking and aggressive affect, and decreases prosocial behavior."
The study was conducted by a team of eight researchers, including ISU psychology graduate students Edward Swing and Muniba Saleem; and Brad Bushman, a former Iowa State psychology professor who now is on the faculty at the University of Michigan. Also on the team were the top video game researchers from Japan – Akiko Shibuya from Keio University and Nobuko Ihori from Ochanomizu University – and Hannah Rothstein, a noted scholar on meta-analytic review from the City University of New York.
The team used meta-analytic procedures -- the statistical methods used to analyze and combine results from previous, related literature -- to test the effects of violent video game play on the behaviors, thoughts and feelings of the individuals, ranging from elementary school-aged children to college undergraduates.
The research also included new longitudinal data which provided further confirmation that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for long-term harmful outcomes.
"These are not huge effects -- not on the order of joining a gang vs. not joining a gang," said Anderson. "But these effects are also not trivial in size. It is one risk factor for future aggression and other sort of negative outcomes. And it's a risk factor that's easy for an individual parent to deal with -- at least, easier than changing most other known risk factors for aggression and violence, such as poverty or one's genetic structure."
The analysis found that violent video game effects are significant in both Eastern and Western cultures, in males and females, and in all age groups. Although there are good theoretical reasons to expect the long-term harmful effects to be higher in younger, pre-teen youths, there was only weak evidence of such age effects.
The researchers conclude that the study has important implications for public policy debates, including development and testing of potential intervention strategies designed to reduce the harmful effects of playing violent video games.
"From a public policy standpoint, it's time to get off the question of, 'Are there real and serious effects?' That's been answered and answered repeatedly," Anderson said. "It's now time to move on to a more constructive question like, 'How do we make it easier for parents -- within the limits of culture, society and law -- to provide a healthier childhood for their kids?'"
But Anderson knows it will take time for the creation and implementation of effective new policies. And until then, there is plenty parents can do to protect their kids at home.
"Just like your child's diet and the foods you have available for them to eat in the house, you should be able to control the content of the video games they have available to play in your home," he said. "And you should be able to explain to them why certain kinds of games are not allowed in the house -- conveying your own values. You should convey the message that one should always be looking for more constructive solutions to disagreements and conflict."
Anderson says the new study may be his last meta-analysis on violent video games because of its definitive findings. Largely because of his extensive work on violent video game effects, Anderson was chosen as one of the three 2010 American Psychological Association Distinguished Scientist Lecturers. He will give a lecture at October's New England Psychological Association (NEPA) meeting in Colchester, Vt.
Wednesday, June 2, 2010
Learning While You Dream
By TARA PARKER-POPE
Why do we dream? It’s a question dream analysts and sleep researchers have been studying for years. Now new research suggests that some dreams may actually result from the brain’s effort to keep learning, even as we sleep.
In a study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, 99 volunteers trained for an hour on a virtual maze, trying to find their way through the complicated, three-dimensional puzzle as quickly as possible. Then half the volunteers were allowed to sleep for 90 minutes. The other half stayed awake, reading or relaxing. During the resting period, the subjects were interrupted or awakened and asked to describe their thoughts or dreams.
After the resting period, the participants were asked to again tackle the maze. Those who hadn’t napped showed no improvement or did even worse after the break. Nappers who were rested but didn’t report any maze-related dreams did better but showed only marginal improvement.
However, four nappers who reported dreaming about the maze showed a startling improvement, cutting their completion time in half. The difference in scores before and after sleeping was 10 times higher for the maze dreamers than those who hadn’t dreamed about the task, according to the findings published Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
Even though the number of dreamers was small, the researchers noted that the gap in learning between the dreamers and nondreamers was so wide that the finding was highly statistically significant.
Notably, the dreamers had all performed poorly on the test prior to dreaming about it. That suggests that struggling with a task might be the trigger that prompts the sleeping brain to focus on the subject and work on getting better, explained the lead author, Robert Stickgold, a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School.
“It’s almost as if your brain is rummaging through everything that happened today and deciding that you’re not done with it,” Dr. Stickgold said. “The things that really grip you, the ones you decide at an emotional level are really important, those are the ones you dream about. The things you’re obsessed with are the ones that your brain forces you to continue to process.”
The study subjects who dreamed about the maze didn’t dream about trying to complete it over and over. Instead, they simply dreamed about it in a variety of ways. One person said he dreamed about the music that played along with the task. Another dreamed about seeing people along checkpoints in the maze and remembering a bat cave he had once toured. Another dreamed of searching for something in a maze. The lesson may be that dreams don’t necessarily have to make sense or be obvious to the awake mind in order to have a learning benefit.
“It might be that sleep is the time when the brain is tuned to find those types of association you wouldn’t notice during waking,” Dr. Stickgold said. “It does this by focusing on weak associations. If that’s the case, the dreams you have in REM sleep might be so bizarre for exactly the same reasons. It’s not that the dreams make no sense. They make wacky sense.”
More study is needed to fully understand the power of dreams in learning. The researchers are planning a new study that “spiffs up” the maze tests using colors and images in a way that most likely will trigger an increase in dreaming among the study participants.
Whether someone can ultimately harness the power of dreaming to improve learning is an open question, but Dr. Stickgold does have a suggestion for students or others trying to master a task or study subject.
“If you’re a student and you want to do better on the test, you might need to dream about it,” Dr. Stickgold said. “The question is, ‘How do I get myself to dream about it?’ The answer is to get excited about it. That seems to be what you dream about.”