Monthly Archives: October 2009

The Consequences of Our Responses to Acute Stress

600px-Screaming_person

Understanding the most effective ways to respond to and cope with stress has important implications for our longevity and well-being.  Acute stressors are immediate and temporary while chronic stressors are more prolonged and involve ongoing threat and arousal. With regard to acute psychological stress, past research has indicated that those who exhibit large physiological reactions (i.e., cardiovascular responses) are more susceptible to negative health outcomes such as hypertension. New evidence, however, casts doubt on the assertion that large physiological reactions to stress are always bad for health.  Carroll, Lovallo, & Phillips (2009) have shown that low reactivity to acute psychological stress is associated with a diverse set of negative outcomes including depression, weight gain, and compromised immunity. These findings make it much more difficult to label stress responses and coping strategies as “good” versus “bad” given that each seems to have both positive and negative consequences for one’s physiological and psychological well-being.

 

square-eye

Stress 101

 

square-eye

Carroll, Lovallo, & Phillips (2009)

add to del.icio.us    add to blinkslist    add to furl    digg this    add to ma.gnolia    stumble it!    add to simpy    seed the vine    add to reddit    add to fark    tailrank this    post to facebook

Knives at school

091005_bus(1)A tragedy may have been averted when a knife was confiscated from a Delaware student last week. According to the New York Times, the school district’s rules say that Zachary Christie should be sent to reform school, where an important lesson is surely to be learned.

After joining the Cub Scouts, the knife-fork-spoon combo utensil seemed like it would be nice to use at lunch—on his food, we can presume. The lesson is more of a reminder: deterrence efforts are not as useful as policymakers hope. “It just seems unfair,” the 6-year-old said, probably not thinking about the intended effect of such policies.

Presuming that children are motivated by the economic or social benefits of finishing school, zero-tolerance policies are meant to give children motivation for following rules. But even the U.S. Department of Education admits zero-tolerance policies are inequitable and “counterproductive.”

Zachary’s case is similar to one in which a third grader was expelled for a year when her grandmother sent her with a birthday cake accompanied by a knife. Never mind that it proved useful for the teacher who proceeded to cut the cake, but heaven knows what the child would have done if she had gotten to it first.

Zero-tolerance policies should remind us of Reagan-era crime control models that brought us three-strikes-you’re-out laws. We now know that “criminals” or 6-year-olds are not rationally considering the possible consequences of their decisions in such a way, and I doubt Zachary’s peers feel any safer.

Virtual Conference – 6 days to go

CIVIC

For anyone who has not registered, you can do so for free at https://compassconference.wordpress.com/ and enjoy.

- Virtual Delegates Pack

- 20% conference discount on EVERY Wiley book!

- 60 days free access to over 200 Wiley-Blackwell journals

- Win a year’s subscription to a Compass Journal of your choice with post-conference feedback!

Don’t worry, Be happy?

On September 30 Wiley-Blackwell announced the winner of their inaugural Wiley Prize in Psychology — Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania and Director of the Positive Psychology Center. While his career contributions are certainly immense, other scholars and, most recently, popular authors, have turned a critical eye to positive psychology.

In an 2008, Dana Becker and Jeanne Marecek published an article questioning positive psychology, particularly its emphasis on individual success and development and what they perceive to be a disconnect with the realities of social institutions and sociocultural power.  Popular author Barbara Ehrenreich has a new book coming out this month, “Bright-Sided”, in which she questions the entire “happiness” movement, including positive psychology and the way in which it has taken self-help into the academic realm.

While Becker and Marecek are not against the idea of “human flourishing,” they see it “not as a matter of private satisfaction, but as a matter of the collective welfare.” This idea is particularly relevant in the current global recession and the discourse of individualism is also prominent in U.S. debates on healthcare. In the U.S., where “boot-straps” philosophy reigns supreme, Becker and Marecek argue that the suggestion “that self-help excercises can suffice in the absence of social transformation is not only short signted but morally repugnant.”

Thus we, as humans living in our societies and bound by institutions, have to ask ourselves the extent to which personal happiness and a sense of fulfillment is tied to broader social influences. Can we “will” ourselves to be happy through the use of affirmations, or are we simply creating convenient illusions to persevere through difficult times?

square-eye Becker and Marecek. (2008). Dreaming the American Dream: Individualism and Positive Psychology.

square-eye Wiley Prize in Psychology Announcement

Texting and Scare Tactics

TextingA recent Welsh video that addresses the dangers of texting while driving has become an internet phenomenon with over 7 million views to date. The video, which will be shown in schools in this fall, features a teenager texting while driving, resulting in a graphic car crash that kills her passengers.

The creators of the ad argue that in order to capture the attention of teenagers, it is necessary for the video to be shocking and violent. However, some critics are skeptical about whether the ad will actually reduce the behavior, especially in the long-term. Health and social psychological research has looked extensively at the efficacy of fear arousing messages when it comes to changing behaviors.

In a recent article, Cameron and Chan (2008) discuss what persuasive elements may help in promoting health behaviors. It is commonly assumed that messages that evoke fear will prompt action; however, many studies have shown that highly evocative messages may actually lead to avoidance and fail to change behavior. In the health communication field, they find that fear arousing messages can be effective but only when coupled with other factors. For instance, when joined with an implementation plan, these messages have a better chance of changing behavior. Moreover, imagery may be effective in persuasive messages but only to the extent that it can directly relate the threat to the recommended plan of action.

While the commercial may be successful in garnering attention, ongoing research brings into question how effective it will be in terms of permanently changing behavior.

square-eye New York Times: Driven to Distraction

square-eye Cameron, L. D., & Chan, C. K. (2008). Designing Health Communications: Harnessing the Power of Affect, Imagery, and Self-Regulation.