Monthly Archives: June 2010

Does isolation reduce violent behavior among psychiatric inpatients?

By Kevin R. Betts

The Joint Commission, an independent health care oversight group, recently expressed alarm over violence in U.S. hospitals. Russell L. Colling, a consultant who advised the Joint Commission said, “The reality is, there is violence every day in the emergency department.” On inpatient units in psychiatric hospitals, violent behavior among patients is often met with forced isolation. A primary goal of isolating these patients is to ensure their safety, as well as that of other patients and staff. However, isolation is also thought by many to act as a deterrent for potential future acts of violence. Having been directly involved in this process as a mental health technician, I often pondered the effectiveness of isolation as a way to combat violent behavior among patients.

Perhaps counterintuitively, research on social ostracism suggests that isolation may promote later aggressive acts (Williams, 2007). In order to understand why this may be the case, imagine yourself in the position of a patient involuntarily committed to an inpatient unit at a local psychiatric hospital. Disagreeing with your involuntary admission, you verbally express your anger to the staff. Told that you may not leave, you become even angrier, perhaps trying to access locked doors. You feel an utter lack of control over your situation. Making matters worse, the staff expresses concern that you may become violent as a result of your distress and “for your safety,” escorts you to a locked room so that “you may reflect on your acting out behavior.” You are in isolation. Your anger further increases and you find yourself behaving in ways you could not previously imagine, yelling “let me out” and banging on the only door in a windowless room. You think to yourself, “They will regret this once they let me out of here.” What you (and many other patients placed in similar situations) are experiencing is an impaired sense of belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence―direct consequences associated with social ostracism (Williams, 2007). In the eyes of an isolated patient, these needs may wrongly be perceived as restorable through aggressive means.

If isolation can promote violent behavior, what should be done to combat violence among distressed psychiatric inpatients? Solutions that prevent violent behavior in the first place may be most successful. Listening to patient complaints in a timely manner is essential. Empathizing with these complaints, helping patients manage their distress, and ensuring patients that their distress is temporary should also be effective.

Read more:

http://www.businessweek.com/lifestyle/content/healthday/639936.htmlViolence on the rise at U.S. health care centers (Businessweek)

http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/120185263/abstractWilliams, K.D. (2007). Ostracism: The kiss of social death. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 236-347.

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Winning Ali’s Heart: How men on The Bachelorette use gossip to improve their status

 

 

By Erica Zaiser

If you have been watching the new season of reality show The Bachelorette(don’t lie, I am sure you have), you know that in just a few episodes it has become clear that this season is rife with drama for the male contestants vying for Ali Fedotowsky’s attention. Much of the show relies on gossip about other contestants to the camera. Recently, gossiping about male rivals to Ali herself has been more evident. Furthermore, alliances are being formed with certain contestants being ostracized from the group because of damaging stories regarding their personal motives being spread through between-contestant gossip.

Evolutionary psychologists have long been interested in the evolutionary purpose of spreading gossip. Some researchers suggest that it may be a strategy for improving one’s status. In one study, researchers looked at the type of gossip people are more likely to spread and to whom. Not surprisingly negative stories are more likely to be spread when they are about rivals but positive stories are more for allies. You are least likely to spread a positive story about a rival and men are more likely to gossip with romantic partners than male friends. Also, the researchers found that certain information (sex and health topics in particular) about romantic partners is considered more worth “spreading ” than other types of gossip. Negative and particularly damaging information was considered the most juicy gossip when it concerned same-sex rivals (for both genders). According to the researchers, through gossip, we build our alliances and knock down our competition by spreading negative information about our rivals and building up our own “team’s” reputation by promoting positive stories about friends.

So, the men on the Bachelorette are not just gossiping for the entertainment value of reality TV. Instead, they are using gossip to promote their own agenda with the other men (by creating alliances which will probably allow them more access to future gossip). Then they use gossip to improve their chances with Ali by letting her in on all the dirty news about the competition.

Read More: Who Do We Tell and Whom Do We Tell On? The Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 2007

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Mock Mission to Mars Pushes the Limits of Human Isolation and Olfactory Sensation

A joint effort by the Russian Space Institute and the European Space Agency to simulate the lonely and potentially brutish reality of extended space travel to Mars began last Thursday as six researchers were sealed inside a windowless cylindrical chamber, which will be their home for the next year and a half.  The all-male crew consists of three Russians, a Frenchman, a Chinaman and an Italian-Colombian, who will conduct regular space operations including scientific experiments and facility maintenance. The researchers’ only link to the outside world is via an Internet connection to mission control with regular disruptions and a 20-minute delay.

These men must truly have “the right stuff” to consider such a mission. Try to imagine, if you will, what it would be like to be trapped in a small space with five other guys for over 500 days. The smell alone could be enough to deter most people. I would imagine that by the end of the mission, the stench in that place would be similar to the Men’s room after the Super Bowl—foul. Still, the smell of six men may be the least of their problems, if not a catalyst for other, more potentially dangerous and psychotic episodes. According to Harris (1989; citing Kanas, 1987) with lengthy isolation come many potential interpersonal dangers including fits of rage, crew-members vying for dominance, deviance and a deterioration of group cohesion. To deal with these potential problems, they better have true grit, a strong desire not to kill each other, and lots of potpourri and Lysol to cover that not-so-fresh odor.

520-day Mars Mission Simulation in Russia Begins

Harris, P. R. (1989). Behavioral science space contributions. Behavioral Science, 34, 207-227.

Women must be slim?


Alice Dogruyol’s article ‘Big girl in a skinny world: Killer heels are fine for tiny girls, but I’m carrying 90 kilos on spikes’ (Daily Mail, 8 June 2010) lends itself well to feminist psychology, and specifically the ways in which the female body is socially constructed and the implications this can have for women’s psychological (and physical) health. For example, Dogruyol describes herself, after having caught sight of her own reflection in a shop window, as ‘shapeless’ and ‘huge’, or as the title suggests ‘Big girl in a skinny world’. Her self-perception mirrors the strongly entrenched view that in order to be considered attractive and of value in Western culture women must be slim (Bordo 1993). Dogruyol’s self-perception of her body is part of a medium of culture in which the physical body becomes a reflection of the social body, such that, the central rules and hierarchies of Western culture determine how the body is seen (Bordo, 1993). Therefore, the body becomes a direct form of social control, in which greater restrictions and less tolerance is imposed on girls and women than on boys and men (Lee, 1998). The significance of physical attractiveness means that ideals such as ‘women must be slim’ have psychological implications for women in that they experience some degree of dissatisfaction with their bodies and that this may lead to a sense of alienation from the body, a fragmented self and a lack of autonomy. In order to regain a sense of autonomy and self, Dogruyol opts to make her body appear ‘slimmer’ by purchasing new clothes that will produce ‘a stylish, confidence-boosting new look.’

Big girl in a skinny world: Killer heels are fine for tiny girls, but I’m carrying 90 kilos on spikes

This One World might have One Dream one day – but not today.

Last week, United States Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan, and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo attended a press conference of the second round of China-U.S. Strategic and Economic Dialogues in Beijing, China. At the conference, China and the United States agreed to enhance mutual trust through more intensive dialogue for a stable and mature relationship. According to a press release issued by the Chinese, “The relationship of China and the United States, respectively as the world’s largest developing and developed countries, is immensely important to the world, and the key to sound relations is strengthening mutual trust.”

The relationship between the United States and China is inarguably one of the most – if not the most – important bilateral relationship of the 21st century. The two countries are often considered to be neither allies nor enemies, and the relationship is considered by analysts of Sino-American relations to be both complex and multi-faceted.

Cross-cultural psychologists have grown famous for uncovering East-West differences in just about every domain of social psychology, but there are fewer studies that take real-life political events happening at that moment and attempt to build theories of Sino-American relations around those events. Recently, social psychologists from both the United States and Asia came together in a special section of the Asian Journal of Social Psychology to discuss the psychosocial ramifications of one such major political event – the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. In one paper within this section, researchers discuss the irony that although the Beijing Olympic Games were intended to elicit feelings of international unity (hence the slogan “One World, One Dream”), once participants were reminded of the Beijing Games via subtle and indirect exposure to the Beijing Olympic icon, both Chinese and Americans high in nationalism and patriotism perceived greater differences between Chinese and American cultures, compared to those low in nationalism and patriotism. On a more explicit level, however, the two groups seemed to differ: whereas Chinese associated the Games with the “One World, One Dream” slogan, Americans associated the Games with a burgeoning Chinese competitiveness. Authors explain the findings as a cognitive contrast effect such that as long as the Olympic Games symbolize a co-presence of the U.S. and China simultaneously – whether the intergroup relationship is perceived to be friendly or competitive – the Games will lead to a psychological contrast between the ingroup and the outgroup and, in so doing, heightened perceived cultural differences. The authors further emphasize that although Chinese participants might be acutely aware of the differences between the U.S. and China, they do not necessarily associate these differences with hostility, but instead understand them as an opportunity to learn from the U.S. in order to eventually realize the “One World, One Dream” ideal. Americans, however, apparently associate the Games with competition between China and themselves and this same awareness of how they are different from China might only serve to intensify any adversarial feelings.

Like the conclusions drawn from the recent dialogue between the U.S. and China, psychologists stress that it is increasingly vital for research to inform strategies that might, at the very least, help make both countries cognizant of how they are perceived by each other. They claim that awareness of our differences, understanding how those differences come about and what they mean to the outgroup, and being ready to reconcile discrepant motivations are essential to preemptively assuage any potential discord caused by different expectations and different hopes for the future world order.

China, U.S. committed to more stable relationship

One World, Just a Dream? Effects of the Beijing Olympic icon on perceived differences between Eastern and Western culture

The overwhelming habit of biases and self-evaluation

Differences amongst groups of people tend to be most salient at the cultural level. A comparison often cited is that of Eastern and Western cultures. These group differences, however, tend to be caricatured stereotypes of people that may not hold true in all contexts.  Take for instance, the cultural differences in East vs. West explained pictorially. Life for those in the Eastern culture is pictured as having multiple individuals holding hands signifying collectivism. In the Western culture there is a picture of one individual, depicting the concept of individualism. Another cultural difference is portrayed as Westerners addressing problems directly, and Easterners indirectly addressing problems.

Brown (2010), on the other hand, argues that Eastern and Western cultures may not be as different as people think. At a basic level, for instance, Brown writes that people want to feel good about themselves and those around them.  The researcher notes that when given negative feedback individuals tend to feel worse about themselves; tend to compare themselves to each other, and see themselves and those close to them in better light than others as a result. Comparisons such as self-evaluations require that the individual see him or herself independent from others, regardless of culture.

Self-serving biases that occur during social comparisons or self-evaluations are important for purposes such as competition—especially in one to one combat or group sports. In one to one combat, for instance the individual is accountable for oneself only.  In group sports, the team is meant to act as a unit but the individual is held accountable or readily replaced should he or she not be cut out for the task.  More to the point, as the FIFA 2010 world cup draws closer, individuals will observe similar behavior from different cultural groups. Such behavior is expected since individuals are likely to get football fever. Eastern and Western cultures therefore are similar; people adapt.

See more: East vs. West explained pictorially

Brown, J.D. (2010). Across the (Not So) great divide: Cultural similarities in self-evaluative processes

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Facing illness, belief helps.

Lady Gaga’s recent revelation that she had been tested for lupus had some fans worried that the pop star is ill. When asked in an interview how she’s feeling, the pop star, 24, responds with a simple, “I’m okay,” before adding that lupus, which took the life of her aunt Joanne, does run in her family. The singer also told the interviewer that “So as of right now, I don’t have it. But I do have to take good care of myself”.

This young lady seems calm and positive about her potential illness. It is very important and helpful for her health. Research has shown that individuals’ illness perceptions predict health behaviors and functional outcomes. There is wide variation between individuals in their health and illness behaviors. For example, how quickly they seek medical attention for symptoms, and whether they take medication as prescribed. Behaviors such as these can have large influences on subsequent morbidity and mortality. Research into the psychological predictors of health and illness behaviors helps us to build theoretical models to understand why people behave as they do, and inform intervention strategies (Elizabeth Broadbent, 2010).

According to parallel response model, that in response to situational stimuli (such as symptoms and the environment), people simultaneously form both emotional states (such as fear) and cognitive representations of the threat of illness, the illness perception. The illness perceptions include ideas about: identity (the name of the illness and which symptoms are associated with it), timeline (how long the illness will continue), cause (what caused the illness), control (how well the illness can be controlled), and consequences (the effects of the illness on life domains). Previous research showed that stronger beliefs about the identity and consequences of an illness were associated with avoidance and denial coping strategies, higher expression of emotions, poorer physical, social and psychological functioning, and lower vitality. In contrast, stronger beliefs in the controllability of the illness were associated with greater use of cognitive reappraisal and problem-focused coping, as well as better psychological and social well-being, vitality, and with lesser disease state. It is because that in a self-regulatory process, individuals choose which procedures (actions) to take to manage their emotions and reduce the illness threat based on the content of these representations. The results of taking the chosen action further modify the representation of the illness in a feedback loop.

Elizabeth Broadbent. (2010). Illness Perceptions and Health: Innovations and Clinical Applications. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 256 – 266.

Lady Gaga Tests ‘Borderline Positive’ for Lupus (People Magazine)