Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Stress and Problem Solving

Why it is harder to solve problems when depressed?

When people are depressed and are faced with stressful problems in their lives, they sometimes fall prey to a pattern of thinking that is called dysphoric rumination. Dysphoric rumination involves thinking about how sad, lethargic, an unmotivated one feels but not doing anything about it or worrying about the problems that are making one depressed but not making any plans to fix the situation. Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, recently presented the findings from a series of studies exploring the connection between dysphoric rumination and problem solving.

In each of three studies, participants took a pretest and were divided into groups, based on whether they were depressed or not. Then, either by looking over a list of words or reading a set of instructions, some participants were induced to ruminate and some were not. Afterwards, participants wrote about or worked through out loud several problems in their lives to assess the impact of dysphoric rumination on problem solving.

The research showed that dysphoric rumination leads to impairments in problem solving ability because people who think this way are less motivated to try to solve their problems. Interestingly, even though people who think this way believe that their problems are more unsolvable and more severe than they really are, they are not less confident in the solutions they come up with are not more pessimistic about how well their solutions would work if carried out. They are just less willing to try.

Source: Lyubomirsky, S., Tucker, K. L., Caldwell, N. D., & Berg, K. (1999). Why ruminators are poor problem solvers: Clues from the phenomenology of dysphoric rumination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1041-1060.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Gender Differences in Depression

Why are women more vulnerable than men are?

Over the years, studies have shown than a gender difference exists in the likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms. For some reason, women tend to be more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than men are. In search of a reason why this occurs, researchers at the University of Michigan, in association with a collaborator with an independent practice in California, conducted a two-wave study of 1132 men and women from communities in California. The participants completed a variety of questionnaires during two in-home interviews that were one year apart.

They tested the idea that women are more vulnerable to depressive symptoms than men are because they are more likely to experience long-term strain in their lives, to feel like they have less control over their lives, and to rely on coping strategies that involve repetitive thoughts about the causes, meanings, and consequences of their stress in the absence of efforts to actively do anything about it. 

The findings from the study supported this idea. Additionally, these three tendencies in women tended to contribute to each other over time.

So what can be done to make women less likely to become depressed? One potential solution might be to help women achieve a greater sense of control over their lives. Another potential solution might be to encourage women to use coping strategies that emphasize problem solving. Of course, improving the unfair social circumstances that women are faced with (e.g., having to work full-time and take care of their children, unequal power and status in relationships with men) also would probably be a step in the right direction.

Source: Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Larson, J., & Grayson, C. (1999). Explaining the gender difference in depressive symptoms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1061-1072.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Interaction Quality and Stress in Marriages

Researchers in Germany recently examined how the quality of interactions in couples is related to the stress the couples experience in their marriages. One aspect of stress that they focused on was the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, after marital interactions. Higher levels of cortisol indicate higher levels of stress. Other researchers have found that people tend to show more physiological signs of stress after marital conflicts, but the results associated with cortisol levels have been inconsistent. An explanation that was offered in the present investigation is that whether cortisol levels rise after a marital conflict depends on the quality of interactions between the couples.

Eighty couples were videotaped discussing a marital conflict and subsequently grouped according to their interaction style. In the negative interaction group, both partners exhibited negative behaviors around 40% of the time. In the positive interaction group, both partners exhibited negative behaviors around 20% of the time. In the asymmetric interaction group, one partner was positive and one was negative. Examples of negative verbal behaviors include criticizing, negative solutions, justification, and disagreement. Examples of positive verbal behaviors include self-disclosure, positive solutions, acceptance of others, and agreement. During the sessions, saliva samples were taken to determine cortisol levels. The participants also filled out a variety of questionnaires.

Overall, men had higher cortisol levels in anticipation of the marital conflict and women had higher cortisol levels in response to the conflict. The couples in the positive interaction group but not those in the negative interaction group showed the expected increase in cortisol levels in response to the marital conflict. Women in the asymmetric group also showed the expected increase.

The researchers offered a reason for why the couples in the negative interaction group did not show the expected increase in cortisol levels in response to the marital conflict. The researcher argued that because those couples have had many unresolved conflicts from fruitless discussions in the past and probably have grown accustom to such conflict, the marital conflict seemed like a chronic source of stress, any given instance of which not necessarily warranting an extra increase in cortisol.

Consequently, these results support the idea that marital conflicts do result in increased stress, unless the couples are so used to such conflicts that they see them as the norm.

Source: Fehm-Wolfsdorf, G., Groth, T., Kaiser, A., Hahlweg, K. (1999). Cortisol responses to marital conflict depend on marital interaction quality. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 6, 207-227.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Predicting Emotional Distress

For many years, researchers have looked at many aspects of the self and how well they can predict emotional distress. One aspect of the self is ego-strength, for example. Freud used this term to refer to how well people could defend them selves psychologically against certain types of threats. The psychological literature in this area has gotten very muddled and confusing. It is unclear which aspect of the self is which and which if any are important by themselves or together. Researchers at the University of Rochester and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently conducted a study help solve this problem.

Using questionnaire measures and complex statistical analyses, they were able to determine that two classes of aspects of the self are important when predicting emotional distress. They referred to these two classes as elasticity and permeability. Elasticity refers to people's ability to be resourceful and "bounce back" from setbacks. Permeability refers to the degree to which people hold back (i.e., less permeable) or give in to impulses (i.e., more permeable). Essentially, people who are more elastic tend to be less agitated (e.g., less anxious, less nervous, less worried) and less dejected (e.g., less sad, less disappointed, less dissatisfied). People who are more permeable tend to be less dejected, but this is partially because people who are more permeable are also more elastic. When the influence of elasticity is taken into consideration, being more permeable actually is related to being more dejected.

Source: Gramzow, R. H., Sedikides, C., Panter, A. T., & Insko, C. A. (2000). Aspects of self-regulation and self-structure as predictors of perceived emotional distress. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 188-205.