Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Cognitive Styles and Depression

Negative thinking patterns increase vulnerability to depression

According to a recent review of research by researchers from Temple University and the University of Wisconsin, purely biological explanations for depression are insufficient. The finding that negative cognitive styles, which are basically patterns of thought that are typically negative in nature (e.g., pessimism), increase the risk of becoming depressed is the first demonstration of a psychological vulnerability for depression.

Unlike biological explanations, cognitive explanations for depressions focus on individual differences in responses to stressful events. According to hopelessness theory, people who think of negative events as though they persist over time and relate to other aspects of themselves, blow the consequences of the events out of proportion, and see the events as evidence of personal flaws are more likely to become depressed. Similarly, according to Beck's theory of depression, people have a certain types of dysfunctional attitudes, such as believing that their self-worth depends on being perfect or on approval from others, are more likely to become depressed.

The studies that have been conducted to test the predictions made by these and other related theories have provided considerable support for these notions. More generally, the findings from these studies suggest that the way in which people think may influence their mental and physical health.

Source: Alloy, L. B., Abramson, L. Y., & Francis, E. L. (1999) Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8, 128-132.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Strategies for Improving Mental Control in Depression

Recent research has shown that trying to mentally "run away" from unwanted thoughts (i.e., thought suppression) can actually make them more of a problem. People who are depressed are bombarded with what is often an overwhelming slew of negative thoughts that they would like to get rid of. How can people who are depressed take care of such thoughts without ending up making them worse in the process?

In a recent review, researchers from the University of Miami and the University of Texas at San Antonio offer several strategies for improving mental control over such thoughts. They conclude that the most effective strategies involve preventing or changing the natural tendency for people who are depressed to seek out thoughts that signal mental control failure. 

One effective strategy is to change the goal of mental control from trying not to think about unwelcome thoughts (e.g., trying not to think about being sad) to trying to think about welcome thoughts (e.g. trying to think about being happy). 

A second effective strategy is to challenge unwanted thoughts using techniques that can be learned through cognitive therapy. 

A third effective strategy is to use acceptance-based methods, which essentially involve allowing oneself to experience both positive and negative aspects of concepts in the absence of any attempts to modify them, evaluate them, or get red of them.

Source: Beevers, C. G., Wenzlaff, R. M., Hayes, A. M., & Scott, W. D. (1999). Depression and the ironic effects of thought suppression: Therapeutic strategies for improving mental control. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 6, 133-148.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Stress and Happiness

Tension and coping ability are among the personality traits most highly associated with happiness

What makes people happy? Psychologist seriously began trying to answer this question in the 1970s by focusing on the role of demographic factors, such as variables like age and socioeconomic status. More recently, they have shifted most of their attention to the role of personality traits like extra-version (i.e., positive emotionality) and neuroticism (i.e., negative emotionality) as the primary determinant of happiness.

Kristina DeNeve, PhD, from the University of Utah recently reviewed the research findings on the relation between happiness and 137 personality traits. Two personality traits highly relevant to stress, tension and coping ability, were among the eight personality traits that were identified as those most highly associated with happiness. Tension refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions, for example, in response to a stressor. Coping ability, referred to specifically as hardiness in this review, refers to the tendency to cope positively with stressors. The other six personality traits of the eight were repressive-defensiveness (the tendency to avoid threatening information), trust, emotional stability, desire for control, extraversion, and locus of control-chance (the tendency to think that events occur by chance alone). Of all the personality traits examined, repressive-defensiveness was most highly associated with happiness.

Thus, regarding the relevance of stress for happiness, more happiness is related to having a personality characterized by coping positively with stressors and lacking feelings of tension in response to them

Source: DeNeve, K. M. (1999). Happy as an extraverted clam? The role of personality for subjective well-being. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 8, 141-144.