Archive for April, 2013

Self-Affirmation Rather Then Self-Esteem

April 28, 2013

This post is largely based on an article by Sharon Begley, “To Love You Is to Know You,” published in the June issue of Mindful magazine. The importance of self-esteem was emphasized in the 1980s. All sorts of benefits were supposed to accrue to those with high self-esteem. Consequently programs were developed to enhance self-esteem. I remember being criticized by a student in her course evaluation for my having damaged her self-esteem. Although I had given the student a solid “A” in the course, she said that her self-esteem had suffered due to her getting several incorrect answers on an exam.

Subsequent research has debunked the benefits of self-esteem. Although programs to build self-esteem might build self-esteem in individuals, this self-esteem does not manifest itself in better performance in school or work, in particular, and in life, in general. Fortunately a new concept has emerged to replace the concept of self-esteem. This new concept is self-affirmation. The simplest way to think of self-affirmation is as self-esteem absent the “I’m wonderful” component. Another way of thinking of self-affirmation is as “mindfulness of the self.” According to the article, “Self-affirmation is the process of reminding yourself of the values and interests that constitute your true or core self.”

Research into self-affirmation has shown that self-affirmation can not only reduce the anxiety and defensiveness that usually arise when we make mistakes, but it can also help us to learn from our mistakes so that we do better the next time. Self-affirmation makes us less defensive when receiving threatening information, be it negative feedback from a supervisor, criticism from a loved one, or poor performance. We become more open to opposing views and more self-controlled.

A study done by the psychologist Lisa Legault provides some insight as to the mechanisms underlying the benefits of self-affirmation. Two groups of college students were provided different instructions. One group performed an exercise to foster self-affirmation; the control group performed an exercise that did not foster self-affirmation. Both groups performed the same simple task: to press a button whenever an “M” appeared on a computer screen for one-tenth of a second. If a “W” appeared, they were to refrain from pushing the button. Brain activity was monitored when they performed this task. The group given the self-affirmation instructions made fewer errors of commission, pressing the button when the “W” appeared (7% vs. 12.4%). The more important result was the difference in brain activity. There is a brain wave that occurs when a mistake is made called error-related negativity (ERN). This ERN is generated by the anterior cingulate cortex, which is involved in detecting errors, anticipating rewards, and being emotionally aware. It generates the feeling that a mistake was made. It has a strong emotional component and is why we feel bad when we mess up. The more we care, the stronger the ERN that results when we fail or receive criticism. In this study, the self-affirmation group had stronger ERN waves than the control group. It appears that this enhanced response to the task resulted in better performance.

In view of these results, it becomes clear why self-esteem is ineffective. A person with high self-esteem might not care how well he does. He already thinks that he is great. Similarly, a person with high self-esteem is likely to reject criticism because he thinks he is great. The result is that learning does not occur. Now a person with self-affirmation will have among her core beliefs that she is capable of succeeding, but is open to criticism and failure as the means to success. Mistakes will feel more troublesome, but that results in more attention and better learning.

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Voice-Activated Texting is Still Dangerous

April 24, 2013

The effects of voice-activated texting were tested at the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University.1 Quite a few years ago, I, along with my colleagues, spent a very interesting day at this institute. It is an impressive institute that conducts quality research. The institute assessed a mobile device that translates words into text messages. They found that it is every bit as dangerous as conventional texting. Reaction times were twice as slow, and eyes were on the road much less often than when they were not texting. This result is not surprising; it is analogous to using hands free phones while driving. Research has shown that using a hands free phone while driving is analogous to driving under the influence of alcohol. The problem is one of attentional limitations, our limited ability to process information. Texting or speaking on the phone degrades driving performance. Although it is true that texting is more dangerous than speaking on the phone, what bothers me is that all the warnings involve texting. Using the phone while driving is still dangerous. And hands free laws are irrelevant to the problem.

According to the article, about 3,300 people a year die in crashes attributed to distracted driving , with 387,000 more injured in 2011. Frankly, I regard these numbers, particularly the numbers involving deaths, to be unrealistically low. What was especially alarming was the survey conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that 35 percent of drivers admitted that they had recently read text messages or e-mail while driving, and that 26 percent said they had sent a text message. If you are wondering why I find these numbers so worrisome, please read the healthymemory blog post, “The “Now” is Really the “Then.” To learn more about the dangers of using the phone while driving, see the healthymemory blog posts, “Phone and Driving is as Dangerous as Drinking and Driving,” “Doing Two Things at Once is NOT Better,” and “Multitasking is a Trade-Off.” Texting and phoning while driving might be conveniences, but remember that for many years we did just fine without these conveniences. If you want to put yourself and your passengers at risk is one matter, but consider the risk you are placing on others on the road.

1Halsey III, A. (2013) Drivers not safer with voice-activated texting study finds. Washington Post, 23 April, B1.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Antidote for Worry

April 21, 2013

First of all, worry is important. Worry is important so that you pay your taxes, save money, eat a proper diet, exercise, both physically and cognitively, and build a cognitive reserve. But uncontrolled worry leads to unhealthy rumination and unhappiness. What is the point of worrying about something that is out of your control? You are likely to suffer more anticipating the event than the event itself. Control what you can control, and try not to worry about the rest.

Of course, that is easier said that done. Here meditation can help. 1 There are two extremes of meditation. At one end of the meditation continuum you focus your attention on one thing, for example, your breath or a word or phrase. At the other end of the continuum there is open monitoring to a broad awareness of sensations and surroundings. Thoughts are allowed to freely pass through the mind without evaluation. The absence of evaluation is what is important. If what is worrying you passes through your consciousness without causing worry or discomfort, that is okay. But if you evaluate these thoughts so that they cause you to worry, then this is counterproductive.

What is recommended is to find a midpoint between these two extremes. Let your mind run free until it hits a worrying thought, in which case you redirect your thoughts to something pleasant. Perhaps it sounds too simple to say that you can be happy just by thinking happy thoughts, but it is true. Just smiling can improve your mode. But remember not to lose contact with reality completely.

Let me just add that my Ph.D. is in cognitive psychology. I am neither a clinical nor counseling psychologist.

1To find more blog posts about mediation enter “meditation,” “mindfulness,” or “Davidson” into the healthymemory search box

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Update on the Prospect of a Cure for Alzheimer’s

April 17, 2013

A recent article provides an update on the prospect of a cure for Alzheimer’s.1 Here are some quotes from the article, attributed to neuropsychologist Peter J. Snyder, “There’s not going to be a single magic bullet… This isn’t a disease, but a syndrome with multiple etiologies.” Long time readers of the healthymemory blog might remember that Alzheimer himself was doubtful that this was a disease. His employment situation motivated him to make that argument (see the healthymemory blog post, “Sigmoid Freud and Alzheimer’s Disease”).

Previous healthymemory blog posts have made the point that autopsies of individuals who had never shown signs of Alzheimer’s were found to have substantial buildups of amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. That led me to conclude that the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles might be a necessary, but not a sufficient cause of Alzheimer’s. However, recent imaging studies have shown that about 30 percent of healthy adults who never develop Alzheimer’s have fairly substantial plaque buildups. A less common occurrence is people who have classic symptoms of Alzheimer’s but no amyloid in the brain. Consequently I have come to the conclusion that amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for Alzheimer’s.

It is important to note that large portion of the research on Alzheimer’s was targeted at this amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. This is an indication of how far off the mark this research has been. The conclusion reached by Snyder is that a cure for Alzheimer’s is not within reach. However, he argues that “If we can slow the progression by just five years, we can cut the cost of Alzheimer’s to society by 2050 by almost 50 percent. It’s an attainable goal.’

I would like to see the logic and the computations regarding this last statement. Won’t slowing the progression increase the duration of the disease and hence the costs? For myself, I have no interest in a treatment that will prolong the disease, prolong my agony.

There is the new Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Technologies (BRAIN). I am wildly enthusiastic about this project, and I am confident that much will be learned. However, I fear that it has been oversold with respect to cures for brain diseases and brain injuries. I hope I am wrong, but I am afraid that I am not.

And for you Baby Boomers , a cure is unlikely. Start building your cognitive reserve by following recommendation in the healthymemory blog and in similar publications. If you have not already, start building a healthy memory and a cognitive reserve (if you don’t know what a cognitive reserve is enter “cognitive reserve” into the search block of the healthymemory blog).

1Voelker, R. (2013) The pre-Alzheimer’s Brain. Monitor on Psychology, March, 46-49.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alzheimer’s is the Most Expensive Malady in the United States

April 14, 2013

According to a recent Rand Study reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, Alzheimer’s is the most expensive malady in the United States, costing somewhere from $157 billion to $215 billion per year. This makes it more expensive than heart disease and cancer, the two biggest killers, but as patients ultimately die from Alzheimer’s, this is a matter of how the books are kept. It is not the drugs nor other medical treatments that is the biggest cost of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia, but the care that is needed to get mentally impaired people through daily life. Dementia’s direct costs, including medicines and nursing homes, are $109 billion in 2010 dollars.

According to the RAND study, nearly 15% of people aged 71 or older have dementia. That is about 3.8 million people. It is estimated that by 2040 the number will balloon to 9.1 million people. According to Dr. Richard J. Hodes, the director of the National Institute on Aging, “ I don’t know of any other disease predicting such a huge increase. And as we have the baby boomer group maturing, there are going to be more older people with fewer children to be informal caregivers for them, which is going to intensify the problem even more.”

The prospects of a cure are remote and drug treatments promise only to delay the progression of the disease. 74 to 84 percent of the costs involves helping patients in nursing homes or at home manage the most basic activities of life as they become increasingly impaired cognitively and then physically. A case of dementia costs from $41,000 to $56,000 a year. The projection is that the total costs of dementia care will more than double by 2040, to a range of $379 billion to $511 billion. They ranged from $159 billion to $215 billion in 2010. It is estimated that 22 percent of the people aged 71 and older (about 5.4 million) have mild cognitive impairment. This means that the level of cognitive impairment is mild and does not reach the threshold for dementia. About 12% of these people develop dementia each year.

The preceding solely concerns the economics of dementia. The personal loss is tragic. A lifelong of learning and experiences increasingly slip from memory. Friends and family members might not be recognized. Eventually, the self is lost, and the person does not remember who he or she is or whether he or she is a he or a she.

The best hope an individual has of avoiding or mitigating this loss is to live a healthy lifestyle, not only physically, but also cognitively, and to build a cognitive reserve. Research has shown that there are individuals with plaque and neurofibril tangles who have not exhibited symptoms of dementia. The healthymemory blog is dedicated to helping individuals build this cognitive reserve.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Microsoft and Its Annoying, Costly Upgrades

April 10, 2013

I’ve about had it with Microsoft and the so-called upgrades of its operating systems and applications. Not once have I been able to perceive any benefit. But there has been precious time lost and aggravation. Out comes an upgrade and suddenly I am unable to perform functions that I have long performed. Moreover, it is not easy to find the new procedures for performing these functions.

The impacts of these upgrades on business, government, and organizations are pernicious. Time is money and the inability to perform long used functions, and the need to learn new ways of performing these long practiced functions are costly in addition to being extremely aggravating. In psychology we would call this an A-B, A-C negative transfer paradigm. Yet business, government, organizations, and individuals continue to suffer in silence. It’s outrageous.

When buying a new computer it should not come with a pre-installed operating system. The purchaser should be offered a choice of operating systems, and older versions of software should still be able to run on new operating systems. The same requirements are needed for applications. As for applications, I’ve found the offerings at http://www.openoffice.org to be superior to those of Microsoft. Moreover, they are free, although it is in our own interest to offer support. I believe that Firefox is regarded as a superior browser. Mozilla also has an email program, Thunderbird. If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to visit their website at www.mozilla.org. Businesses, governments, and other organizations should also avail themselves of these options.

Even if upgrades are needed from a systems perspective, the interface that confronts the user should remain as identical as possible. The Dvorak keyboard is known to be superior to the standard QWERTY keyboard, yet there has been a wise decision made not to convert whole scale to the Dvorak keyboard. A similar attitude needs to maintain with respect to the interfaces of operation systems and applications.

Software companies should be required to support all versions of their products or be subject to fines and lawsuits. As you have already ascertained, I regard most upgrades as ripoffs, impure and complex.

Should we march on Washington, D.C., or the Microsoft Campus in the state of Washington? I am not suggesting that we carry torches and pitchforks as if we were attacking Dr. Frankenstein‘s castle, tempting as that might be. But orderly demonstrations would be in order. To quote from the movie, Network, “We’re as mad as hell, and we’re not going to take this anymore!”

The Benefits of Mindfulness

April 7, 2013

This blog post has been derived primarily from the Scientific American Mind article1 “Being in the Now.” A preceding healthymemory blog post, “Being in the Now is Really Being in the Then,” made a technical correction, but the term as used in the Scientific American Mind article is generally accepted. Moreover, the healthymemory blog heartily endorses the claims made in this article. The immediately preceding healthymemory blog post describes a technique to help in achieving the benefits of mindfulness.

According to the Scientific American Mind article, mindfulness is a mental mode of being engaged in the present moment without evaluating or emotionally reacting to it. Currently, there are more than 250 medical centers worldwide that offer mindfulness-based therapies for mood and other disorders. Mindfulness training works by strengthening the brain’s ability to pay attention. The healthymemory blog strongly believes that this is the key benefit from mindfulness training. Memory is the center for human information processing including its maladies and disorders. Attention is the key process that determines what gets into memory and what is retrieved from memory. Accordingly, the ability to control one’s attention is a most important skill.

Another item from the Scientific American Mind article, “After receiving mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, patients report noticing that negative thoughts lose their power over time.” Also from the article, “Mindfulness training can relieve symptoms of ailments that stress can exacerbate such as psoriasis and fibromyalgia.” And, “By improving the ability to direct and monitor attention, mindfulness meditation could enhance people’s performance in pursuits as diverse as sports and surgery.” Mindfulness also provides an antidote to rumination, worry, and fear, and their adverse effects on mental health.

To find more healthymemory blog posts on mindfulness, enter “mindfulness” into the blog’s search block. Entering “meditation” will reveal even more relevant articles. Entering “Davidson,” will retrieve articles on Dr. Davidson’s Six Dimensions of Emotional Style, as well as meditation techniques to enhance and refine these respective dimensions.

1Jha., A.P. (2013) March/April, 26-33.

Achieving Mindfulness

April 3, 2013

Mindfulness has become a hot topic. There is a new monthly magazine, Mindful, www.mindful.org, the the March/April edition of Scientific American Mind features articles on mindfulness. Most approaches to mindfulness involve meditation. The healthymemory blog has many posts on meditation. The psychologist Richard Davidson has identified six dimensions of emotional style (See the healthymemory blog post, “The Six Dimensions of Emotional Style): resilience, outlook, self awareness, social intuition, sensitivity to context, and attention. He has techniques, which can be found in the healthymemory blog (use the blogs search box), for cultivating each of these dimensions.

Meditation techniques range from exercises designed to train concentrative focus, a narrowing of attention, to exercises designed to train open monitoring, a broad awareness of sensations and surroundings. Both skills are necessary. There are times when we need to focus on a particular problem or idea and there are types where we need to allow new thoughts into our consciousness without rejecting them out of hand as a result of selection biases. In the March/April edition of Scientific American Mind there is a piece on Capturing Attention on page 33. This is an exercise by Scott Rogers, the Director of Programs and Training, Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative at the University of Miami, that incorporates both types of training into a single meditation session. Here is the technique:

“Sit in an upright, stable position, hands resting on your thighs or cradled together.

Lower or close your eyes, whichever is more comfortable.

Attend to your breath, following its movement throughout your body.

Notice the sensations around your belly as air flows into and out of your nose and mouth. You have been breathing all day—all of your life—and in this moment, you are simply noticing your breath.

Select one area of your body affected by your breathing and focus your attention there. Control your focus, not the breathing itself.

When you notice your mind wandering – and it will – bring your attention back to your breath.

After five to ten minutes, switch from focusing to monitoring. Think of your mind as a vast open sky and your thoughts, feelings and sensations as passing clouds.

Feel you whole body move with your breath. Be receptive to your sensations, noticing what arises in the moment. Be attentive to the changing quality of experience – sounds, aromas, the caress of a breeze…thoughts.

After about five more minutes, lift your gaze and open your eyes.