In this study, we tested the validity of 2 popular assumptions about empathy: (a) empathy can be enhanced by oxytocin, a neuropeptide known to be crucial in affiliative behavior, and (b) individual differences in prosocial behavior are positively associated with empathic brain responses. To do so, we measured brain activity in a double-blind placebo-controlled study of 20 male participants either receiving painful stimulation to their own hand (self condition) or observing their female partner receiving painful stimulation to her hand (other condition). Prosocial behavior was measured using a monetary economic interaction game with which participants classified as prosocial (N = 12) or selfish (N = 6), depending on whether they cooperated with another player. Empathy-relevant brain activation (anterior insula) was neither enhanced by oxytocin nor positively associated with prosocial behavior. However, oxytocin reduced amygdala activation when participants received painful stimulation themselves (in the nonsocial condition). Surprisingly, this effect was driven by "selfish" participants. The results suggest that selfish individuals may not be as rational and unemotional as usually suggested, their actions being determined by their feeling anxious rather than by reason.
Social comparison can elicit emotions such as envy, which can affect social interactions. The emergence and development of such social emotions through ontogeny, and their influence on social interaction, are unknown. We tested 182 children from 7 to 13 years of age with a novel monetary reward-and-punishment task measuring envy and Schadenfreude (i.e., gloating or taking delight in someone else’s misfortune). Children were either rewarded or punished in a trial-by-trial evaluation of their performance on a speeded reaction time task. In a social condition, feedback of their own and a competitor’s performance was given for each trial. Afterward, children rated how they felt about the outcome. The ratings suggest that when children won, they felt better if the competitor lost instead of winning (i.e., Schadenfreude). Conversely, when children lost, they felt worse if the competitor won instead of losing (i.e., envy). Crucially, levels of envy and Schadenfreude decreased with age. We also studied how these emotions relate to social decisions made separately during three resource allocation paradigms. In each, children chose between two options that differed in the distribution of valuable tokens between themselves and an anonymous other. The combination of choices allowed the measurement of inequity aversion (i.e., equality for all) and spite (i.e., self-profit to maximal disadvantage of the other). We found an age-related increase in inequity aversion and decrease in spite. Crucially, age-related changes in both envy and Schadenfreude predicted the developmental change in equity-related decisions. These findings shed light on the development of social emotions and demonstrate their importance in the development of prosocial behavior in children.
OBJECTIVE: To examine yoga's effects on inner-city children's well-being. METHODS: This pilot study compared fourth- and fifth-grade students at 2 after-school programs in Bronx, New York. One program offered yoga 1 hour per week for 12 weeks (yoga) and the other program (non-yoga) did not. Preintervention and postintervention emotional well-being was assessed by Harter's Global Self-Worth and Physical Appearance subscales, which were the study's primary outcome measures. Secondary outcomes included other measures of emotional well-being assessed by 2 new scales: Perceptions of Physical Health and Yoga Teachings (including Negative Behaviors, Positive Behaviors, and Focusing/relaxation subscales). Preintervention and postintervention, physical wellbeing was assessed by measures of flexibility and balance. Subjective ratings ofyoga's effects on well-being were evaluated by an additional questionnaire completed by the yoga group only. RESULTS: Data were collected from 78% (n=39) and 86.5% (n=32) of potential yoga and non-yoga study enrollees. No differences in baseline demographics were found. Controlling for preintervention well-being differences using analysis of covariance, we found that children in the yoga group had better postintervention Negative Behaviors scores and balance than the non-yoga group (P < .05). The majority of children participating in yoga reported enhanced wellbeing, as reflected by perceived improvements in behaviors directly targeted by yoga (e.g., strength, flexibility, balance). CONCLUSIONS: Although no significant differences were found in the study's primary outcomes (global self-worth and perceptions of physical well-being), children participating in yoga reported using fewer negative behaviors in response to stress and had better balance than a comparison group. Improvements in wellbeing, specifically in behaviors directly targeted by yoga, were reported. These results suggest a possible role of yoga as a preventive intervention as well as a means of improving children's perceived well-being.
Occupational therapists use school-based yoga programs, but these interventions typically lack manualization and evidence from well-designed studies. Using an experimental pretest–posttest control group design, we examined the effectiveness of the Get Ready to Learn (GRTL) classroom yoga program among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). The intervention group received the manualized yoga program daily for 16 wk, and the control group engaged in their standard morning routine. We assessed challenging behaviors with standardized measures and behavior coding before and after intervention. We completed a between-groups analysis of variance to assess differences in gain scores on the dependent variables. Students in the GRTL program showed significant decreases (p < .05) in teacher ratings of maladaptive behavior, as measured with the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, compared with the control participants. This study demonstrates that use of daily classroomwide yoga interventions has a significant impact on key classroom behaviors among children with ASD.
The authors address 2 questions about embarrassment. First, Is embarrassment a distinct emotion? The evidence indicates that the antecedents, experience, and display of embarrassment, and to a limited extent its autonomic physiology, are distinct from shame, guilt, and amusement and share the dynamic, temporal characteristics of emotion. Second, What are the theoretical accounts of embarrassment? Three accounts focus on the causes of embarrassment, positioning that it follows the loss of self-esteem, concern for others' evaluations, or absence of scripts to guide interactions. A fourth account focuses on the effects of the remedial actions of embarrassment, which correct preceding transgressions. A fifth account focuses on the functional parallels between embarrassment and nonhuman appeasement. The discussion focuses on unanswered questions about embarrassment.
<p>Mindfulness meditation is an increasingly popular intervention for the treatment of physical illnesses and psychological difficulties. Using intervention strategies with mechanisms familiar to cognitive behavioral therapists, the principles and practice of mindfulness meditation offer promise for promoting many of the most basic elements of positive psychology. It is proposed that mindfulness meditation promotes positive adjustment by strengthening metacognitive skills and by changing schemas related to emotion, health, and illness. Additionally, the benefits of yoga as a mindfulness practice are explored. Even though much empirical work is needed to determine the parameters of mindfulness meditation's benefits, and the mechanisms by which it may achieve these benefits, theory and data thus far clearly suggest the promise of mindfulness as a link between positive psychology and cognitive behavioral therapies.</p>
<p>Abstract The authors examined the effect of a 6-week mind/body intervention on college students' psychological distress, anxiety, and perception of stress. One hundred twenty-eight students were randomly assigned to an experimental group (n = 63) or a waitlist control group (n = 65). The experimental group received 6 90-minute group-training sessions in the relaxation response and cognitive behavioral skills. The Symptom Checklist-90-Revised, Spielberger State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Perceived Stress Scale were used to assess the students' psychological state before and after the intervention. Ninety students (70% of the initial sample) completed the postassessment measure. Significantly greater reductions in psychological distress, state anxiety, and perceived stress were found in the experimental group. This brief mind/body training may be useful as a preventive intervention for college students, according to the authors, who called for further research to determine whether the observed treatment effect can be sustained over a longer period of time.</p>
Belief in one's ability to change is an important cognitive variable related to treatment gains. This study investigated pretreatment expectancy for anxiety change and early homework compliance in relation to initial and total cognitive change in group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) for anxiety. Participants, who met diagnostic criteria for at least 1 anxiety disorder, completed 10 sessions of group CBT. Early homework compliance mediated the relationship between expectancy for anxiety change at baseline and initial change in CBT. In addition, initial cognitive symptom improvement mediated the relationship between homework compliance and posttreatment outcome. These results suggest that expectancy for change is an important cognitive variable that may provide the initial impetus and subsequent momentum for therapeutic involvement and gains. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Many recent behavioral and neuroscientific studies have revealed the importance of investigating meditation states and traits to achieve an increased understanding of cognitive and affective neuroplasticity, attention and self-awareness, as well as for their increasingly recognized clinical relevance. The investigation of states and traits related to meditation has especially pronounced implications for the neuroscience of attention, consciousness, self-awareness, empathy and theory of mind. In this article we present the main features of meditation-based mental training and characterize the current scientific approach to meditation states and traits with special reference to attention and consciousness, in light of the articles contributed to this issue.
In this paper I discuss how expressive behavior relates to personality and psychopathology, integrating recent findings from my laboratory and the insights of Charles Darwin on this topic. In the first part of the paper I challenge the view, in part espoused by Darwin, that humans are equipped to convey only a limited number of emotions with nonverbal behavior. Our lab has documented displays for several emotions, including embarrassment, love, desire, compassion, gratitude, and awe, to name just a few states that previously were thought not to possess a distinct display. I then present an argument for how individual differences in emotion, although fleeting, shape the social environment. This argument focuses on the functions of nonverbal display: to provide information to others, to evoke responses, and to serve as incentives of preceding or ensuing social behavior. This reasoning sets the stage for the study of the relationships between personality, psychopathology, and expressive behavior, to which I turn in the final part of the paper. Here I show that basic personality traits (e.g., extraversion, agreeableness) and psychological disorders (e.g., externalizing disorder in children, autism) have expressive signatures that shape social interactions and environments in profound ways that might perpetuate and transmit the trait or disorder.
On the basis of the widespread belief that emotions underpin psychological adjustment, the authors tested 3 predicted relations between externalizing problems and anger, internalizing problems and fear and sadness, and the absence of externalizing problems and social-moral emotion (embarrassment). Seventy adolescent boys were classified into 1 of 4 comparison groups on the basis of teacher reports using a behavior problem checklist: internalizers, externalizers, mixed (both internalizers and externalizers), and nondisordered boys. The authors coded the facial expressions of emotion shown by the boys during a structured social interaction. Results supported the 3 hypotheses: (a) Externalizing adolescents showed increased facial expressions of anger, (b) on 1 measure internalizing adolescents showed increased facial expressions of fear, and (c) the absence of externalizing problems (or nondisordered classification) was related to increased displays of embarrassment. Discussion focused on the relations of these findings to hypotheses concerning the role of impulse control in antisocial behavior.
Although individuals experience embarrassment as an unpleasant, negative emotion, the authors argue that expressions of embarrassment serve vital social functions, signaling the embarrassed individual's prosociality and fostering trust. Extending past research on embarrassment as a nonverbal apology and appeasement gesture, the authors demonstrate that observers recognize the expression of embarrassment as a signal of prosociality and commitment to social relationships. In turn, observers respond with affiliative behaviors toward the signaler, including greater trust and desire to affiliate with the embarrassed individual. Five studies tested these hypotheses and ruled out alternative explanations. Study 1 demonstrated that individuals who are more embarrassable also reported greater prosociality and behaved more generously than their less embarrassable counterparts. Results of Studies 2-5 revealed that observers rated embarrassed targets as being more prosocial and less antisocial relative to targets who displayed either a different emotion or no emotion. In addition, observers were more willing to give resources and express a desire to affiliate with these targets, and these effects were mediated by perceptions of the targets as prosocial.
The influence of approach and avoidance tendencies on affect, reasoning, and behavior has attracted substantial interest from researchers across various areas of psychology. Currently, frontal electroencephalographic (EEG) asymmetry in favor of left prefrontal regions is assumed to reflect the propensity to respond with approach-related tendencies. To test this hypothesis, we recorded resting EEG in 18 subjects, who separately performed a verbal memory task under three incentive conditions (neutral, reward, and punishment). Using a source-localization technique, we found that higher task-independent alpha2 (10.5-12 Hz) activity within left dorsolateral prefrontal and medial orbitofrontal regions was associated with stronger bias to respond to reward-related cues. Left prefrontal resting activity accounted for 54.8% of the variance in reward bias. These findings not only confirm that frontal EEG asymmetry modulates the propensity to engage in appetitively motivated behavior, but also provide anatomical details about the underlying brain systems.
BACKGROUND: The broad autism phenotype includes subclinical autistic characteristics found to have a higher prevalence in unaffected family members of individuals with autism. These characteristics primarily affect the social aspects of language, communication, and human interaction. The current research focuses on possible neurobehavioral characteristics associated with the broad autism phenotype. METHODS: We used a face-processing task associated with atypical patterns of gaze fixation and brain function in autism while collecting brain functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and eye tracking in unaffected siblings of individuals with autism. RESULTS: We found robust differences in gaze fixation and brain function in response to images of human faces in unaffected siblings compared with typically developing control individuals. The siblings' gaze fixations and brain activation patterns during the face processing task were similar to that of the autism group and showed decreased gaze fixation along with diminished fusiform activation compared with the control group. Furthermore, amygdala volume in the siblings was similar to the autism group and was significantly reduced compared with the control group. CONCLUSIONS: Together, these findings provide compelling evidence for differences in social/emotional processing and underlying neural circuitry in siblings of individuals with autism, supporting the notion of unique endophenotypes associated with the broad autism phenotype.
<p>One out of every five Harvard graduates has lined up to hear Tal Ben-Shahar's lectures on that ever-elusive subject: happiness. Grounded in the revolutionary "positive psychology" movement, Ben-Shahar combines scientific studies, scholarly research, self-help advice, and spiritual enlightenment. He weaves them together into a set of principles that you can apply to your daily life.</p>
<p>Lower social class (or socioeconomic status) is associated with fewer resources, greater exposure to threat, and a reduced sense of personal control. Given these life circumstances, one might expect lower class individuals to engage in less prosocial behavior, prioritizing self-interest over the welfare of others. The authors hypothesized, by contrast, that lower class individuals orient to the welfare of others as a means to adapt to their more hostile environments and that this orientation gives rise to greater prosocial behavior. Across 4 studies, lower class individuals proved to be more generous (Study 1), charitable (Study 2), trusting (Study 3), and helpful (Study 4) compared with their upper class counterparts. Mediator and moderator data showed that lower class individuals acted in a more prosocial fashion because of a greater commitment to egalitarian values and feelings of compassion. Implications for social class, prosocial behavior, and economic inequality are discussed.</p>
Two hundred and nine pupils were randomly allocated to either a cognitive behaviourally based stress management intervention (SMI) group, or a non-intervention control group. Mood and motivation measures were administered pre and post intervention. Standardized examinations were taken 8–10 weeks later. As hypothesized, results indicated that an increase in the functionality of pupils’ cognitions served as the mechanism by which mental health improved in the SMI group. In contrast, the control group demonstrated no such improvements. Also, as predicted, an increase in motivation accounted for the SMI group's significantly better performance on the standardized, academic assessments that comprise the United Kingdom's General Certificate of Secondary Education. Indeed, the magnitude of this enhanced performance was, on average, one-letter grade. Discussion focuses on the theoretical and practical implications of these findings.
Freezing is an adaptive defensive behavior that is expressed in response to an imminent threat. In prior studies with rhesus monkeys, stable individual differences in animals' propensities to freeze have been demonstrated. To understand the factors associated with these individual differences, freezing behavior was examined in infant rhesus monkeys and their mothers, in conjunction with levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol. In both mothers and infants, basal cortisol levels were positively correlated with freezing duration. Additionally, the number of offspring a mother had was negatively correlated with her infant's cortisol level. These findings suggest a link between basal cortisol levels and an animal's propensity to freeze, as well as a mechanism by which maternal experience may affect infants' cortisol levels.
Drawing on E. Goffman's concepts of face and strategic interaction, the authors define a tease as a playful provocation in which one person comments on something relevant to the target. This approach encompasses the diverse behaviors labeled teasing, clarifies previous ambiguities, differentiates teasing from related practices, and suggests how teasing can lead to hostile or affiliative outcomes. The authors then integrate studies of the content of teasing. Studies indicate that norm violations and conflict prompt teasing. With development, children tease in playful ways, particularly around the ages of 11 and 12 years, and understand and enjoy teasing more. Finally, consistent with hypotheses concerning contextual variation in face concerns, teasing is more frequent and hostile when initiated by high-status and familiar others and men, although gender differences are smaller than assumed. The authors conclude by discussing how teasing varies according to individual differences and culture.
A growing body of literature has documented the differential role of the frontal regions of the two cerebral hemispheres in certain positive and negative affective processes. This corpus of evidence has led to the hypothesis of a possible differential effect of diazepam on asymmetry of frontal activation. To examine this question, nine infant rhesus monkeys were tested on two occasions during which brain electrical activity was recorded from left and right frontal and parietal scalp regions. During one session, recordings were obtained under a baseline restraint condition and then after an injection of diazepam (1 mg/kg). In the other session, following the same baseline restraint condition, a vehicle injection was given. In response to diazepam, the animals showed an asymmetrical decrease in power in the 4-8 Hz frequency band, which was most pronounced in the left frontal region. No change in electroencephalogram (EEG) activity was observed in response to vehicle. Asymmetry in parietal EEG activity was also unchanged by diazepam. Diazepam also produced overall reductions in power across different frequency bands in both frontal and parietal regions. Good test-retest stability of EEG measures of activation asymmetry was also found between the two testing sessions separated by three months. The possible proximal cause of the asymmetrical change in frontal brain electrical activity in response to diazepam, as well as the implications of these findings for understanding the mechanism of action of benzodiazepines are discussed.
Social contact promotes enhanced health and well-being, likely as a function of the social regulation of emotional responding in the face of various life stressors. For this functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, 16 married women were subjected to the threat of electric shock while holding their husband's hand, the hand of an anonymous male experimenter, or no hand at all. Results indicated a pervasive attenuation of activation in the neural systems supporting emotional and behavioral threat responses when the women held their husband's hand. A more limited attenuation of activation in these systems occurred when they held the hand of a stranger. Most strikingly, the effects of spousal hand-holding on neural threat responses varied as a function of marital quality, with higher marital quality predicting less threat-related neural activation in the right anterior insula, superior frontal gyrus, and hypothalamus during spousal, but not stranger, hand-holding.
<p>A long-standing problem in stress research has been that individuals' reports of their tendencies to become anxious are often inconsistent with relevant behavioral and physiological indices. This study investigated the distinction between (a) truly low-anxious Ss, who report low trait anxiety on the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale and low defensiveness on the Marlowe-Crowne Social Desirability Scale, and (b) repressors, who report low anxiety but high defensiveness. These groups were compared with a moderately high-anxious one. Heart rate, spontaneous skin resistance responses, and forehead muscle tension were recorded from 40 male college students during a phrase association task. Significant differences in the 3 physiological measures as well as in 3 behavioral ones (reaction time, content avoidance, and verbal interference) all indicated that the repressors were more stressed than the low-anxious Ss despite their claims of lower trait anxiety. The high-anxious group exhibited a 3rd pattern suggesting an intermediate level of anxious responding. These data document the need to distinguish between repressors and truly low-anxious persons in research concerned with relations between self-reported anxiety and behavioral and physiological responses to stress. (42 ref)</p>