Mind Matters — Recent Psychological Observations

From family dinners to telecommuting, psychologists have done their “homework,” according to research summarized in the October, 2019, issue of the APA Monitor on Psychology.

Family Therapist Anne Fishel, PhD: research on the importance of family meals notes that “regular family dinners are associated with less depression and anxiety, lower rates of substance and tobacco use, lower rates of teenage pregnancy, and fewer behavioral problems at school.” It also may be that regular family meals is a more positive influence on academic success than doing homework or extracurricular activity, such as sports. Of course, the benefits depend o there being a “warm and inviting atmosphere” at the table—not high conflict or abuse.

Unfortunately, abuse delivered as “physical discipline” still abounds. According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), damaging physical discipline is still the global standard, despite decades of evidence showing not only that “physical punishment is not effective,” but that it also leads to aggression and negative behavior by the child, notes psychologist Elizabeth Gershoff. Neuroscience weighs in as well: researchers are observing that “harsh corporal punishment might change the brain in maladaptive ways.”

Dire conditions and decades of trauma and violence due to socio-political unrest and vast income inequality also do no good for children or for the adults who care for them, for that matter. Zara Greenbaum writes in the article, “Support for Central America” that such unrest as well as climate change’s effects on farming has forced many Central Americans to migrate north. Psychologist M. Brinton Lykes, of the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College says that it is also “time to start considering another inalienable right—the right to remain.” Noting that the work situation to remain is beyond bleak, she does question what options do people have to stay and “why aren’t we more concerned about that?”

Mauricio Gaborit is a psychologist who studies the migration of children and adolescents in El Salvador. He notes that to be a youth in El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras is “extremely stressful. …so stressful…that the migration route with all its perils barely registers above the daily pressures children and their families face here.”

Guatemalan psychologist Cóbar Catalán urges “if we understand the individual reasons that force people to migrate, we may be closer to finding the interventions that are relevant and effective…. Listening and telling people’s stories is a first step to start humanizing migrants in a society where blaming the victim tends to be the norm.”

Not about migration but about staying home is the report filed by Zara Greenbaum on the future of remote work. Over twenty-six million Americans (16% of the workforce) work remotely at least some of the time. Not every job is suitable for remote work. However, researchers Ravi Gajendran and Timothy Golden found that jobs that were complex yet did not require much social support were well suited to telecommuting. Jobs that require concentration and focused problem solving fare better away from a distracting office environment.

The downside to telecommuting is social isolation and the blurring of boundaries between family and work. According to Gajendran, the bottom line is that “it’s time for organizations to move beyond seeing it [telecommuting] as a family-friendly work arrangement. When done well, remote work has the potential to improve performance, increase employee satisfaction and benefit a business.”

What of these vignettes of research resonate with you? Family dinners or parental discipline? The plight of Central Americans leaving home or how to work from home?

Articles referenced from Monitor on Psychology (October, 2019):