Mind Matters — Recent Relevant Research in Psychology

While many psychologists are clinicians working directly with people, others perform the research that informs the clinician’s perspective.

Amy Novotny, writing in the April, 2015, APA Monitor, a monthly professional newsletter, gleans research articles for nuggets of quick information. Here are just a few examples of ongoing research.

It was reported in Psychology, Public Policy, and the Law, that a University of Kansas study found that many universities may undercount sexual assaults on campus. Studying the data from thirty-one large universities and colleges, scientists discovered that reporting of sexual assaults differed widely depending on whether the U.S. Department of Education was auditing for federal crime reporting requirements or not. When audited, the reporting of sexual assaults increased by 44%. Post-audit, the reported number of sexual assaults fell to pre-audit levels. This may indicate that academic institutions are more likely to accurately report sexual assaults when “under federal scrutiny.”

On a more positive note, a study was conducted with elementary school children that found a school-based mindfulness program may help students regulate stress and perform better in math. The interdisciplinary study was executed by the University of British Columbia. Researchers explored the efficacy of the program “MindUP™” which incorporates breathing techniques with mindfulness practices and movement exercises. The young participants in the program fared better, not only at math but also at regulating stress, were observed as being more optimistic, helpful, and better liked by peers than were the children who were taught caring for others without the mindfulness schema.

Not only teaching mindfulness, but also teaching assertiveness can be effective tools of self-care for young people. According to studies done by psychologists at Southern Methodist University, teen girls reported less sexual victimization after virtual reality assertiveness training. The program trains girls how to resist unwanted sexual advances, by modeling this in a virtual environment.

Want to remember more? Close your eyes. Researchers at the University of Surrey asked participants of their study to watch a video of a person entering a location to steal some items. Some time later, half of the participants were asked to recall the incident’s details with their eyes closed, the other half were to do so with eyes open. Results? Those that answered with eyes closed had better recall than those with eyes open. This sounds like something we could all test on our own. “Oh, where did I put my keys? Maybe if I close my eyes, I’ll remember better.” Think I’ll try it out!

Another matter of memory was studied recently by researchers at Dartmouth University. These scientists looked at sixth graders in four different demographics: low-income rural, low-income urban, high-income rural, and high-income urban. All the students completed various verbal and visuospatial tests. It was found that the students from low-income areas, whether urban or rural, displayed working memory deficits compared to the high-income populations. One of the contributing factors for poor performance could be increased stress.

Another study to note here is that done by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada. Surveying thousands of employed adults, researchers found that people would avoid disclosing a mental health condition, fearing how it would affect their employment and career. People also worried that with such disclosure they would lose friends or would suffer the negative consequences they had observed occurring to others who did such disclosure. Yet, on the other hand, at least half of the respondents reported that they would want to help a colleague with a mental health issue.

This finding certainly is relevant to the recent tragedy of the German air crash in Switzerland, where the co-pilot appears to have intentionally killed himself and all those on board. All the facts are not available, but it is reported that this young man had depressive and suicidal ideation in the past. That he should not have been in a position of responsibility with that flight is clear. We don’t know why he concealed his mental and physical health from authorities that would have grounded him—temporarily!

But we also don’t want to stigmatize all the many individuals who seek professional help and disclose their difficulties with great courage. When we feel safe enough to ask for help, we are all a little safer.