It is old news that dysfunctional or insecure relationships in childhood may lead to difficulties down the line. Whilst this has long been known, a recent study has shed further light on the reasons for this, and the specific effects poor attachments may have.
Attachments are the relationships we have with caregivers from an early age. In general, attachment styles may be divided into four categories: secure, anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. The type of attachment style we develop is directly linked to the quality of care we receive. For example, a neglectful parent may contribute to their child’s dismissive- avoidant attachment style (Cassidy, 1999).
Insecure attachment styles have been linked to range of adult mental health issues. These range from anxiety and depression to relationship issues and even health problems. Obviously attachment styles are an important research area, but why does the human brain react so negatively to poor parenting?
The study, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, found that insecure childhood attachments can negatively influence our ability to deal with stress as adults (Leyh, 2016). We are all aware that there is huge variability in how individuals deal with stress. This is evident in any office in the world! Some people remain calm and proactive in the face of adversity, whilst some crumble and become extremely negative.
One of the reasons for this, according to Dr. Rainer Leyh and his team, is that our negative childhood experiences and attachment styles stay with us throughout adulthood, and rear their heads when we are faced with a stressful or anxiety provoking scenario.
In this report on the study, Dr Christine Heinsich gives the example of a car approaching a traffic light. For the driver, when they are in a neutral state, following the signal is easy and may even come automatically. For an emotional driver however, following the signal is much more difficult. They may stop late or fail to stop altogether, driving straight through the light.
What moderates our ability to stay calm under emotional strain? For those of us that had emotionally attentive parents or caregivers it can be a lot easier. The key term is “emotional regulation”. Emotional Regulation is our ability to control our emotions, and our reactions and subsequent behaviours in response to them. Attachment styles have been directly linked to emotional regulation.
In the aforementioned study, adults were recruited who had a wide range of childhood parental/ caregiver experiences. Participants were asked to perform a task which involved identifying a target letter from a series of flashing letters. The task was conducted in different conditions, some which evoked a positive emotional response, some which evoked a negative response and others which evoked neutral. The participants’ brain activity was recorded using a type of brain scanning called “EEG”.
Subjects with insecure childhood attachments had significantly more trouble performing under the negative conditions than those with secure childhood attachments. Another interesting finding was that those with insecure attachments also exhibited lower brain activity under negative conditions when attempting to identify the target letter.
The poorer the task performance, the poorer the strategies for emotional regulation. One theory put forth by the researchers, is that the more effort you have to exert on inhibiting your emotion, the less resources you have to perform on the task. Therefore, negative childhood experiences may make all those day- to- day struggles we encounter just that little bit more difficult.
Were there any potential limitations to this study? It could be argued that as the target letters were unrelated to the emotional cures, it is difficult to generalise them to everyday life. Future studies will have to find a way to make the testing environment more realistic.
Despite this, it does see clear that poor relationships with our caregivers can have long- lasting consequences.
How do I know if I have difficulties with attachment and/ or emotional regulation?
It can be difficult to know whether any of this applies to you. You may have difficulties with emotional regulation if:
Implications for relationships
Those who are negatively attached may bring these issues and insecurities into relationships. Attachment style can have massive connotations, particularly for romantic relationships, and it is important to be aware of how it can affect you.
It is easy to see the connection between a turbulent relationship, and the findings of the study we have just discussed. Being resilient and calm when faced with stressful situations, arguments and all that comes with a relationship, is often central to its success. For those with poor emotional regulation, this can be difficult.
What can you do about insecure attachment?
New research is increasingly shedding light on how our past experiences can shape our present and future. It is fascinating what we area learning, but also important to stress that your past does not necessarily dictate your future, and we all have the ability to change long- learned behaviours.
By Dr. Syras Derksen,
Cassidy, J. (1999). Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. Rough Guides.
Leyh, R., Heinisch, C., Kungl, M. T., & Spangler, G. (2016). Attachment representation moderates the influence of emotional context on information processing. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 10, 278.
In our increasingly digital age, addiction to internet use is growing in prevalence, and has recently received more and more attention from medical and scientific researchers. Nowhere is the problem more alarming than with adolescents, who have the greatest access to internet-based technologies, and also have the most at stake developmentally.
Some rather sensationalized news sources have even referred to the rise of internet addiction as a new “electric heroin,” citing the research demonstrating how internet use and serious substance abuse demonstrate similarities in their symptomologies and in the way that they stimulate the reward pathways of the brain.
While the danger and addictive potential of heroin use makes the comparison a little strained, excessive internet use is nonetheless a condition that merits serious attention.
The History Of Internet Addiction
The possibility for addictive behavior related to internet use was first proposed in 1995. The term was initially used in jest, because at the time the rarity of personal computers and the unlikelihood of any individual developing an addiction to internet use made the idea ridiculous.
In the ensuing years, however, the explosion of internet technologies rapidly made internet addiction a reality. By 1998 a diagnostic tool known as the Internet Addiction Tool (IAT) was developed by Dr. Kimberly Young in order to assess whether an individual’s internet use was pathological.
The assessment was based on the criteria for pathological gambling listed in the DSM-IV (the American Psychological Association’s diagnostic manual for mental disorders). This was based on the logic that despite the fact that internet addiction had not yet been recognized by the psychological establishment as a real disorder, the symptoms it presented were similar enough to gambling addiction that the two could be diagnosed in a comparable fashion. When the DSM-V was released in 2013, pathological gambling was updated to a condition now called “gambling disorder,” but problem internet use was once again left out.
Notwithstanding, psychological and medical researchers across the world have begun devoting major resources towards studying the effects of internet use, especially on school age populations ranging from ages 5-22. This field of research has been especially active in Asian countries such as China, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan; countries in which the vast majority of the population have access to the internet and incidence of internet addiction is especially high. Recent studies have found that an estimated 19.8% of adolescents in Taiwan and 20% of adolescents in Korea screened positive for either internet addiction or excessive internet use.
The Diverse Manifestations of Excessive Internet Use
Internet Addiction has been grossly understudied, and additional research is required to establish prevalence rates in European and North American countries. The various diagnostic tools currently available are often times outdated, and assess patterns of internet use that are no longer relevant. Future research is needed to validate measuring tools that more accurately reflect the actual patterns of internet use in today’s adolescents.
In the 1990s, the internet functions available to the average user were so limited that one of the only possible types of pathological use was compulsively checking websites, in a pattern that closely mirrored compulsive gambling. However, today’s adolescents use the internet for so many different things that, depending on their pattern of use, the internet can either enable or catalyze a host of different disordered patterns of thinking.
For example, online gaming can be associated with the impulsivity often marked in cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Adolescents with a bent towards narcissistic personality disorder might gravitate towards excessive self-promotion on networking outlets like Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. The constant stream of world news and cultural information present on social media websites can enable a crippling fear of missing out (or “FOMO”) that might co-occur with an anxiety disorder. And the internet also provides opportunities for the destructive cyber-bullying perpetuated by over-aggressive adolescents.
Of course it is impossible to determine if the disordered or problematic patterns of thinking listed above are caused by internet use or if the internet use simply enables preexisting pathological tendencies to manifest. It is also possible that there is a reciprocal relationship, with excessive internet use both fostering and enabling the expression of negative behavior patterns.
Diagnosis and Understanding
While this diversity of the symptomology of internet addiction makes it difficult to issue blanket statements, the important thing is to have the discernment to distinguish between frequent internet use and the excessive patterns of use that can lead to addiction.
Internet use should not be judged to be excessive until several of the following criteria are met (among others): impaired psychological well-being; worsened academic performance; physical abnormalities including back pain, eye strain or carpal tunnel syndrome; severely decreased family and peer interactions; and finally the traditional markers of addiction, including increased tolerance, signs of withdrawal after lack of use, disregard for consequences, and difficulty controlling behavior.
While discussions of internet addiction can often alarm parents who may believe that their child spends too much time online, it’s important not to jump to conclusions nor to inhibit overall internet use wholesale. Internet use is not per se harmful or inhibiting; in fact, there is a mountain of evidence that adolescents with regular internet access generally have higher test scores, a greater motivation to learn, greater access to health information, and a general feeling of empowerment compared to adolescents without internet access.
As was noted above, there are many diverse uses for internet technologies, and each has the potential to enable various different disordered patterns of thinking. What is required in such a complex situation is a sensitivity to the overall developmental context of an adolescent’s physical, emotional, and social situation.
While internet addiction has recently been given increasing attention by mental health professionals and should be taken seriously, parents of adolescents should not jump to conclusions. Using the criteria listed above, in addition to outside research and, if necessary, consultation with a certified health professional, parents of adolescents can be more secure in their ability to discern between the excessive internet use that marks internet addiction and the frequent internet use that marks 21st century adolescence.
By Dr. Syras Derksen,
Guan, S. S. A., & Subrahmanyam, K. (2009). Youth Internet Use: Risks and opportunities. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 22(4), 351-356.
Ong, S. H., & Tan, Y. R. (2014). Internet Addiction in Young People. Annals of Academy of Medicine, Singapore, 43(7), 378-382.
Tao, R., Huang, X., Wang, J., Zhang, H., Zhang, Y., & Li, M. (2010). Proposed Diagnostic Criteria for Internet Addiction. Addiction, 105(3), 556-564.
Wallace, P. (2014). Internet Addiction Disorder and Youth. EMBO Reports, 15(1), 12-16.
I often speak with people who insist that significant regular alcohol intake is an important part of maintaining their mental health. Obviously many people are aware that significant use of alcohol can damage many aspects of life, but it is nice to have research to back up this assertion.
A recent study conducted by the University of Kent’s School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research in conjunction with the University of Sussex has found that while people are temporarily happier when drinking alcohol, it leads to lower happiness levels over time. Not surprisingly, those who go on to develop drinking problems are significantly less satisfied with life.
The study utilised an innovative iPhone- based app and a more traditional cohort study design to explore the complex relationship between alcohol consumption and happiness. This study focused not only on how happiness and drinking directly affect each other, but how this relationship evolves over time.
Study 1 examined changes in life satisfaction and weekly alcohol consumption. It did so using a cohort of Britons born in 1970 and the CAGE questionnaire (a screen for problem drinking and alcohol problems). This segment of the study had a large cohort of over 29,000 individuals.
Study 2 meanwhile, recorded changes in happiness levels as individuals were drinking alcohol, using iPhone data which was recorded from a very large sample of over 31,000 individuals. This is the first study to measure alcohol use as it occurs with an iPhone app.
Study 1 found no significant relationship between drinking and life satisfaction but did find a negative association between life satisfaction and potential drinking problems. Study 2 revealed a significant, positive relationship between happiness and drinking.
Researchers controlled for extenuating factors and negative life events (e.g. long- term Illness) in order to ensure results accurately reflected the influence of drinking.
One major limitation of both studies was the limited population sample used. Study 2 for example, involved IPhone users only. Such a sample limits itself to presumably younger and wealthier
populations. Study 1 focused on quite a narrow age range between 30 and 42. These populations are not representative of the general majority, making it difficult to justify generalising the findings. It is however, an interesting starting point for further research.
Alcohol Doesn't Fix Life's Problems
In short, this research found that while the iPhone drinkers were happier at the moment of alcohol consumption, this happiness did not spill over into their wider lives. In fact, alcohol consumption over time led to decreased life satisfaction, in particular when problem drinking was present.
This means that alcohol- related happiness is purely transient - by the next day, or by the time the individual has sobered up, there are no lasting positive effects. It also means however, that drinking appears to have no negative consequences on life- satisfaction in the short term, at least for those without a drinking problem.
The study has real value when it comes to advising policy making. The impact of alcohol on the individual is often simplified in public discussions relating to health and family services rather than happiness or life satisfaction. Unfortunately some individuals would trade long-term health for a happy life. Hopefully this research highlights that even the happiness that alcohol brings is fleeting and often leave more problems the next morning.
In short, the message of this study is the same as many others- most things are okay in moderation but excessive drinking never has positive consequences . If you feel long- term or heavy drinking is affecting your wellbeing do not hesitate to contact your nearest health professional or support service.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Ben Baumberg Geiger, George MacKerron. Can alcohol make you happy? A subjective wellbeing approach. Social Science & Medicine, 2016; 156: 184
Using pornography changes people's attitudes, relationship commitment, sexuality, ability to think, and likelihood of acting aggressively towards women. The research, much of which is very recent, is making it clear that pornography has multiple negative effects on users.
This article will only discuss the effects of pornography on men. Women do use pornography to a lesser extent and the effects of this use are less clear.
Pornography has been show to negatively effect men's attitudes towards women. Pornography users have been shown to have less egalitarian views, but it is unclear whether pornography use is causing this difference or if it is just that less egalitarian men are more likely to use pornography.
However, a piece of research was conducted which had some randomly chosen men view pornography first and then measured where they landed on the "hostile sexism" scale. The men who watched pornography were higher on this scale than the men who didn't. This research suggests that pornography is causing men to become more sexist in their attitude.
Of course, there are many out there who would not be surprised by this research. Many view pornography as degrading and objectifying towards women. Generally speaking, people's beliefs will generally become consistent with their behaviour. So even if a non-sexist man begins using pornography he will generally begin to believe that it is right to objectify and degrade women.
Pornography use reduces relationship commitment. Men who use pornography are more likely to have an affair. It isn't just that cheating men are likely to use pornography, the pornography seems to cause the cheating.
In one experiment some randomly chosen men were shown pornography and, afterwards, these men were more likely to see other women as romantic alternatives. In another experiment a group of randomly chosen regular porn users stopped using pornography for three weeks. At the end of the three weeks these men were more committed to their relationship.
A number of other interesting experiments have been done looking at how porn users are different in relationships. For example, in one experiment porn users were found to be more likely to flirt when chatting online. In another experiment couples were asked to complete a task together and their interactions were videotaped. The couples' interactions were then rated by observers on how committed they seemed. The couples in which the man was using porn were rated lower on commitment than the non-porn couples.
Research has shown that male porn use predicts lower sex quality for both men and women. Men often report not being as attracted to their spouse when they use pornography and this may be part of the reason for the lowered quality. Sexuality, like any other behaviour, can be modified to an extent by reward and punishment. If a man is regularly having rewarding sexual experiences to pornography, he will begin to need that kind of stimulation to achieve orgasm.
Exposure to pornography has also been shown to predict adolescent uncertainty about sexual beliefs and sexual orientation. It is impossible to say if the pornography is causing this uncertainty or if it just that uncertain youth seek out pornography, but the connection is concerning. If you do find that your child is viewing pornography, it would be good to have a discussion about sexuality and pornography to help him or her manage potential feelings of uncertainty.
There is now research showing that pornography users have more difficulty with attention and working memory. These differences do not only occur during pornography use, but continue throughout the day. This seems to be supported by porn users indicating that they were able to think better after ending their porn use.
Pornography seems to cause men to be more physically punitive towards women. In a very interesting experiment some randomly chosen men were shown pornography and some were not. Both groups were brought back a week later and paired with a female who was part of the researchers team. At the beginning of their meeting the woman mildly rejected the man by saying that she wasn't attracted to him. They then played a guessing game and the man had the option of physically punishing the woman if she got the answer wrong. The men who had been exposed to pornography were more likely to punish the woman.
It has been suggested that pornography makes men more likely to act out violently against women. This type of research would be unethical, so it has never been proven.
Couples Therapy for Porn Addiction
For some couples pornography is an issue and for others it is not. When couples come for therapy because of a pornography issue therapists differ in how they approach the issue. Some will encourage the woman to accept the pornography and begin trying to help her with the issues the pornography is causing. Other therapists will accept the couple's assessment of the problem and begin treating the pornography usage. Often in these situations the porn usage has become an addiction. If it weren't an addiction, the man would likely have given up the porn usage when he realized it was an issue for his partner.
When pornography is an issue it can feel like an affair. If the female partner is not comfortable with pornography, porn usage will usually either stop or become secretive. When the usage continues in secret, the lying, the feeling of there being these "other women", the loss of intimacy, and the fact that the man is seeking comfort from another source makes the dynamics in the relationship very similar to those created by cheating. Sometimes the relationship between the pornography and the man can be stronger than the relationship between the couple. Couples therapy can help in these instances by helping the couple to unite as they work on the pornography addiction as a team.
There are many negative effects of pornography, but one of the most concerning aspects of pornography use is that users seem oblivious to how it is changing them. In fact pornography users often report feeling positively about their porn usage. Unfortunately, this leaves users as often the last to realize how pornography has damaged their relationships and their psyche. Pornography usage is growing every decade and wireless technology is making it more accessible to young people. As pornography grows it becomes even more important for society to understand the dangers that are associated with pornography so everyone can make decisions and take actions that are informed.
By Dr. Syras Derksen
Ford, J. J., Durtschi, J. A., & Franklin, D. L. (2012). Structural therapy with couple battling pornography addiction. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 40, 336-348.
Gwinn, A. M., Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., & Maner, J. K. (2013). Pornography, relationship alternatives, and intimate extradyadic behaviour. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 4, 697-704.
Hald, G. M., Malamuth, N. N., & Lange, T. (2013). Pornography and sexist attitudes among heterosexuals. Journal of Communication, 63, 638-660.
Laier, C., Schulte, F. P., & Brand, M. (2012). Pornographic picture processing interferes with working memory performance. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 642-652.
Lambert, M. N., Negash, S., Stillman, T. F., Olmstead, S. B., & Fincham, F. D. (2012). A love that doesn't last: Pornography consumption and weakened commitment to one`s romantic partner. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 31, 410-438.
Peter, J. & Valkenburg, P. M. (2010). Adolescents' use of sexually explicit internet material and sexual uncertainty: The role of involvement and gender. Communication Monographs, 77, 357-375.
Poulsen, F. O., Busby, D. M., & Galovan, A. M. (2013). Pornography use: Who uses it and how it is associated with couple outcomes. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 72-83.
Thomas, L. A., & Gorzalka, B. B. (2013). Effects of sexual coercion proclivity and cognitive priming on sexual aggression in the laboratory. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 190-203.
Wright, P. J. (2013). U.S. males and pornography, 1973-2010: Consumption, predictors, correlates. Journal of Sex Research, 50, 60-71.
People know that what you eat influences how you feel, but our diet plays a bigger role in our mood than not feeling great after one too many burgers. So how does diet influence our mood? Recently four researchers from Australia tried to answer this question by reviewing the research up to this point.
They found that a lot of research has focused on the effect of a few isolated nutrients (i.e., fish oil, folate, magnesium, and zink). The evidence suggests that low levels of any of these might make a person vulnerable to depression. But before you run to the local pharmacy consider this, all of these nutrients are part of a healthy diet. Maybe the real issue isn't a low level of one or two vitamins, but is instead an overall low quality diet.
It turns out that there is a lot of research to back this up. Overall diet is linked with depression in every age group, from the elderly in Japan to children in Australia to middle aged women in America. In all these groups and many more, western style eating (high fat, sugar, processed foods etc.) is associated with depressive symptoms.
Some of you may be thinking, it is not surprising that bad eating is associated with depression, when you're depressed all you want to eat is junk. That may be true, but researchers have considered this. They looked at people before they were depressed and found that those who ate junk were more likely to get depressed and those who ate healthy weren't.
Unfortunately the story recently got worse. Norway just produced a study that looked at 23,000 mothers and their children. They found that mothers who ate junk food while pregnant were more likely to have children with behaviour problems (i.e., aggression, tantrums). The problems just get worse in the first year. Infants who ate poorly were more likely to have behaviour problems later on, as well as anxiety and depression.
One thing is abundantly clear, Westerner's have a terrible diet. I was again shocked when I read that only one in ten people in the United States is considered to have a healthy diet (National Health and Nutrition Surveys). Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the high rate of depression in our society. It should be mentioned that both psychologists and dieticians can help with these difficulties.
I know this information has affected my eating - at least for today. I hope it does the same for you.
By Dr. Syras Derksen,
Berk, M., Sarris, J., Coulson, C. E., & Jacka, F. N. (2013). Clinical overview: Lifestyle management of unipolar depression. Acta Pychiatrica Scandinavia, 127, 38-54.
Jacka, F. N., Ystrom, E., Brantsaeter, A. L., Karevold, E., Roth, C., Haugen, M., Meltzer, H. M., Schjolberg, S., & Berk, M. (2013). Maternal and early postnatal nutrition and mental health of offspring by age 5 years: A prospective cohort study. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. (10.1016/j.jaac.2013.07.002)