Research Roundup

  • Ruptures in the therapist-client relationship may damage a patient's treatment outcome.Ruptures in the therapist-client relationship may damage a patient's treatment outcome, according to research led by Stephanie Keller, a clinical psychology doctoral student at Case Western Reserve University. The study's 116 participants were survivors of traumatic events, such as childhood sexual or physical abuse, physical assault or combat exposure, and had primary diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder. The participants engaged in a 10-session, prolonged exposure therapy treatment program and were asked to assess their PTSD symptoms and their relationship with the therapist during treatment. The researchers found that 18 percent of patients experienced a rupture, or dip, in the therapeutic alliance that was never repaired, and that this unresolved rupture predicted poorer treatment outcomes (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, online Nov. 4 (PDF, 157KB)).
  • When moms argue with friends, their children do too, suggests a study conducted by Gary C. Glick, a developmental psychology doctoral student at the University of Missouri, and colleagues. The researchers asked 172 fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders and their mothers to complete questionnaires about the quality of their most important friendships and tested the study participants' emotional health. They found that when mothers reported high levels of conflict with a good friend, their children were likely to report arguments with friends too. The team did not, however, find a strong link between mothers' positive friendship qualities and those of their children (Journal of Research on Adolescence, December).
  • Your brain sees things you don't, suggests a study led by University of Arizona psychology doctoral student Jay Sanguinetti. Researchers showed study participants a series of black silhouettes, some of which contained meaningful, real-world objects such as a seahorse hidden in the white spaces bordering the silhouettes. They monitored participants' brains with electroencephalography while participants viewed the images for less than a quarter of a second. The researchers noticed a spike in study participants' brainwaves almost immediately after they saw the silhouettes with meaningful hidden images, but not when they viewed silhouettes with hidden meaningless images. The authors say this indicates that even if the participants didn't consciously recognize the image, their brains recognized it and associated the shape with a particular meaning (Psychological Science, online Nov. 12).
  • Mindful people appear to be less swayed by immediate rewards, finds research led by Rimma Teper, a psychology graduate student at the University of Toronto Scarborough. Scientists asked the study's 47 participants to complete a mindfulness scale questionnaire, and then used electroencephalography to record participants' brain activity while they completed a reaction-time task on a computer. At the end of the task, the participants received either rewarding, neutral or negative feedback on their performance. The mindful individuals — those most able to recognize and accept their thoughts and emotions without judgment — showed less neural responsiveness to rewarding feedback compared with the less mindful participants. No effect of mindfulness was found on responsiveness to aversive feedback (Emotion, online Oct. 7 (PDF, 594KB)).
  • Parental reassurance after surgery appears to reduce children's distress.Parental reassurance after surgery appears to reduce children's distress, according to research led by Sarah Martin, a clinical psychology graduate student at Georgia State University. The scientists evaluated videos of 146 parent-child interactions following elective outpatient surgery and found that children were less likely to cry, scream or reach for a parent during recovery if right after surgery their parents had reassured them that everything was OK. The researchers also found, however, that once a child is already distressed after surgery, parents' reassurance is not beneficial and in fact may prolong the child's distress (Journal of Pediatric Psychology, November/December).
  • Having a large social network may help us learn new skills, according to a study conducted by Michael Muthukrishna, a psychology graduate student at the University of British Columbia. Muthukrishna and colleagues asked study participants to learn a new skill — either digital photo editing or knot tying — and then pass on what they learned to the next "generation" of study participants. Some participants were provided access to five mentors, while others had access to only one. Results showed that within 10 "generations," participants who had multiple mentors had stronger skills than those with a single mentor (Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, January).
  • Cocaine addicts may be seeking relief from emotional lows more than euphoric highs, suggests research conducted by Rutgers University psychology doctoral student David Barker and colleagues. In the study, scientists monitored high- and low-pitched calls made by laboratory rats during a six-hour drug binge, during which the rats were able to self-administer cocaine. After 45 minutes of high-pitched euphoric calls in the beginning of the experiment, calls stopped even though cocaine use continued at the same level for several hours. Low-pitched despairing calls were then observed near the end of the experiment, as the drug level started to fall off (Psychopharmacology, November).
  • People who can accurately remember details of their daily lives going back decades are as susceptible as everyone else to forming fake memories, finds a study led by Lawrence Patihis, a graduate student in psychology and social behavior at the University of California, Irvine. The researchers asked 20 people with superior autobiographical memory and 38 people with average memory to perform word list memory tasks and recall details of photographs depicting a crime. They also asked the participants to discuss their recollections of video footage of the United Flight 93 crash on 9/11 — which does not exist — in order to incorporate misinformation and potentially manipulate what the subjects thought they had remembered. The researchers found that the participants with superior autobiographical memories were just as susceptible to memory formation manipulation as those with average memories (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Nov. 18).