Aging better than ever
Laura Carstensen will share her insights on science's potential to improve how we age.
Americans have added nearly 30 years to average life expectancy since the early 1900s, but we have yet to realize the potential of those years, says Stanford Center on Longevity founding director Laura Carstensen, PhD.
"Life expectancy increased because of efforts made by our ancestors to save the youngest among us, and we have done a spectacular job of doing that," says Carstensen. "But we haven't done anything like that for people 50 and over, but the promise is there."
She believes we can create a world where people live to 80, 90 and even 100 "in really good shape." But to achieve that, research must identify the strengths of older people and develop interventions and technologies that compensate for their vulnerabilities, says Carstensen, a psychology professor at Stanford whose research has been funded by the National Institute on Aging for more than 20 years. She will give a plenary talk on the future of aging research at this year's convention.
In her work, she and her team have found that older people respond best to information that is framed in positive ways. Physicians can, for instance, emphasize how much better their older patients will feel if they take their medications on time rather than stressing the harm in forgetting them.
Such opportunities to improve our aging are limitless, says Carstensen, who will also discuss the innovative work her colleagues at the Stanford Center on Longevity are conducting. For example, mechanical engineer Tom Andriacchi, PhD, has designed a shoe to stave off osteoarthritis.
"We don't have to be afraid of aging," adds Carstensen. "Rather, we need to begin to say, 'How can we best use extra years?'"
Carstensen's address is at 4 p.m. on Aug. 8.
Understanding developmental pathways in psychopathology
Dante Cicchetti will discuss the ways mental illness unfolds over time.
The pathways from early maltreatment to later mental health problems are complex and influenced by processes at multiple levels of biological and behavioral organization, says Dante Cicchetti, PhD, a pioneer in the field of developmental psychopathology and McKnight Presidential Chair and Professor, Institute of Child Development and Department of Psychiatry at the University of Minnesota.
In his APA's Annual Convention presentation, "Developmental Psychopathology in Action," Cicchetti will discuss the diversity of pathways to mental disorders, as well as resilience in maltreated children.
Cicchetti will share his work on gene-by-environment interactions in developmental psychopathology. He found that maltreated children with low-activity MAOA genotypes exhibited high depressive symptoms, while equally maltreated children with high-activity MAOA genotypes were protected from such mental health problems. He also found that MAOA activity level genotypes altered the influence of another gene, 5-HTTLPR, on depressive symptoms in sexually abused children. Self-related coping strategies, such as self-reliance, provided further protective influence in the context of these genes-by-environment interactions.
Resilience in maltreated children also provides illustration of the diversity in developmental pathways. Cicchetti will discuss work demonstrating how the adrenal steroid hormones, cortisol and DHEA, operate differently in maltreated and nonmaltreated children in promoting successful development and avoiding mental health problems.
Cicchetti's presentation will be at 2 p.m., Aug. 8.
Stop thinking of anger as something caused by depression or anxiety and learn what the science says about the emotion, says Raymond DiGiuseppe.
Whenever he works with a new client in his anger treatment groups, Raymond DiGiuseppe, PhD, asks a few informal questions to get them talking about the impact of anger in their lives, including, "Do you have a list of people you've written off and don't talk to?"
"Everybody has a few, but when you get over 10, you have a problem," says DiGiuseppe, professor and chair of the psychology department at St. John's University in Queens, N.Y.
Judging from his research, DiGiuseppe says as many as one in 10 people experience dysfunctional anger. Usually, these people have at least one episode per week where they "get really nasty with someone" and are verbally or physically abusive, he says.
Along with co-author Raymond Chip Tafrate, PhD, DiGiuseppe wrote "Understanding Anger Disorders" (Oxford University Press, 2006) and helped develop the Anger Disorders Scale.
Clinicians who are treating the dysfunctionally angry need to stop thinking of anger as something caused by depression or anxiety and learn what the science says about the emotion, DiGiuseppe says. When compared with anxiety and depression, the thought processes that underlie dysfunctional anger are characterized by a desire for control, self-aggrandizement and an externalization of blame, he says.
To treat anger, DiGiuseppe uses motivational interviewing and gets his clients talking about the long-term consequences of their anger, such as failed relationships and lost jobs. Effective interventions also teach angry people to persuade, not coerce.
And since anger is the most easily physically expressed emotion, people who often get angry when they interact with others need to learn calmer gestures and a smoother tone of voice, says DiGiuseppe.
DiGiuseppe's talk is at 1 p.m., Aug. 7.
From the lab to the battlefield
Neuroscience luminary Ahmad Hariri will connect the dots between genetics and mental illness.
Imagine if, with the help of a sample of spit, a clinician could quickly determine whether a patient is at increased risk for schizophrenia, depression or other psychiatric conditions. That day may be in the foreseeable future, thanks to work by University of Pittsburgh neuroscientist Ahmad Hariri, PhD.
In his plenary address, Hariri will discuss how his team is using a combination of neuroimaging technologies and molecular biology techniques to examine how variations in brain chemicals and molecules lead to differences in how we respond to stress.
For example, Hariri's fMRI and PET-scan studies on the effects serotonin has on brain function have shown that the neurotransmitter increases responsiveness in the amygdala, the brain region involved in processing emotional behavior. He's then used these findings to show that variations in the DNA coding for serotonin-related molecules lead to similar boosts in the brain's center for emotional arousal.
This, in turn, may contribute to one's risk for developing a mood or anxiety disorder, especially when exposed to stressful environments.
Hariri's exploration of the interplay of genes, brain and behavior may lead to more tailored treatments for psychiatric conditions based on one's individual genetics, and perhaps even prevent these disorders entirely. His work is already being applied by a team of University of Texas at Austin scientists to create an assessment system to identify genetic risk factors for post-traumatic stress disorder among U.S. soldiers.
"If we can determine, before they're even deployed, which soldiers may be at increased risk for PTSD after combat, we can perhaps keep them from developing the disorder by channeling them into non-combat related activities or by administering behavioral or pharmacological interventions that could protect them from the effects of stress," Hariri says.
Hariri's address is at 2 p.m., Aug. 8.
Creating a better world through psychotherapy
Clinical pioneer Steven C. Hayes wants psychologists to 'scale up' their practices to improve society, not just individuals.
Through his plenary address—"Soldiers of Compassion: What Psychotherapists Have That the World Needs"—Steven C. Hayes, PhD, wants his audience to think about how their skills can help a much greater number of people. In particular, he believes psychologists have a duty to help everyone live value-driven lives.
"Don't just be thinking it has to do with the worried well," Hayes says. "It has to do with whether or not we're going to leave behind a world that's livable for our children."
A psychology professor at the University of Nevada, Hayes pioneered Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which seeks to help people become more accepting of their feelings and more mindful of their thoughts, allowing them to live lives that are based on what they value most, not social pressure. Research shows that ACT helps clinicians help clients with a variety of problems. A study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol. 75, No. 2) found that Type-II diabetes patients who applied acceptance and mindfulness skills to diabetes-related thoughts and feelings reported better diabetes self-care.
ACT can also help address social problems such as racism and job burnout, Hayes says. A study published in 2007 in Behavior Modification (Vol. 31, No. 4) found that teaching people how to become less judgmental and more accepting of the discomfort they feel with people who are different from them results in their feeling less prejudice.
The challenge, he says, is finding ways to "scale up" that process and bring it into people's schools, families and workplaces
Hayes's talk is at 10 a.m., Aug. 7.
Greater than the sum of its parts
A psychologist and physician team up to explore the synergy of collaborative health care.
The best basketball teams have individual players, each with their own special talents, who work as a unit to make crisp passes, sink baskets and grab big rebounds. That same sense of collaboration is essential for primary health-care teams, says Susan H. McDaniel, PhD, associate chair of family medicine and professor of psychiatry and family medicine at the University of Rochester.
In her APA plenary address, McDaniel and primary-care physician Frank V. deGruy, MD, chair of the University of Colorado Denver department of family medicine, will discuss how physicians, nurses, psychologists and other team members must improve communication and collaboration to enhance patient well-being.
McDaniel says psychologists, with their strong group and organizational skills, can help primary-care teams operate more collaboratively and can be a valuable asset when they can take time to "convert psychological theory into very simple, concrete suggestions for their primary-care colleagues." For example, patients with a history of abuse are often hesitant to see a physician and have difficulty dealing with authority figures, McDaniel notes.
Psychologists can help by encouraging physicians and nurses to be empathetic when such a patient expresses an ache or pain, and to provide behavioral health referrals by reiterating the patient's—rather than the physician's—concerns. This can help establish trust between the patient and her health-care team and make the care more effective, says deGruy.
"Because the most common health problems that people have include mental disorders, psychological symptoms and psychosocial issues, I believe a primary-care and a behavioral clinician must both be at the center of this health-care team, working in partnership to create a formidable health-promoting resource beyond either individually," deGruy says.
McDaniel says her talk will also explore a range of collaborative care models in place around the country, including several patient-centered health home systems.
McDaniel's and deGruy's presentation will be at 4 p.m., Aug. 8.
Imitation is the sincerest form of cognitive development
Children's "monkey-see, monkey-do" behaviors build the social mind, says Andrew Meltzoff.
A cognitive scientist's greatest tool doesn't exist in the laboratory, and it's not a million-dollar piece of technology. It's the biological machinery underlying the most powerful learning device we know—the human baby.
Studying the minds of the very young, says University of Washington Tamaki Chair and psychology professor Andrew Meltzoff, PhD, is essential to understanding how we think and behave.
"Empirical discoveries from developmental psychology have changed our ideas about nature of the growing mind and the fundamental role of social understanding in human learning and development," he says.
Meltzoff will present some of these discoveries at his plenary address, "Early Development of Social Cognition: A New Look."
Developmental research has been especially informative in the area of social cognition, the understanding of why people act the way they do and how we relate to them. Infants, for instance, seem to have an uncanny ability to pick up on subtle social cues and assimilate them into their own behaviors.
Meltzoff suggests nonverbal imitative exchanges and social interactions are the roots of a child's developing theory of mind—his or her awareness that others have thoughts and feelings that are similar to his or her own.
"Children recognize that other people are 'like me' in their actions," he says. "From these roots, they develop the idea that others are 'like me' in more abstract ways as well—their internal mental states. We are now beginning to understand the mechanisms of developmental change in social cognition."
That has implications for fleshing out normal cognitive development, Meltzoff says, and also for illuminating developmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders.
Meltzoff's address is set for 3 p.m., Aug. 8.
A 'post-gay movement'
Ritch C. Savin-Williams, PhD, will share his research on what it means to grow up gay today.
Not only are youth attitudes towards peers with same-sex attraction changing, but more youth are avoiding such labels as "gay," "lesbian" or "bisexual," says Cornell University psychologist Ritch C. Savin-Williams, PhD. Some avoid labels altogether while others are inventing new descriptions, such as "mostly straight."
At his convention address, "The New Gay Teenager: A Revolution in the Making," Savin-Williams will discuss his belief that today's youth could be at the forefront of a "post-gay movement." The problem, he points out, is that researchers are still relying on old coming-out sexual identity models and definitions of who is gay.
Previous research purportedly found that lesbian, gay and bisexual youth faced higher risks for such mental health issues as depression, anxiety, suicidality and substance abuse. But new research suggests this doesn't tell the whole story, says Savin-Williams. In fact, many same-sex attracted youth are quite healthy and are more artistic, athletic and creative than those who aren't attracted to the same sex, according to Savin-Williams's findings, published in Developmental Psychology, (Vol. 44, No. 1).
His studies have consistently focused on same-sex development in youth as related to mental health, peer and parent relationships and self-esteem. Recently, Savin-Williams has expanded his research to address similar questions in straight male youth because, he says, it's a question that's never really been addressed.
At convention, Savin-Williams will also discuss new areas of research on same-sex youth that have the potential for new research to help psychologists better understand how "new gay teens" develop and flourish—and tell us something about sexual development for all youth.
"This is an exciting time for researchers of youth sexuality because a lot of the presumptions we once held may not be accurate anymore," says Savin-Williams.
Savin-Williams' address is at noon, Aug. 7.
The emotional revolution
Early social attachment has consequences for life.
In the 1960s and '70s, the "cognitive revolution" replaced behaviorism with a more nuanced view of mental processes. Now, psychology is poised to enter an "emotional revolution," says University of California at Los Angeles neuropsychologist Allan Schore, PhD.
"It's only been since the '90s that the psychology and biology of emotion have been seriously studied by science," Schore says. In that time, scientists also focused on implicit, nonconscious brain processes. "As a result, developmental and therapeutic models are shifting from the analytic to the emotional, from the conscious to the unconscious mind."
Schore will give an overview of the ways emotional development drives nonconscious right-brain function, as well as personality, at his plenary address, "The Paradigm Shift: The Right Brain and the Relational Unconscious."
Schore's research has investigated how parent-infant attachment shapes functions of the right hemisphere, including the limbic and nervous systems. For example, a healthy bond between a mother and her baby ensures that the child develops a right brain that can process emotional communication and regulate his or her own emotions. But an insecure attachment is associated with less resilient socioemotional function, Schore says, and can even make babies vulnerable to psychopathologies. Schore has also applied his developmental approach to the change process of psychotherapy.
The emergence of noninvasive brain imaging technologies has opened the door to pinning down the fundamental connections among psychology, biology and emotion, Schore says. Now the challenges are more conceptual than technical.
"We need an overarching theoretical model of development across the lifespan," Schore says. "With the current flood of neuroscience data, only an interdisciplinary perspective can interpret that data effectively."
That model will involve increased cross-collaboration between psychology and neuroscience, as well as researchers and clinicians, he says. "At this point, no theory can be purely psychological," Schore says.
Schore's address is at 4 p.m. on Aug. 8.
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