Tag Archives: mood

People with anxiety disorders worry about not being worried

In an ironic twist, researchers at Penn State University found that anxious people may have anxiety about maybe feeling anxiety in the future — making them more anxious.

Image credits Gino Crescoli.

People with anxiety may actively resist relaxation to avoid large jumps in anxiety if something bad does happen, the new study reports. According to the findings, people who were more sensitive to shifts in negative emotion — quickly moving from a relaxed state to one of fear, for example — were more likely to feel anxious while being led through relaxation exercises.

But what if?!

“People may be staying anxious to prevent a large shift in anxiety, but it’s actually healthier to let yourself experience those shifts,” said Michelle Newman, Professor of Psychology at Penn State and the study’s second author.

“The more you do it, the more you realize you can do it and it’s better to allow yourself to be relaxed at times. Mindfulness training and other interventions can help people let go and live in the moment.”

The results can benefit those who experience “relaxation-induced anxiety,” she adds, who become anxious during relaxation training. They also help show why relaxation treatments can potentially backfire, causing more anxiety.

People who struggle to relax and let go of anxiety are exactly the ones who need to be able to do it “more than others” as they’re likely battling an anxiety disorder, according to Hanjoo Kim, a graduate student in psychology and the paper’s first author.

Relaxation-induced anxiety has been documented since the 1980s, but its cause has remained unknown. The present study builds on Newman’s past work, especially the “contrast avoidance theory”. She explains that it works as a self-reinforcing loop.

“The Contrast Avoidance model proposes that individuals with generalized anxiety disorder are excessively sensitive to negative emotional shifts in response to unpleasant events, and thus recruit a state of sustained […] worry as a defensive stance against such shifting states,” Newman explains in a 2014 paper.

“Because most of the things we worry about don’t end up happening, what’s reinforced in the brain is, ‘I worried and it didn’t happen so I should continue worrying.'”

The team worked with 96 college students: 32 people with generalized anxiety disorder, 34 people with major depressive disorder and 30 controls with neither. The participants were led through relaxation exercises in the lab, then shown videos that could provoke fear or sadness. They then answered a survey meant to gauge how sensitive they were to the changes in their emotional state. For example, some participants would have a harder time dealing with the emotions after relaxing, while others would find that the exercises helped them.

In the second step of the experiment, the participants were led through the same process. By comparing their answers on the surveys, the team had a rough indication of how anxious they were to go through the experience the second time.

The authors report that people with generalized anxiety disorders were more likely to be sensitive to changes in emotional states (like that involved in the experiment). They note these participants were also more anxious during the relaxation exercises. People with major depressive disorder showed similar results, but not as strong.

The paper “The paradox of relaxation training: Relaxation induced anxiety and mediation effects of negative contrast sensitivity in generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder” has been published in the Journal of Affective Disorders.


Sugar rushes just aren’t a thing, researchers say

Sugar won’t get you in a rush, but it can definitely sour your mood.


Image via Pixabay.

We don’t get a mood boost from sugar — it doesn’t even make us more alert. Rather, it tires us after consumption. These are the findings of a new study from the University of Warwick, Humboldt University of Berlin, and Lancaster University which tried to determine if there is such a thing as a ‘sugar rush’.

There isn’t

“We hope that our findings will go a long way to dispel the myth of the ‘sugar rush’ and inform public health policies to decrease sugar consumption,” said lead author Dr. Konstantinos Mantantzis, from the Humboldt University of Berlin.

“The idea that sugar can improve mood has been widely influential in popular culture, so much so that people all over the world consume sugary drinks to become more alert or combat fatigue.”

“Our findings very clearly indicate that such claims are not substantiated — if anything, sugar will probably make you feel worse.”

The team analyzed data from 31 published studies, involving roughly 1300 adults to investigate the effects of sugar on our mood, including anger, alertness, depression, and fatigue. They also looked at how factors such as the quantity and type of sugar consumed can affect mood, and whether or not engaging in demanding activities made any difference in this outcome.

In broad lines, the team reports that:

  • The consumption of sugar has virtually no effect on mood. This was consistent across multiple quantities and varieties of sugar, or whether participants engaged in demanding activities after consuming sugar.
  • Participants who consumed sugar felt more tired and less alert than those who hadn’t.
  • ‘Sugar rushes’ are a myth, the team finding no evidence in favor of their existence.

The team says that the results rather suggest that consuming sugar will make you feel worse, not better. They hope that the study will help nudge people into rethinking how sugar fits into their diets and lifestyles.

“The rise in obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome in recent years highlights the need for evidence-based dietary strategies to promote healthy lifestyle across the lifespan,” says co-author Elizabeth Maylor, a Professor at the University of Warwick.

“Our findings indicate that sugary drinks or snacks do not provide a quick ‘fuel refill’ to make us feel more alert.”

The paper “Sugar Rush or Sugar Crash? A Meta-Analysis of Carbohydrate Effects on Mood” has been published in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews.

Dog bad mood.

Get a good night’s sleep if you don’t want to be angry the next day

You’ll be on edge if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, a new paper reports.

Dog bad mood.

Image credits Manfred Richter.

Cutting a few hours of sleep out of your schedule isn’t as good an idea as it may appear. Researchers at the Iowa State University report that missing sleep will make you angrier, leaving you ill-equipped to deal with frustrating situations. This is one of the first studies to provide evidence that sleep loss causes anger.

Get mo’ sleep

“Despite typical tendencies to get somewhat used to irritating conditions — an uncomfortable shirt or a barking dog — sleep-restricted individuals actually showed a trend toward increased anger and distress, essentially reversing their ability to adapt to frustrating conditions over time. No one has shown this before,” said Zlatan Krizan, paper first author and a professor of psychology at Iowa State.

The link between lack of sleep and a predisposition to foul mood (anger included) has been documented in past research, but a direct cause-effect relationship couldn’t be established. In other words, we knew that the two come together, but not whether one causes the other. In the current study, Krizan and co-author Garrett Hisler, an ISU doctoral student in psychology, tackle this question — and also provides new insight into our ability to adjust to irritating conditions when tired.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The control group maintained their normal sleep routine, while the experimental group cut two to four hours each night for two nights. The first group averaged almost seven hours of sleep a night, while the restricted group got about four and a half hours each night. Krizan says this difference is an accurate reflection of the sleep loss we regularly experience in everyday life.

In order to measure anger, the duo had participants visit the lab before and after the sleep manipulation to rate different products. All the while, they were listening to brown noise (similar to the sound of spraying water) or more aversive white noise (similar to a static signal). Krizan says the purpose was to create uncomfortable conditions, which tend to provoke anger.

“In general, anger was substantially higher for those who were sleep restricted,” Krizan said. “We manipulated how annoying the noise was during the task and as expected, people reported more anger when the noise was more unpleasant. When sleep was restricted, people reported even more anger, regardless of the noise.”

Sleep loss is known to increase negative emotions, such as anxiety and sadness, and decreases positive emotions, such as happiness and enthusiasm. However, the team says they found that sleep loss uniquely impacted anger — it didn’t just result from feeling more negative at the moment. They also tested whether subjective sleepiness (i.e. how sleep-deprived participants felt) explained more intense feelings of anger. They report it accounted for 50% of the effect on anger, which suggests that an individual’s sense of sleepiness may indicate whether they are likely to become angered, Krizan said.

Krizan is also working on a separate study on whether these effects carry over to daily life. It involves 200 participants who were asked to keep a sleep diary for a month — each day, the students recorded their sleep and rated feelings of anger. Initial results show students consistently reported more anger than what was typical for them on days when they got less sleep than usual. Krizan and Hisler are also collecting data to test if sleep loss is a driver of aggressive behavior toward others.

The paper “Sleepy anger: Restricted sleep amplifies angry feelings” has been published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

Credit: Pixabay.

Hugs protect our mood from the negative effects of interpersonal conflict

Receiving a warm hug may help buffer us against the negative mood alterations associated with interpersonal conflict.

Credit: Pixabay.

Credit: Pixabay.

Previously, psychologists have proposed that interpersonal touch may protect people from the consequences of psychological stress, particularly stress from interpersonal conflict.

Studies suggest that hugs not only help us feel better — they may also protect us against diseases. That’s a bit counter-intuitive seeing how a hug might actually result in catching a contagious illness, such as the flu. However, a 2015 study performed by a team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon suggests that physical touch protects us from stress-induced sickness. The more often people hugged, the less likely they were to get sick, even among individuals who frequently had tense interactions. Such results immediately segway to other findings that show social support (having meaningful relationships) protects people from the cold.

In a new study led by Michael Murphy at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers wanted to investigate how hugs mitigate the negative psychological outcomes of interpersonal conflict. The idea was to study the effects of physical touch in a generalized frame, since most studies have largely focused on the role of hugs in romantic relationships.

The researchers interviewed 404 adult men and women for 14 consecutive days about their conflicts, whether or not they were hugged, and the positive and negative moods they experienced.

According to the results, the participants who received a hug during the day of conflict were more likely to report a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in positive emotions. The study’s participants also reported an attenuation of negative mood the next day, suggesting that the psychological benefits of touch may linger for a significant time.

The results are correlational, so more research is required in order to investigate the link between hugs and improved psychological function, and to uncover a possible mechanism. But, since this is just a single study among many that have reported that hugs improve mood, the findings suggest that embracing friends and family (and even strangers) is a simple yet effective way to get over interpersonal conflict.

“This research is in its early stages. We still have questions about when, how, and for whom hugs are most helpful. However, our study suggests that consensual hugs might be useful for showing support to somebody enduring relationship conflict,” Murphy said.

The findings appeared in the journal PLOS ONE.


Analysis of over 800 million tweets reveals how our thought patterns shift throughout the day

Our minds follow different patterns of thought throughout the day, social media analysis reveals.


Image via Maxpixel.

How does one glean insight into the human mind? One method is to look at tweets. Many tweets. Some 800-million tweets, judging by a novel study. The paper, published by University of Bristol researchers studied thinking behaviors by analyzing over seven billion words tweeted by Britons throughout the day over the past four years — and report that two main factors influence how we think throughout the day.

Thought swings

“The analysis of media content, when done correctly, can reveal useful information for both social and biological sciences,” said Nello Cristianini, Professor of Artificial Intelligence and lead researcher. “We are still trying to learn how to make the most of it.”

The team of researchers, with a strong background in both artificial intelligence (AI) and medicine, used AI software to analyze aggregated, anonymized UK Twitter content to understand how our minds work. The material was sampled every hour over the course of four years across 54 of the UK’s largest cities.

The researchers tracked the use of specific words, associated with 74 psychometric indicators, across the sample — which they then used to interpret the underlying thinking style. The results suggest that our thinking patterns change throughout the day, and follow a roughly 24-hour cycle.

Although they tracked 73 different psychometric qualities, the team found that it all boiled down to two independent factors that explain most of the variation seen in the dataset.

The first pattern of thought, the team reports, is a more analytically-inclined one. It seems to peak at around 5 to 6 am. Tweets sent out around this hour used words and an overall language style previously shown to correlate with more logical patterns of thought. They included a high ratio of nouns, articles, and prepositions, which the team notes have previously been linked to intelligence, academic performance, and education.

During these hours, people also showed increased concern with achievements and power.

In the evenings and during the night, however, the pattern flips. It becomes more emotional and takes on existential tones. It’s a more impulsive, social, and emotionally-heavy mode, and its expression peaked at around 3 to 4 am, the team reports. The algorithm the team employed found that during this interval there was heavy language correlated with existential concerns — but negatively correlated with expression of positive emotions.

The team notes that these shifts also occur during times associated with major changes in neural activity and hormonal levels — which would suggest that they’re tied to the workings of our circadian clock. Finally, they report that a user’s cognitive and emotional states could be reliably predicted over a 24-hour period.

The paper is awaiting publishing in the journal PLOS ONE. Materials via University of Bristol.


Revenge is sweet because it repairs mood after becoming rejected or hurt in some way


Credit: Flickr.

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind, Mahatma Gandhi said. That may be true, but at least we’ll all be in a better mood — that’s if we’re to believe the recent findings made by researchers at the University of Kentucky. According to lead researchers David Chester and C. Nathan DeWall, once people get ostracized through social rejection, a feeling of being unwanted and wounded triggers a need to repair our mood. They found that retaliation through aggression can indeed be a very accessible and viable mood repair method, as reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Chester and DeWall recruited 156 volunteers who were asked to write an essay on a personal topic. The subject wasn’t important and the essays were then swapped among the participants who had to give feedback. Unbeknownst to the participants, some of these feedbacks were written by the researchers who purposely were very nasty. “One of the worst essays I have EVER read,” one such comment wrote.

The volunteers were then given the chance to symbolically express their aggression by sticking pins in a virtual voodoo doll who represented the person who offered the feedback. Mood was measured before and after this act. Those participants who felt rejected did improve mood once they frantically clicked the computer mouse to stick the pins. In fact, their mood was indistinguishable from participants who’d receive positive feedback.

Did the participants behave aggressively, albeit in a harmless way, because they were unconsciously trying to improve their mood? This first experiment couldn’t’ determine the underlying motive, but a second involving 154 new volunteers should pin it down. In this new setup, each participant was given a ‘smart’ pill which would supposedly enhance their cognitive abilities for the test to come. Some of them, however, were told that as a side effect the pill would fix their mood for some time. Suffice to say this was all a gimmick and the pill was an inert placebo.

Everyone was invited to play a three-player computer game which involved passing a ball back and forth. Participants thought the other players were human, however, they were all paired with computers. Some were grouped in the ‘rejected condition’ where the computer was programmed to pass the ball to the human only three out of 30 times. Those who played in the ‘accepted condition’ received an equal share of passes.

Similarly to the first experiment, the participants rated how rejected they felt and were then given the chance to enact their vengeance in round 2. This time they played a different game whose goal was to be among the first to push a buzzer. Each round, the slowest player received an annoying buzz of noise through their headphones. When participants were faster, as a reward they were given the opportunity to adjust how intense the buzz suffered by the slowpokes would be. They could crank the noise up to 105 decibels which is about just as loud as a helicopter hovering at 100 feet.

The participants who were earlier rejected earlier in the game generally chose to inflict louder blasts on their opponents, those who refused to pass the ball earlier. However, those who were told their mood would remain static as a consequence of the smart pill did not feel the urge to up the buzzer’s intensity. Instead, these participants restricted the sound blast to the lower levels, like participants who hadn’t suffered earlier rejection.

“Together, these findings suggest that the rejection–aggression link is driven, in part, by the desire to return to affective homeostasis. Additionally, these findings implicate aggression’s rewarding nature as an incentive for rejected individuals’ violent tendencies,” the researchers wrote.

This so-called fixed moon group was still affected by the rejection suffered earlier as their self-reported rejection rating was as high as the other ostracized participants. However, because they were coaxed that their mood would stay fixed, they decided not to lash out. I’m certain there’s a zen teaching hidden somewhere.

Although the experiments were focused on rejection-based aggression, the findings might explain why pointless aggression can deliver outcomes like improved mood in other situations as well. This study shouldn’t justify seeking provocation just to improve your mood after someone hurt your feelings, though.  Chester and DeWall recommend other mood enhancing alternatives like meditation.

Negative thinking might not be so negative after all

sadA study conducted by professor Joseph Forgas at the University of New South Wales showed that bad moods can actually turn out good for you, as it makes people less gullible by increasing their ability to judge and also is a big memory boost.

The study proved that people who were experiencing bad moods were more critical and paid more attention to the surrounding environment than happier people, who were more likely to believe everything that they were told.

“Whereas positive mood seems to promote creativity, flexibility, cooperation, and reliance on mental shortcuts, negative moods trigger more attentive, careful thinking paying greater attention to the external world,” Forgas wrote. “Our research suggests that sadness … promotes information processing strategies best suited to dealing with more demanding situations.”

To conduct this study, the team actually conducted several experiments that began by inducing happier or unhappier moods to the subjects, by recalling a past event or by watching movies. In one of the experiments, they were asked to analyze the truth (or lack of it) behind urban myths and rumors; the result was that those in sadder moods were less likely to believe what they were told and showed an increase of analytic ability.

The sadder people were also less likely to make rash decisions or those based on racial or religious beliefs and made fewer mistakes when recalling a past event.

“Positive mood is not universally desirable: people in negative mood are less prone to judgmental errors, are more resistant to eyewitness distortions and are better at producing high-quality, effective persuasive messages,” Forgas wrote.

It’s been known for quite a while now that a good mood can increase work capacity, concentration and creativity, but not so much effort has been put into understanding what happens to you when you are feeling unhappy.