Tag Archives: psychology

Therapist-free therapy

Looks like psychologist will be out of work soon and they will be replaced by computer programs. I never trust those talk therapy anyways, the couch only works in the movies.

Mar 3rd 2011, The Economist
Cognitive-bias modification may put the psychiatrist’s couch out of business

THE treatment, in the early 1880s, of an Austrian hysteric called Anna O is generally regarded as the beginning of talking-it-through as a form of therapy. But psychoanalysis, as this version of talk therapy became known, is an expensive procedure. Anna’s doctor, Josef Breuer, is estimated to have spent over 1,000 hours with her.

Since then, things have improved. A typical course of a modern talk therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, consists of 12-16 hour-long sessions and is a reasonably efficient way of treating conditions like depression and anxiety (hysteria is no longer a recognised diagnosis). Medication, too, can bring rapid change. Nevertheless, treating disorders of the psyche is still a hit-and-miss affair, and not everyone wishes to bare his soul or take mind-altering drugs to deal with his problems. A new kind of treatment may, though, mean he does not have to. Cognitive-bias modification (CBM) appears to be effective after only a few 15-minute sessions, and involves neither drugs nor the discussion of feelings. It does not even need a therapist. All it requires is sitting in front of a computer and using a program that subtly alters harmful thought patterns.

This simple approach has already been shown to work for anxiety and addictions, and is now being tested for alcohol abuse, post-traumatic-stress disorder and several other disturbances of the mind. It is causing great excitement among researchers. As Yair Bar-Haim, a psychologist at Tel Aviv University who has been experimenting with it on patients as diverse as children and soldiers, puts it, “It’s not often that a new evidence-based treatment for a major psychopathology comes around.”

CBM is based on the idea that many psychological problems are caused by automatic, unconscious biases in thinking. People suffering from anxiety, for instance, may have what is known as an attentional bias towards threats: they are drawn irresistibly to things they perceive to be dangerous. Similar biases may affect memory and the interpretation of events. For example, if an acquaintance walks past without saying hello, it might mean either that he has ignored you or that he has not seen you. The anxious, according to the theory behind CBM, have a bias towards assuming the former and reacting accordingly.

The goal of CBM is to alter such biases, and doing so has proved surprisingly easy. A common way of debiasing attention is to show someone two words or pictures—one neutral and the other threatening—on a computer screen. In the case of social anxiety these might be a neutral face and a disgusted face. Presented with this choice, an anxious person instinctively focuses on the disgusted visage. The program, however, prods him to complete tasks involving the neutral picture, such as identifying letters that appear in its place on the screen. Repeating the procedure around a thousand times, over a total of two hours, changes the user’s tendency to focus on the anxious face. That change is then carried into the wider world.

Emily Holmes of Oxford University, who studies the use of CBM for depression, describes the process as like administering a cognitive vaccine. When challenged by reality in the form of, say, the unobservant friend, the recipient of the vaccine finds he is inoculated against inappropriate anxiety.

In a recent study of social anxiety by Norman Schmidt of Florida State University and his colleagues, which involved 36 volunteers who had been diagnosed with anxiety, half underwent eight short sessions of CBM and the rest were put in a control group and had no treatment. At the end of the study, a majority of the CBM volunteers no longer seemed anxious, whereas in the control group only 11% had shed their anxiety. Although it was only a small trial, these results compare favourably with those of existing treatments. An examination of standard talk therapy carried out in 2004, for instance, found that half of patients had a clinically significant reduction in symptoms. Trials of medications have similar success rates.

The latest research, which is on a larger scale and is due to be published this month in Psychological Science, tackles alcohol addiction. Past work has shown that many addicts have an approach bias for alcohol—in other words, they experience a physical pull towards it. (Arachnophobia, a form of this bias that is familiar to many people, works in the opposite way: if they encounter a spider, they recoil.)

This study, conducted by Reinout Wiers of the University of Amsterdam and his colleagues, attempted to correct the approach bias to alcohol with CBM. The 214 participants received either a standard addiction treatment—a form of talk therapy—or the standard treatment plus four 15-minute sessions of CBM. In the first group, 41% of participants were abstinent a year later; in the second, 54%. That is not a cure for alcoholism, but it is a significant improvement on talk therapy alone.

Many other researchers are now exploring CBM. A team at Harvard, led by Richard McNally, is seeking volunteers for a month-long programme that will use smart-phones to assess the technique’s effect on anxiety. And Dr Bar-Haim and his team are examining possible connections between cognitive biases and post-traumatic-stress disorder in the American and Israeli armies.

Not all disorders are amenable to CBM. One study, by Hannah Reese (also at Harvard) and her colleagues, showed that it is ineffective in countering arachnophobia (perhaps not surprising, since this may be an evolved response, rather than an acquired one). Moreover, Dr Wiers found that the approach bias towards alcohol is present in only about half of the drinkers he studies. He hypothesises that for the others, drinking is less about automatic impulses and more about making a conscious decision. In such cases CBM is unlikely to work.

Colin MacLeod of the University of Western Australia, one of the pioneers of the technique, thinks CBM is not quite ready for general use. He would like to see it go through some large, long-term, randomised clinical trials of the sort that would be needed if it were a drug, rather than a behavioural therapy. Nevertheless, CBM does look extremely promising, if only because it offers a way out for those whose answer to the question, “Do you want to talk about it?” is a resounding “No”

The power of posture

According to this research, how your posture affect your projection of power and how other people perceive it. It is interesting to note the powerful sitting posture is regard as bad sitting manner in traditional Chinese culture. Another evidence for my theory that manners are simply rules set by the authority to make people easier to rule.

How you hold yourself affects how you view yourself
Jan 13th 2011, Economist

“STAND up straight!” “Chest out!” “Shoulders back!” These are the perennial cries of sergeant majors and fussy parents throughout the ages. Posture certainly matters. Big is dominant and in species after species, humans included, postures that enhance the posturer’s apparent size cause others to treat him as if he were more powerful.

The stand-up-straight brigade, however, often make a further claim: that posture affects the way the posturer treats himself, as well as how others treat him. To test the truth of this, Li Huang and Adam Galinsky, at Northwestern University in Illinois, have compared posture’s effects on self-esteem with those of a more conventional ego-booster, management responsibility. In a paper just published in Psychological Science they conclude, surprisingly, that posture may matter more.

The two researchers’ experimental animals—77 undergraduate students—first filled out questionnaires, ostensibly to assess their leadership capacity. Half were then given feedback forms which indicated that, on the basis of the questionnaires, they were to be assigned to be managers in a forthcoming experiment. The other half were told they would be subordinates. While the participants waited for this feedback, they were asked to help with a marketing test on ergonomic chairs. This required them to sit in a computer chair in a specific posture for between three and five minutes. Half the participants sat in constricted postures, with their hands under their thighs, legs together or shoulders hunched. The other half sat in expansive postures with their legs spread wide or their arms reaching outward.

In fact, neither of these tests was what it seemed. The questionnaires were irrelevant. Volunteers were assigned to be managers or subordinates at random. The test of posture had nothing to do with ergonomics. And, crucially, each version of the posture test included equal numbers of those who would become “managers” and “subordinates”.

Once the posture test was over the participants received their new statuses and the researchers measured their implicit sense of power by asking them to engage in a word-completion task. Participants were instructed to complete a number of fragments (for example, “l_ad”) with the first word that came to mind. Seven of the fragments could be interpreted as words related to power (“power”, “direct”, “lead”, “authority”, “control”, “command” and “rich”). For each of these that was filled out as a power word (“lead”, say, instead of “load”) the participant was secretly given a score of one point.

Although previous studies suggested a mere title is enough to produce a detectable increase in an individual’s sense of power, Dr Huang and Dr Galinsky found no difference in the word-completion scores of those told they would be managers and those told they would be subordinates. The posture experiment, however, did make a difference. Those who had sat in an expansive pose, regardless of whether they thought of themselves as managers or subordinates, scored an average of 3.44. Those who had sat in constricted postures scored an average of 2.78.

Having established the principle, Dr Huang and Dr Galinsky went on to test the effect of posture on other power-related decisions: whether to speak first in a debate, whether to leave the site of a plane crash to find help and whether to join a movement to free a prisoner who was wrongfully locked up. In all three cases those who had sat in expansive postures chose the active option (to speak first, to search for help, to fight for justice) more often than those who had sat crouched.

The upshot, then, is that father (or the sergeant major) was right. Those who walk around with their heads held high not only get the respect of others, they seem also to respect themselves.

The Psychology of the Taboo Trade-Off

People who holds scared values that can’t be trade-off are not rational. According to the article, deception seems to be the best tactics dealing with irrational people. If a taboo can only trade with another taboo, we can always just invent a new taboo to trade, as long as the other people believe the taboo is real.

Continue reading The Psychology of the Taboo Trade-Off

Fake proof personality test

Have you take any personality test? Have you fake any personality test?

We have done many personality tests in school or at work. Those tests are a useful diagnosis tool to know our personality. Armed with the personality data, the school or company can predict our performance in different scenario or form teams members who works well with each other. Most of those tests, such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or Enneatypes, rely on questionnaire to determine with personality type we belongs to. The questionnaire assume you will answer the questions honestly, choose the answer truly reflect your mind. However, we all know how easy to fake the answers. If you are interviewing for a marketing position and the HR give you a MBTI tests. It is very natural to steer your answers to end up being an extrovert, the character type that the HR is looking for.

Old fashion pen and paper personality tests are not very useful, because it is too easy to fake the answer. I have a great idea to create a form of personality test. Other than answering multiple choice questions, a person’s eating behavior can reveal a lot about his personality. Maybe I should devise a new personality test base on what happen on the dining table. Instead of handing out questionnaire to the interviewee, the HR can invite all the interviewees for dinner. Then they can analyze traits of personality type of the interviewees from video tapping the dinner. Actually in business world, many important decisions are made over dining table. If you want to forge a long term relationship with a new business partner, you will know the real him outside of the meeting room. If I create the dining behavior personality test, I can open a consulting firm and offer lucrative personality analysis service. When you dine out with someone, you probably already have a rough idea on what type the person is. My service will give you an objective 3rd party report to double check your intuition. Now, the only obstacle between me and my multimillion dollars personalty test business is my cliche personality test.