Welcome to the January 2018 newsletter from Psychology Tools. Features this month include the announcement of the long-awaited Power Threat Meaning Framework, a report of an apparently effortless form of emotional regulation, and a new cognitive-behavioral treatment package for anhedonia.

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Psychology Articles

POWER THREAT MEANING FRAMEWORK

This is an ambitious project, undertaken by a group of senior psychologists, to develop a new framework for understanding mental distress. It has been positioned as an alternative to traditional diagnostic classification systems but is broader in scope and can apply to everyone’s story, not just those who have been in contact with the mental health or criminal justice systems. The full report gives a comprehensive account of the framework, but in summary it attempts to replace the question:

  • “What is wrong with you?”

with the questions:

  • “What has happened to you?” (How is power operating in your life?)
  • “How did it affect you?” (What kind of threats does this pose?)
  • “What sense did you make of it?” (What is the meaning of these situations and experiences to you?)
  • “What did you have to do to survive?” (What kinds of threat response are you using?)

You can download the full report or the overview from the British Psychological Society (BPS) website

 

Psychology Research

THIRD-PERSON SELF-TALK

Moser, J. S., Dougherty, A., Mattson, W. I., Katz, B., Moran, T. P., Guevarra, D., … & Kross, E. (2017). Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI. Scientific Reports, 7(1), 4519.
Abstract
Download paper at nature.com

SUMMARY:
A sequence of studies published in Nature Scientific Reports appear to show that reflecting on negative experiences in the third person produce relatively effortless emotional regulation. Does it sound too good to be true?

TASK:

  • In the first-person condition, participants asked themselves “…what am [I] feeling right now?”
  • In the third-person condition, they asked themselves, “…what is [Participants’ Name] feeling right now?”

RESULTS:
Using the subjective ratings as a sanity-check, the authors did find a significant difference between conditions. Subjectively rated distress (scored on a five point scale) was 3.84 in the “I” condition vs. 3.24 in the third-person condition. So, not a clinically dramatic effect, but significant nonetheless with a reasonable effect size. The neuroimaging results (ERP and fMRI) indicate that this emotional regulation happens without recruiting brain regions involved in cognitive control.

WHY THIS IS INTERESTING:

  • Reflecting on one’s experience in the third person is potentially a very simple technique for promoting emotional regulation in stressful situations
  • This finding may be of particular interest to ACT therapists: “This framework dovetails with the language-as-context view of emotion, which suggests that language rapidly shapes people’s emotional experiences”

 

NEW TREATMENT FOR ANHEDONIA

Craske, M. G., Meuret, A. E., Ritz, T., Treanor, M., & Dour, H. J. (2016). Treatment for anhedonia: a neuroscience driven approach. Depression and anxiety, 33(10), 927-938.
Abstract
Download paper at archive.org

SUMMARY:

  • Anhedonia, or loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, is a predictor of poor long-term outcomes, including suicide, and poor treatment response.
  • This paper outlines a new model of psychological treatment for anxiety and depression that targets appetitive responding (or the positive valence system).

BACKGROUND:
“It has long been recognized that at least two core systems regulate thoughts, behaviors, and actions. The first is the approach or appetitive system, which motivates actions toward goals and rewards, and produces positive emotions such as enthusiasm and pride. The second is the withdrawal or defensive system that motivates avoidance of aversive outcomes or punishments, and is linked with negative emotions such as anxiety and depression … Despite the fundamental role played by both appetitive and defensive systems in unipolar depression and anxiety or fear, treatment to date has focused largely upon decreasing defensive responding rather than increasing appetitive responding.”

DESCRIPTION OF THE INTERVENTION:
Positive Affect Treatment is a 15-week plan with three main themes:

  • Pleasant events scheduling (including goal-setting and anticipation of reward)
  • Attending to the positive (including attentional training, positive imagery practice)
  • Cultivating the positive (including mindfulness, compassion, gratitude)

WHY THIS IS INTERESTING:

  • Anhedonia is a predictor of poor-long term outcomes in depression treatment
  • Standard treatments for depression typically target symptoms / coping responses that do not cleanly map on to anhedonia
  • This is a new neuroscience-informed approach to the treatment of anhedonia