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Winter 2011-12, Volume 15, No 2

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Research update

Winter 2011-12, Volume 15, No 2

Mark de la Hey


Group therapy can ease social anxiety

Although treatment for social anxiety disorder has been moving toward individual cognitive- behavioural therapy in recent years, new research from Rhode Island Hospital in Providence indicates that group therapy can be effective. For the study, 45 students with social anxiety disorder at the University of Colorado were assigned to receive eight weekly treatments of either cognitive-behavioural group therapy (CBGT) or group psychotherapy (GPT). Five participants in CBGT and one participant in GPT did not complete treatment. Overall, participants experienced improvement on measures of avoidance, fear and social anxiety severity, with no significant differences observed between those treated with CBGT and those treated with GPT. The authors had hypothesized that CBGT would prove to be the superior treatment, but the results indicate that GPT is a credible alternative for treating social anxiety. They see the current trend toward individual cognitive-behavioural therapy for social anxiety as being due to a lack of dissemination of CBGT, as well as high attrition rates and a lack of time to foster group dynamics in CBGT. However, the authors believe it might be possible to combine elements of the two types of group treatment to reduce attrition rates and improve the efficacy of treatment.

Depression and Anxiety, August 24, 2011, published online, doi: 10.1002/da.20877. Andri S. Bjornsson et al., Rhode Island Hospital, Providence.


Positive psychology may not help some personalities

Positive psychology exercises can actually bring people down if they have “needy” personalities, concludes a new study from York University in Toronto. Researchers defined needy people as those who are over-reliant on others and prone to feelings of helplessness. The study involved 772 adults from across Canada who were asked to perform one of three daily exercises: recalling five things they were grateful for over the course of the day, listening to three or four uplifting songs or recalling and writing about a particular memory from their early life (the control condition). They were also asked to complete questionnaires measuring depressive symptoms, physical symptoms, happiness and self-esteem. The results showed that participants who were highly self-critical experienced the greatest increase in happiness of all participants when they practiced the gratitude exercise. Self-critical participants also reported the greatest increases in self-esteem and larger decreases in physical symptom severity after both the gratitude exercise and the music exercise. Participants categorized as needy actually reported decreased self-esteem after the gratitude and music exercises and no improvement in happiness or physical symptoms. The authors had hypothesized that the music exercise would be of particular benefit to needy participants, so its failure was a surprise. They speculate that this failure might have occurred because the exercises were performed independently over the Internet and involved no interaction with other people, since needy people are known to “rely on having secure intimate bonds with others in order to experience well-being.”

Journal of Positive Psychology, July 2011, v. 6(4): 260–272. Susan Sergeant and Myriam Mongrain, Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Ontario.


Nurse burnout linked to workplace annoyance

Workplace annoyance can contribute to emotional exhaustion and burnout among nurses, whereas resilience can have a protective effect, according to new research from La Rioja University in Logroño, Spain. Researchers defined this annoyance as “a gradual state of psychological wear and tear or exhaustion that is not resolved by daily rest” and as “the sense of uncertainty at work, including reactions of insecurity, alertness and inconvenience.” The study’s findings are based on the responses of 200 nurses in northern Spain to questionnaires examining emotional annoyance, resilience, professional efficiency and cynicism. The results showed that cynicism and emotional annoyance contribute to the development of emotional exhaustion. Resilience and professional efficiency, on the other hand, were negatively correlated with the development of emotional exhaustion, implying that they have a protective effect. The authors see their results as supporting the theses of positive psychology which state that awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses and of the mechanisms needed to deal successfully with adverse situations can provide protection against emotional exhaustion. In light of these results, they recommend that efforts be made “to empower nurses and promote well-being through free training programmes and workshops within the health system.” These workshops should train nurses to recognize and control factors that lead to emotional exhaustion, develop coping skills, exchange positive feedback with colleagues and supervisors and manage conflict and aggression.

International Nursing Review, September 19, 2011, published online, doi: 10.1111/j.1466-7657.2011.00927.x. Guadalupe Manzano Garcia and Juan Carlos Ayala Calvo, Department of Human Sciences and Education, La Rioja University,


Indifference may explain why intoxicated people are mistake-prone

The reason why people are so mistake-prone when they are intoxicated has more to do with alcohol-induced indifference to mistakes than a failure to recognize them, according to new research from the University of Missouri in Columbia. The study involved 67 adults aged 21 to 35 who were assigned to receive an alcoholic beverage (vodka and tonic), a placebo beverage (diluted vodka and tonic) or a non-alcoholic beverage (the control condition). Participants were asked to complete a laboratory task requiring self-regulatory control while their brain activity was recorded on an electroencephalogram (EEG). The mood of participants given alcohol turned out to be less negative after the drink than at the study’s outset, whereas those given the placebo reported feeling more negative, supporting the idea that alcohol dampens negative affect. The alcohol group participants were less accurate on the task than those in the placebo and control groups. While participants in the alcohol group turned out to be just as aware of their mistakes as participants in the other groups, they showed less of a negative reaction to those mistakes as measured on the EEG than was seen in the other two groups. The authors suggest that alcohol may muffle the “alarm signal” that normally follows a mistake, thereby limiting the efforts people ordinarily make to adjust their behaviour after a mistake.

Journal of Abnormal Psychology, May 23, 2011, doi: 10.1037/a0023664. Bruce D. Bartholow et al., Department of Psychological Sciences, University of Missouri, Columbia.


New cannabis use guidelines could reduce health harms

The introduction of public health guidelines for cannabis use could help reduce associated health harm concludes a study from Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, B.C. Reviewing relevant publications on health harms of cannabis, researchers found that people who began using cannabis before age 16 were more likely to leave school early, use other illicit substances and develop dependence and mental illnesses such as depression. Frequent users, especially those who used daily, were more likely to engage in other illicit drug use, to drive after using cannabis and to develop dependence and mental illness, including impaired cognition, memory and learning performance. Five per cent of Canadian adult drivers report driving after cannabis use, and the evidence indicates that cannabis use impairs driving and can increase the risk of a motor vehicle accident. Based on these findings, the authors drew up a set of lower-risk cannabis use guidelines, comparable to low-risk drinking guidelines for alcohol. They conclude that the simplest way to avoid the risks associated with cannabis use is to abstain from use—but for those who do use cannabis, the guidelines include recommendations that the initiation of use be delayed until late adolescence or early adulthood, that frequent use (daily or near-daily) be avoided and that users should not drive until three to four hours after use.

Canadian Journal of Public Health, v. 102(5): 324–327. Benedikt Fischer et al., Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, British Columbia.


Community treatment orders don’t affect attitude toward recovery

The use of community treatment orders does not appear to have a negative effect on clients’ perceptions of their prospects for recovery, according to research from the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. Researchers interviewed 86 people with either schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder about their mental and physical health and their views of recovery. Eighteen of the participants were under a community treatment order (CTO) at the time of the interview. Eighty-two per cent of participants believed that recovery from their mental illness was possible; in fact, 51 per cent considered themselves to be in recovery already. Participants who were under a CTO were no more or less likely to see recovery as a possibility or to see themselves as already being recovered than those who were not under a CTO, despite the fact that criteria for placement under a CTO include symptom severity and poor function. The authors speculate that the reason those under a CTO were not less optimistic about their prospects may be because the CTO is viewed as part of the treatment that helps a person manage their illness and achieve recovery, thus enhancing rather than diminishing their individual autonomy.

Australasian Psychiatry, September 17, 2011, published online, doi: 10.3109/10398562.2011.603330. Tess Patterson et al., Department of Psychological Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.


Romantic partner’s friends influence youth drinking habits

The drinking habits of a romantic partner’s friends have more influence on youth drinking behaviour than the drinking habits of the romantic partner or of the young person’s own friends, according to a study from Pennsylvania State University in University Park. Researchers examined data about peer networks and drinking habits among 449 adolescent and teen couples from 94 schools across the United States, ranging from grade 7 to 12. They found that an increase in the frequency of drunkenness among a romantic partner’s friends increased the frequency of a young person’s drinking by 93 per cent, whereas a comparable increase in friends’ or partners’ drunkenness increased the frequency by 13 and 10 per cent, respectively. An increase in the frequency of drunkenness among a romantic partner’s friends increased the risk of binge drinking by 81 per cent, and a comparable increase in friends’ or partners’ drunkenness increased the risk by 30 and 32 per cent, respectively. The authors speculate that the pronounced effect of a partner’s friends on drinking behaviour has to do with the belief among youth that becoming friends with their partner’s friends will strengthen the romantic relationship and gain them entry into a socially desirable peer group. Partners’ friends also expose youth to new behaviours and opportunities which can motivate them to change their own behaviour.

American Sociological Review, v. 76(5): 737–763. Derek A. Kreager and Dana L. Haynie, Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park.