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Embodied cognition: muscle & willpower

This blog post is downloadable both as a Word doc and as a PDF file.

Lying very comfortably in my warm bed early this morning, I knew I wanted to get up but it was hard to do.  I waited a little, then tightened my right hand into a blade shape, "cutting through", and got up simply and easily.  Fascinatingly tightening almost any muscle group would probably have helped in "boosting my willpower" to get over the obstacle of inertia and short term comfort in order to achieve a longer term gain.  Hung & Labroo have recently published on the results of a series of very interesting experiments exploring this muscle tension/willpower boosting effect: 

Antonio Damasio’s “Self comes to mind”: emotions and the body 2

I wrote an initial blog post last month on "Antonio Damasio's 'Self comes to mind': overview".  I commented that I wanted to think a bit more about three of the areas covered in the book - "Emotions and the body", "Memory and the autobiographical self" and "Mindfulness, protoself, core and autobiographical self" - and I wrote a post "Antonio Damasio's 'Self comes to mind': emotions & the body 1".  Today I want to write further on this "Emotions and the body" topic.

Recent research: two studies on panic, two on attention training for anxiety disorders, and three on the effects of child abuse

Here are seven recent papers on panic, attention training, and the effects of childhood sexual abuse (all details & abstracts to these studies are listed further down this blog post).  Pfaltz & colleagues report on a novel ambulatory respiratory monitoring system that seems to demonstrate that panic sufferers are not routinely suffering from breathing abnormalities (e.g. hyperventilation) when they go about their daily lives.  The CBT theory of panic disorder would go along with this - panic being seen as due, in part, to catastrophizing about the meaning of experienced physical sensations rather than due to simply having unusual physical sensations.  Shelby et al's paper extends this understanding concluding that with sufferers from non-cardiac chest pain (NCCP) "Chest pain and anxiety were directly related to greater disability and indirectly related to physical and psychosocial disability via pain catastrophizing.

Recent research: mind-body & body-mind effects for cancer, allergy, dementia, & mental health

Here are five studies on the loose theme of how the mind affects the body, and the body affects the mind ... and that the distinction between mind and body is pretty arbitrary anyway.  Using meta-analysis, Chida & colleagues highlight considerable evidence suggesting that stress-related psychosocial factors have an adverse effect on cancer incidence and survival.  Andersen & colleagues report a randomized controlled trial to respond to this in women diagnosed with breast cancer.  Women in the stress management arm of the study received an initial one-year, 26 session intervention in groups of 8 to 12 people.  The aim was to reduce distress and improve quality of life, improve health behaviors (diet, exercise, smoking cessation), and facilitate cancer treatment compliance and medical follow-up.

Recent research: six studies on couples - attraction, touch, viewpoint, comparison, empathy & sex

Here are half a dozen recent studies on men & women.  Elliot & Niesta found that red, relative to other colours, lead men to view women as "more attractive and sexually desirable".  Holt-Lundstad & colleagues randomized couples to a "support enhancement intervention" involving shared gentle massage for 30 minutes three times weekly or a control group.  There were encouraging effects of the "warm touch" on multiple stress-sensitive systems including husbands' blood pressure.  Koo et al found that writing about how something good might not have happened (e.g. how one might never have met one's romantic partner) produced more satisfaction (with the relationship) than writing about how the positive event actually had happened (e.g.

Recent research: four happiness studies on traditional advice, health benefits, and the particular value of safety & contentment

It seemed time to post on recent research involving happiness and wellbeing.  Here are four studies from the current issues of the Journal of Happiness Studies (the September edition is open access with all full articles freely viewable) and the Journal of Positive Psychology.  Ad Bergsma discusses advice on how to be happy given across the ages.  He refers to some of the other articles in this edition of the Journal of Happiness studies, including papers on the happiness advice of Epicurus, Schopenhauer, and the ancient Chinese philosphers.  Maarten Berg looks at the possible value of ‘New Age' suggestions on happiness.  Paul Gilbert and colleagues look, very interestingly, at different types of positive emotion and suggest that it may be what they call "safe/content" feelings that are particulary protective against a variety of unhappy emotional states.  Veenhoven reviews thirty studies on happiness and longevity and argues that, although happiness does not seem to cure illness, it does a good job of reducing the chances of getting ill - with a similar effect size to the benefits of being a non-smoker rather than a smoker.

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