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Stephen H. Boutcher
Cardiovascular disease has been estimated to be responsible for over 30% of deaths worldwide. The traditional cardiovascular risk factors of smoking, obesity, diabetes, physical inactivity, and family history predict about 50% of the variance of new cardiovascular disease cases; therefore, a number of other risk factors must contribute to cardiovascular disease development. One such factor is psychological stress, which has been identified as playing a role in the development of cardiovascular disease. The major research strategy for assessing the impact of psychological stress on cardiovascular disease development is to measure cardiovascular reactivity to laboratory mental stressors. Exaggerated mental stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity and slow stressor recovery have been associated with the development of cardiovascular disease.
In contrast to exposure to psychological stress, there is strong evidence that participation in aerobic exercise leads to a reduction in cardiovascular disease. Participation in regular aerobic exercise generally reduces the cardiovascular response to acute exercise; therefore, researchers have hypothesized that the ability of aerobic exercise to enhance cardiovascular health works partly by modifying the cardiovascular reactivity response to mental stressors. There is mixed evidence to suggest that chronic aerobic exercise decreases or increases cardiovascular reactivity to mental challenge in normotensive, healthy individuals. A decrease in reactivity, however, has been found in those studies that have examined individuals at risk of disease or diseased adults. The optimal volume and intensity of aerobic exercise that brings about maximum decreases in cardiovascular reactivity has yet to be determined. The impact of other forms of exercise on reactivity such as resistance exercise and interval sprinting exercise is starting to be assessed. The challenge for researchers in this area is to identify the mode of exercise that takes the least amount of time but brings about the greatest reduction of levels of stress-induced cardiovascular disease.
Jennifer L. Etnier
There is substantial interest in identifying the behavioral means by which to improve cognitive performance. Recent research and commercial ventures have focused on cognitive training interventions, but evidence suggests that the effects of these programs are small and task-specific. Researchers have also shown interest in exploring the potential benefits of physical activity for cognitive performance. Because the effects of physical activity have been found to be small to moderate and to be more global in nature, interest in physical activity has been growing over the past several decades. Evidence regarding the efficacy of physical activity is provided through cross-sectional studies, longitudinal prospective studies, and randomized controlled trials. When reviewed meta-analytically, small-to-moderate beneficial effects are reported for children, adults, older adults, and cognitively impaired older adults, and these effects are evident for a wide range of cognitive domains, including executive function, memory, and information processing. Researchers are currently focused on identifying the mechanisms of these effects. Most of this research has been conducted using animal models, but there is a growing body of literature with humans. From this evidence, there is support for the role of changes in cerebral structure, hippocampal perfusion, and growth factors in explaining the observed benefits. Thus far, however, the literature is quite sparse, and future research is needed to clarify our understanding of the mechanisms that provide the causal link between physical activity and cognitive performance. Research is also focused on understanding how to increase the benefits by potentially combining cognitive training with physical activity and by identifying the genetic moderators of the effects. These lines of work are designed to elucidate ways of increasing the magnitude of the benefits that can be obtained. At this point in time, the evidence with respect to the potential of physical activity for benefiting cognitive performance is quite promising, but it is critical that funding agencies commit their support to the continued exploration necessary to allow us to ultimately be able to prescribe physical activity to specific individuals with the express purpose of improving cognition.
Sayaka Aritake-Okada and Sunao Uchida
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
Physical activity has been considered to promote sleep. So far, a number of studies have indicated that both acute and chronic physical activity improve sleep. These changes include prolongation of total sleep time, slow wave sleep (SWS) increase, rapid eye movement (REM) sleep decrease, wake after sleep onset (WASO) reduction, and shortened sleep latency. However, detailed biological mechanisms of these effects have not been well elucidated. Moreover, some reported high-intensity physical activity just before bedtime could reduce the amount of subsequent SWS.
These past studies strongly suggest that the sleep promoting effects of exercise could be multifactorial. Increase of SWS, which has been repeatedly reported, strongly suggest an effect of physical activity on the central nervous system (CNS) function. Physical activity also elevates body temperature (BT) and alters glucose and other metabolic regulations. Habitual exercise also alters the predominance measure of the autonomic nervous system by heart rate variability (HRV). Elucidation of these mechanisms could lead to clearer application of physical activity for prevention and treatment of diseases associated with adult lifestyle habits, such as Type II diabetes.
Scott O. Lilienfeld
Although psychotherapy is on balance effective for a broad array of psychological problems, a relatively small but steadily accumulating body of evidence suggests that at least some psychological interventions are harmful. Until recently, however, relatively little research attention has been paid to the identification of harmful psychological treatments. Although it has long been recognized that a nontrivial minority of people become worse following therapy, this finding does not necessarily mean that they have become worse because of therapy. Nevertheless, recent research has homed in on a small subset of interventions that may produce psychological harm, physical harm, or both. In addition, there is growing interest in pinpointing potential mechanisms of deterioration effects in psychotherapy, as well as in distinguishing harmful therapies from harmful therapists.
Mary V. Minges and Jacques P. Barber
Psychodynamic psychotherapies (PDP) is an umbrella term for a variety of therapeutic modalities that have evolved out of the psychoanalytic/psychodynamic tradition, each theorizing a trajectory of human development that includes an etiology of and treatment for psychopathology. PDPs have in common the belief that people have an unconscious mind that influences thoughts and behaviors outside of the individual’s awareness. These processes operate from birth till death and are responsible for adaptive and maladaptive functioning at the level of interpersonal relationships and daily living.
The psychodynamic therapist creates a case formulation for the individual seeking treatment, which incorporates a formal diagnosis with an understanding of the underlying dynamic factors contributing to the individual’s suffering. From this case formulation a treatment plan is created specific to the individual. During treatment, the therapist develops a strong working alliance while utilizing psychodynamic-specific techniques targeted at bringing insight into these unconscious thoughts and behaviors. Greater self-understanding enables greater choice ability and flexibility in functioning.
In contrast to prevalent views, empirical research has found support for the efficacy of PDP in the treatment of mental disorders, including but not limited to: depression, anxiety disorders, somatic disorders, and personality disorders. In general, PDP was found more effective than control conditions and not different from active treatments. PDP effects have been shown to remain stable post treatment.
Jennifer McGowan and Lion Shahab
Worldwide, tobacco use is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality. However, the health effects of smoking are reversible, making smoking cessation an important target for public health policy. Tobacco control is a field of public health science dedicated to reducing tobacco use and, thereby, to reducing cigarette-related morbidity and mortality. For tobacco control to be effective, it is necessary for policy makers to understand the personal and interpersonal factors which encourage people to smoke, factors which motivate smokers to quit (e.g., health, social pressure, cost), and the personal and population-level methods that are most effective at encouraging and prolonging attempts to quit. Research has identified that social norms, mental health, and individual personality factors are most associated with smoking uptake, so interventions which reduce social smoking (e.g., smoking bans, plain packaging) would be most effective at preventing uptake. Conversely, the use of cigarettes is maintained by nicotine addiction and attempts to quit are often motivated by health concerns, social pressure and the cost of tobacco products. As such, interventions that address physiological and behavioral addiction inherent in tobacco product use (e.g., nicotine replacement therapy combined with counselling), that create social pressure to stop (e.g., mass media campaigns), or that increase the cost of tobacco products are most likely to be effective at encouraging attempts to quit.
The Paralympics are the pinnacle of sporting competition for athletes with physical and intellectual impairments. Most Paralympians have intellectual or sensory (e.g., visual) or physical (e.g., amputation, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy) impairments. The Paralympics have become increasingly competitive and larger over the years as they have grown from two countries and 150 athletes in 1952 to 150 countries and about 4,000 athletes in 2012. In the last 10 to 20 years there has been significant interest and growth in the psychology of Paralympic athletes. Researchers are slowly starting to support the value of psychological skills training. Typically, a humanistic personal developmental model that equally values athletes’ well-being and their athletic performance has been advocated. Understanding the various influences on performance and well-being specifically for Paralympians is particularly important given the stress of the Paralympic experience. Research on Paralympians has focused on foundational qualities, which are psychological factors, such as feelings of control, self-awareness, self-esteem, and personality factors. Often these foundation qualities are framed as having an indirect influence on performance through factors like training quality and lifestyle choices (e.g., alcohol consumption).
In additional to foundational qualities, a second area of research targets the psychological methods that are used to develop mental skills and qualities. For instance, competition plans, positive self-talk, and goal setting are all methods used to enhance positive thoughts (e.g., confidence) and reduce negative affect (e.g., anxiety). A third area of focus has to do with facilitative and debilitative factors that influence Paralympic performance. For instance, many Paralympians have to manage chronic pain and avoid overtraining and injury. Many Paralympians have difficulty training, as sport facilities are not always accessible for training. Travel to competition sites, especially involving air travel (with effects such as jet lag), is particularly challenging and can negatively influence performance. Sleeping in the Paralympic village can also be difficult, with many athletes reporting inferior sleep quality. Finally, a small body of research has examined the challenges Paralympians face when retiring from sport.
Krista J. Munroe-Chandler and Michelle D. Guerrero
Imagery, which can be used by anyone, is appealing to performers because it is executed individually and can be performed at anytime and anywhere. The breadth of the application of imagery is far reaching. Briefly, imagery is creating or recreating experiences in one’s mind. From the early theories of imagery (e.g., psychoneuromuscular) to the more recent imagery models (e.g., PETTLEP), understanding the way in which imagery works is essential to furthering our knowledge and developing strong research and intervention programs aimed at enhanced performance. The measurement of imagery ability and frequency provides a way of monitoring the progression of imagery use and imagery ability. Despite the individual differences known to impact imagery use (e.g., type of task, imagery perspective, imagery speed), imagery remains a key psychological skill integral to a performer’s success.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
Scarcity is typically defined as the condition of having insufficient resources to cope with demands. This condition has important psychological implications. That is, it presents significant challenges to the human cognitive system. For example, having limited financial resources requires the meticulous calculation of expenses with respect to a budget. Likewise, having limited time requires the stringent management of schedules with respect to a deadline. As such, scarcity consumes cognitive resources such as attention, working memory, and executive control, and elicits a range of predictable and even counter-productive cognitive and behavioral responses as a result. According to a series of recent studies, scarcity focuses the attention on the problem at hand. This focus of attention facilitates performance by enhancing cognitive processing of information relevant to the problem, increasing the efficiency of resource use, and stabilizing the perception of value. Such prioritization of the problem at hand may seem advantageous, but it can lead to the neglect of other information that also needs attention. For example, scarcity causes myopic and impulsive behavior, prioritizing short-term benefits over long-term gains. Ironically, scarcity can also result in a failure to notice beneficial information in the environment that alleviates the condition of scarcity. More detrimentally, scarcity directly impairs cognitive function, which can lead to suboptimal decisions and choices that exacerbate the condition of scarcity.
These findings provide new insights on what scarcity means. It means not only making tradeoffs about physical resources (e.g., if I buy X, I cannot buy Y), but also making attentional tradeoffs (e.g., if I focus on X, I cannot focus on Y). The shortage of physical resources under scarcity is accompanied by a concurrent deficit of cognitive resources (e.g., attention, executive control). The cognitive deficits under scarcity are particularly problematic because they impair performance and lead to counter-productive behaviors that deepen the cycle of scarcity. In addition, people under financial scarcity suffer from stigmas and stereotypes associated with poverty. These social perceptions of poverty further burden the mind of the poor by consuming their cognitive resources, weakening performance in the poor. Understanding the cognitive and behavioral responses to scarcity provides new explanations as to why the poor remain poor, identifies the psychological causes of scarcity, and illuminates potential interventions to stop the cycle of scarcity. These insights have important implications for the design and implementation of policies and services targeting the populations under scarcity.
Britton W. Brewer
In addition to the disruptive impact of sport injury on physical functioning, injury can have psychological effects on athletes. Consistent with contemporary models of psychological response to sport injury, aspects of psychological functioning that can be affected by sport injury include pain, cognition, emotion, and behavior. Part of the fabric of sport and ubiquitous even among “healthy” athletes, pain is a common consequence of sport injury. Postinjury pain is typically of the acute variety and can be exacerbated, at least temporarily, by surgery and some rehabilitation activities. Cognitive responses to sport injury include appraising the implications of the injury for one’s well-being and ability to manage the injury, making attributions for injury occurrence, using cognitive coping strategies, perceiving benefits of injury, and experiencing intrusive injury-related thoughts and images, increased perception of injury risk, reduced self-esteem and self-confidence, and diminished neurocognitive performance. Emotional responses to sport injury tend to progress from a preponderance of negative emotions (e.g., anger, confusion, depression, disappointment, fear, frustration) shortly after injury occurrence to a more positive emotional profile over the course of rehabilitation. A wide variety of personal and situational factors have been found to predict postinjury emotions. In terms of postinjury behavior, athletes have reported initiating coping strategies such as living their lives as normally as possible, distracting themselves, seeking social support, isolating themselves from others, learning about their injuries, adhering to the rehabilitation program, pursuing interests outside sport, consuming alcohol, taking recreational and/or performance-enhancing substances, and, in rare cases, attempting suicide. Psychological readiness to return to sport after injury is an emerging concept that cuts across cognitive, emotional, and behavioral responses to sport injury.