Stiff Upper Lip: A look at the motivating factors in repressing symptoms of trauma.

When any trauma happens, humans to one degree or another will almost in variably react in some way. If the trauma is a physical one, such as being involved in a motor vehicle accident, one can respond by flinching, screaming and on a physiological note, going into circulatory shock (Princeton), or passing out. With a psychological trauma, shock may also manifest as well as insomnia, fatigue and muscle tension on a physiological level, but also psychological aspects such as denial, anxiety, withdrawal, aggression or numbness may also be present. All these are a natural and to some extent cathartic reaction to a trauma (Guinaugh, 1987). However there is a societal phenomenon of passing off traumas as unimportant and pretending they illicit little to no reaction. This behaviour is commonly known as having a ‘Stiff upper lip’ (SUL). In this entry, we will investigate some of the motivating factors behind this behaviour.

According to Capstick & Clegg (2013), this particular behaviour is a result of ‘biting back’ the expression of trauma in an attempt to control an aspect of a situation that usually flings a person deeply out of control: the aspect of their own emotional and outward reaction. As seen with many forms of coping strategies and disorders after trauma, the need to regain control plays a significant role (Finklehor & Browne, 1985). One method of regaining this control which may contribute to SUL is denial. It is important to distinguish denial from memory suppression or repression, although the two are interlinked heavily.  Denial is an active assertion that an incident either never took place or minimising the trauma and effect on that person. Suppression however is the internalisation of denial to such an extent that one actively forces thoughts out of consciousness. Repression is when this is done on an unconscious level (Cherry, 2013).

Another factor which may drive the SUL type behaviour is our environment. In a society where outward displays of emotion or distress are seen as socially unacceptable (Ettinger & Cate, 2007), suppressing the outward exhibition of emotions after a trauma may be a way to maintain a social status. It also may exhibit a fear of lack of sympathy from others, and thus hiding the emotion removes the possibility of embarrassment from rejection. This is shown through societies where outward displays of emotion are acceptable, but only when directed at strangers – the better you know someone the more emotionality is considered unacceptable. The fear of being rejected by those we hold dear would outweigh the fear of rejection from strangers.

Overall it can be said that SUL behavior has a clear and concise motive: to minimalize the impact of the trauma that has occurred and to reduce the chance of further trauma being sustained.

 

References

 

Capstick, A., Clegg, D. (2013). Behind the Stiff Upper Lip: War Narratives of Older Men with Dementia. Journal of war and culture studies, 6(3), 239-254. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1179/1752627213Z.00000000021

Cherry, K. (2013). Repression and suppression. Defence Mechanisms. As found at http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/ss/defensemech_4.htm

Ettinger, R. H., Cate, K. L. (2007) Emotion and Stress. Understanding Psychology. Horizon Textbook Publishing

Finklehor, D., Browne, A. (1985). The traumatic impact of child sexual abuse: a conceptualisation. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 55(4), 530-541. DOI: doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.1985.tb02703.x

Guinaugh, B.(1987). Catharsis in therapy: Primal therapy. Catharsis and cognition in Psychotherapy. 61-88. DOI: 10.1007/978-1-4612-4776-0_7

 

 

BLOODLUST – why are anger and sexual arousal so physiologically linked?

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Violence and sex are not two subjects that should overlap, on an abstract or intrinsic level. Anger and the aggression and violence that stem from it is with the sole purpose of causing harm: a selfish emotion, and a destructive expression of that motion. Sex however, no matter the motivation behind it, is by definition a pleasurable act, and usually involves a level of selflessness by giving pleasure to a partner. Although there are facets of sexual activity that do involve a level of aggressive behaviour and violence (such as BDSM) it is done under the specific conditions of mutual agreement, and for the pleasure of both partners.

However, on a physiological arousal level these two emotions are near indistinguishable (Russell, 1980), and often love and loathing are easily mistaken for each other, such as Benedick and Beatrice from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (Shakespeare, 1599) and giving rise to the cultural phenomena of the ‘Love/Hate’ relationship.

            One reason these two emotions may be so similar, and thus so easily confused with each other, is the theory of misattribution of arousal (Dutton & Aron, 1974). In their study they found that that in a condition of high anxiety and physiological arousal (in this case, being interviewed on a high, unstable rope suspension bridge) caused a higher level of sexual verbal response and action than those interviewed in a non-anxious environment. It was deducted that the participants involved had transferred their feelings of anxiety to sexual excitement when presented with an attractive researcher as the two have similar physiological makeups: increased heart rate, sweating etc. Although this study is comparing anxiety and sexual arousal, it remains pertinent as both anxiety and anger have similar physiological states with one large exception: body temperature (Mittelmann & Wolff, 1943). During states of fear body temperature tends to decrease whereas with anger it increases – sexual arousal also causes an increase in body temperature as well as sharing other physiological traits. It is safe to say that if anxiety can be mistaken for sexual arousal despite a severe difference in a physiological factor then anger, which does not have the difference, can be too.

            Another reason that anger and sexual arousal may be so similar is evolutionary adaptation. In times of conflict it would be necessary to ensure dominance by producing an heir, and also eliminate the competition to that heir by wiping out the offspring of others. Thus, having anger and sexual arousal so close to each other would serve an evolutionary advantage: to be ready to conduct sexual activity as soon as possible after an act of violence. In lion prides when a new male takes over, it is common for them to kill the cubs of other males – this triggers the females to immediately go into heat and the new lion impregnates them with his own offspring. Indeed, so effective is this strategy that many lionesses have co-adapted to actually instigate the mating before the new male can kill the cubs, confusing the issue of paternity (Packer & Pusey, 1983). Having the emotions of anger and sexual arousal so linked together have ultimately been beneficial as it means there is no rest period between the two, meaning both activities – defeating the competition and siring an heir – can be done with the most time and energy efficiency.

 

References

Dutton. D. G., Aron. A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30(4), 510-517. doi:10.1037/h0037031

Mittelmann, B., Wolff, H. G. (1943). Emotions and Skin temperature: Observations on Patients During Psychotherapeutic (Psychoanalytic) Interviews. Psychosomatic Medicine, 5(3), 211-231. As found at http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/5/3/211.short

Packer, C., Pusey, A. E. (1983) Adaptations of Female Lions to Infanticide by Incoming Males. The American Naturalist, 121(5), 716-728. As found at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2460874

Russell, J. A. (1980). The Circumplex Model of Affect. The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(6), 1161-1178. DOI10.1037/h0077714

Shakespeare, W. (1599) Much Ado About Nothing. As cited by http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/muchado/beatriceandbenedick.html

Vaccination: it’s not a choice, it’s your duty.

Vaccines are a controversial issue: from them not being produced fast enough when there is a pandemic, such as swine or avian flu (MSNBC, 2005) to the now debunked theory that they somehow ’cause’ Autism (NHS, 2010). But why is it so important for everyone in a community to be vaccinated, and why is allowing just one or two people, who for personal reasons such as religion, to not get vaccinated detrimental to the populace as a whole?

Most modern vaccines work upon the principle of antibodies and their metaphorical ‘memory’. A dose of highly weakened or dead virus or bacteria is injected into the blood stream. The body releases antibodies, or T-cells (sometimes known as Killer cells) in reaction to the presence of this invading bacteria. These T-cells, whilst destroying the alien bacteria, replicate the strain code, identifying what kind of bacteria or virus is it, into their internal systems. When a full virus then tries to infiltrate the body, providing it is the same strain as the one from the vaccine, the T-cells with immediately recognise it and will be adept at quickly destroying it. the first instance of this was done in the victorian era by Edward Jenner ‘the father of immunology’, he infected a small boy James Phipps, with cow pox, allowed him to recover, and then exposed him to small pox. The two pox variations were so closely related that because the boy had developed an immunity to cow pox, he was able to swiftly fight off small pox too (Hopkins, 2002).

This is where the problem comes in – even weakened versions of bacteria can still do significant harm to people who have less potent immune systems through age or illness. Most vaccines are prohibited from being given to small children, and those that are given are hugely watered down versions of ones given to adults: this is why most shots given to someone as a child will need ‘boosters’ as they get older, to adapt to their more powerful immune system. To allow even one or two people to be exempt from this basic healthcare is a literally, a breeding ground for disaster. One body that does not fight off particular diseases because it is not immune not only replicates that virus or bacteria, but alos become a breeding ground for it to develop new strains – unchecked evolution. If these people then come into contact with the general (vaccinated) population, they immediately put all those who have not had the adult versions of the vaccine at risk, but also due to the possibility of a new strain having developed from them, they put the entire population at risk because they are not immunised against this new strain of disease. Vaccination, especially living in a world where travel is as commonplace as breathing, should not be a choice, but a legal obligation to ensure the continued health of our world. It only takes one domino to knock all the others down, do you really want to be Ground 0?

 

 

References

Hopkins, D. R. (2002). The Greatest Killer: Smallpox In History. 80-81, Chicago, IL. University of Chicago Press.

MSNBC (2005) World Not Ready for Flu Pandemic, Officials Say. as found at http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9607622/ns/health-infectious_diseases/t/world-not-ready-flu-pandemic-official-says/#.T53CNsRYuCg

NHS, (2010). Ruling on doctor in MMR scare. as found at http://www.nhs.uk/news/2010/01january/pages/mmr-vaccine-autism-scare-doctor.aspx

‘Information Is Power – Power Corrupts.’ Can Too Much Sex Education Be Detrimental?

Sex education has been at the forefront of current politics, not just in the USA but also in the UK. But instead of it continuing along the well versed lines of teaching what sex is, the implications and the consequences, and how to stay safe both physically  and mentally it is now taking a new turn. Although this new standing is actually just a recirculation of old fashioned sex education: abstinence and denial of sexualisation. The resounding argument amongst this rising group is that children are too knowledgable of sex and therefore deem it acceptable to engage in sexual activity at an earlier age. This was recently encountered in the UK with the MP Nadine Dorries’s attempt at passing a bill that would require special sexual education classes for girls aged 13-16 that would promote the benefits of abstinence (Guardian, 2012) . The bill was eventually withdrawn.

So therein lies the question: can too much information on sex actually have a negative effect on those to whom it is being exposed?

Firstly we must ask what we consider a negative consequence. Frequently cited complaints are teenage pregnancy, sexual activity at an increasingly younger age,  STI’s and STD’s. In countries that have a sex education that is not only compulsory, but that also starts before puberty – Sweden, the Netherlands (Valk, 2000) and Japan (INCA, 2011) for example – the rates of teenage pregnancies were the lowest, whereas countries where abstinence is still widely taught, such as in the USA, had the highest levels (Kmietowicz, 2002).

According to the APA (2005), by a council of representatives, they concluded that a fully comprehensive sex education program (namely, not just encourage abstinence, but also condom use and sexual communication) was more likely to reduce the risk of HIV and also encourage youth to wait to engage in sexual activity until they were older. In conclusion, the fears that introducing young people to sexual education being the cause of these worrying behaviours is invalid – it has no bearing on whether they will engage in the activity or not, just their behaviour whilst doing it and at what age they decide to participate, and both factors being effected positively. There is never too much information.

References

APA, 2005. Resolution in Favor of Empirically Supported Sex Education and HIV Prevention Programs for Adolescents. As found at http://www.apa.org/about/governance/council/policy/sex-education.pdf

Guardian, The. 2012. Nadine Dorries’s sexual abstinence lessons bill withdrawn. As found at http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2012/jan/20/nadine-dorries-sexual-abstinence-bill-withdrawn

INCA, 2011. Japan: curricula as found at http://www.inca.org.uk/1464.html

Kmietowicz, Z. 2002. US And UK Are Top In Teenage Pregnancy Rates. The British Medical Journal. 324, 1354-1354.

Valk, G. 2000. The Dutch Model. The UNESCO Courier. 19-19.

‘I’ll Do It Later…’ – Procrastination.

We have all experienced procrastination to some extent: whether it be putting off making an important call, tidying our rooms or even doing those things in order to put off another more important issue (many of you probably experienced it to some extent writing your own blogs or reading this one!). But is this state of mind – the lack of motivation, the active avoidance of a task – just because we are plain lazy, or is it more to do with lack of inspiration, a deficit in self efficacy and a feeling of learned helplessness?

As found by Milgram (1963), when presented with an authority figure, people are much more likey to obey, even to the extent where it causes cognitive dissonance between their actions and their morals. However, it was also found that people were less likely to obey the authority figure so far into the cognitive dissonance if the authority was not an immediate presence. Akerloff (1991) found similar results in his study, that found that levels of procrastination in office workers fell the more involved and present the authority figure giving the order tended to be: the procrastination levels were high for example when an order was given via an email to the whole office, less so when via an email to an individual, and at their lowest when given verbally to an individual.

So what can we derive from this about procrastination for students, the most significant group for us specifically? One only has to look at the results of the Semester 1 SWaC assignments to see the supporting correlation: the PITS graphs and figures assignment had the highest average grade of A- (an assignment where students had the ability to go to lead session every week from the assignment set date to due date, and therefore were able to have supervision, if only casually) to the Science and Writing classes that took place only fortnightly and spent only 2-3 sessions directly on the Labelling essay assignment, where the average grade was a C+.
Although correlation obviously does not show causality, what can possibly be inferred from these results and the results of the aforementioned studies may suggest that regular prompting, as well as mild supervision can combat the effects of procrastination. Anecdotally, students at Bangor University have said that procrastination comes usually on a large assignment with a large tie frame to complete it, without any draft deadline. This is apparently due to the though process of ‘it’s such much work, i’ll do it when I have more time’ and then continually repeating this sentiment until there is little time left, and yet still procrastinating as the amount of work to do in such a little space of time appears daunting.

References

Akerlof, G. A. 1991. Procrastination & Obedience. The American Economic Journal. 81. 1-19.

Milgram, S. 1963. Behavioural Study of Obediance. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology. 67. 371-378. doi: 10.1037/h0040525

Can Correlation Show Causality? – A Brief Look at Homosexuality and Foetal Hormone Exposure.

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 A long standing social controversy on homosexuality is it’s innate biological standing within a human, whether it is a natural occurrence or a bizarre and conscious active choice. Social movements and scientists have claimed that sexual orientations – be it hetero, homo or bisexual – are a product of internal biological mechanisms such as conserved neurodevelopmental mechanisms (Rahman & Wilson, 2003). In a more colloquial term, people are ‘born gay’.

However new research (Garcia-Falgueras & Swaab, 2010) has suggested that it may not be as indeterminable as once thought. Their research suggests that exposure to particular hormones during foetal development, specifically oestrogen (a female hormone) to male foetuses, may have a large part to play in the sexual orientation of that child once developed. With male foetuses specifically, the female hormones essentially feminise them, thus as the theory goes creating a higher chance of homosexuality.

However does this correlation between feminising and homosexuality give a scientific basis for the assumption of cause and reaction? The answer is simply no, correlation alone is never a strong enough case to prove a cause: if it were then by simple logic all foetuses exposed to high levels of oestrogen would grow to be homosexual and conversely an over exposure to androgens (testosterone) would produce a perfectly opposite rate of them being heterosexual. This also implies that the mid level of exposure (the norm) would produce foetuses that grow up to be bisexual when that is clearly not the case.

What can be gleaned from this correlation however is a prior cause, where both of these two factors are by products and reactions themselves, not the cause of each other. The study goes onto suggest that a higher rate of immune activity from the mother towards the foetus, triggered by the presence of a foreign ‘Y’ chromosome, can also cause higher rates of homosexuality. This is then used as a platform to incite the apparent link boys who have older brothers and homosexuality rates: the more older brother a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay as the mother’s body has become more adept at releasing feminising antibodies during pregnancy. However, this correlation is not to be taken as a cause: there are plenty of men who have older brothers who are not gay, just as there are plenty of men who are the oldest sibling who are gay.

Conclusively, correlation does not directly equate to causality, but it can factor largely is the discovery of the cause by adding extra definitions to its repercussions.

 

 

References

     Garcia-Falgueras, A., Swaab, D. F., 2010. Sexual Hormones and the Brain: An Essential Alliance for Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation, Endocrine Development, 17. 22–35.

     Rahman, Q., Wilson, G. D., 2003. Born Gay? The Psychobiology of Human Sexual Orientation. Personality And Individual Differences. 34, 8. 1337-1382.

“Well, In My Opinion…” – Does Your Point of View Really Matter In Science?

The age old proverb that every opinion counts is proselytised  in today’s society more than ever: with the rising value of democracy in the Western world in the face of overtly oppressive and anti-democratic, or theocratic regimes (Civil Liberty, 2011)  around the globe, and the previous Labour government’s efforts  (MPI, 2007) to make sure that everybody is rewarded, regardless of their achievements in Britain specifically, opinions are held as equal and the right to express them as paramount. But in the reality of science, where the evidence itself is the key component of any argument, and the golden rule of drawing your conclusions from the evidence presented, not vice versa, does an opinion mean anything at all and should we be allowed to express them equally in the scientific field?Where does one draw the line in Science?

Although it seems harsh and possibly cruel, the answer is very simply: no. In the scientific field, opinions are gathered from years of hard work and information and therefore are not really an opinion, but an active assertion of a scientifically concluded fact. one particularly hot topic in this area is the subject of Darwinian Evolution: although it is clearly considered the nearest thing to a true fact in biological science (Dawkins, 2011), many in the Western world still regard this as something to choose to accept, most notoriously in ‘Bible-Belt’ USA. Even in popular culture, this preposterous idea is mocked, such as the television comedy show The Big Bang Theory, where two characters briefly debate this very topic: ” ‘Evolution isn’t an opinion, it’s a fact.’ … ‘And that is your opinion! ” (Wikia,2009). But sadly, this is no joke. This is a common occurrence in many places and communities globally – not just the Christian right, but all religions have factions which utterly refute Evolutionary theory. Their attempt at counter evidence is usually some kind of holy text or scripture which by scientific standards, is just not up to the standard of  evidence needed.  So In Psychology, how does this effect us?

Opinion is vitally important to have: it signifies an autonomous personality and and realism, the acceptance of reality and fact, are considered a key component of a self-actualising person (Maslow, 1943). However in psychological research, opinions must be set aside as much as possible to prevent bias and maintain integrity. (BPS, 2009) as no two human beings have exactly the same opinions on every topic. Therefore the only logical conclusion is that of course in non-scientific conversation all opinion should be considered, however, in science and specifically psychology, one must respect fact over opinion. Every time.

References:

BPS – British Psychological Society, Ethical Guidelines. (2009). as found at http://www.bps.org.uk/what-we-do/ethics-standards/ethics-standards

Civil Liberties (2011) as found at http://civilliberty.about.com/od/religiousliberty/g/Theocracy-Definition.htm

Dawkins, R. (2011) as found at http://richarddawkins.net/articles/642754-attention-governor-perry-evolution-is-a-fact

Maslow, A. H. (1943). as cited by Psychology.about.com as found at http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/a/hierarchyneeds_2.htm

MPI – Migration Policy Institute, (2007). As found at http://www.migrationinformation.org/transatlantic/ImmigrationEULaborMarket_72507.pdf

Wikia (2009). as found at http://bigbangtheory.wikia.com/wiki/The_Electric_Can_Opener_Fluctuation