Kevin Lewis

September 07, 2019

Effects of Extreme Ritual Practices on Psychophysiological Well-Being
Dimitris Xygalatas et al.
Current Anthropology, forthcoming

Extreme ritual practices involving pain and suffering pose significant risks such as injury, trauma, or infection. Nonetheless, they are performed by millions of people around the world and are often culturally prescribed remedies for a variety of maladies, and especially those related to mental health. What is the actual impact of these practices on health? Combining ethnographic observations and psychophysiological monitoring, we investigated outcomes of participation in one of the world’s most extreme rituals, involving bodily mutilation and prolonged suffering. Performance of this physically demanding ordeal had no detrimental effects on physiological health and was associated with subjective health improvements, and these improvements were greater for those who engaged in more intense forms of participation. Moreover, individuals who experienced health problems and/or were of low socioeconomic status sought more painful levels of engagement. We suggest two potential mechanisms for these effects: a bottom-up process triggered by neurological responses to pain and a top-down process related to increased social support and self-enhancement. These mechanisms may buffer stress-induced pressures and positively affect quality of life. Our results stress the importance of traditional cultural practices for coping with adversity, especially in contexts where psychiatric or other medical interventions are not widely available.

Reinforcer pathology: Narrative of hurricane-associated loss increases delay discounting, demand, and consumption of highly palatable snacks in the obese
Sarah Snider et al.
Psychology of Addictive Behaviors, forthcoming

Reinforcer pathology is derived from the integration of two measures: (a) self-control (i.e., delay discounting), and (b) reward valuation (i.e., behavioral economic demand). Narrative theory asserts that vividly imagining oneself in a hypothetical, yet realistic, scenario can acutely alter decision making, valuation of reinforcers such as food, and how much food is consumed. The present study measured changes in reinforcer pathology for highly palatable snacks following either a negative or neutral scenario in obese individuals. Participants (N = 48), with a body mass index of 30 or greater, rated their liking of 7 calorie-dense snack items and completed discounting and purchase demand tasks for their top-rated snack. Participants then read a randomly assigned hypothetical scenario (i.e., a devastating hurricane [negative] or minor storm [neutral]), completed the tasks again, and were given ad libitum access to their top 3 ranked snack foods. Results indicated that delay discounting, demand for participants’ top-rated snack food, and negative affect all increased in the hurricane group compared with the minor storm group. The hurricane group also consumed more calories, even when hunger was standardized with a preload meal bar. Consistent with reinforcer pathology, these results suggest that vivid consideration of a devastating scenario constricts the temporal window and increases demand for hedonic snack foods among obese individuals.

Wearing a bike helmet leads to less cognitive control, revealed by lower frontal midline theta power and risk indifference
Barbara Schmidt et al.
Psychophysiology, forthcoming

A recent study claims that participants wearing a bike helmet behave riskier in a computer‐based risk task compared to control participants without a bike helmet. We hypothesized that wearing a bike helmet reduces cognitive control over risky behavior. To test our hypothesis, we recorded participants' EEG brain responses while they played a risk game developed in our laboratory. Previously, we found that, in this risk game, anxious participants showed greater levels of cognitive control as revealed by greater frontal midline theta power, which was associated with less risky decisions. Here, we predicted that cognitive control would be reduced in the helmet group, indicated by reduced frontal midline theta power, and that this group would prefer riskier options in the risk game. In line with our hypothesis, we found that participants in the helmet group showed significantly lower frontal midline theta power than participants in the control group, indicating less cognitive control. We did not replicate the finding of generally riskier behavior in the helmet group. Instead, we found that participants chose the riskier option in about half of trials, no matter how risky the other option was. Our results suggest that wearing a bike helmet reduces cognitive control, as revealed by reduced frontal midline theta power, leading to risk indifference when evaluating potential behaviors.

When goals are known: The effects of audience relative status on goal commitment and performance
Howard Klein et al.
Journal of Applied Psychology, forthcoming

To better understand how the social context affects self-regulation, we present 4 studies investigating how the perceived relative status of a goal audience influences goal commitment. As a set, these studies use different samples and methods to examine this phenomenon across a variety of contexts, goals, and audiences. Results are highly consistent, supportive of our hypotheses, and demonstrate that it matters to whom goals are made known. Specifically, the perceived relative status of the goal audience is positively related to goal commitment, and downstream performance, via evaluation apprehension. Our findings highlight that it is not enough for goals to be made known to facilitate commitment but that they should be made known to someone perceived as having higher status. Together, these results help to clarify when and how it is beneficial to make goals known to others, provide a greater understanding of social influences on self-regulation, and yield implications for performance management practices aimed at facilitating goal commitment, motivation, and performance.

Does atypical interoception following physical change contribute to sex differences in mental illness?
Jennifer Murphy, Essi Viding & Geoffrey Bird
Psychological Review, forthcoming

Sex differences in the prevalence and presentation of mental illnesses are well documented. Women are more likely to experience common mental health disorders (e.g., anxiety and depression), and when they experience these conditions, they often present differently to men (e.g., women are more likely to report somatic complaints). Periods of physical and hormonal change (e.g., adolescence, pregnancy, and menopause) are particular risk periods for the development of mental illness in women. In this article, we advance the proposal that interoception (the perception of the body’s internal state) is one mechanism that might explain sex differences in vulnerability to mental illness. We argue that known sex differences in interoception, whereby women, compared to men, report heightened attention to internal signals coupled with worse interoceptive accuracy, may result from the increased amount of physical and hormonal change women experience across development. Given links between interoception and mental health, we propose that sex differences in interoception may partly explain sex differences in the prevalence and presentation of certain mental illnesses. Further scrutiny of this proposal may aid our understanding of sex differences in mental illness with implications for assessment, early intervention, and the development of novel treatment approaches.


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