All posts by Lauren Nolan

The Rosary and Decreased Anxiety

One study, by Anastasi and Newberg, was extremely relevant to my research interests because it dealt with the rosary and anxiety.  They hypothesized that recitation of the ritualized rosary would lower anxiety compared to simply being exposed to a religious video.  Although, their sample size was very small the results were promising and the rosary group reported decreased anxiety.  I thought that it was important that they were interested in the ritual of the rosary having the effect on the test subjects rather than other variables I had read about elsewhere.

Anastasi, M. W., & Newberg, A. B. (2008). A preliminary study of the acute effects of religious ritual on anxiety. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine14(2), 163-165.

Stress and Cortisol responses in Adults

Since salivary cortisol measurements are such an important part of my research proposal I tried to find multiple sources to get an idea of methodology.  This study used salivary cortisol to test the stress levels in students who had lost a parent and perceived their surviving parent to be more or less caring.  Those that had a parent they perceived as less caring had higher salivary cortisol levels after doing something stressful than those with a more caring parent.  I thought this study was interesting and maybe slightly helpful when designing my methods section.

Luecken, L. J. (2000). Parental caring and loss during childhood and adult cortisol responses to stress. Psychology and Health15(6), 841-851.

Galvanic Skin Response Information

I will be using galvanic skin response as part of my data collection for my research and found one article particularly helpful.  It detailed both methods and materials.  They were simply interested in testing whether they could detect stress through GSR but that is all I really need for my purposes as well so it was useful to me.  I would recommend this for someone interested in using GSR.

Villarejo, M. V., Zapirain, B. G., & Zorrilla, A. M. (2012). A stress sensor based on Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) controlled by ZigBee. Sensors12(5), 6075-6101.

Salivary Cortisol in Yoga and Depression

Since the link between meditative and mindful practices like yoga and the rosary clearly exist, albeit weakly, I decided to take a look at the mitigating effects yoga has on stress.  One study “A Yoga Intervention for young Adults with Elevated Symptoms of Depression” by Woolery et al. (2004) was particularly helpful because the young adults self-reported their symptoms before and after the intervention and the researchers took salivary cortisol samples throughout the study to look at stress reduction.  I didn’t see how the article was particularly clear on the results of the salivary cortisol but I hope to use salivary cortisol in my methods as well to measure stress and the possible mediating affect the rosary service may have on stress.

An Ethnographic study of Grief and Coping Mechanisms

I found the article by Doran and Downing Hansen (2006) “Constructions of Mexican American Family Grief After the Death of a Child: An Exploratory Study” to be very interesting as it a more relevant ethnographic overview of grieving practices than I had read anywhere else.  Although the people in the study were Mexican-American and not the population I intend to study they do belong to the same religious group and therefore follow some of the same or similar religious customs when it comes to grieving.  The article mostly covered how the families dealt with their grief including incorporating their faith, Catholicism, into the process.  For many Mexican Americans this includes the novenario, a nine day period of mourning and prayer, similar to what I would like to study with the rosary service but not the same.  The entire article reminded me the grieving process differs depending on religious and cultural context.  The individual’s grieving experience may differ depending on how important they believe those things are in the grieving process.

Impact of Event Scale-Revised

The Impact of Event Scale-Revised (IES-R) will be utilized because the population sample will most likely be older adults, the format is simple, the scoring is in sub-sections and overall, and it suits the research topic and sample well.  In their article “Impact of Event Scale-Revised” Christianson and Marren explain why the IES-R is better suited for an older population than the IES although the Impact of Event Scale is also a good test. Their article also gives an example format of the test and how to score it which is helpful.

Bereavement and the Impact of Event Scale (IES)

For my research proposal I will be using the Impact of Event Scale-Revised as one of my measures to understand psychological stress in the bereaved.  In the research paper by Pennebaker, Mayne, and Francis (1997) “Linguistic Predictors of Adaptive Bereavement” the Impact of Event Scale is just one of the measurements used to understand grief in people who have lost their partners to HIV/AIDS.  The scale helps to understand how a recent relatively traumatic event is affecting an individual’s day to day functioning in their everyday life, emotions, and thoughts.

The History of the Rosary and some Physiological Benefits

I found the historical information in the article “Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study” as well as the information on rhythmic breathing to be helpful.  Bernardi et al. (2001) described how recitation of the rosary (a repetitive Roman Catholic prayer) and yoga mantras slow respiration to a specific rhythm which can benefit heart rate and blood pressure.  While, the effects of meditative practices such as yoga have been more widely studied repetitive and meditative prayer have not been studied as much.  This paper was able to investigate a slight historical link between the two practices as well as a possible hypothesis for why both practices may be of physiological benefit to practitioners.

Bernardi, L., Sleight, P., Bandinelli, G., Cencetti, S., Fattorini, L., Wdowczyc-Szulc, J., & Lagi, A. (2001). Effect of rosary prayer and yoga mantras on autonomic cardiovascular rhythms: comparative study. Bmj323(7327), 1446-1449.

Toward an Applied Neuroanthropology of Psychosis: The interplay of Culture, Brains, and Experience

About the author

Neely  Anne Laurenzo Myers is an assistant professor at Southern Methodist University.  She received her PhD from the University of Chicago’s department of Comparative Human Development in 2009.  Dr. Myers specializes in psychiatric anthropology and applied neuroanthropology with interests in mental health especially among underserved populations.

Applied Neuroanthropology of Psychosis

The purpose of applying neuroanthropology to psychosis or to mental health more generally is really to understand the interplay between one’s culture, neurodevelopment, and life experiences.  This case study examines how everyday experiences can be integrated into neurodevelopment and lead to psychosis in certain contexts.  Applied neuroanthropology can make improvements on the current recommendations for psychotic disorders by understanding how neurodevelopment during certain life stages and relevant life experiences can interact to affect biologically vulnerable individuals.  Hopefully, new treatments and interventions can be developed to treat people earlier in the course of their psychotic disorder as people in the west typically have a lower rate of recovery than patients in non-western countries.  Another distinct advantage of neuroanthropology is that it can look at psychotic disorders cross-culturally.  By doing so it becomes clear that psychotic disorders do not mean the same thing to people everywhere.  They are experienced quite differently and understandably treated with different approaches.

Introducing Psychosis

While you may not know someone with any type of psychotic disorder it effects around 1% of the global population and even more people experience more mild psychotic episodes at some point in their life.  Psychosis is severely disabling in that the person loses touch with reality, they have delusions, and sensory hallucinations.  You are probably most familiar with the idea that these people hear voices in their head and may talk to those voices.  The voices can vary in who and what they are saying but it can be very frightening.  The patient, family, and friends may become afraid.  The experience is different for every person because everyone has a different brain and for this reason the illness can be very isolating.  I’ve personally seen what psychotic illness can do to a person and their loved ones and it is incredibly devastating and life altering.  Part of this may have to do with the way we view and treat this type of mental illness in this country.  The other symptoms essentially changes the person’s personality and further isolate them from any existing close relationships they had left.  These symptoms include loss of emotional response, little motivation, socially withdrawing, and cognitive problems which can all easily interfere with seeking or adhering to treatment.

This clip summarizes the symptoms of schizophrenia and their impact on the patient and family.

Summary of the Case Study

Dr. Myers spent time at a clinic for psychiatric disabilities in New York where she used a mixed methods approach, including participant observation and interviews, to understand the experiences of a patient named Leroy.  Leroy was in his thirties and had been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder.  People with schizoaffective disorder frequently have the symptoms of schizophrenia with the symptoms of a mood disorder like depression.  Leroy was also an alcoholic and a felon.  Dr. Myers believed that his neurodevelopment may have been effected by institutional participation and led to the development of his psychotic events.  She detailed his history with psychotic events as well as his beliefs surrounding them.  He had had at least two mild psychotic events as a child.  His Aunt had explained to him that he may be hearing spirits and also told him a story about his birth and that his grandmother thought he might be susceptible to such things.  He seemed to accept this explanation and didn’t have problems for a while because his aunt put something in his water to help.  He explained these ideas to his doctors but they dismissed it completely.  When he was incarcerated he eventually became paranoid.  At some point he ended up serving eighty days in solitary confinement because of disobedience.  His psychotic problems became constant at this point.  He began hearing voices, talked back to the voices, became fixated on things he read in a bible, and ended up being taken to a psychiatric treatment center.  In the center they treated him with anti-psychotics but he felt he was denied the chance to truly face his illness because of this.

Psychotic Disorders: A Neuroscience Perspective

It really isn’t clear what causes Schizophrenia or any of the related psychotic disorders.  The models range from genetic to epigenetic to purely environmental.  The reason for this is that they can see some evidence of the disease in some patient’s brain such as a changing of certain structures or pathways but can’t definitively say it causes the disease.  They can only say it is probably part of the disease.  At this point a mix of genetic predisposition and environmental factors seem like the best explanation.  What has been suggested is that people with Schizophrenia may be biologically susceptible to social stresses and that as these build up they are unable to withstand it and develop psychotic symptoms.  Another idea suggests that is completely normal to experience mild psychotic events during certain stages of neurodevelopment but it only becomes pathological in these supposed biologically susceptible people.  Other models suggest that the reason psychotic symptoms become evident during the young adult years is because of the multitude of social stressors associated with life changes and certain susceptible people cannot handle that and develop psychotic disorders.  Something else that is clear that Leroy was an example of is that certain contexts raise the risk of psychotic illness.  These contexts include urban environments, social disadvantage, adverse life events, and poverty which can all cause prolonged stress.  Which brings us to the last possible explanation which is allostatic overload.  This model suggests that psychotic disorders may result from neural changes due to allostatic overload but specifically due to inflammatory cytokines and glucocorticoids and their effects on the brain.  The cause and mechanism for schizophrenia has yet to be discovered but it is likely a combination of these explanations which include genetic and environmental causes.

Toward an Applied Neuroanthropology of Psychosis

Neroanthropology can be used to better understand how experience is incorporated into neurodevelopment to alter pathways or structures that lead to psychosis.  In Leroy’s case certain episodes in his life (solitary confinement) led to the exacerbation of an underlying issue.  He also came from a disadvantaged background and had previous mild psychotic episodes with certain beliefs about them.  Could this information have been used to intervene and prevent full blown schizoaffective disorder?  We don’t know.  However, continuing applied neuroanthropological research into psychotic illness can provide the insight to answer those kinds of questions.  It can also help us to understand the stages of development, at-risk populations, and biological vulnerabilities that need intervention and what that intervention should look like.  Research experiences like this case study also make it clear that to dismiss the beliefs an individual holds about their illness can be a mistake.  A person’s cultural beliefs surrounding their illness can end up being a vital tool in fighting psychotic disorders.  In the U.S. this could lead to cognitive behavioral therapy as a resource for people who want to try something with or instead of traditional anti-psychotics.

A new form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Facing the voices) to complement anti-psychotics.

Running On

 

I began running in the form of track in the eighth grade.  I, unfortunately, was sick on the day of sign ups and was automatically put in the two mile race where no one wanted to be and where there was plenty of space for me.  Initially I hated the “long distance” (only considered long distance in the context of track & field) but in the fall of my eighth grade year I somehow found myself surrounded by a bunch of sleepy eyed cross country runners.  I wasn’t good.  I finally improved enough by the end of middle school to justify trying out for the sport in high school and I wasn’t good at any other sport anyways.  However, when I arrived for tryouts I found that really there was no such thing.  Running was a place where people go when they are either made for running or aren’t made for anything else and so we had no tryouts.  What we did have was an abundance of runners at various levels.  I was a slow freshman.  We worked out very early, often before the sun rose.  My coach was very skilled at her job and I credit her to this day for helping me to learn how to run better.  I slowly improved and by the end of my first high school season I was actually enjoying the sport, my team, and making vast improvements in race time.  Running is something I came to love very much.  My favorite races ended up being the mile in track because of the swiftness of it and how you can also feel your competition at your heels and the half marathon or long trail runs.  Unfortunately, during my freshman year at college in a fit of youthful over zealousness I ran a succession of half marathons (maybe 2 or 3) then a 16 mile trail run all within a month or two of each other and ended up injuring myself.  At the present moment I cannot run much or far but it is a long term goal of mine to recover and enjoy running again.

To explain my running in Tinbergen’s terms:

  1. Historical (Evolutionary): I believe this is somewhat straight forward.  Humans adapted bipedal motion and then running so that they could better hunt prey for survival and reproduction.  We don’t have to run to hunt now but we are able to run for incredibly long distances.  I believe ultra-marathoners run more than 100 miles at a time illustrating that we could run for very long distances if needed.
  2. Proximal: I had to join a sport or take a physical education class in the state and city where I lived and I was loathe to take P.E. in high school.  That is why I decided to run track and cross country.  I knew I would never be good enough to make it in high school volley ball and basketball which are relatively competitive in my area.  So I joined the reject sport and it turned out alright.
  3. Developmental:  Joining the team also served a social purpose in my life.  It makes sense to me that the school practically forces kids into organized sports, band, or something else.  Being part of a team certainly was important to my high school experience and was probably the best part of it.
  4. Functional (physiological):  Need I say it? Runners high!  I’m actually not sure what this sensation is supposed to feel like because I’m not sure if I’ve ever experienced it.  I can say that after waking up at 5am and running we all certainly felt better.  We were happier than most people are at 5, 6 or 7 in the morning.  Our metabolisms seemed to be good and our appetites were certainly stronger.

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    I won’t be running this fall but I will be enjoying Bama football!