Category Archives: personal

Culture Shock in the Olden Days

“How Culture Shock Affects Communication,” by LaRay Barna, was published in 1976 so I tried not to read too much into the theory behind his conceptualization of culture shock because it is embedded in the paradigm of the time, the psychology of activation which Lazarus disputed decades later.  Still, I found the list of different researchers’ definitions of culture shock to be enlightening.  The world is more globalized now than it was 50 years and people are traveling more frequently for education or work.  To me, these facts seem to inhibit the recognition of culture shock as a condition.  Traveling might have been demystified, but culture shock persists, albeit in a more muddled definition.

Body Awareness Versus Bodily Dissociation

Price and Thompson, the authors of the 2007 article “Measuring Dimensions of Body Connection: Body Awareness and Bodily Dissociation,” show that the Scale of Body Connection (SBC) is a particularly useful tool to use in measuring body dissociation in people who have experienced trauma.

The SBC is a 20 question assessment of a person’s psychophysical awareness.  The questions were based on common statements made in body therapy.  With a review of the clinical research, statements were assessed as being related either to body awareness or bodily dissociation.  First, 12 Nursing Science doctoral students were asked to evaluate the questionnaire rough draft.  Then, experts in fields associated with body therapy, trauma, and scale development were asked to approve the scale.  The sample size was 291 undergraduate students taking either a history or anthropology class.  The gender breakdown was 55% female, 45% male.  Most of the sample appeared Caucasian with an average age around 20.

The authors used confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), chi square, goodness-of-fit index (GFI), comparative fit index (CFI), normed fit index (NFI),  standardized root mean square residual (SRMS), and the root-mean-squared error of approximation (RMSEA) to measure scale validity.  Scale reliability was measured using Cronbach’s alpha in SPSS.

While the results indicate support for SBC having construct validity and internal consistency reliability, I do not think this new scale would be helpful for my study of culture shock.  How this study defines trauma does not necessarily fit the trauma I associate with culture shock.  In my opinion, even if subjects with culture shock experience body dissociation, the magnitude might be smaller than more concrete traumas and therefore might not be captured by a scale such as this.  I also think that culture shock, while including elements of dissociation both psychologically and biologically might best be measured through the proxy of stress.  This article does, however, have simple and workable definitions of body awareness and bodily dissociation that might be useful.

Dissociation: Who am I?

While I enjoyed the very detailed and all-encompassing article “Dissociation in Trauma: A New Definition and Comparison with Previous Formulations” by Nijenhuis and Van der Hart, I can’t help but feel that if I use parts of this article to draw parallels to a less dramatic phenomena, culture shock, it would be antithetical to the overall message of this article: that we need a new and specific definition of dissociation and that we need to stop muddling symptoms and disorders.  In other words, our classification itself has become a bit disordered.  Still, I think that the authors’ take on personality and identity will be helpful in describing why a person may not ‘feel like themselves’ when finding themselves in a new cultural context.  To this end, yes, personality does seem to be a biopsychosocial system  that influences an individual’s everyday mental and behavioral actions.  Inherent in this discussion of personality is perception and emotion, which I might be able to link back to Lazarus’ understanding of appraisal.  I’m not yet sure if this perspective is helpful to my take on culture shock or whether it is an unnecessary complication to my understanding of the phenomenon.

Using Theory in a Clinical Setting

In “Using Stress, Appraisal, and Coping Theories in Clinical Practice: Assessments of Coping Strategies After Disasters,” Matthieu and Ivanoff (2006) utilize the transactional framework proposed by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) among other theories to investigate the ways in which clinicians and researchers might understand individual stress and coping while also looking at the broader public health impact of a disaster.  The authors use the World Trade Center disaster of 9/11 to demonstrate the scales at which stress can manifest.  I found this article to be a good review of the coping processes, styles, and strategies people might employ to alleviate stress.

Community Commons: Perceived Stress Scale

Community Commons offers a pdf of the Perceived Stress Scale, along with one-page intro, including background, validity, and a Norm Table. This is the scale chosen to administer to pregnant women throughout this experiment.

http://www.communitycommons.org/wp-content/uploads/bp-attachments/29658/perceived-stress-scale.pdf

Companionship and Art in Mother-Infant Interactions

Colwyn Trevarthen is Emeritus Professor of child psychology and psychobiology at the University of Edinburgh. He originally trained in biology and studied infancy in Harvard in the late 1960s.

The author, in the flesh!

In his talk “Born for Art, and the Joyful Companionship of Fiction,” Trevarthen makes a case for mother-infant interactions as facilitating creativity. Mother-infant interactions take place even before birth, when mothers will speak to their unborn children. This behavior is rewarded when infants recognize their mother’s voice. Subsequent interactions between mothers and their infants are mutually beneficial and have qualities of “communicative musicality,” pulse,” and “narrative.”

These are all qualities of art and require creative collaboration between the mother and infant. Trevarthen doesn’t believe that the interaction was limited to mothers and infants. He believes other family members observed these interactions and reacted positively and creatively, continuing to foster play activity in infants and therefore facilitate further development of creativity.

Trevarthen believes that it was these interactions that ultimately separated us from Neanderthals and gave us the unique ability to produce imaginative art and music, which he believes stems from mother-infant interactions. This makes sense if we think about the neural pruning that occurs in the first few months of life. Interactions between mother and infant during this critical period would strengthen neural pathways related to sociality and creativity that are involved in these interactions.

environ mom infant
Image by me, inspired by research by Zaneta Thayer

Epigenetic factors play a huge role in this transition. The plasticity of the human infant brain creates the perfect opportunity to foster creative innovation during this time. This kind of interaction can only strengthen social bonds within families and communities that participate in these interactions.

There is an online flash activity that I really like that illustrates the importance of the mother’s interactions with her infant. It’s called Lick Your Rats. You are put in the position of a rat mother and tasked with grooming your infant. The more attention you give your pups, the more activated their glucocorticoid receptor becomes, which helps the rats deal with stress more easily as adults. Trevarthen also cites the research that this flash game is based on, so I thought this was the perfect illustration of his point.

lick your rat pups
Try it out yourself! From the University of Utah Health Sciences website

The discovery of mirror neurons in rhesus monkeys is another illustration of how mother-infant interactions could facilitate creative collaboration. Mirror neurons make empathy possible, and therefore make it possible to share experiences. Rhesus monkeys have a very similar developmental trajectory as humans, including the intimate face-to-face interactions between mother and infant that seem to give rise to artistic expression (an outward indication of shared experience and ideas).

I have a few problems with Trevarthen’s ideas. Trevarthen puts a lot of emphasis on the environment of evolutionary adaptedness (EEA) that is needed for the ideal development of a human infant. Mismatch theory is very popular and used to explain an abundance of morbidities that we face today. Trevarthen invokes the EEA in order to make a case for increased maternal interaction in a society that has seen a decline in this kind of parenting. He cites that women  who exhibit warm mothering tendencies tend to have a harder time with abstract reasoning, saying that this is the reason many modern women have trouble juggling the responsibilities of motherhood and employment. I don’t know if this is necessarily the case. This may just be a knee-jerk reaction of mine, but this assertion just sounds wrong to me. There are plenty of women I know who have juggled the demands of employment and motherhood expertly. My own mother, who I like to think is very intelligent and hard-working, raised my sister and I working full time and (as far as I can tell) we turned out as developmentally sound as anyone I know.

He also goes on to say that long periods of day care in the first year of an infant’s life are “clearly detrimental.” If we are invoking the idea of an EEA, however, it doesn’t seem to me that daycare should pose much of a threat to the infant’s development, since the idea that children were typically raised by the community seems to be widely held.

It may just be that I have a problem with the idea of an EEA. Mismatch theory sounds nice on paper, and can account for some problems that we have, but typically these problems can be attributed to cultural causes as well (think obesity/diabetes). Culture is also probably the best solution to these problems, since culture is more fluid and can adapt quicker than biology.

Regardless, I think the idea that artistic creativity emerged from the epigenetic influence of mother-infant interactions is genius. Mirror neurons, release of oxytocin and dopamine during these interactions, and the rythmic nature of these interactions all support Trevarthen’s claims. I think it is also important to note that artistic endeavors are an intrinsic part of human nature, and the idea that this ability to innovate and create on a level that other creatures cannot is truly something that sets humans apart.

Notes from a Cinephile

Humans have always held a fascination with storytelling. The form has evolved from spoken legends, hieroglyphs, and cave drawings, to those born of recent technology, such as films, comic books, and even video games. It is something that sets us apart from the rest of the animal kingdom, and the list of benefits is long. Though, I don’t think I can convey its capacity for influence better than this scene from Dead Poet’s Society (directed by Australian Peter Weir). I’ve been interested in films for many years. My passion flourished when I began college, and was further realized when I was appointed Director of the International Film Series at the University of Northern Colorado. It was a paid job, but I would have done it for free. We used 35mm film (which is not cheap), and ran it through a projector from the 50’s. It did require occasional troubleshooting, but the history and novelty made it worthwhile. It was, too, a laborious process, as it takes great care and precision to run through a projector – at least one as old as ours was. If you’ve never seen a canister of 35mm film, you should know that they are awfully heavy, and film reels can be up to thousands of feet long. The best part of the job was having a key to the theater. I was never explicitly told not to watch films for my own enjoyment in the theater, so I definitely did that. One of my favorite films, Melancholia, directed by Lars von Trier, was available on Amazon to rent before it was released in the US. I certainly didn’t want to pay $10 to watch it on my laptop, so I ran it through the computer in the theater, and I watched it on the big screen. Watching films by myself in the theater became a regular occurrence. I even watched some of my weekly TV shows, such as Shameless, in there. Again, best job ever. (Funny anecdote – As I had grown comfortable doing this, I would smoke an inordinate amount of pot before heading to the theater. The DVD player software on the computer set up in the theater has a playback feature that allows you to slow or speed up the rate of play. If done in small increments, it is unnoticeable. I began watching The Turin Horse, which is a slow-paced art film, and I, apparently, hit the button to slow the playback speed by mistake. It took me 45 minutes to realize what I had done. I was like, “Jesus, nothing is happening…” It turns out, in that 45 minutes, I had played through about 15 minutes of the whole film. Don’t get high and operate machinery.)

Lindou Theatre at the University of Northern Colorado
Lindou Theatre at the University of Northern Colorado

Through the years, I discovered that movies can be much more than cheap entertainment (and that America hasn’t fully realized this yet). I grew to love the works of Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Ingmar Bergman above all others. These two are master craftsmen, and I beg you all to familiarize with their work. Jeunet is a French film director, who you likely know, but don’t know you know, from the movie Amelie. Though, in my opinion, not his best, it is his most well-known. Ingmar Bergman is a golden god, lauded as one of the greatest directors and auteurs by many others in the field. His films usually deal with heavy topics, and display the human condition in a way no other has been able to. This particular scene has long haunted me.

I got crafty and made a coaster set with images from Jeunet and Bergman films.
I got crafty and made a coaster set with images from Jeunet and Bergman films.

Movies assist in development as well. My generation was that of the animated Disney musicals, which instilled in us many cultural traits. It was our introduction to heroism, revenge, and even death. It was not uncommon for a child to be introduced to mortality via the passing of Mufasa in the Lion King, or to the consequences of untruthfulness in Aladdin. I would argue, though, that children are not the only ones capable of gleaning truths from films. People learn through witnessing cause and effect in stories, and films place you in roles you might not otherwise realize. This is what makes films from all over the world especially valuable. Some illustrate universal truths, while others reveal situations and cultural perspectives that have the ability to enlighten the viewer. This came out more like a public service announcement than I intended, but I think I adequately answered Tinbergen’s questions, if in a roundabout way.

GOALLLLLL!

If life is like a John Hughes movie, in high school I would have been labeled a “jock.” From ages six to twenty-two, I played soccer year-round. One of my youth teams was even ranked number one in the nation, if only for a day. By the time I made it to high school, I preferred the center midfield position. I enjoyed controlling the movement of the ball and being in the center of the action. I had a tendency to unnecessarily dribble into the thick of things just to see if I could find my way out. While admittedly not the fastest player on the field, I had excellent ball control and quick feet. The problem was that the varsity team already had those central midfield positions filled by two well-respected players who had the ability to play as one unit. This unfortunate situation provided me the opportunity to reinvent myself as a player. It turns out that I am a natural striker. Over the course of four years, I scored roughly 120 goals and assisted around 80. Captain. All-county. All-state. State Champion. Most Valuable Player. Player of the Year. I personally identified as “soccer player,” first and foremost.

Women's Soccer State Championship, 2007. Camille Morgan, MVP, bottom center.
Women’s Soccer State Championship, 2007. Camille Morgan, MVP, bottom center.

This self-image started to evolve when I decided to turn down the recruitment efforts of a small college in favor of a university with highly respected academics. In college, I chose not to try and walk-on to the varsity team. Settling instead for club soccer, I then I had time to work in the archaeology lab and join a sorority. My outside identifier became more complicated and more geared toward my academic accomplishments.

Photograph courtesy of Wake Forest Magazine, Face Time mentorship article.
Photograph courtesy of Wake Forest Magazine, Face Time mentorship article.

While I still inwardly identify as “soccer player,” I no longer immediately communicate this label to my colleagues. At a recent departmental luncheon, “fashionista” was the nickname written on my sandwich. Fashionista! This must be the Twilight Zone!

Historically speaking, communal sports provide the skills necessary to succeed in hunting or warring. Developmentally, games and sports are often played by adolescents as a part of socialization and enculturation.  Proximally, I chose soccer because that is the sport my older brother played. I am extremely grateful that he steered my athletic abilities toward the best sport in the world. I trained my mind to read plays and trained my body, turning complicated moves into muscle memory. To this day, I walk with my right foot pointed slightly outward as if a ball might at any moment come careening toward me. Functionally, I am and will forever be a soccer player.Game on.

Run it! Run it!

Sing the title of this post to “Run it” by Chris Brown while watching this gif and tell me you didn’t smile.

I wrote this before I realized someone else also wrote about running as their hobby…. hopefully our posts are different enough to not be redundant.

Me after my first 5k!

Running is not something I ever thought I would enjoy. Even after I started running for fitness, I did it infrequently. I would push myself too hard, injure myself, and have to back off before I could do anything else. Last year, I decided I wanted to participate in a color run (specifically Color Me Rad). I learned how to pace myself and trained like crazy. I discovered it was something I enjoyed… a lot! I even decided I would sign up for the running class here at UA (who doesn’t want class credit for doing something they love?). Anyway, here is my experience with running using Tinbergen’s four “Why” questions.

  • Historical: Legends of the first marathon come from Greece in the 5th century BCE. After the Athenians defeated the Persians at Marathon, Pheidippides was tasked with delivering the news to Athens.
    Statue of Pheidippides on Marathon Road

    He ran approximately 26 miles (the length of a modern marathon) to deliver the news, and subsequently collapsed and died from exhaustion. Competitive marathon races were started in the modern Olympic Games in 1896 to honor this part Greek history.
    Let’s rewind a little bit before moving on. In the 16th century, jogging was a common part of training for swordsmen. In the 19th century, running was part of the training regimen of many athletic sports. The modern running fad was started when Bill Bowerman published Jogging  in 1966. Recreational running was born from these events.

  • Proximal: Why did I start running? I actually hated running for P.E. or really for any other reason when I was younger. My mom used to say “I will only run if I’m being chased” and I adopted the same philosophy. I knew people who played sports and even some who ran for fun, but it never interested me. In fact, I actively avoided it.
    My pre-running/post-health craze stage at color guard camp (I’m in the pj pants… it was early)

    In my later years in high school, I became interested in health. I restructured my diet, started exercising outside of P.E., and discovered I really enjoyed it. However, running didn’t come until later. The real reason I started running is vain and I’m hesitant to even admit it. I was reading health-related articles one day and read that long distance running releases hormones that slow down aging. I was sold! (I’m pretty sure this is not what I read but it’s the same idea. This, however, says HIIT is what prevents aging.)

  • Developmental: Thinking back on it, I became interested in health at the peak of my adolescence. I was already concerned about how I was viewed by my peers. All teenagers are. However, the concept of “dieting” wasn’t really introduced to me until high school, when some of my friends joined the dance team and were required to maintain their weight (something about extreme weight gain/loss throws off your center of gravity, resulting in bad form, injuries, etc…) which I thought was horrifying at the time.
    With the color guard my junior year before a parade!

    But, of course, I wanted to fit in, so I  joined in. I was also a member of the color guard throughout high school, and if you’ve ever tried to toss a flag into the air you know it takes some strength! I found that I really enjoyed learning about nutrition and health and why our bodies work the way they do.

  • Functional (physiological): A theory developed by David Carrier
    Quidditch on the Quad my freshman year… a LOT of running was involved in training/playing

    suggests humans are evolved for long distance running, specifically to facilitate hunting. This is called the Endurance Running hypothesis. Here’s a fairly short video of David Attenborough talking about persistence hunting in the Kalahari and it’s awesome: