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You’re Never Too Old to Build Emotional Intelligence

“Emotional competence” is the ability to comprehend, manage, and express one’s feelings and the feelings of others. It’s an important skill because emotional competency is linked to better health and more satisfying relationships. New research shows that those who aren’t emotionally competent can improve their emotional competency—at least after a little bit of practice—and these gains in emotional competency stick for at least a year. What’s more, this study is the first to suggest that emotional competence can be increased among adults. 

A group of Belgian researchers randomly assigned 132 adults (with an average age of 38) to one of two groups. Participants in the first group went through a two-and-a-half-day program designed to help them deal with emotionally difficult and stressful situations. The other group did not participate in that program until after the study was over.

The emotion training involved group discussion, role-playing exercises, and other activities. Drawing upon prior research on emotion, the program first taught participants to recognize how certain situations can trigger particular emotions within themselves, then taught them various strategies to regulate and express these emotions in a constructive way.

After participants learned the basics of emotional competency through the training, they received two emails a week for a month, encouraging them to apply what they learned. For instance, one email instructed them to watch out for the next emotionally fraught situation they encountered, and to be mindful of their thoughts, feelings, and behavior in that situation.

When the researchers followed-up with the participants four weeks after the entire program ended and then again one year later, they found that the people who had received the emotional competency training experienced major benefits as a result. Compared to how they felt before the training, these people reported significantly less stress and fewer symptoms of illness or physical discomfort, and significant improvements in their life satisfaction and in their relationships with their family, romantic partners, and friends. Specifically, their life satisfaction increased by 12 percent and their perceived level of stress decreased by 24 percent. The people in the other group didn’t show the same improvements in these areas.

The researchers cite various research findings suggesting that higher life-satisfaction is associated with lower rates of depression; lower stress, they note, is associated with stronger immunity against infections, including the common cold.

One important caveat: In order to take part in the program, participants had to write a letter describing their interest in it. The authors point out that this prerequisite weeded out people who were not motivated to change. Still, the results offer hope to anyone who has the desire to improve his or her emotional skills but doesn’t yet know how.

Source. The study appeared in the July 2011 Journal of Applied Psychology.

Post-Term Birth Increases Risk of Behavioral and Emotional Problems in Early Childhood

By Hanan El Marroun

Around 90 percent of all births take place between 37 and 40 weeks. Many midwives believe that childbirth should come naturally, relying on the mantra that “baby knows best.” Babies who spend extra time in the womb continue to grow and develop undisturbed by the outside world, so it was thought. This belief, long challenged by obstetricians, is commonplace on the Internet. For example, the U.S. group Ten-Month Mamas advocates on their Facebook site that labor should not be induced even if pregnancy is post-term.

However, being born post-term can give rise to complications. Children born late are generally larger, and more often need a Caesarian section or an assisted delivery. Studies have shown that post-term births are associated with neonatal morbidity and mortality. Much less is known about the long-term consequences of post-term birth.

In the study that we recently undertook, we were therefore interested in studying the relation between post-term birth and the child’s development. We followed more than 5,000 children born between 2002 and 2006 from early pregnancy onwards until age 3 years. In the early 2000s, ultrasound examinations during pregnancy were not part of the diagnostic routine assessments in the Netherlands. However,as part of the study, mothers were offered three ultrasound examinations.

These ultrasound examinations were later used to calculate gestational age (time between conception and birth) of the newborn. When the children grew up, mothers and fathers each reported about their child at three intervals up to age 3. 

We observed a U-shaped association between gestational age at birth and emotional and behavioral problems. This means that not only a pre-term birth but that a post-term birth increases the risk of problems in preschool children. Post-term birth predicted in particular the onset of attention-deficit hyperactivity ADHD-type problems, which were twice as likely to occur in children born after 42 weeks than in those born between 38 and 41 weeks. Interestingly, the emotional and behavioral problems were not due to birth complications, such as assisted deliveries or high birthweight (>4000 grams).

The International Journal of Epidemiology has granted free access to the full paper on this topic, “Post-term birth and the risk of behavioural and emotional problems in early childhood“, which is co-authored by Hanan El Marroun, a postdoctoral researcher at the Erasmus MC – Sophia Children’s Hospital in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. 


Killing in War Linked with Suicidal Thoughts Among Vietnam Veterans

By Steve Tokar 

Researchers have found that Vietnam-era veterans with more experiences involving killing in war were twice as likely to have reported suicidal thoughts as veterans who had fewer or no experiences killing in war.

To evaluate the experience of killing, the authors created four variables—killing enemy combatants; killing prisoners; killing civilians in general; and killing or injuring women, children, or the elderly. For each veteran, researchers combined those variables into a single composite measure. The higher the composite score, the greater the likelihood that a veteran had thought about suicide.

The relationship between killing and suicidal thoughts held even after the scientists adjusted for variables including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, substance-use disorders, and exposure to combat.

The study, which was published electronically on April 13 in the journal Depression and Anxiety, was based on an analysis of data from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Survey, a comprehensive study of a nationally representative sample of Vietnam-era veterans.

The authors cited other research indicating that veterans are at elevated risk of suicide compared to people with no military service. They noted that by 2009, the suicide rate in the U.S. Army had risen to 21.8 per 100,000 soldiers, a rate exceeding that of the general population.

“We want clinicians and suicide-prevention coordinators to be aware that in analyzing a veteran’s risk of suicide, killing in combat is an additional factor that they may or may not be aware of.”

Notably, the scientists found that the only variable with a significant link to actual suicide attempts among the veterans was PTSD—a finding that replicated earlier studies, according to lead author Shira Maguen, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) and an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Thus, she said, the link between killing and suicide attempts was not as significant as the link between killing and suicidal thoughts.

Maguen noted that, currently, the mental health impact of killing is not formally evaluated as part of VA or Department of Defense mental health treatments, nor typically taken into consideration when assessing a veteran’s risk of suicide.

“We know from our previous research how hard it is to talk about killing,” Maguen cautioned. 

“It’s important that we as care providers have these conversations with veterans in a supportive, therapeutic environment so that they will feel comfortable talking about their experiences.”


Yoga Yields Psychological Benefits for High-School Students

Yoga classes have positive psychological effects for high-school students, according to a pilot study. Since mental health disorders commonly develop in the teenage years, “Yoga may serve a preventive role in adolescent mental health,” according to the new study, led by Jessica Noggle, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston. 

Fifty-one 11th- and 12th-grade students registered for physical education (PE) at a Massachusetts high school were randomly assigned to yoga or regular PE classes. (Two-thirds were assigned to yoga.) Based on Kripalu yoga, the classes consisted of physical yoga postures together with breathing exercises, relaxation, and meditation. Students in the comparison group received regular PE classes.

Students completed a battery of psychosocial tests before and after the 10-week yoga program. In addition to tests of mood and tension/anxiety, both groups completed tests assessing the development of self-regulatory skills—such as resilience, control of anger expression, and mindfulness—thought to protect against the development of mental health problems.

Teens taking yoga classes had better scores on several of the psychological tests. Specifically, while students in regular PE classes tended to have increased scores for mood problems and anxiety, those taking yoga classes stayed the same or showed improvement. Negative emotions also worsened in students taking regular PE, while improving in those taking yoga. (There was no difference in a test of positive emotions.)

The tests of self-regulatory skills did not significantly differ between groups. Although attendance was only moderate, the students rated yoga fairly high—nearly three-fourths said they would like to continue taking yoga classes.

Source. The study appeared in the April Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics, the official journal of the Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.