I have been away from the blog for a while because of travel and it is time to get back to new research. And, today I stumbled across a report of research that looks at the beneficial effects of exercise on the risk of depression. Most of you know that on twitter.com my handle is runningdoc and that is because I run. I have been running since the age of 19 and longer than most people have been alive. I run 35 miles a week and by now some reader is asking “why?”
Well, now I have a really good answer, or at least a better one than I want to eat coconut cream pie at will! It is reported that exercising three times a week reduces the risk of depression in adults by 16%. And, the benefit increases 6% for each added day one exercises! That means that my risk of depression has been cut by 34% just because I run 6 days a week![i]
Fortunately, exercise in the study was not defined as running which means the benefit is available to just about anyone who can walk. When I was a young physician, I read an article by Dr. George Crane, a physician and psychologist who wrote an advice column that was syndicated around the country and published in my paper. Crane described what an old physician had told him worked best for helping his patients who were depressed.
The elder physician said he sent them all out to walk 2 miles a day along with reading a chapter of the gospel of Luke daily. He also had them help someone who was worse off than they were for two hours each week. They were to help someone who could not pay them back and to whom they were not related. The old doctor found that all of these things helped the people he cared for.
I cannot say that everyone who is depressed will be cured by the older doctor’s prescription. But, I can say that daily vigorous exercise can reduce the risk of depression in the general population by 34%. The research is in and it says so!
And, yes, I think the rest of the old doctor’s prescription helps a lot. And, for the last 30 years I have been telling strugglers a lot of the same advice.
[i] http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/15/us-health-depression-fitness-idUSKCN0I42IS20141015 I saw this article first on foxnews.com but the original posting was on Reuters at the above web address.
I do like movies! I like them most for the quotes that are just waiting to pop up when I read an article in medicine. Today’s quote came from the Shawshank Redemption. Andy was talking to Red sitting in the prison exercise yard trying to get across why Andy was not going crazy while doing life for a crime he did not commit. Andy had hope that grew from the fact that he was digging a tunnel out of prison! The quote applies to a new research study that tells us something that many have been thinking for a long time. The active ingredient in today’s crop of antidepressant medications appears to be hope. The study was done at the UCLA Medical School and examined whether or not patient attitude toward the treatment made a difference in the outcome. [i] The study divided individuals into three groups one of which would receive a placebo pill (looks exactly like the real thing but does not contain the active drug) and a second which would receive the medication. The third group did not receive medication but did get supportive care. Then they questioned the participants as to whether or not they believed the medicine was going to work. Those who reported that they believed the medication would be effective improved. They improved whether they received the placebo or the real drug. And, the difference between the groups was not large. Both treatment groups did better than those who only received supportive care. I suppose the equation would look like faith plus hope equals effectiveness. In the words of the researchers, "Supportive interaction with the subject helped them get better, and antidepressant therapy helped them get better, but I think our key finding was that patients' belief in the effectiveness of medication was a unique factor that contributed to them getting well. So belief in the power or effectiveness of the medication may be a contributor to placebo responses in the treatment of depression."[ii] There are lots of directions to take these results. The lack of a large benefit in taking the active drug makes one wonder if the potential for side effects would be worth the risk. But I think there is more to be had in looking at how faith can help those who are depressed. As the writer of Hebrews said, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) If nothing more than faith in the effectiveness of a placebo can result in people who are depressed improving, what might happen if they had something or someone real in which to believe? [i] Patient Expectations Largely Dictate Antidepressant Response, Medscape News @ Medscape.com Pam Harrison September 15, 2014. [ii] Ibid.
Chemical Imbalances & Depression: A Theory Falls victim to New Research There is interesting news in the field of medical research for depression. [i]I am always grateful when medical researchers take another look at a significant problem in life when the current answers don’t seem to work well. This is so true of depression. People do struggle with real sadness today and the answers that medicine offers are just not working as well as hoped. Research in the past decade has told us that the most popular medicines we have for depression do not work very well for up to 80% of the people who take them.[ii] There is a growing sense that the diagnosis of depression is made too often. It is also a concern that normal sadness over loss is being confused with the disease depression.[iii] Today, most all of us know or have heard about chemical imbalances and how they are supposed to cause depression. Most of us have heard about serotonin and how a low level of it in our brains can cause us to be depressed. We have seen the commercials on television for medications that are supposed to correct the deficit. But, new research would indicate that the chemical serotonin may have little or nothing to do with depression at all. Researchers at the Wayne State University School of Medicine noticed that 60 to 70 percent of patients who take the serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressants will still feel depressed. And so they devised a research project that would look again at the role serotonin and chemical imbalances play in depression. What they found indicated that serotonin may not be a major factor in depression.[iv] Keep mind that the study was done on mice. They were found to have a gene that resulted in them making very little serotonin in their brains. And no you do not need to remind me that we are men and not mice. J But, these mice with little brain serotonin did not display a depression-like behavior pattern under normal circumstances. When they were subjected to the same kinds of situations that caused behavior that looked like depression in animals, these mice responded just like normal mice that had normal levels of serotonin. Most of the genetically serotonin deficient mice did not respond to the SSRI antidepressants in the same way normal mice did with changes in their “depression-like” behavior. The conclusions from the study were that it is likely that serotonin may not be a large factor in depression. In essence the chemical imbalance/ serotonin deficiency theory of depression is most likely wrong. While this is not great news for those who are invested heavily in the production and sale of the current crop of antidepressants, it is good news for patients. The reason it is great news is the last line in the article. “These results could dramatically alter how the search for new antidepressants moves forward in the future, the researchers conclude.” In other words, science is moving on to look for a better way to explain why some struggle with sadness. The outcome could be a better understanding of the cause at the brain cell level of the disordered sadness part of depression today. This could result in laboratory testing and brain scanning that would allow us to make a better diagnosis. And, that could lead to more effective treatment. This study opens the door for researchers to resume looking for a real explanation for the disordered sadness of depression. When we understand the change in the human brain or body that causes depression two things could happen. The diagnosis of depression will become far more accurate reducing the numbers of people over-diagnosed. And, a better treatment could be found for those who suffer with severe, disordered sadness. For the 90% of patients today with normal sadness over loss, accurate testing could help them avoid from being treated with medicine intended for the treatment of disease. Having a test that says the patient does not have depression would help doctors encourage patients to seek care that fit their problem such as counseling. And that is where Biblical counseling can offer great hope. [i] American Chemical Society. "Serotonin deficiency? Study throws into question long-held belief about depression." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140827111946.htm>. [ii]Charles Hodges M.D., Good Mood Bad Mood. Shepherd Press, Wapwallopen, PA. p48-49. [iii]Ibid, p68-69. [iv] Mariana Angoa-Pérez, Michael J. Kane, Denise I. Briggs, Nieves Herrera-Mundo, Catherine E. Sykes, Dina M. Francescutti, Donald M. Kuhn. Mice Genetically Depleted of Brain Serotonin Do Not Display a Depression-like Behavioral Phenotype. ACS Chemical Neuroscience, 2014; 140812102725008 DOI: 10.1021/cn500096g
In the August 16 edition of the Economist, there is an interesting article “The computer will see you now.”[i] The writer indicates that there are significant advantages to having people with emotional struggles talk to a computer instead of another human. Patients talked with a computer generated human image named Ellie which the author thought sometimes might be better than the real thing!
The computer seemed to pay better attention than a living breathing and distractible human. The computer video camera was able to measure sadness. Patients talked with an avatar named Ellie and were willing to speak about important problems as long as one condition was met. Ellie seemed so real that they needed to be assured that she was not a computer image being manipulated by a live person.
If the participants believed they were only talking with a computer then they were willing to talk about subjects that were very important to them. If they did not believe that they were only talking with a computer then they limited how much information they gave. There are lots of lessons in the article about communication, but the real message is about trust.
At the heart of counseling relationships is trust. If the counselee does not trust the counselor then vital information will be withheld. I have often told students that when counseling seems to bog down after several weeks that it might be time to circle back and ask the struggler if there is anything else they might want to tell them about the problems. It should not be surprising that people do not trust a counselor much in the first few weeks. It is not surprising when they hold back important facts that would explain their struggle.
So, there are several lessons in this article for counselors and counselees. For those who struggle it is essential to find a counselor that you trust. (A subject for another blog) And, when you do, it is important not to withhold pertinent facts. Counselors are not psychic and you should not make them guess as to why you come for help.
On the other hand, counselors need to be relentless in the pursuit of truth. Proverbs 18:13 tells us that “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is a folly and a shame to him.” We must take the time to listen and to continue to ask questions until we are satisfied that we have a thorough understanding of the problems the counselee brings.
The last lesson reminds of line in a Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” in which he exhorts his son not to lose the “common touch.” I have practiced medicine for nearly 40 years and I am computer electronic medical record literate. I believe that computers have been a positive benefit in health care. But, they will never be able to provide the most important ingredient in medicine and counseling, the human touch.
The writer of Hebrews speaks of it and its importance. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb 4:15-16 KJV) No mere machine can give that kind of touch.
[i] “The Computer will see you now, A virtual shrink may sometimes be better than the real thing,” The Economist, August 16, 2014
Teaching Old Dogs: New Research Says You Can Learn New Tricks! As a physician and a biblical counselor, I can tell you that I have heard just about every excuse known to mankind when it comes to changing old bad habits. I have listened to an amazing litany of reasons for continuing to smoke such as “it will keep me from gaining the weight my coconut cream pie might put on.” Or, “you just have to understand that I have a really bad temper and accept me the way I am!” I have never been much convinced by these arguments. Paul told his friends at Corinth that they could change! “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2Co 5:17) Change is to be expected in the life of a Christian. When Paul wrote to his friends at Ephesus he laid out the plan. “In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Eph 4:22-24) Paul gave us a process for change that involved laying aside old bad habits, finding in scripture what the new ones were supposed to be, and then putting on the new behavior. The whole process is powered by the grace of God that works in the lives of those have believed in Christ as Lord and Savior. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10) It is always good when secular research confirms something we have known to be true from scripture. Recent research reviewed in Science Daily has outlined the process of changing habits[i] and it looks just about like Ephesians 4:22-24. Wendy Wood presented a paper at the American Psychological Association meeting that detailed the process that occurs in the brain when we make habits. It starts with the behavior under the control of fully engaged intentional mind which would occur in the frontal cortex and motor areas of our brains. As we repeat the behavior the control of the event moves to the sensory and motor portions of the brain. In an interesting experiment that looked at eating popcorn in a theater, the researchers found that after you develop the habit of eating popcorn during the flick, it doesn’t matter if it is stale or fresh. Most people will gobble it down out of habit triggered by the sensory cues associated with the theater and the smell of popcorn. People eat the stale popcorn because once it becomes a habit the whole process operates outside of our conscious thought. We don’t think about it. We just eat. Important to changing these habits were the cues that we learn that set us down the habit trail. For the popcorn eater it is the smell and the theater. If the habit of eating stale popcorn is to change, the authors said first you have to change the cues, then you need to make new ones, then you must repeat the new behavior at great length. The study said also that it take from 15 to 254 days to change a well ingrained habit as they have observed it. I suppose if you want to quit eating stale popcorn you need to hand your wife your billfold before you enter the theater and ask her to buy nachos instead. So there we have the process of change as the world sees and it is very much like what we might say from a Biblical counseling perspective. But, it is also very different and that difference is grace! So Paul says to the Philippians, “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phi 2:12-13) The Christian has an enormous advantage in the game of change. First God has granted us the privilege of choosing good behavior over bad. As Paul told us in his letter to his friends at Rome, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Rom 6:16) We get to choose! And, the choice is powered by God! God is working in us to do His good pleasure. So, yes we need to change our cues when we have unbiblical habits and put off the old man. And, then we need to pick the new behavior that is biblical from scripture and then put it on. And, by God’s grace we need to keep practicing it and doing the things we know we should. So there, think about it before you eat that popcorn next time! [i] Society for Personality and Social Psychology. "How we form habits, change existing ones." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 August 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140808111931.htm>.
New Research in Schizophrenia One of the harder problems we face in medicine and Biblical counseling is deciding which diagnostic labels represent disease and which are simply descriptions of inconvenient behavior. The one thing that has helped us sort out the difference has been pathology. Pathology is the study of disease. It looks at how changes at the cell level in our bodies result in abnormal function. Understanding the pathology or change at the cell level is very important if we hope to help those who suffer from disease. When we know the process that causes the change in our body function, we have the opportunity to look for a cure or better care. This is particularly true in the arena of mental illness. This week new research published in Nature[i] offered a new insight into the cause of schizophrenia that may open the door to better treatment. While the lifetime risk of schizophrenia is around 1%, those affected account for as much as 25% of costs for inpatient hospitalizations. Those who struggle with the delusions, hallucinations and personality changes are often unable to work or relate in a normal way to their families. It is likely that they make up from one third to one half of the homeless. It is an enormous burden for those affected and those who love them. The last major advance in treatment for schizophrenia came 60 years ago with the introduction of Thorazine. This drug literally emptied the mental hospitals of the day, but since then most of the new drugs used have been variations of the original. Currently there is no new novel medical treatment on the horizon. The reason why we are struggling to find new and better medicine is that we do not have a good understanding of the underlying pathology in schizophrenia. Pathology is the change at the cell level in the brain that causes the problem. Without that understanding it is nearly impossible to find new treatment. This may be changing. New research in the genetics of schizophrenia has shown that there may be a connection between genes that govern brain tissue and tissue that play “important roles in immunity.”[ii] This connection may support the speculation that schizophrenia is a disorder of the brain in which our immune system attacks brain tissue resulting in symptoms. This is important research because it is looking for the underlying cause and not another palliative treatment for symptoms. If we find the underlying cause and the change at the cell level in the brain that results in the damage, it offers the possibility of a real cure. Along the same line a case report that was presented at the American Psychiatric Associations May 2014 meeting also offered another insight into schizophrenia.[iii] Patients in a long term warfarin clinic for blood thinning who were also diagnosed with schizophrenia were found to be in remission and no longer required anti-psychotic medication. The report included five patients and by no means does it suggest that all schizophrenics should be treated with anti-coagulants. But, it if it proves out in further research it may give an insight into the process that damages the brain and causes the hallucinations. This is the kind of research that is desperately needed in the area of mental illness. Instead of trying to using surveys to count symptoms, this research is trying to find the cause. Medical research is at its best when starts with the change that a disease causes in the structure and function of human tissue at the cell level. If offers the hope of really understanding the patients problem and finding a cure. [i] Biological Insights from 108 Schizophrenia-associated Genetic Loci. Nature 511, 421-427 (24July 2014) [ii] Ibid. [iii][iii] Warfarin for Long-Term Psychosis Remission? Medscape.com, Deborah Brauser, May 15, 2014.
Settle you arguments by Sundown! New research published this week tells us something that we probably have known all along. Problems at home can lead to arguments at work that then result in more disputes at home. Researchers at the University of Madrid examined the relationship between struggles at home and attitudes at work.[i] What they found was not surprising. "The difficulty of focusing on work when distracted by family worries made employees irritable. This led to them reacting negatively towards colleagues instead of using more adaptive strategies…This negativity is transferred to the home in the form of increased conflict with their partners,” said Dr Sanz Vergel.[ii] In English, when we struggle at home and take those struggles with us to work, we will have problems at work. And, if we fail to deal with them in a biblical manner we will take them home. Then the cycle just starts over in a worsening spiral of home and work struggles. Paul told us this would be the case two thousand years ago in his letter to the Ephesian church. He warned them as follows. “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Eph 4:26-29, 31-32 NASB) There are several important things Paul tells us that can break up the cycle of work home problems. First, do not let problems go past sundown! Reconcile your disputes before bedtime and start the next day with a clean slate. Second, choose your words in careful kind godly way. Everything we say impacts someone who hears it. We ought to choose our words to glorify God and help others. And third, we should forgive one another in the same way God forgives us. These are simple solutions Paul gives but they are profoundly useful if we don’t want to spend our lives carrying problems from home to work and back. [i] Ana Isabel Sanz-Vergel, Alfredo Rodríguez-Muñoz, Karina Nielsen. The thin line between work and home: the spillover and crossover of daily conflicts. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 2014; DOI: 10.1111/joop.12075 [ii] British Psychological Society (BPS). "Family worries can cause conflict at work." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140630094654.htm>.
To Drink or Not to Drink: Alcohol is the Question. When it comes to drinking alcohol, I must admit that I have very little experience. I gave it up at the age of 19 when I realized that there really was not enough time to party hardy and study enough to get into medical school. So, I cannot speak as one with firsthand knowledge of the benefits and penalties associated with regular daily alcohol consumption. But, I am a doctor and this week I came across a research study that discusses the real downside to drinking. It is cancer. “…when it comes to cancer, no amount of alcohol is safe”[i] according to a recent report by the World Health Organization.[ii] No, this is not an urban legend conjured up by a wild eyed member of the WCTU[iii]. It is simply what medical science has to say about a habit of life that is growing in popularity among evangelicals. I am old enough to have lots of stories about how we used to do things at church when I was a child. I will not inflict them on you. I have watched in wonder at times as churches that I know used to preach against the evils of beverage alcohol, now allow that it is acceptable in moderation as long as one does not drink to drunkenness. And, please do understand that I do not believe for a minute that the Bible prohibits drinking wine. That however is not what I am here to tell you. No, the message today from medical science is that when comes to cancer there is no safe amount of alcohol for daily consumption. Drink any amount of alcohol in any form on a daily basis and you raise your risk of cancer of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, colon-rectum, liver and the female breast.[iv] This is a causal relationship in that the alcohol and its metabolites cause cancer. As one writer said, the best advice he could give was that if you drink daily it should be no more than 1.5oz of alcohol (one and a half beers, 7.5oz of wine, or one and a half mixed drinks containing 1oz of ethanol.) per day. Women should only have 1 ounce. If you do not drink alcohol, don’t start. Light or moderate drinking does not eliminate the risk. The risk for cancer is dose dependent so if you do drink, drink less or even better still, stop. Alcoholic beverages contain 15 compounds that cause cancer including acetaldehyde, acrylamide, aflatoxins, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, ethyl carbamate, formaldehyde, lead and finally ethanol.[v] (That is alcohol for those who never suffered through organic chemistryJ) The areas of the body at risk are those that come into contact with the alcohol first and in highest concentration and include the oral cavity and esophagus. As a physician, I guess I would tell my friends who have been sitting on the sidelines of alcohol consumption to stay there. When first century Christians drank wine there were some compelling reasons that included the lack of safe drinking water. We have solved that problem with iron pipe, so the benefit of avoiding water borne disease does not exist in most parts of this country. That leaves us with the risk, or rather the risks. Cancer is just one and if I had a bigger blog I could fill it with others.[vi] But, let’s leave it with cancer. In the 1960’s our nation came to grips with the idea that smoking caused cancer and has spent billions to convince us not to smoke. I think cancer is a good enough reason not to drink something that causes it. Maybe this is one of those, all things are lawful, but not all things are profitable moments that Paul wrote about. [vii] [i] Rehm J, Shield K. Alcohol consumption. In: Stewart BW, Wild CB, eds. World Cancer Report 2014. Lyon, France: International Agency for Research on Cancer; 2014.[ii] All of the factual information in this blog came from the following Medscape article. Medscape Oncology No Amount of Alcohol Is Safe Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS April 30, 2014 http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/824237?src=wnl_edit_tp10&uac=16048SY [iii] Women’s Christian Temperance Union. A noble organization that fought alcohol abuse and the devastating effects it had on women and children in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. [iv] Bagnardi V, Rota M, Botteri E, et al. Light alcohol drinking and cancer: a meta-analysis. Ann Oncol. 2013;24:301-308. Abstract [v] Lachenmeier DW, Przbylski MC, Rehm J. Comparative risk assessment of carcinogens in alcoholic beverages using the margin of exposure approach. Int J Cancer. 2012;131:E995-E1003. Abstract [vi] Renaud S, de Lorgeril M. Wine, alcohol, platelets, and the French paradox for coronary heart disease. Lancet. 1992;339:1523-1526. Abstract [vii] 1Corinthians 6:12
My earliest introduction to the importance of the words I chose came from my mother who told me things that her mother had told her. They were quaint little sayings whose importance would take years for me to understand. “If you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.” “Bad company corrupts good manners.” Both came to mind this week when I saw research that said the social network can have a profound effect on my emotions.[i]
In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, researchers told how the positive and negative content of the posts we read on Facebook will push our emotional responses in a positive or negative direction. In this large study some subjects had the content mix of the posts they read altered so that they were either more positive or more negative posts.[ii]
As we might expect when the content was mostly positive, the individuals in the study responded more positively, and when it was negative, they responded negatively. There are all kinds of lessons for in this study. The first I see is that as Christians were are responsible for the words we choose and things we write in social media. We ought to choose those words for the benefit of others. As Paul said, “no one should seek his own good first, but the good of others.”(1Cor.10:24)
So when we post on Facebook and other social media sites, we should pick those words carefully and aim them to encourage others. In the past year I have watched several of my friends post things that were not only negative, but at times somewhat destructive in nature. I do not respond to them in comments, but send them private direct messages. I do that because as the study showed, the comments that follow a significantly negative post can become a free for all.
I know that some will say that if we only post positive things that social media will start to resemble a scene from the Disney movie Pollyanna. And, I agree that there are times when life is difficult and I feel inclined to unload my angst into those 140 character tweets and Facebook statuses. But, then I remember the words of my dear Grandmother Holcomb who considered the over sharing and gossip of her time and said, “We all take baths, but not in public.”
Maybe the best lessons from all of this come to us from scripture. As Jesus said in Matthew 18:15, when we have disputes with our brothers and sisters, we should go to them in private. Of all things I can say, Facebook is not private!
Then, as we struggle with the difficulties of life and feel the need to comment, we should choose our words carefully so that those who read will be “stimulated to love and good deeds” (Hebrews10:24) and not nasty replies and tweets in the comment sections. As Paul said in Ephesians 4:29 “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but that which is good to the need of the moment, that it will give grace to those who hear.” As my brother used to say, “If the person who is going to hear (or read) these words would not consider it a gift, maybe you should not say it.”
The Psalmist said it well. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
I urge you friends to pick your words carefully for the benefit of others.
[i] Cornell University. "Emotional contagion sweeps Facebook, finds new study." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140613142533.htm>.
[ii] A. D. I. Kramer, J. E. Guillory, J. T. Hancock. Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2014; DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1320040111
Can I Change?
Can I change? This is a familiar question that comes up in counseling. We live in a time when the answer depends a lot on what a person's goal is in asking the question.
Some would tell us that they were born they way they are and that they cannot change. I have talked with any number of angry people who have forcefully informed me that they are the way they are and that I will just have to accept it! We tend to blame our genes for our overindulgence, inattention, proneness to worry, and an ever increasing number of behaviors.
So then, can we change or are we stuck with whatever we are born with and doomed to become what our DNA dictates? Well, new research would tell us no!
In an article published last week, researchers the University of Southampton asked that question of people who are thought to be one of the most of the most difficult to change.[i]
Narcissists are individuals who think only about themselves. They are "a bit full of themselves, self-centered, and don't seem too concerned about the effects they have on other people," according to Erica Hopper one of the researchers.[ii] The question the project asked was could even narcissists, the most dedicated to themselves people on earth, learn to care about others?
The study found that even people who are highly narcissistic can learn to care about others in the right setting. When highly self centered individuals were asked to watch a video that dealt with the suffering of another they initially responded as we might expect without much empathy. But, when they were asked to put themselves in the place of the individual, the researchers found that they responded differently. Not only did the self centered participants express emotional concern for the sufferer, their heart rates increased in the same way it would in unselfish people.
When normally self centered and selfish people were asked to put themselves in the "shoes" of another sufferer, it changed them. And, that is exactly what we might expect in counseling. People can change. As Paul said, If any man be in Christ he is a new creature, old things pass away, new things are coming. (2Corinthians 5:17)
When any man or woman confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they are freed from the slavery of sinful selfishness. The first and great command is to "Love The Lord your God with all your heart..., and your neighbor." (Matthew 22:37-39) Christians can and do choose to abandon selfish self-centeredness by God's grace. As Paul would tell us, "Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (1Corinthians 10:24) And he also told us, that we could do this as Christ strengthens us! (Philippians 4:13)
It is always great when science invests grant money to prove something that we could have told them from the scriptures. J
[i] Erica G. Hepper, Claire M. Hart, and Constantine Sedikides. Moving Narcissus: Can Narcissists Be Empathic? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, May 30, 2014 DOI: 10.1177/0146167214535812
[ii] Society for Personality and Social Psychology. "Can narcissists be moved to show empathy?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 May 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/05/140530124323.htm>.