Polyvagal Theory Part 1: The Wandering Nerve

The polyvagal theory is a neurobiological theory relating social engagement, physiology, and developmental outcomes. When I was first learning the theory, I struggled to understand some of the theory’s basic terms and could not find a resource that simplified it. Therefore, this three–part series of articles is intended to serve as an introduction to the theory. In this article I will introduce the physiology behind stress. In the second I’ll discuss specific stress responses, and…

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Surrendering to Creativity: The Psychology of Remembering to Breathe (Part 3 of 3)

Up until graduate school, I often indulged the myth that good writing was a sacred thing to be done under the most precise conditions.  Akin to knowing without a timer when the soufflee has finished (sorry, I have holidays sweets on the mind), the creativity dedicated to a well-written piece had to be carefully cultured and perfected.  My patterns were always the same, although the specific details evolved with time.  In high school I had…

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A Meditation On Meditation: Behavioral Flexibility and Success

As an undergraduate I worked for a man who was, if nothing else, compelling. Tall and trim, with a bushy handlebar mustache, slicked back hair, and a propensity for pulling out and smoking an e-cigarette in the middle of lab meetings, my adviser could often be heard shouting expletives at his computer from down the hall. I quite liked him. These, of course, were not his only defining character traits. Like many in academia, he…

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Weighing in on Weight Stigma: Obesity Stigma Symposium at UCLA

The prevalence of adult obesity in the United States has nearly doubled since 1980, and over two-thirds of American adults are currently overweight or obese. Weight bias (stereotyping or discrimination directed at an individual related to his/her weight) is prevalent in modern American society, and overweight individuals experience weight bias from a range of sources, including family members, classmates, educators, co-workers, employers, and health-care professionals. Findings presented last month at UCLA at a symposium titled,…

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Outreach Event: Mindfulness Meditation!

If you were asked to do nothing for a minute, could you do it? What about being asked to smell a Hershey’s chocolate kiss but wait to eat it? Well, after this quarter’s Psychology in Action’s Outreach Program event children and teenagers from the LA community may just outshine you at mindfulness practices like these! Outreach coordinators Jenna Cummings and Nicco Reggente arranged for UCLA psychology graduate students to present to youth at an after-school program hosted by the…

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How does the brain support parent-child attachment?

Experiences early in life, when infants are highly dependent on their caregivers, can have profound effects on the brain. Research has shown that even young infants quickly learn the special relevance of their caregiver. For example, infants prefer their caregivers to strangers, learn to stay close to their caregivers, and are soothed by their caregivers (Ainsworth & Bell, 1970; Hofer, 1994). These processes are essential to forming a strong attachment between the parent and child.…

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Family Life for Working Parents: Is the home a haven or a source of stress?

Human beings are social by nature, and it is fascinating that the way we interact with each other has a profound impact on both psychological and physical health. Stephen Lepore & Tracey Revenson captured this sentiment well by stating that “social relationships are often a complicated brew of interactions that are at turns pleasant and supportive or aversive and hindering” (2011). In the context of a family, there are many positive and negative interactions that…

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Acute vs. Chronic Stress: Can it ever be both?

In the field of health psychology, there is still much debate as to what constitutes an acute stressor versus a chronic stressor. The importance of this clarification is crucial for researchers in this field, because stress is a key factor in many areas of research including coping processes, health behavior, disease progression, and psychoneuroimmunology among others. Many researchers have defined acute vs. chronic stress in the context of their own work, but these definitions varied…

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Solving the problem of adverse childhood stress

Recently an article in the New York Times caught my eye. It was about something called “toxic stress” and its effect on children. Exposure to adverse childhood experiences (ACE), like abuse, neglect, and domestic violence, has long term impacts on a child’s psychological and physical well-being. These negative experiences can induce what researchers at the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University call a “toxic stress response”. Before I go much further into what…

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Bossing stress away

Imagining the stereotypical executive doesn’t exactly conjure up the image of a zen-like state. Instead, we tend to associate leadership roles with too many demands and not enough time to meet them—in essence, a pretty stressful lifestyle. After all, managers typically have to juggle more responsibilities and contend with more personalities than do their subordinates. However, research recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may paint a different picture of how…

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Stress Affects Risk Taking Differently for Men and Women

by Andrew Sanders and Kate Humphreys Making decisions can be a difficult task. How do we choose to get from point A to point B? Does our decision change whether we are running late for an important engagement? Does stress facilitate our decision making, and if so, does it matter whether we are trying to get to something we desire (e.g., catch the beginning of a film) versus avoid something negative (e.g., punishment from supervisor…

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Know When to Put on Rose-Colored Lenses: When Bias is Useful

The idea of “positive illusions” is one that has been popular in social psychology since Taylor and Brown published their 1988 paper, “Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health.” Simply put, positive illusions are biased perceptions of reality that are thought to be good for mental health. For instance, studies have shown that people perceive themselves to be smarter, more attractive, and more virtuous than other people, and these overly optimistic perceptions…

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How Does Early Life Stress Affect Health Across the Lifespan? — Professor Shelley Taylor, UCLA

How does early life stress affect health across the lifespan? This question has intrigued our research team for many years. People who experience early life stress, in the form of poverty, exposure to violence, noise, and other stressors, or who experience a harsh early family environment in the form of conflict-ridden, cold non-nurturant parenting, or neglect, have an elevated risk for illnesses, not only in childhood but throughout the lifespan; their adverse early experiences lead…

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Childhood adversity and disease

Mounting evidence has demonstrated long-term negative physical and psychological health effects of stressors experienced in early childhood (Repetti, Taylor, & Seeman, 2002). But as health psychology researchers, what we’re interested in is why. How is it possible that something that happened in childhood could affect your health 50 or 60 years later? What are the mechanisms by which this would be possible?

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Possible link between poverty and health

About a year ago I went on a field trip to the California Science Center to dissect cow eyes with a class of third graders. I am a mentor for a 3rd grade student through an organization called I Have a Dream (IHAD). I was awestruck by how smart, funny, adorable, and happy these children were. They live in Inglewood, and there is not one Caucasian student in their class. They are from very low…

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