Best and Worst of Psychology and Psychiatry – May 2016

At Brainblogger we publish monthly roundups of the most interesting findings in psychology and psychiatry research. For some reason, May was particularly packed full with studies producing important and actionable findings with regard to mental health and wellbeing, covering diverse populations, from metal heads to military personnel.

BEST: AI Machines’ Cognitive Abilities Assessed in Behavioral PsychologyTests

Maze tests have been routinely used by behavioral psychologists to study memory and learning, typically in rats and mice. Now researchers are using the same tests on the latest breed of artificial intelligence machines with mazes created in the online World of Minecraft.

The best performing AIs on the maze test displayed cognitive abilities involving deep reinforcement learning enhanced with additional memory.

BEST: Protective Psychological Benefits from Heavy Metal Music

The study analyzed trends in the psychology literature relating to Metal music, as well as songs by Slipknot, a metal band known for its masked, horror movie-style aesthetic. The authors argue that metal heads can improve difficult emotions via the accompanying social relationships, sense of solidarity and even the type of dancing that comes with listening to this type of music.

Negative songs were considered to induce feelings of relief through the sense that someone else has felt a particular way and recovered enough to transform these emotions into a creative outlet.

BEST: Loneliness is Not Just for the Old

It’s a common stereotypical view that loneliness is most common in the elderly. However, using data from a large, nationally representative German study (16,132 participants) revealed that the age distribution of loneliness followed a complex nonlinear trajectory, with elevated loneliness levels among young adults and among the oldest old age.

Researchers suggest that seeing as sources of loneliness in older adults are well understood, future research should focus on understanding the specific sources of loneliness in middle-aged adults.

BEST: Insomnia Assessments Useful in Identifying Depression and Suicide-Risk in Military Service Members

Due to high rates of suicide among military personnel and the need to characterize suicide risk factors associated with mental health service use , US-based researchers aimed to identify suicide-relevant factors that predict treatment engagement and major depressive episodes in a military sample.

Insomnia severity was the only significant predictor of major depressive episodes, predicted treatment engagement and was associated with bringing soldiers into mental health treatment.

BEST: Self-Awareness of Risk Taking Behavior Reduces Risk Taking In Crack Cocaine Users

Researchers identified similarities between adult female crack cocaine users and adolescents in risky decision-making scenarios. While giving feedback to teens regarding their level of risk taking didn’t affect their behavior, feedback regarding the crack cocaine users risky behavior resulted in a reduction of risk-taking behavior.

Further research may find that drug addiction interventions that foster a self-awareness of one’s level of risk taking may enhance treatment effectiveness.

WORST: Strong Association Between Life-Long Smoking and Eating Disorders

To address conflicting results, a meta-analysis of 31 studies compared the odds of smoking in eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder) versus healthy controls and calculated the prevalence of smokers in people with eating disorders.

Binge eating disorder was associated with smoking the most (life-time prevalence=47.7%) followed by bulimia nervosa (life-time prevalence=39.4%) and anorexia (life-time prevalence=30.8%).

The researchers concluded that people with binge eating disorder and bulimia nervosa are significantly more likely to be life-time smokers than healthy controls, which is not the case for anorexia nervosa.

WORST: High Sedentary Behavior a Potential Mortality Risk in Bipolar Disorder

Mortality rates are approximately two to three times higher in people with bipolar disorder prompting researchers to look for a link with lack of physical activity and sedentary behavior.

A limited number of studies were identified that assessed sedentary behavior in people with bipolar disorder. Nonetheless, the researchers concluded that bipolar adults typically engage in high levels of sedentary behavior during waking hours, indicating that future lifestyle interventions specifically targeting the prevention of sedentary behavior are warranted.

WORST: 20 Percent of Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients Classified as Cognitively Impaired

In an assessment of 100 rheumatoid arthritis patients, 20% were classified as cognitively impaired. Cognitive impairment was defined as having test scores at least 1.5 standard deviations below average for their age and level of education on three or more tests. Impaired performance was particularly common for short-term memory, immediate and delayed episodic recall, and phonemic fluency.

The researchers concluded that cognitive deficits on several domains are frequently encountered in relatively young RA patients during the first few years of the disease and may need to be taken into account as important correlates of disease severity and progression.

WORST: Co-Rumination Linked With Depression & Anxiety

A meta-analysis of 38 studies totaling 12,829 participants confirmed a link between co-rumination, i.e. repetitive, unproductive discussion of problems, and internalizing problems, depression and anxiety.

Researchers considered that the maladaptive side of co-rumination could, rather than help with problems, can make the distress associated with problems even worse, which may explain the link. They also suggest that therapists should be aware of the way in which their clients discuss their emotional distress with others as it could be a potential contributor to depression and anxiety.

WORST: People Who Talk About Killing Themselves Rarely Dying By Suicide is a Myth

A meta-analysis of 36 studies (14,601 patients) that reported the prevalence of people talking with others about wanting to kill themselves was used to determine the accuracy of suicide communication prediciting suicide. The available data suggests that communicating thoughts of suicide occurs in nearly half of subjects who go on to die by suicide. The researchers not that this figure is likely to be an underestimate and warrants more rigorous research.


Baker, C., & Brown, B. (2014). Suicide, self-harm and survival strategies in contemporary heavy metal music: A cultural and literary analysis. Journal of Medical Humanities. doi: 10.1007/s10912-014-9274-8

Hom, M. A., Lim, I. C., Stanley, I. H., Chiurliza, B., Podlogar, M. C., Michaels, M. S., … Joiner, T. E. (2016). Insomnia brings soldiers into mental health treatment, predicts treatment engagement, and outperforms other suicide-related symptoms as a predictor of major depressive episodes. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 79, 108–115. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2016.05.008

Kluwe-Schiavon, B., Viola, T. W., Sanvicente-Vieira, B., Pezzi, J. C., & Grassi-Oliveira, R. (2016). Similarities between adult female crack cocaine users and adolescents in risky decision-making scenarios. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2016.1167171

Luhmann, M., & Hawkley, L. C. (2016). Age differences in loneliness from late adolescence to oldest old age. Developmental Psychology, 52(6), 943–959. doi: 10.1037/dev0000117
Oh, J., Chockalingam, V., Singh, S., & Lee, H. (2016). Control of Memory, Active Perception, and Action in Minecraft. Proceedings of the 33 rd International Conference on Machine Learning. arXiv:1605.09128

Physical activity and sedentary behavior in people with bipolar disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis (2016). Journal of Affective Disorders, 201, 145–152. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.05.020

Pompili, M., Belvederi Murri, M., Patti, S., Innamorati, M., Lester, D., Girardi, P., & Amore, M. (2016). The communication of suicidal intentions: A meta-analysis. Psychological Medicine. doi: 10.1017/s0033291716000696

Simos, P., Ktistaki, G., Dimitraki, G., Papastefanakis, E., Kougkas, N., Fanouriakis, A., … Karademas, E. C. (2016). Cognitive deficits early in the course of rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 38(7), 820–829. doi: 10.1080/13803395.2016.1167173

Solmi, M., Veronese, N., Sergi, G., Luchini, C., Favaro, A., Santonastaso, P., … Stubbs, B. (2016). The association between smoking prevalence and eating disorders: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Addiction. doi: 10.1111/add.13457

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Lead Editor and Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor. A scientific consultant, writer, and researcher in a variety of fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology, and biophysical chemistry, you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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