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Earlier this year, a friend linked me to an article on “Binaural Beats.”  Having never heard of them before, I read the article with curiosity.  In the article, it said that there was this specific type of music called “Binaural Beats” that have been shown to connect with brain waves in a specific way that leads to greater relaxation.

I then did a brief overview of the scholar sources on Google Scholar and found that this claim was supported.

The article went on to say that this type of music is being sold because it has a drug effect, teenagers are using it for the drug effect, and that the drug effect is addictive.  The article had a clearly threatening tone to it, and in fact, described the “risk” of binaural beats as “sinister.”

None of that was supported in any of the research I found.

Now the same friend has sent me an article from the Huffington Post, describing a recent study that found that 20% of college students have Personality Disorders.  I can’t do significant background research on this article though, as it doesn’t cite the original study at all.  I am, however, highly skeptical of those numbers given that the general population prevalence tops out at about 3% of any specific Personality Disorder and tops out around the reported 20% in inpatient psychiatric units (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).

If this it is true that 20% of the college population has a Personality Disorder, then there may be a problem with sloppy and over-zealous diagnosis and/or the conceptualization of Personality disorders.  However, I have not arrived at that conclusion.

I more buy into the idea that Huffington Post is not a scholarly source.  As a news source, a source motivated to sell advertising space, it should be read as a source to sell advertising space.  It’s entertaining, it might compel further research, but it has an angle.

Everyone has an angle, everyone has a product to sell, and everyone has an agenda.  Being a conscientious consumer of research means knowing this and responding accordingly.  One of the first things I recall learning in middle school research was not to consider any webpage with the suffix “.com” a legitimate source, or if you do read it, be aware that it is a commercial site designed to make money.

However, it is increasingly clear to me that not everyone has the same sort of awareness when it comes to pursuing knowledge, specifically on the Internet.  We know that news programs love scandal.  What’s more scandalous than saying that all of your kids are using drugs while you think they’re listening to music, or your bright and shiny college student likely has a chronic and inflexible mental illness that leads to clinically significant distress and/or impairment?  I understand that America is capitalistic and everyone has the right to make a buck, but at the cost of inducing unneeded and frankly, damaging, drama?

My question, dear readers, is where does the responsibility lie for responsibly communicating research, especially in the Social and Behavioral Sciences.  Unlike medicine, mental illness is socially constructed and defined, so in inducing scandal, do commercial agencies compel reconstructions of mental illness?  Which is worse, withholding information so it is effectively communicated by people who understand the whole context of it and the information is less likely be misused/abused?   Or using an open-source, Creative Commons approach that allows for both the evolution of the product/information and misuse/abuse and flawed conclusions?

I don’t know where I lie on this stuff, but I do know that the misuse of research really bothers me.  At the end of the day, I know that people concerned about mental and medical health issues conducting searches on the Internet are often vulnerable.  However, I also am highly wary of any inkling of the “Ministry of Truth.”

Everyone has an agenda.  When capitalism, human vulnerabilities and research intersect, whose agenda wins?

American Psychiatric Association (2000).  Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (text revision). Washington, DC: Author.

When considering the development of emotional regulation, it is important to consider not just the superficial means to that goal, but also the underlying mechanisms that make gaining emotional regulation possible. From infancy, children look to their trusted others, nearly always caregivers, to determine the emotionality of novel stimuli (Hutman, 2009). Identifying pleasurable and uncomfortable emotions would intuitively seem to be important building blocks to developing emotional regulation skills. When those skills begin to express themselves in friendships, children who demonstrate greater emotional regulation seem to enjoy a variety of benefits including a tendency to have more satisfying peer relationships (Spinrad, 2006). Determining the specifics of where and when emotional competence are most highly correlated should consider underlying mechanisms. How can future studies consider confounding factors like the gaining of belongingness and mastery in the means of gaining emotional competence?

Donaldson, 2006 studied adolescent involvement in sports and emotional well-being. Being a correlative study, it simply measured involvement in sports and emotional well-being through validated measures. Unsurprisingly, they found that degree of athletic involvement positively correlated with emotional well-being for adolescents. However, the study did not expressly consider previously mentioned underlying mechanisms for emotional well-being: namely, belongingness and mastery. Belongingness and mastery are well-established human needs (Deci, 2000). Being on a team contributes to fulfilling both of those needs through camaraderie and skill acquisition.

Donaldson’s study does not presume that athletics are the only way to gain emotional competence (2006). However, in its focus on athletics it ignores other avenues to belongingness, mastery and social referencing. In toddlerhood, children learn about the safety of novel stimuli by referencing caregivers. Beginning in childhood and intensifying in adolescence, teens begin to learn the safety and frameworks for adult interaction by referencing peers, and thus prepare to master the upcoming developmental crisis of intimacy versus isolation. Future studies should focus on the perceptual experience of athletics, drama clubs, religious groups and other purposeful activities. Additionally, exploring adolescents’ intrapsychic experience of membership will be an important element of future research. An adolescent must perceive their mastery to experience its benefits.

Organized activities seem to play a role in adolescent development of emotional regulation. What happens when those organized activities are unavailable or understaffed/underfunded? How do adolescents develop emotional regulation without positive adult influence? I am suspicious that although a few effective alternatives to “traditional” organized activities do evolve, such as kinship and neighborhood networks, developing appropriate emotional regulation skills requires some influence of consistent adult leadership. Peer created and managed alternatives, though an essential element of developing independence and priming for intimacy, are only one element of positive adolescent development. If positive and consistent adults are unavailable, by either personal or systemic obstructions, adolescents are left with only the peer-led option, which may contribute an intensification of the personal fable and the normalizing of reactive emotional states. Both factors would seem to, in turn, leave young adults unprepared for a world in both emotional expression and non-expression are socially relevant and appropriate at certain times (Kennedy-Moore, 1999).

Creating the space for organized activities and more informal multigenerational networks is a daunting task. From my perspective, it begins with those three words: “creating the space.” Adults cannot devote time to their neighborhoods if they are working long hours to make a living. Teachers will not devote time to afterschool activities if they are already overworked with classrooms of 35-40 children. Make classrooms smaller, pay people living wages, create safe community spaces and give communities and individuals the resources they need to require so they can devote their intrinsic resources to their children.

Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11(4), 227-268

Donaldson, S.J., & Ronan, K.R. (2006) The effects of sports participation on young adolescents’ emotional well-being. Adolescence, 41(162), 369-389.

Hutman, T., & Depretto, M. (2009) The emergence of empathy during infancy. Cognition, Brain, Behavior: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 13(4), 367-390

Kennedy-Moore, E. & Watson, J.C. (1999) Expressing emotion: myths, realities and therapeutic strategies. The Guilford Press: New York, NY

Spinrad, T.L., Eisenberg, N., Cumberland, A., Fabes, R.A., Valiente, C., Shepard, S.A., et al. (2006) Relation of emotion-related regulation to children’s social competence: A longitudinal study. Emotion, 6(3), 498-510

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