New Research From Clinical Psychological Science

Read about the latest research published in Clinical Psychological Science:

The Diagnosis of Mental Disorders Is Influenced by Automatic Causal Reasoning

Amanda Flores, Pedro L. Cobos, and York Hagmayer

Clinicians’ diagnoses can be influenced by causal assumptions they make about the relationships between symptoms. The causal-status hypothesis posits that causally central symptoms (those that affect other symptoms) are given more weight in diagnoses than peripheral symptoms (those that do not affect other symptoms). In contrast, the causal-model theory of categorization posits that diagnoses are influenced by whether observed patterns of symptoms match expected patterns of symptoms. In a test of these two theories, psychology students trained in clinical psychology read short clinical reports describing a preliminary diagnosis and three symptoms (S1, S2, and S3). The symptoms were chosen such that they represented part of a causal chain, with S1 leading to S2, and S2 leading to S3. The researchers manipulated causal coherence by informing participants about the absence of one of the three symptoms. The researchers analyzed the amount of time it took participants to read each sentence of the vignette. Reading times were found to be slower when consequences of presented symptoms were missing or effects of absent symptoms were present, a finding supportive of the causal-model theory of categorization.

One or Multiple Complicated Grief(s)? The Role of Kinship on Grief Reactions

Manuel Fernández-Alcántara and Emmanuelle Zech

Complicated grief (CG) is characterized by intense and prolonged separation anxiety, feelings of yearning, and difficulties going on living. The researchers examined whether CG is similar for people with different relationships to the deceased by having participants who had recently lost a family member (e.g., spouse, child, grandparent, sibling) complete assessments of CG. The researchers found that profiles of grief reactions varied based on the kinship relationship of the participant to the deceased. For example, the death of a child or spouse induced levels of grief that were greater than those arising as a result of the death of other types of kin. The authors suggest that kinship may be a major predictor of CG and should be potentially considered as a core variable in future CG models.

Distinct Patterns of Reduced Prefrontal and Limbic Gray Matter Volume in Childhood General and Internalizing Psychopathology

Hannah R. Snyder, Benjamin L. Hankin, Curt A. Sandman, Kevin Head, and Elysia P. Davis

Studies attempting to understand the neural influences of psychopathology have examined the link between gray matter volume (GMV) and various mental-health disorders; however, most studies have not shown a clear one-to-one relationship between GMV in specific brain areas and specific diagnoses. In this study, the researchers examined links between reductions in GMV and three broad psychopathologic dimensions: general psychopathology, internalizing-specific factors, and externalizing-specific factors. The GMV of children ages 6 through 10 was determined using an MRI scanner, whereas child psychopathology was assessed through parental completion of the child-behavior checklist and the child-behavior questionnaire. The general psychopathology factor was found to be associated with reduced GMV in prefrontal areas and the internalizing factor was associated with reduced GMV in limbic/paralimbic areas. After accounting for common psychopathology, no association between the externalizing factor and reduced GMV was found.

Remembering and Responding to Distressing Autobiographical Memories: Exploring Risk and Intervention Targets for Posttraumatic Stress in Traumatized Refugees

Anna Reebs, Kim Yuval, and Amit Bernstein

Models detailing — and interventions addressing — psychopathology in forcibly displaced persons often rely on research using nonrepresentative WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic) populations. The researchers examined distress and avoidance in response to emotional memory in highly traumatized refugees and asylum seekers. Sudanese refugees living in Israel were assessed for posttraumatic stress (PTS) severity before being asked to adopt either a self-immersed perspective or a self-distanced perspective while they recalled a time during which they had experienced profound sadness or fear. Participants then reported their current level of emotional distress and avoidance in response to the memory.  PTS severity predicted emotional reactivity — but not avoidance — in response to remembering the distressing autobiographical memory. Additionally, those who took a self-immersed perspective experienced less avoidance – but not less emotional reactivity — in response to the distressing memory than those who took a self-distanced perspective. The authors suggest that the impact of remembering styles should be taken into account when considering treatment for psychopathology in this population and that more research is needed.

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