Psychology in the News

September 3, 2013

Music to perform by

Filed under: health, music — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 11:19 pm

by Connor Cucalon

Headphones, Runner, Bridge by William Ward

How nice would it be if listening to Rihanna could help excel your work out or help you get ready for a huge competition? Walking into a gym you see people working out to blasting music, and see athletes dawning headphones prior to a big game. Preparing for a sporting event or working out to the best of one’s ability takes focus. Often time athletes and people working out who are on the top of their games describe themselves as being “in the zone.’” This zone is when people reach a peak level of performance due to an enhanced mental state with high concentration A study conducted by Dr. Alexandra Lamont claims that listening to your favorite music before competing or during training can increase your performance by helping you get “in the zone.” Lamont studied sixty-four participants across three different sports by assessing the participants before and after training and before competitions, with and without listening to their favorite music. Lamont describes that when the participants were tested when listening to their favorite songs, their performance, exertion levels, and sense of being ‘in the zone’ increased compared to when they were tested with no music playing (BPS, 2012). The participants claimed that by listening to their favorite music they perceived improvements in their motivation, focus, enjoyment, challenge, awareness and rate of exertion, according to post competition or workout assessments where participants gave ratings under each category for how they felt (BPS, 2012). The method in which these results came to be may have been a little weary, as there seemed to be no control group for this study, and many other variables were not controlled that could have influenced the results. Also, the results are not clearly spelled out, as only improvement in the ratings are mentioned.

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Sleep Deprivation and Exercise

Filed under: food, health, sleep — intro2psych @ 10:43 pm

by Aran Montare Savory

Nap by Aga

To nap or to exercise—a question that plagues so many of our busy days. On those lucky afternoons when we find ourselves with a free hour, we’re often left unsure how to spend it. This is particularly common with college students who are often sleep deprived and whose sleep schedules seldom align with their circadian rhythm. As a college student myself, I have often debated between the two activities, typically giving in to the temptations of my pillow.

However, it turns out you might actually be better off spending your time exercising instead of trying to catch up on sleep. Studies show that a daily jog for thirty minutes five times a week in the morning can improve sleep quality and decrease sleepiness throughout the day. A team of psychologists from the Psychiatric Hospital of the University of Basel found that sleep quality, mood, concentration, and overall daytime wakefulness improved after a group of over fifty adolescents committed to the exercise regimen for three weeks. After monitoring each participants sleep patterns, researchers found that their delta wave sleep, the deepest stage of sleep in the cycle, increased as did the time it took for them to fall asleep. Other variables, such as mood and concentration, were reported by the participants themselves. (Kalak, Gerber, Marcus, Roumen, Kirov, Mikoteit, Thorsten, Yordanova, Juliana, Puhse, Uwe, Holsboer-Trachsler, Edith, Brand, & Serge 2012).

Another, larger scale correlational study involving nearly 500 adolescents who either exercised 18 or 5 hours a week showed that vigorous exercise can improve sleep patterns, concentration, and general daytime wakefulness. The control group was selected based on people who reported to have an average exercise routine and were pitted against the non-control group, comprised of athletes who consistently exercised at an elevated eighteen hours a week. The participants were asked to keep a sleep log for seven days. At the conclusion of the study, researchers found a significant correlation between exercise and healthy sleep patterns. (Brand, Gerber, Beck, Hatzinger, Puhse, & Holsboer-Trachsler, 2010.)  These sorts of preventative measures can contribute to a healthier sleep schedule that can, in turn, reduce feelings of exhaustion and sleep deprivation that might impel you to take a nap.

But what about the mornings when you already feel exhausted, when prevention is too late? Perhaps the impulse to go back to bed isn’t such a bad idea after all. In a study conducted at the Naval Health Research Center , research showed that while exercise exacerbates the harmful effects of sleep deprivation, napping actually reduced them. (Lubin, Hord, Tracy, & Johnson, 1976). After a little less than four hours of sleep, those participants who had napped had significant reductions of the impairments, such as mood, ability to do basic math, auditory vigilance, and oral temperature, measured as a result of sleep loss (Lubin, et. al, 1976). In contrast, those participants who had exercised had increased impairments as a result of sleep loss (Lubin et. al, 1976).

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April 11, 2013

Oxitocin: A double edged hormone?

Filed under: genes, homones, personality, social relations — Tags: , , , , — intro2psych @ 9:31 am

by Kenta Hasui

Locked. Photograph by SMN

Locked. Photograph by SMN

“Be nice.” “Stop being such a jerk!” “I just want to help . . . ”

Many of us have these phrases heard throughout our lives, whether from our parents, teachers, friends, T.V. shows or movies. Being nice has become a given, something obvious that everybody should strive towards. But throughout this past century the discovery of the hormone oxytocin has changed how scientists and psychologists think about terms such as nice, mean, helpful, loving or altruistic.

First discovered in 1909 by scientist Sir Henry Dale, oxytocin is a hormone produced in the hypothalamus and passed through the posterior pituitary gland into the bloodstream. (Lee, Macbeth, Pagani & Young, 2009). Dale noticed that injecting an extract of oxytocin from a human into a pregnant cat contracted the cat’s uterus. He thus named the substance oxytocin, after the Greek words “quick” and “birth.” For years, oxytocin was thought primarily as a hormone for mothers during or right after childbirth.

However, the oxytocin receptors that were found in a pregnant woman’s uterus were also found in other tissues, regardless of the person’s sex. These receptor sites ranged from the heart, brain, and reproductive tract. Thus recent research have focused on the effects of oxytocin on the brain and social behavior. One such study, led by researchers from Concordia University (2011), was a randomized double-blind study on 100 university students gauging the effects of an oxytocin nasal spray . Half of the subjects inhaled oxytocin from a nasal spray while the other half received a placebo. They then completed questionnaires on their personality after 90 minutes, testing for extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness and neuroticism.

The subjects who received the nasal spray had higher ratings of extraversion, positive emotions, warmth, openness to ideas, trust and altruism. The researchers believed that people’s self-perception of these personality traits were important for navigating social situations. Thus the researchers concluded that this positive self-perception could lead to an increase in positive social behaviors.

Other studies have presented similar results for the relationship between oxytocin and trust in humans. Fehr (2005) demonstrated that oxytocin affects how willing a person is to accept risks through  interactions with other people. It does not lead people to take more risks regardless of the situation – they must be social risks  (DeAngelis, 2008). Similarly, a study from the University of Buffalo (2012) concluded that people with certain versions of oxytocin receptor genes were more likely to be generous and sociable (University at Buffalo, 2012).

However, it’s important to keep in mind that oxytocin is not a perfect hormone for niceness. Although oxytocin promotes trust in one’s in-group, it promotes distrust in one’s out-group , or the people seen as different. De Dreu (2010) illustrated that doses of oxytocin made people much more likely to help an ethnic in-group at the expense of the out-group  In one experiment, Dutch students were given moral dilemmas in which a choice must be made about whether to help a person onto an overloaded lifeboat and drown the five on it, or save five people in front of a train by throwing a bystander onto the tracks. The five people who were to be saved had no name, but the sacrificial victim had either a Dutch or a Muslim name. These two nationalities were chosen because of a poll in 2005 illustrating that 51% of Dutch citizens held unfavorable opinions about Muslims. Thus the Dutch were the in group and the Muslims were the out group. Subjects who had who had sniffed a dose of oxytocin were far more likely to sacrifice the Muhammads than the Maartens (De Dreu, 2010). In another experiment, De Dreu asked participants to press a key when shown a pair of words. One word had either a positive or negative connotation, and the other was a common Dutch first name such as Peter, or an out-group name such as Ahmad to represent Muslims.

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February 25, 2013

Learning to face fears

By Psych 105 Student

I Fear Nothing by ein Augenblick

I Fear Nothing by ein Augenblick

For as long as I can remember, I have had a cripplingly severe case of emetophobia – the fear of vomiting. I avoid any situation that increases my chances of encountering someone getting sick (amusement parks, whale watches, etc.), and even the sound of someone burping of fake-gagging at a gross joke is enough to set me on edge. I spend my days doing things like triple- and quadruple-checking expiration dates, chewing peppermint gum to fight off even the idea of nausea, and crossing my fingers against a stomach flu outbreak in my dorm. If it sounds exhausting, trust me: it is.

The life of a phobic is tense and anxious, complicated and overly detailed. I would love nothing more than to be able to move past this; the logical step towards doing so lies within therapy. The most commonly used treatment for specific phobias is exposure therapy – a form of behavior therapy, this involves exposing the patient to whatever stimulus might trigger their phobic reaction (Myers, 2013). We all learn to ignore annoying noises and other stimuli through the process of habituation. Think of the weird noise your radiator makes at night, and how you gradually get used to it and are eventually able to fall asleep even while it rattles and groans. The process of extinction is very similar, but involves learning to ignore a stimulus that somehow became a trigger, including triggers for fear. For those of us with phobias, treatment is similar, only far, far more intense.

There are two main approaches to exposure therapy: slow, prolonged exposure and short-term, intensive exposure. The former category is made up mainly of what is called systematic desensitization. Working with a therapist, the patient will identify varying levels of phobic triggers. Starting with whatever provokes the least anxiety, the patient will gradually and slowly be exposed to said triggers, one by one. During the exposure, the therapist will generally provide a number of relaxation techniques, helping to diminish any panic response that might come up. Slowly but surely, the patient will work their way up their phobia scale, not moving on to the next step until they are able to handle the one before it with little to no anxiety. In the best-case scenario, this will eventually train the patient to react to their phobic trigger with less panic and more calm.

While systematic desensitization therapy is popular, some patients look for a more rapid, immediate solution. There are two possible versions of this: flooding and implosive therapy. While both involve overwhelming the patient with their triggering stimulus, there is a subtle difference between the two. While flooding relies on actively presenting the patient with their worst fear (for example: for an arachnaphobic patient, bringing a tarantula into the room and having them pick it up) without the slow build up that systematic desensitization offers, implosive therapy focuses on having the patient visualize their worst nightmare in graphic detail. Both of these therapies function off of the idea that over-stimulating the patient and then helping them to relax will produce an even stronger learned calm-response to the trigger.

Sound like a terrible idea? You might be surprised: in a 1972 case where implosive therapy was used to treat an 8 year old boy with a fear of bodily injuries, the child reported a rapid decline in the number of sleepless nights his anxiety caused him to suffer through; within just five months, he reported no trouble sleeping at all (Gruen & Ollendick, 1972). Though there is always the fear that putting the patient through such major mental trauma will have a worsening effect on their condition (and this certainly does occur in some cases), Hand and Lamontagne (1976). Point out that many of the negative psychological symptoms that can surface after these rapid forms of treatment are actually linked to previous conditions or other external circumstances, and are not “symptom replacing.”

Also, flooding might seem like it’s a successful idea in practice, but I can personally attest to the very important point that the patient must be ready and willing to face such extreme mental pressure. I want to overcome my phobia more badly than I want anything else in my life, but I am also aware that I am nowhere near mentally strong enough to stand up to that big a challenge. I have very recently begun systematic desensitization therapy, and though I am starting off with the smallest steps imaginable – listening to audio recordings of people coughing and burping – I am hopeful that one day, I will be able to confront the challenges of more intensive therapy and come out swinging. (more…)

February 17, 2013

Conciousness in the land of dreams

Filed under: sleep, states of conciousness — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 10:41 pm

By Sarah Muskin

It is all a twisted dream by the apostrophe.

It is all a twisted dream by the apostrophe.

Have you ever experienced a dream in which you became aware you were sleeping? If so, were you able to control your actions as the rest of the dream unravelled? This occurrence is known as lucid dreaming . What distinguishes lucid dream is the ability to remember waking life circumstances and to think and act on ones own will during the dream (LaBerge, 1990). Over fifty percent of people claim in surveys to have had lucid dreams at one point in their life, but only twenty percent state that these dreams are a regular occurrence (Blackmore, 1991). Although rare, lucid dreams are a fascinating study to define states of consciousness. It had been a common belief that the conscious state  did not exist while we slept. Lucid dreams pose to challenge that theory.

Until the 1970s, psychologists did not believe lucid dreams were as they sounded from first hand reports. Instead of believing that one could be conscious while asleep, scientists thought that transitionary periods of being awake existed during REM sleep  (LaBerge, 1990). Schwartz and Lefebvre suggested that micro-awakenings during REM sleep were the basis of the lucid dreaming phenomena (as cited in LaBerge, 1990). However, their hypothesis was refuted by the results of LaBerge’s experiment designed in 1980. The experiment tested what circumstances and stage of sleep lucid dreams occurred in. It was repeated multiple times with the same results. Because eye motion takes place during REM sleep, subjects, claiming to frequently undergo lucid dreams were asked to move their eyes back and forth five times during sleep if they felt to have conscious control of their dreams. The subjects were then hooked in to an EEG machine and allowed to sleep. The results showed that during uninterrupted REM sleep, subjects would suddenly gain control of their eye movements and preform the designated task. If woken up, the subject would also be able to report their actions in context of a dream (LaBerge, 2000). This test was altered to use breathing patterns and finger motions as well as eye movements. Almost all the tests resulted in conscious control of these tasks during REM sleep (LaBerge, 1990). With this empirical evidence, lucid dreaming became an accepted theory.

If lucid dreams occur naturally in the sleep cycle, then what initiates and distinguishes them from regular dreams?  Lucid dreams have not been found to correlate to any specific physiological state. Sometimes, when entering this unique cognitive condition, changes in breathing and in heart rate can occur. Lucid dream are sometimes found to occur during stressful, or highly emotional times (Blackmore, 1991). The only consistent indication that a lucid dream is occurring, however; is that the subject is in an unusual state of higher cortical arousal (Blackmore, 1991).  This means that a subject would have a large amount of alertness while sleeping. To lose self-reflective awareness was a characteristic of dreaming. But because lucid dreamers have high cortical arousal, losing consciousness no longer is considered a necessity to dreaming (LaBerge, 2000).

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Are your devices keeping you awake?

Filed under: endocrine system, sleep — Tags: , , , , — intro2psych @ 9:40 pm

by Lena Nitsan

Late night, by Krystalm

Late night, by Krystalm

Ever wonder why you sometimes just can’t get to sleep? Maybe you should blame those hours before bed spent on the computer or tablet. Research shows that exposure to light at night, especially from electronic devices, suppresses melatonin, which makes it more difficult to go to sleep . Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland, a small gland in the middle of the brain. Among other functions, melatonin regulates circadian rhythms—in other words, our sleep cycles. It is produced at night, when it is dark; that’s why exposure to light at nighttime can disrupt this normal production and lead to lower levels of melatonin, making it harder to sleep.

Exposure to light at night causes not only this annoyance of not being able to get to sleep. One study gives evidence that exposure to light at night contributes to depression. Hamsters that were exposed to light on many consecutive nights while sleeping showed more signs of depression than hamsters who slept in darkness.

Light exposure at night affects both plants and animals, in wild and urban settings. People have night shifts at work, live in big cities where there is a lot of light pollution, and use their computers or tablets or watch TV for long periods of time, especially before bed. All of the effects of this high level of light at night are unknown, but it is agreed to be a problem. Various people and companies have invented small solutions to the problem. For example, Michael Herf created a program called f.lux, which automatically adjusts the color temperature of your screen to the time of day or night, making sure that if you are on your computer when it is dark outside, your computer is not emitting short-wave “white” LED light. The short wave LED light is more damaging to sleep than other types of light because it suppresses melatonin production the most, so this program changes the light emitted by your computer or tablet to have more of an orange glow. In addition, another study shows that there is significant improvement in sleep quality when people wear blue- or UV- light blocking glasses for three hours before bedtime.

So next time you want to get a good night’s sleep, pick up a book instead of the computer, or put on some amber-tinted glasses for a few hours. You’ll be asleep quickly (lacking any other causes of insomnia) and find significant improvements in your mood.

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January 24, 2013

Facebook helps the friendly get friendlier

Filed under: computers, personality, social relations — Tags: , , , , — intro2psych @ 11:25 am

by Kristina Muller

My FaceBook Friends By Josh Russell

In this age of technology, the internet is often used to connect with other individuals. This trend is increasingly common among adolescents, largely due to the popularity of social networking sites. Having a profile on Facebook, Twitter, or a similar social network provides users with the opportunity to keep up with the activities of their friends and what is going on in the world. Though a number of concerns have been raised about the effects of constant online activity on adolescents’ lives, many studies have determined that it does not have an adverse effect.

In one recent study, researchers evaluated what types of relationships were being fostered on social networking sites (Reich, Subrahmanyam, & Espinoza, 2012). Previously it had been thought that the combination of online freedom and minimal parental surveillance would put teens at risk for being victimized by online scams or predators. However, after surveying groups of high school students about their internet usage, it was discovered that most teens use social networking sites to connect with those whom they already know from offline, face-to-face interactions. The study evaluated such interactions by having students answer questions online and in person regarding their personal relationships and networking site usage. In fact, the study found that only 1% of the teens’ online exchanges were with unknown individuals or mere acquaintances—a risk behavior—as opposed to “very good friends”. Thus it can be concluded that online social networking is used primarily as a tool for enhancing established relationships, rather than forming new ones.

A second concern associated with the use of social networking sites is that it may lead to antisocial behavior or unwillingness to communicate in real life. However, research by Pavica Sheldon (2008) does not support this claim. After evaluating individuals’ offline personalities and motives for using social networks, Sheldon found that those who are anxious in face-to-face communication have fewer online friends than their more outgoing counterparts. This counteracts the notion that online activity is disruptive to a healthy social life, as those who are willing to carry out online relationships and do so most often are also willing to maintain them in person. Additionally, this does not uphold the formerly held notion that social networks are more of an outlet for those that do not excel in face-to-face interactions.

These studies support the idea that networks such as Facebook, where one can build a list of “friends”, are truly a community with a sound structure (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120125091053.htm). Rather than simply being a collection of individuals, the sites offer a communal location for members to interact, maintain their relationships, and share ideas and information. Most users possess a small number of online friends that they actually know, rather than a larger amount of acquaintances or people that they only have a relationship with through the internet. While some may claim that using social networking sites such as Facebook makes you narcissistic (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/06/120626115241.htm) and allows you to showcase yourself, these studies argue that it really can be seen as a way of boosting self-esteem. Having strong relationships is a significant factor in the way you view yourself, and Facebook is simply a tool for strengthening those bonds.  In the growing debate over the influences of social media, these studies show that the networking sites have a positive influence and serve a valid purpose in social communication.

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January 23, 2013

Banging toward depression

Filed under: brain damage, depression, health — Tags: , , , — intro2psych @ 11:49 am

Eddy donc by Éole Wind

by Luka Laden

From mysterious condition to hot-button medical issue, concussions have moved into the forefront of the conversation when sports and athletes are involved. Now that more and more young people are choosing to play football, basketball, and soccer, embracing the status of being a dedicated athlete, more and more young people are also at risk of sustaining a blow to the head and suffering from subsequent brain trauma, more commonly known as a concussion. While some of the symptoms usually associated with concussions, like dizziness, blurry vision, and nausea are well-known, the long-term impact of head trauma is the topic of many new studies, which attempt to clear up the true significance of brain trauma for young athletes. We know that migraines, ranging from mild and infrequent to severe and persistent, can result from head injuries, for obvious reasons, but are there more serious problems when a concussion is sustained?Compared to other injuries, such as a torn ankle ligament or sprained wrist, concussions are very unique in that the symptoms, as well as the duration of these symptoms, are so unpredictable and wide-ranging. Full recovery may take a few days, but it may also take several months. Some athletes never fully recover. We already know what’s common, but how bad can things get? Unfortunately, the indications aren’t very promising.

Several studies have shown that people who have sustained one or more concussions may experience greater difficulties involving emotion. Three studies in particular, documented by Jennie Ponsford, Rosemarie Scolaro Moser, and Robert J. Ferguson (among others), tracked symptom reports submitted by large groups of patients suffering from post-concussion syndrome (PCS), as well as reports of expected PCS symptoms submitted by non-injured participants in contact sports, who made up the control group. The specific focus of these studies was the emotional toll of brain injuries, as the injured subjects reported on their altered feelings and tendencies following their concussions. In fact, most of the injured subjects reported that they had noticed a negative effect on their respective personalities and emotional traits because of brain trauma, ranging from moodiness and irritability to sadness and a lack of enthusiasm. The symptom reports showed a common pessimism among the injured subjects, in terms of their changed emotional states of mind. As a result of these reports, emotional symptoms of irritability, moodiness, and depression were linked to head trauma among athletes (Moser, 2007). The subjects in these studies demonstrated that there appears to be a tangible connection between brain injuries and symptoms that resemble depression and emotional instability. If indeed true, these findings are far more worrisome than a minor headache or a little bit of lightheadedness. When sustaining a concussion, being at risk for some form of depression down the road must be an important consideration for an athlete deciding when and whether to return to the playing field or court. It has been found that, only three months after the injury, a concussed athlete tends to suffer from concurrent anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress, all of which may lead to prolonged depression (Ponsford, 2012). In the short run, concussions can carry severe emotional consequences and the threat of a snowballing downward spiral of persistent depression is rather ominous and scary. Even worse, the greater problem with concussions revolves around the fact that symptoms may linger for years, which means that PCS can result in heightened, sustained emotional distress that lasts for a decade, or maybe even longer (Ferguson, 1999). Emotional imbalance and instability may not go away after three months, for instance, which opens up the possibility of lifelong depression and connected emotional problems that never seem to subside. As these studies show us, it’s clearly not an understatement to say that sustaining a concussion can wreak havoc in the long run.

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December 4, 2012

Conformity can be risky business

by Charley Button

Sneaker photo

Conformity By Simon aka Flyblog

You leave the bar with your friends to head home for the night. They cross the street despite the red hand signaling “Don’t Walk.” You weigh the potential risk of oncoming traffic against ostracization from your group. In this scenario, you can either break the law by jaywalking or break with your friends momentarily. A self-preservation instinct to maintain group identity conflicts with your concern for safety and your law-abiding conscience.

When social and internal pressures compete, societal expectations habitually win out to the detriment of the individual. According to research by McGhie, Lewis, and Hyde (2011), the more you identify with a group, the more likely you are to conform to group behaviors such as “drink walking.” Their study examined the influence of psychosocial factors on individuals’ intentions to drink walk, on a scale of 1 to 7, across four scenarios. These scenarios manipulated the independent variables of high/low conformity and high/low group identity. Each incorporated a risky crossing situation, such as an intoxicated pedestrian walking against a red hand signal. Of the 151 Australian undergraduate students given this questionnaire, a large majority of individuals admitted elevated intentions to drink walk in the presence of their “closest friends” (high group identity), or when their friends were crossing in spite of the red hand signal (high conformity). When alone or with strangers (lacking group identity), subjects reported significantly lower intentions to disobey signals.

In heightened stakes, prioritizing “fitting in” over safety can lead to more serious misjudgments than ignoring pedestrian signals. Research suggests that juvenile crime is strongly influenced by peer behavior, as argued by Patacchini and Zenou (2009). Gang activity accounts for a large portion of underage lawbreaking and demonstrates the impact of neighborhood on social activities and on attitude toward the law. Patacchini and Zenou’s study revealed that petty crimes seem to be inspired by observed behavior of peers and replicated within groups, according to a desire to conform to the group’s norm. Criminal behavior of adolescents can rarely be explained on an individual basis.

In many circumstances, the need for group identity somehow overrides concern for safety, legality, or truth. Young people especially will risk their health and go against their better (individual) judgment, assimilating to a crowd’s bad decision. As Asch (1951) discovered, individuals will doubt their own judgment of the length of a line when contradicted by a group of at least three people. In order to blend in we disregard what our own eyes perceive, even when the norm is incorrect or inadvisable.

Whether it is jumping into the road or jacking a car, you are more likely to do it if your friends are. Take note though: the evolutionary importance of group identity is only beneficial if large numbers contribute to survival. When the group makes bad decisions, the individual’s wellbeing should take priority. To quote everybody’s mother, “If your friends walked off a cliff, would you follow them?” (more…)

October 22, 2012

When early reading spells trouble

Filed under: autism, brain wiring, development, language — Tags: , , — intro2psych @ 8:00 pm

by Carly Belko

Book coverLearning to read is an exciting experience for children and their parents alike.  After hours of listening to their parents reading aloud and a great deal of practice, children begin to learn to read language.  Some children catch on more quickly than others, and in most cases this achievement is celebrated without a second thought.  Unfortunately for some children, the ability to read at an unusually early age is not simply an accomplishment associated with normal development.  It is a sign of a syndrome called Hyperlexia.  Children who suffer from this condition show great interest in letters, numbers, and other symbols.  The fixation leads to them learning to read at a very early age.  This skill is not troubling, but Hyperlexia alone is not what poses the biggest challenge for diagnosed children.  This is because Hyperlexia is not an isolated condition. Children with Hyperlexia usually fall within the autism spectrum.  More specifically, Hyperlexia is often accompanied with a high-functioning form of autism called Asperger’s Syndrome.

Asperger’s Syndrome is a learning disorder that causes social impairment, because sufferers generally lack the ability to decode normal social cues. People with Asperger’s also tend to become fixated on certain areas.  So much so that they may focus their attention almost solely on one or two subjects of their interest.  The fixation aspect of Asperger’s adds to the effects of Hyperlexia, which helps to explain a child’s obsession with memorizing letters and words.  Children with Asperger’s are prone to shying away from social interactions, and Hyperlexia only adds to the tendency to focus attention away from others and fully on a specific subject.

Of course, some children are just fast learners, and unusually quick retention of words early in life is not an immediate reason to suspect Hyperlexia.  The problems associated with Hyperlexia usually begin between 18 and 24 months.  While children suffering from Hyperlexia have probably memorized many words by this point, it begins to become clear that they have not in fact undergone the developmental stage of learning the meaning behind what they have memorized.  In Priscilla Gilman’s book The Anti-Romantic Child, Gilman, the mother of a boy with Hyperlexia, describes how her pride in her son’s quick absorption of language turned to worry.  While Gilman’s son was saying plenty, most of what he said was repeating words and phrases that he had already heard, rather than creating his own sentences.  While children with Hyperlexia are quite good at memorizing words, they have difficulty actually comprehending them or drawing meaning from them.  This difficulty determining meaning further contributes to the difficulties that they face in social situations.

Children with Hyperlexia will often exclude themselves from social activities in favor of focusing on reading or memorizing new words.  They will also sometimes display their knowledge at odd times or in inappropriate ways.  In the case of Gilman’s son, “Suddenly he strode forward purposefully toward the group.  He walked right up to the group of kids, then pushed past a child on his way to…a huge hoop earring dangling from the ear of the teacher.  Fascinated, he reached out to grab the earring and cried, “The letter O!” (Gilman, 2011).  Just as a child has difficulty comprehending the meaning behind the words that they learn, they struggle to understand the importance of social norms.

Children who suffer with Hyperlexia will likely always struggle more than others to understand the world around them.  However, with the right therapy, along with support both at school and at home, these children can often come to assimilate into society and use their diagnosis to their advantage academically.

References

Brown, R. W. (n.d.). Hyperlexia: Related to vision and language problems. Retrieved from http://www.nldline.com/hyperlexia.htm

Gilman, P. (2011). The anti-romantic child: A story of unexpected joy. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Wing, Lorna. (2010, May 04). Asperger syndrome: A clinical account. Retrieved from http://www.mugsy.org/wing2.htm

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