Posts tagged mania

Happiness opposed to despair/ennui; sadness to anger/irritability

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We normally view happiness and sadness to be opposites on a single continuum, but I propose that it is time to change the textbooks and view happiness as opposed to ennui/despair and sadness as opposed to anger/irritability when it comes to basic opponent affects.

But before we go down that path first a detour.

I recently read Flourishing: edited by Keyes & Haidt , and the last article by Keyes caught my attention. I looked up a few more articles by Keyes and found this one that again elaborates on the theory put forward in the book chapter.

The point Keyes wants to make is that mental illness and mental health are two different things and are relatively independent of each other. Traditionally mental health has been conceptualized as the absence of mental illness, but Keyes says that our intuitions are incorrect here and mental health is another, parallel continuum on which people can differ.

Throughout human history, there have been three conceptions of health.The pathogenic approach is the first, most historically dominant vision, derived from the Greek word pathos, meaning suffering or an emotion evoking sympathy. The pathogenic approach views health as the absence of disability, disease, and premature death. The second approach is the salutogenic approach, which can be found in early Greek writings and was popularized by Antonovsky (1979) and humanistic scholarship (e.g., Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow). Derived from the word salus, meaning health, the salutogenic approach views health as the presence of positive states of human capacities and functioning in thinking, feeling, and behavior (Stru¨mpfer, 1995). The third approach is the complete state model, which derives from the ancient word for health as being hale, meaning whole and strong. This approach is exemplified in the World Health Organization’s (1948) definition of overall health as a complete state, consisting of the presence of a positive state of human capacities and functioning as well as the absence of disease or infirmity. By subsuming the pathogenic and salutogenic paradigms, the whole states approach is, in my opinion, the only paradigm that can achieve true population health.

Thus when we talk of whole states mental health we are basically talking about two related things- a mental illness or disability dimension and a flourishing or mental health dimension. Keyes et al have performed confirmatory factor analysis on measure used to measure mental health and illness and found that the data is best explained by two latent factors-one related to flourishing and the other to illness.

This is how they define mental health or flourishing dimension.

Until recently, mental health remained undefined, unmeasured, and therefore unrecognized at the level of governments and nongovernmental organizations. In 1999, the Surgeon General, then David Satcher, conceived of mental health as “a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity” (U.S. Public Health Service, 1999, p. 4). In 2004, the World Health Organization published a historic first report on mental health promotion, conceptualizing mental health as not merely the absence of mental illness but the presence of “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (World Health Organization, 2004, p. 12).

Keyes comes up with 13 symptoms of mental health and these include Positive emotions (i.e., emotional well-being) including positive affect and avowed quality of life; Positive psychological functioning (i.e., psychological well-being) consisting of self-acceptance, positive relations with others, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, and autonomy (see Keyes & Ryff, 1999); and Positive social functioning (i.e., social well-being) consisting of social coherence, social actualization, social integration, social acceptance, and social contribution. In DSM style they propose that individuals exhibit some minimum symptoms to classify as flourishing and those with very low scores be classified as languishing.

To be diagnosed as flourishing in life, individuals must exhibit high levels on at least one measure of hedonic well-being and high levels on at least six measures of positive functioning. Individuals who exhibit low levels on at least one measure of hedonic well-being and low levels on at least six measures of positive functioning are diagnosed as languishing in life. Adults who are moderately mentally healthy do not fit the criteria for either flourishing or languishing in life.

Keyes then goes on to show the costs of languishing and not focusing on mental health and why a narrow focus on cure/prevention of mental illness is detrimental, but that is beside the point as to today’s topic. what is most important take way for today is that there are two separate factors of mental health and mental illness.

This brings us back to the affects- happiness, sadness, ennui/despair and anger/irritability. Consider for a moment depression. It is an illness characterized by sad mood and anhedonia etc. Consider its counterpart on the illness spectrum. while a normal person not having depression may seem the counterpart, the real counterpart is mania which often has a angry/irritable mood (alongside euphoria) associated with it. Also depression is characterized as a reaction to losses/continuous exposure to stresses that makes goals out of reach/unachievable. Here the focus is preventive in nature- the state does not deteriorate further and goals do not remain unmet. However, depression or sad mood is also an avoidance reaction. One becomes withdrawn from the situation and does not fight the stress, but flights from the stress by withdrawing in a cocoon. The loss of appetite and more sleep can be seen as behavioral counterparts of withdrawing or exhibiting a flight response to stress.

As opposed to this, mania can be seen behaviorally as an active approach state in which one works actively towards the things required to overcome the loss of valued entity/life goal. Again, I propose that mania is a reaction to a situation similar to depression – when something is lost/ is under threat of losing- but this time , under stress, one fights and not flights- thus one becomes energized to right the wrong and may become angry/ irritable if the efforts to retain goals/ valued entities are frustrated by external world. It is important that both mania and depression are on the illness scale of functioning/ mental health and are a result of life trauma/ stress/ perceived/ real/ threat of loss of loved object/person. Thus the focus is preventive and the state is of scarcity.

Contrast this to a state of abundance when ones (life) goals have been met/ are within reach.// This apparent positive state of affairs may again give rise to different emotions/ behavioral manifestations depending on whether one has approach or avoidance dominant reaction. If one approaches the more free time available after goal accomplishment as a boon that can be used to home ones hobbies/find other meaning in life/ build relationships etc and not as a threat ( free time can be a threat) then one experiences positive emotion of happiness and behaviorally flourishes.

In contrast consider a similar person who has achieved everything in life – (a good job, wife, kids etc ) , but given the fact that one is living in abundance is frightened or flights from the free time that has been made available. that person will be listless, will exhibit ennui or boredom and may even exhibit despair as he finds life meaningless. Thus behaviorally he would languish.

Thus, I rest my case that happiness is opposed to ennui/despair while sadness is opposed to anger/irritability and while happiness is a measure of flourishing; sadness is a measure of illness. One can definitely conduct experiments , perform factor analysis to confirm, that indeed happiness and sadness is not a unitary construct, but are two separate but related dimensions. I would love to hear your comments.

Keyes, C. (2007). Promoting and protecting mental health as flourishing: A complementary strategy for improving national mental health. American Psychologist, 62 (2), 95-108 DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.2.95

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Am happy, will be selfish; Am sad, will be fair. Oh Really?!?

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Many a times, researchers have their own personal agendas and its very human to fall in to the temptation to interpret study results or spin them to suit ones long term subject matter and expertise.  This is a trap in which Joe Forgas et al fall when they report in JESP that happy people are selfish and sad people are fair. They have a long research interest that goes aka sadness is beneficial for you and every result has to fit in that model.

In this latest study they use the behavior in the dictator game as a proxy for selfish behavior. the classical dictator game consist of giving a  sum of money to a person and asking them to divide it between themselves and another human being any way they deem fit. If an agent is rational , he should be purely selfish (there are assumed to be no future/past interactions and no reputations to maintain/ cultivate) . As is the normal finding, humans normally give upto 50 % of their share to another person in the dictator game although there are no obligations. As such , dictator game is indeed a good measure of internal selfishness of a person.

What Joe et al do is to induce good(happy)/bad(sad) mood  in their subjects and then ask them to play a version of the dictator game.  So far so good. However in their version of the dictator game , one is not given a sum of money to divide amongst oneself and someone else; but they are given 10 raffle tickets- each raffle ticket increasing the odds of winning a lottery of 20 $. Now ,here is where I think they have blundered an confounded the results. they have introduced odds and probability thinking in the scene and everyone knows that a normal person prefers a sure sum of money (10 $) over a chance of winning equivalent sum  (50 % chance of 0$ and 50  % chance of 20 $). Both utilities are mathematically equivalent but we are all normally risk-averse and prefer the assured sum. However, and this a big however, happy people are more risk prone and may prefer a chance much more than an assured sum. In sad mood things would be reverse.

Its not as if Joe et al are not aware of the happiness-risk proneness link, but they somehow ignore it and let it confound the results. To quote form the paper:

Happy mood may also function as a motivational resource (Trope, Ferguson, & Raghunanthan, 2001), allowing happy individuals to accept greater risks. These findings suggest that happy mood should promote a more confident, selfish allocation strategy, while negative mood should trigger more cautious, fair allocation.

Readers will immediately see where I am coming from. I am a huge fan of seeing happiness/ sadness in terms of environmental risk and safety and as motivational focus- promotion versus prevention focus. It is thus pretty obvious to me that a (or say 10) raffle ticket (a chance of winning 20 $) does not have the same value for a sad person a sit has for a happy person who is more in a risk -prone frame of mind. thus, it seems obvious that a happy person will adhere more utility to the raffle tickets and may not that readily part with them; while a person in a sad mood may think that chancy bit of paper as worthless and be more willing to share it with others. I challenge Joe et al to repeat the experiment with real money and not waffle tickets and then draw any conclusions.

Whats more in the first experiment (described above) the selfish tag on happy people was due to the fact that they did not share that much with out-groups. If out-groups (strangers ) were not present perhaps the results would not have been significant based on ingroup data alone. If, somehow, being sad broadens your vistas and makes you treat outgroups (strangers) the same as ingroups, then this would again confound the result and invalidate the conclusions reached by the authors. Of course this thesis that being sad ,makes you more open to strangers flies in face of the study I covered yesterday that sad people prefer familiarity;  but it is something to think about and design experiments to rule out.

Experiment 2 suffers from the same methodical flows. Experiment 3 tried to prove that when social expectations about being fair were relaxed, then happy people gave free rein to their selfishness and became selfish, while sad people remained fair and followed external norms of fairness. This is purportedly to relate it to the internal focus of selfish people and external focus of sad people and fit in a larger framework, but again it fails to convince me. At the outset let me clarify that I do adhere to happy people have internal focus while sad people are more driven by external norms. However the experiment they did supports my thesis sand not theirs.

In experiment 3, they manipulated the perceived social norm of fairness by revealing to subjects the behaviour of some hypothetical earlier participants in the dictator game. some were in the ‘fairness is the norm’ condition (more fair splits be earlier hypothetical participants), others were in the ‘fairness is not the norm’ condition- I like to call this ‘unfairness is the norm’ condition.

Now there are two caveats to this. First not everyone decides whether to act fairly or not based on existing norms. As per Kohlebrg’s or other modern developmental theories one sense of morality in an earlier stage may be driven by norms , but at later stages is determined by internal values and internalized norms. thus it is wrong to apriori believe that if people don’t act selfish it is because of pressure of the social norm of fairness. This is the position that study authors take and this is not necessarily true. Second, even if one grants that one works under social norms, it is false to believe that the social norm is fairness;  with the myriad misinterpretations of darwins theory selfishness has become the de facto social norm. Thus, one can as legitimately claim that selfishness is the existing norm that goes undermined by manipulations of experiment 3 and when primed with fair prior dictator behavior, gives free rein to mood effects to take place; while in the second condition where selfishness norm is reaffirmed there are no mood effects.

This hair splitting is important because in the third experiment they did not find a main effect of mood/ prior fairness norm  on dictator offerings, rather there was an interaction between the mood and prior priming. They found that when prior exposed to social norm of fairness there was no difference in happy and sad condition; the difference was there only in ‘selfishness is norm’ condition. One can thus, also interpret these findings as ‘selfishness is norm’ – in that selfishness norm when chances are involved happy people make more risky choices than sad people; however when the norm of selfishness is undermined, internal values like being fair (yes there is considerable literature that being fair is more natural and internally driven than being selfish)  takes hold and make seven happy people who value the raffle tickets a lot to become more fair and altruistic and share their tickets to the same extent as sad people do normally.

Its not as if they haven’t considered the dilemma of why the norm and undermining of it should be one way only. To quote:

Why did sad people not simply follow the norm – fairness or selfishness – and happy people follow their own internal state (i.e., ignore the norm and act selfishly) in this study? It is likely that information provided about the selfish behavior of others, being socially undesirable, could not invoke an acceptable, alternative shared social norm, and so served merely to undermine the powerful norm of fairness, allowing full scope for mood effects to occur. In contrast, information about the socially desirable, fair behavior by others served to reinforce a powerful existing social norm and so constrained mood effects, as found here.

So in summation, I am not convinced, I still believe the results they got are due to the happiness as increasing risk proneness effct. But I agree broadly with their thesis that sadness also has adaptive value and happiness should not be seen as all rosy and sadness all bad. The bad effect of extremes of euphoria/ mania are well known, to complement lets hear what they have to say of the good effect of sadness. I’ll like to end with their own quotes on this matter.

Interestingly, our results further challenge the common assumption in much of applied, organisational, clinical and health psychology that positive affect has universally desirable social consequences. Together with other recent experimental studies, our findings confirm that negative affect often produces adaptive and more socially sensitive outcomes. For example, negative moods can improve the detection of deception (Forgas & East, 2008), reduce judgmental errors (Forgas, 1998), improve eyewitness accuracy (Forgas, Vargas, & Laham, 2005), and improve interpersonal communication strategies (Forgas, 2007). The present experiments confirm this pattern by demonstrating that mild negative moods also increase fairness and sensitivity to the needs of others.

Tan, H., & Forgas, J. (2010). When happiness makes us selfish, but sadness makes us fair: Affective influences on interpersonal strategies in the dictator game Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.01.007

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