Tag Archives: emotion

By H. Roger Segelken

Republished from Cornell Chronicle, April 25, 2016

Ong & Loeckenhoff

Human development professors Anthony Ong and Corinna Loeckenoff. Jason Koski/University Photography

New approaches to understanding physical and psychological changes in old age – differences in personality, for instance, or responses to stressful events and the role of positive emotions in promoting well-being – are presented in a new book co-edited by Cornell human development professors Anthony Ongand Corinna Loeckenhoff.

Emotion, Aging, and Health” presents selected concepts from the Fourth Biennial Urie Bronfenbrenner Conference on New Developments in Aging, Emotion and Health hosted on campus in 2013 by Loeckenhoff and Ong.

“We’re only beginning to understand the complex interplay between emotional experiences and physical health across the adult life span,” said Loeckenhoff. “One of the most important developments in recent years is this: We can finally draw connections between subjective emotional experience, patterns of brain activation, and biomarkers of chronic stress.”

Loeckenhoff said science has been “so focused on understanding emotion as a marker of mental health that we have overlooked its implications for physical health. Especially in later life, emotional responses can buffer the adverse effects of physical conditions; but they (emotional responses) can also be a risk factor for adverse health outcomes.”

Ong said the publication “provides a state-of-the art overview of methods and approaches associated with the study of emotional aging and health. The chapters, written by leading researchers in the field, discuss topics such as emotion regulation, cross-cultural research, healthy aging and interventions.” He hopes some of the questions raised will stimulate future investigation, and that the new volume will help students and scholars “gain a working understanding of research approaches and key issues at the intersection of emotion, aging and health.”

emotion book

Conference presenters – mainly psychologists and experts in human development – came from an international cross-section of institutions: Cornell, Harvard, Northeastern and Stanford universities and the University of California, among others, as well as Universidad Rey Juan Carlos in Madrid and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin.

Previous topics for the conference-and-publication series honoring Urie Bronfenbrenner (1917-2005), the longtime Cornell professor of human development and of psychology, included “Chaos and Its Influence on Children’s Development” and “The Neuroscience of Risky Decision Making.” A founder of the national Head Start program, Bronfenbrenner joined the Cornell faculty in 1948. The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research (BCTR) in the College of Human Ecology honors his vision to join science and service.

Writing the volume’s foreword, gerontologist Karl Pillemer, Cornell’s Hazel E. Reed Professor of Human Development and BCTR director, imagines the book would please Bronfenbrenner. “As a translational researcher before the name existed, he would embrace the themes of development and plasticity in later life, the importance given to social and cultural factors in understanding emotions, and the commitment to applying these scientific insights in creating an optimal world in which to grow old.”

H. Roger Segelken is a freelance writer.

cancerBy H. Roger Segelken
Reprinted from Cornell Chronicle, March 25, 2015

The doctor says: “We offer two kinds of surgery for your cancer. Both procedures have 80 percent cure rates. After the first kind, 4 percent of patients have serious complications. In the second type, 20 percent simply die. No pressure to decide, but the sooner we start …”

Wishing you hadn’t slept through statistics class – trying to remember what went wrong with Uncle Joe’s surgery, and longing for the days when doctors knew best – you seek counsel in a decision-support tool, online or at the nearest cancer resource center.

“In fact, there are more than 40 tools to help people make informed decisions in cancer prevention, screening and treatment,” says Valerie F. Reyna, professor of human development in Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. “The more effective decision-support aids help with the numeracy problem – is a 10 percent chance riskier than one in a thousand? But not all tools help patients use their values, emotions and life experience to make decisions that affect their lives and their families’ future.”

Writing in the February-March 2015 special issue of American Psychologist, in an article titled “Decision Making and Cancer,” Reyna and her research colleagues want support tools to accommodate what they call “bottom-line gist options” that swirl though a patient’s mind – along with “verbatim” details about probable risk and whatever else the doctor said.

Gist is at the core of Fuzzy Trace Theory (which Reyna applied most recently to patients’ decisions to take antibiotics even though the misery is probably caused by viruses, not bacteria), and there’s nothing wrong with listening to one’s heart, Reyna says.

Reyna and her co-authors explain that “gist involves understanding meaning (insight in the gestalt sense) – integrating dimensions of information to distill its essence, not just processing fewer dimensions of information that are ‘good enough.’” Although people incorporate both verbatim details and gist in decision making, “they generally have a fuzzy processing (gist) preference” for information, the authors report.

The researchers offer this prescription for a Fuzzy Trace Theory-based cancer-decision tool: Ensure that patients understand the essential gist meaning of information; remind patients of an array of simple social and moral values that are important to them and that have relevance to the decision at hand; and assist patients in applying their values throughout the decision process.

“Every phase of the cancer continuum – from prevention, screening and diagnosis to treatment, survivorship and end of life – is fraught with challenges to our abilities to make informed decisions,” says Reyna. “People are not optimal decision makers. We struggle with complex information about benefits and risks, tradeoffs and uncertainties in cancer treatment.”

An impassionate computer could make optimal decisions on our behalf – disregarding the gist of what we think is best for us, Reyna adds. But the computer is too literal to make the best decisions for people, Reyna says: “Decision support should strive to capture the gist, the essential bottom line, of patients’ options.”

Reyna, director of the Human Neuroscience Institute in the College of Human Ecology, is the first author on the paper along with Wendy L. Nelson, National Cancer Institute; Paul K. Han, Maine Medical Center, Scarborough, Maine; and Michael P. Pignone, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Preparation of the American Psychologist report was supported, in part, by awards from the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research.