The road to happiness is paved with… self-help books?

Is the solution to mental wellness finally here, or is it just another fad?

In the 1980s, a psychological theory became all the rage in North America and started to be implemented in institutions across Canada and the United States. You might be familiar with it; it’s now known as the self-esteem movement.

It was based on The Psychology of Self-Esteem, a book originally published in 1969 by Nathaniel Branden, which essentially explains that the key to happiness and success is to work on building a positive self-image for everyone. As the literature on this topic grew, it caught the attention of Californian legislator John Vasconcellos, who loved the idea so much he started funding initiatives to make it a greater part of his state’s policies.

All of a sudden, schools were giving out participation medals by the handfuls and finding ways to compliment children no matter what. Educators found all sorts of ways of minimizing the concepts of “winner” and “loser” in the activities they organized.

And this went on into the 90s. Today, we know that that was complete nonsense; you can’t tell a kid they’re special and coddle them and expect them to continue breaking down barriers and outdoing themselves in everything they undertake. One day they will step into reality and realize that if everyone is unique, then that means no one is.

This is exactly what has happened as a result of this movement. We now have a generation of people who are struggling with mental health issues and broken expectations because they’ve been conditioned to life in a bubble and now have to live in a world that won’t be telling them they’re amazing and great all the time.

In turn, this has caused a societal fear of making mistakes and a culture that favours dishonesty over the possibility of hurting someone’s feelings.

But, at the time, this clearly seemed like a great idea. Everyone agreed: low self-esteem causes people to take less risks, to isolate themselves, to turn in subpar quality work because they don’t believe they can do better, and in general just kind of sucks.

On the other hand, high self-esteem gives many people a drive to become better, to chase their dreams;… the bottom line is, people who view themselves highly invite others to do the same.

The thing they forgot to mention in this movement, however, is that people need a reason to esteem themselves highly. Phenomenal self-perception paired with a terrible personality and a lack of competence is narcissism at best, and will set anyone up for failure.

The more we learn about psychology, the more we realize how little we know about the human brain. In 1973, psychologist David Rosenhan conducted a study where he sent fake patients to 12 psychiatric hospitals in the United States and told the admitting doctors they heard voices in their heads saying the words “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud” — but apart from that, they told the truth about everything else, including that none of them had a history of mental illness.

They were all admitted to psychiatric hospitals for up to almost eight weeks and all prescribed various medications.

Full disclosure, journalist Susannah Cahalan somewhat debunked this study in 2019. She found many inconsistencies in the story and suspects some of the pseudopatients were made up by Rosenhan.

But nonetheless, the moral of this study remains and has been retested many times thereafter: even highly trained doctors have trouble telling the difference between people who are mentally ill and those who aren’t.

Psychology gets inserted into popular culture all the time. In the 2010s, self-esteem was replaced by its distant cousins, self-care and self-help; by 2017, the global wellness industry was worth US$4.2 trillion.

And now, these ideas of ‘change your life by changing your mindset,’ ‘98 per cent of what you do is caused by your habits,’ and ‘you can do anything you set your mind to’ are seeing a huge surge. The new psychology trend is telling you to take control over your own life because no one’s going to do it for you.

So far, implementing these rules into my life has brought me nothing but positive results and psychological progress. But frankly, I don’t know if this could work for everyone. I don’t know if it’s realistic to tell people that they are responsible for their own success and failure, especially when we start factoring in things like systemic discrimination and wealth inequality around the world.

Could this be the next self-esteem movement? We don’t want to teach people that they can’t do anything and that they won’t be able to achieve their big dreams? Then again, there could be consequences to getting carried away by yet another idealistic method of fixing all of our problems and finally finding happiness.


Graphic by @the.beta.lab

Being a psychologist: not always a walk in the park… or is it?

Forget about lying down on a couch; it is time for walk-and-talk therapy

“I don’t have time for therapy.”

I wish I were able to convince myself otherwise. Actually, I wish everyone was able to make time for therapy.

I stopped seeing my psychologist five years ago, thinking I couldn’t afford to spend an hour of my time (and $100 of my mother’s salary) every week just to sit on a couch and complain about my life. It was too late when I realized that I should have kept going, but as someone who later sought and received urgent professional help, I can safely say that therapy is absolutely worth your time and money.

I am doing way better now (thank you for asking) but I still struggle with the idea of going back to therapy. I must admit that I have always had a teeny-tiny negative bias towards it, and to be quite honest, I am broke and busier than ever.

But I recently learned something that almost convinced me to go back …

Sticking to online therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic was not enough for two private psychologists from the Centre de Psychologie Behaviorale (CPB) in Ahuntsic. That is why they started offering outdoor consultations as an alternative.

One of those two psychologists, Serge Drolet, has been working at CPB for 30 years.

On April 17, 2020, the Quebec government issued an official document instructing mental health service providers to limit their in-person activities and opt for teleconsultation whenever possible. At the time, all of CPB’s operations had already shifted online.

Since March 2020, about 25 per cent of Drolet’s clients have consequently abandoned therapy because they were not interested in Zoom consultations.

“Some very good patients left, and sadly, I don’t know what they became,” Drolet explained.

This inspired him to experiment with “walk-and-talk therapy” instead.  Since June, about 15 per cent of Drolet’s patients have chosen to bring their therapy sessions outdoors.

During the winter, the Marcelin-Wilson park and the small woods near the clinic are often deserted. On March 2, it might have been -17 C outside, but the most courageous of Drolet’s patients were able to enjoy the calm and tranquility.

However, since the office is surrounded by many other primary care services like a drugstore, a radiology centre, and a dialysis clinic, there is a lot of traffic on the sidewalks despite the centre being located in a quiet neighbourhood.

“Stuff happens when we find ourselves in these kinds of situations,” Drolet said. “[A patient and I] were walking and an old man tried to shove us aside because we were not walking fast enough for him. There was a lesson of self-assertion management, and that’s great because [this patient] is a person who, when alone, is submissive when it comes to confrontations. I gave this man a piece of my mind — while remaining professional, of course — and I was glad that she [the patient] could see that I, myself, do [what I usually advise her to do].”

According to Drolet, this new type of consultation also adds a dynamic component to the therapy.

“There’s a small wood not too far away and there are three directions we can take,” Drolet said. “On the right, we can see perfectly well; on the left there are a couple of young people that seem rough; and in the middle, it’s the woods. I don’t decide which way to go. You choose where we go. Just the fact that the person makes decisions like that during the session, somewhere along the way, it helps them make decisions in life,” Drolet said.

Being stuck alone with ourselves can be challenging, and many people’s mental health problems were exacerbated because of the pandemic. However, Drolet noticed that his patients had become more invested in their therapy; they have more free time to self-examine and to reflect on their patterns. Moreover, now that psychologists are being exposed to the same worries and deprivations as their patients, they can now empathize rather than sympathize with them. In fact, Drolet said that being on an equal footing with his clients in such a way has allowed him to help them better.

In the end, with all of COVID’s difficulties, it has also opened the door for new possibilities for how mental health service providers can treat their patients. Now that many people have more free time to focus on themselves and that it somewhat became easier to find a psychologist we can relate to, combining therapy to the health benefits of getting more fresh air gives us one more reason to consider going to therapy.


 Photo by Christine Beaudoin


All jokes aside, satire’s in danger

Satire, the art of lampooning the powerful, is in crisis

What do you do when the satire of the past, by definition an exaggerated, lampooning, grotesque imagination of society, looks a lot like society of the present? When actual, critical satire operates like a cheat sheet for the rich and powerful on what to do next, on how to further fortify power, on how to better trick the public?

Our constant exposure to advertising psychology, which is the cognitive research that informs advertising best practices to ensure it will leave a lasting and positive impression, and social media have caused us to unconsciously prioritize narrative over truth: the facts are less important than how you spin them. In this context, satire operates as a form of image-management, where, for example, YouTubers criticized for hateful rants can shield themselves from accountability by retroactive claims that their words were “satirical.”

Satire is meant to tear at the root and face the reader, without relief of tension, with the exposed source of the suffering. It is not meant to dance around symptoms of oppression with deadpan memes printed on T-shirts.

At its ideal, satire is a form of comedy that examines and criticizes the stories, systems, and people that subjugate others. It uproots carefully planted ideas that hold together harmful ideologies. By its function, satire cannot simply look at the symptoms of the problem, but the source.

It should come as no surprise that the best satire bleeds into political rhetoric, systems of power, and ideology. Did you know that the slogan “Make America Great Again” originates from a line uttered by the totalitarian government in the graphic novel “V for Vendetta?” Did you know that many gruesome technologies featured in Netflix’s “Black Mirror” either already exist or are in development?

There is a scientific term for the feeling you get when considering a science-fiction horror film come to life, and it’s called the “yuck factor.” The yuck factor is the instinctual resistance you feel to a new idea or technology that violates your sense of morals, sanitation, or safety.

We feel yucky, for example, at the thought of eating lab-grown meat, despite the need for an alternative to our current, over-polluting meat source. The solution, researchers found, was that a generation born into a world where meat is lab-grown won’t feel the same hesitation as those who’ve had lab-grown meat introduced in their lifetime.

This begs the question, what are we putting up with simply because we were born into it?

As a form of comedy, satire is unsettling in how it manipulates tension. In typical comedy, a jokester builds tension with details, with pressure, with delay even, and then relieves it with the punchline. In satire, this “relief” comes when the reader realizes that the author is joking, and that they actually intend the opposite of what their words superficially mean, thus inviting the audience in on the joke.

But how can we click into a relief of tension when satire either gives frightening ideas to frightening and capable people or operates as a convenient alibi for cruel-minded people to create wealth by propelling the very ideas they swear they contest?

In order for satire to diffuse tension to make the reading palatable, it needs to sacrifice the honesty and integrity of the work.

As a society, we are fixated on our symptoms and how to mitigate them. Depression and anxiety result in medication, tempers result in anger management training, overconsumption results in rehabilitation, homelessness results in temporary beds.

Late-stage capitalism is structured as a consolidation of wealth at the top of the pyramid built on a foundation of an underclass literally working themselves to death.

The cultural values that facilitate this structure define the worst thing you can be as lazy, unproductive, or degenerate. These are not antisocial traits but symptoms of a deep social suffering from and resistance to our social context.

But how can satire accomplish its goal when the work needs to be done by both the writer and the reader, and one or both parties is unwilling? Really good satire, charismatic and bold, would impose a resizing of all that we have adapted to without knowing it.

Do readers really want to walk through a museum of every yuck their conscious mind suppressed and absorbed into the unconscious?

Do writers want to examine the way their dark parodies of culture can speak themselves into reality? Are writers impelled to depict uncomfortable truths despite the risk of it damaging their publishing potential or “objectivity?”

Are any of us willing to examine the way culture requires our complicity?

Getting to the root of things requires digging. It’s work. The world creates the misery we call comedic tension. Really good satire showcases the tension and never relieves it. It’s up to the reader to decide how willing they are to engage in the discomfort, to examine their assumptions and their self-image, and to create that relief themselves by engaging with the world differently.

Punch? (There, a punch-line.)


 Graphic by @the.beta.lab


Simply Scientific: Work smarter, not harder

Is there something you want to accomplish? Something you desperately want to do but cannot seem to achieve?

We have all been in that funk before. The best way to overcome that is a change in outlook. Develop a goal-oriented mindset—it is that simple! Lucky for us, our brain is programmed to love a good challenge, because we get rewarded by a hormone in the brain called dopamine.

The mesolimbic pathway in the brain carries dopamine to different parts of the brain, including the frontal lobe––the sector responsible for motivation. To the brain, achieving a goal is considered an extrinsic reward. Say you did not like doing something, but you still pushed through to accomplish it. That reward of completion brings a sense of satisfaction to the brain through the rush of dopamine you get when completing a task.

When dopamine is released, the body releases cortisol and oxytocin which reduces stress. The body also releases serotonin which is the brain’s happy chemical. So goal setting and achieving those goals are very good for the body.

We get it, set goals! But how can we do that? The trick to obtaining a goal-oriented mindset is breaking down goals to make them more manageable. We need to set our goals “SMARTER.” Dr. Edwin A. Locke, a specialist in motivation with a Ph.D in psychology, invented the SMART acronym rule, which was examined and extended over time. Now, think about your goal and apply these SMARTER principles.

Specific: you need to focus on only one particular goal.

Measurable: you need to monitor your progress qualitatively or quantitatively.

Achievable: set flexible boundaries that suit you.

Realistic: is it something that you actually can do?

Time: give yourself a time frame to accomplish your goal.

Evaluative: does your goal fall into your personal values?

Rewarding: you obtain your goal and dopamine gives your brain its reward.

Nothing is impossible. Sometimes you just need to take a step back and look at your goals in a different way. So, go out and challenge yourself. You might be surprised at the things you can do.


Graphic by @sundaeghost



Student Life

Unlucky in love? Check your attachment style

Whether it be constant clinginess, emotional unavailability, or the classical Oedipus complex, what we bring to the dating table ultimately determines the success — or lack thereof — of our future relationships. But is there a way to pinpoint where we could improve ourselves without resorting to “objective” feedback given by our friends, dating coaches, the Internet, and moms? The answer is yes, by figuring out our attachment style.

What is an attachment style? According to the creator of attachment theory, John Bowlby, and expressed in an article on, it is “the lasting psychological connectedness between human beings”; in other words, it’s how we interact with those we bond with.

Learning your style is not on par with reading a horoscope, nor is it as good as actual introspective counselling, but it does enter a space heavily focused on by experts in behavioural psychology. In a article, it explains how Bowlby, a well-known psychologist, theorized that how a child was raised determined specific emotional responses to their caregivers. The less time infants spent with their mothers, the more they developed a physiological disposition to separation anxiety.

With the growth of the behavioural discipline, attachment theory has been expanded by researchers such as Kim Bartholomew and Leonard Horowitz to cover adult relationships. They divided said theory into categories such as anxious-preoccupied, dismissive-avoidant, fearful-avoidant, and secure. According to these experts, the nature of the interaction between a baby and its caregiver determined which category the infant fell into, which later determined how they would act as an adult with future romantic partners.

How this translates into the dating scene is clarified by Dr. Lisa Firestone, PhD, in her book Knowing Your Critical Self. As she explains, each style comes with its own dating characteristics.

Anxious Preoccupied

This deals with those who constantly feel “emotional” hunger, that is to say, they desire constant validation from their partner and live in what Firestone describes as a “fantasy” of their actual relationship. With this group, dating terms such as “clingy” and “paranoid” become commonplace. An anxious preoccupied will tend to bombard a partner with texts, experience anxiety when apart and even suspect the worst (breakups, love lost, cheating).

Dismissive Avoidant

Unlike the anxious style, dismissive avoidants seek more distance from their partner. The word association in this regard would be “unavailable,” since avoidants, well, avoid active conversations, remain emotionally introverted and gain limited satisfaction from the presence of others. All this is detrimental to dating, as communication and 50/50 effort are key to a healthy and long-lasting relationship. Furthermore, avoidants would view any argument as an overreaction on their partner’s part.

Fearful Avoidant

The “best” of both worlds, a fearfully avoidant alternates between worrying that they are too close to someone or that they’re too far. So, as Katy Perry says, they’re hot then they’re cold, they’re yes then they’re no, they’re in then they’re out, they’re up then they’re down. Generally indecisive, these individuals are kind of the “Ross Gellers” of dating; always wanting to be in a relationship, ultimately sabotaging it, and then wanting to be in one again.


In contrast to the styles mentioned so far, secure individuals feel comfortable both in a relationship or alone. With words such as honest, realistic and caring describing them, they are capable of remaining invested with their partners but not dependent. Moreover, they act as a support base for those who date them and will reciprocate that support to those who need them. In other words, they are the closest thing to the perfect partner.

Ultimately, most of us seek to gravitate towards a more secure personality. We do not want to come off as too attached, emotionally unavailable, and/or all over the place. Barring professional counselling, we should identify and work on our own attachment styles so that we may better support others, potential partners and most importantly, ourselves.

Graphic by @sundaeghost


Climate change in the context of mental health

As an avid consumer of media, the knot in my stomach continues to tighten every time I see “climate change” in a headline.

There seems to be one heartbreaking news story after another, whether it is the fires in the Amazon or the floods in Sudan. This makes me think: I’m not the only millennial with a metal straw, reusable grocery bag, and a deep fear at the back of my mind regarding the doom of our planet, right?

I wish I could say that every news headline made me pick up a picket sign, donate to the World Wildlife Fund, and compel me to eat a vegan diet – but often it just makes me feel like a sack of potatoes. So if I care ‘so deeply’ about the environment, why is my anxiety not motivating me to do anything about it?

In hopes of validating my own anxious thoughts, I started doing some research and I found that I’m not alone in my woes. In fact, this is not a new development by any sort. According to, feeling desperate and helpless when it comes to environmental issues is a common psychological disorder called “eco-anxiety.” The American Psychological Association explains that this anxiety focuses on the feeling of doom and a chronic fear regarding environmental problems.

Thomas Doherty, a clinical psychologist in Portland Oregon, explained to that people are not taught how to talk about the climate issue.

“Up to a certain point, arousal — how alert or worried you feel — leads people to take action and perform better, “ said Doherty. “But overly high levels of anxiety can become paralyzing.”

As Doherty said, anxiety can cause avoidance. For me personally, I often shut down the conversation about climate change because on a global scale it feels like there is nothing I can do to help.

Susan Clayton, one of the lead authors of a climate-change guide by the American Psychological Association, told CNN that our human tendencies towards avoiding conflict and to feel fear, helplessness, and resignation in response to climate change is growing. She continued by explaining that this is limiting citizens from developing “psychological resiliency,” meaning they are not able to handle and conceptualize the reality of climate change.

I am slowly learning that the more dialogue we create regarding our own panic and uneasiness, the less alone we will feel in the world of climate anxiety.

“Treating climate anxiety in children is very similar to treating general anxiety,” said Rhonda Matters, a Child Psychologist in PEI, to CBC – she stated that acknowledging the anxiety goes a long way.

In an interview with CNN, Wendy Petersen Boring, a professor from Yale University, has said she has expanded her climate anxiety curriculum from one week of lessons, to two full courses. She now addresses the emotional and psychological toll of activism in 2019 with greater depth, as we continue to uncover the urgency of the situation.

I also think it is irresponsible to talk about climate change without talking about privilege. Although I’m aware this issue affects us all, I have to acknowledge my avoidant anxiety as not only an issue I have to actively work on, but also as a privilege. My socio-economic environment has protected me from many repercussions that other countries, cities and neighbourhoods are dealing with on a direct and daily basis. I am also privileged to live in a country with news outlets sharing truths about the state of our environment.

Well, as cliche as it sounds, “knowledge is power,” but learning how to cope with our own discomfort is also power. I must continue to voice my anxieties in the hopes they will lead to fruitful discussions with others, but most importantly I must stay aware and informed. As a society, we are blocked by the immensity of the situation. We need to continue to learn how to approach this issue in a productive and sustainable way. Perhaps Susan Clayton said it best, “We can’t just curl up in a ball and wait for the end of the world.”


Graphic by Victoria Blair

Student Life

A student’s thesis on buying behaviours

A portrait of Mehreen Diwan, Concordia psychology undergrad who has explored the realm of buying behaviours for her honours thesis. Feature photo courtesy of Mehreen Diwan.

Undergraduate psychology student, Mehreen Diwan shares her research findings

As I begin a career in marketing, I think it’s important for all people in the field to be aware of the types of personality traits that are involved in buying behaviours. The market is comprised of consumers, and I believe that the most important asset of marketing should be to understand the needs and wants of these consumers before presenting them with a given product.

As a fourth-year psychology student, I wrote a thesis this year examining the psychology of buying behaviours. The thesis varies on a continuum, with pathological buying being on one extremity of it. My aim was to examine how impulsivity and the need to reduce tension could lead to the use of shopping as a method to escape negative affect. This was done through the use of the Behavioural Inhibition System (BIS), which regulates aversive motives and the Behavioural Approach System (BAS), which regulates desired motives. I measured the expenses of my sample of university students and community members from Montreal and Guelph with the Timeline Followback questionnaire, a log that allows participants to record the type and amount of their expenses for a period of two weeks.

Participants also completed the BIS/BAS questionnaire, which evaluates the extent to which participants vary in terms of the intensity of their behavioural inhibition and approach. The results from the BAS scale were further broken down into three subscales: BAS Reward “When I get something I want, I feel excited and energized”; BAS Drive “I go out of my way to get the things I want”; and BAS Fun “I seek excitement and new sensations.” To better understand the interactions between BIS and BAS, picture yourself walking through a mall, on the way to a doctor’s appointment. As you walk past a store, the scent from a candle wafts through your nose. Although you are tempted to go into the store, your BIS tells you to keep walking to be on time for your appointment.

However, your BAS then tells you to spare a few minutes to browse through the store. This research identified a significant interaction between the BIS and BAS drive as predictors of how people spend their money. In other words, as one’s drive increases, so does their reported expenses in the two weeks participant spending was tracked.

These results imply that a participant’s drive may be the cause of pathological buying behaviour. Therefore psychologists can train participants to adapt their behaviour to avoid financial strain. Apart from my thesis being an important learning experience in the realm of buying behaviours, it also taught me patience and persistence. I definitely recommend doing an honours thesis to undergraduate students in order to enhance their research skills and experience a hands-on approach to learning about psychology, or any other field.

Student Life

A cup of coffee and a spoonful of psychological effects

The impact caffeine has on Canadians and how it became a cultural dependence

It’s 8 a.m. on a Wednesday morning, and the first thing you do after getting out of bed is probably make coffee. Whether you are having a shot of espresso, an Americano or a latte, there is nothing like that coffee aroma filling up your kitchen. As you pour it into your mug, add a splash of milk or teaspoon of sugar, you can already feel the warmth rising from the cup. Finals are right around the corner and, for many students, coffee is the go-to beverage for all-nighters and staying alert.

This is no surprise given that caffeine, the stimulant in the coffee, is a psychoactive substance that has physiological and psychological effects. Coffee is also ingrained in our society. According to the Coffee Association of Canada, Canadians drink an average of 3.2 cups of coffee per day. Here is a deeper look at how caffeine actually affects your body and how it has become a vital part of our daily lives.

What does coffee do to your brain and body?

According to Uri Shalev, a Concordia psychology professor whose research focuses on drug abuse and behavioural neurobiology, caffeine typically doesn’t have many negative effects when consumed in reasonable quantities. However, when a person drinks coffee, Shalev explained, the caffeine interferes with signals in the brain being sent from neurotransmitters to their receptors. Caffeine acts as an antagonist, essentially blocking the adenosine receptors, which are inhibitory sensors in the brain that calm the body and mind.

Since caffeine interferes with this calming effect, the body becomes more alert and awake, Shalev explained. That is why drinking coffee increases heart rate and blood pressure, and keeps you awake longer. The physiological effects caused by this over-stimulation can negatively affect a person’s mental state. Sylvia Kairouz, a Concordia sociology professor and the chair of research on gambling addiction, emphasized the risks of sleep deprivation caused by excessive coffee consumption. Since coffee keeps you alert, it also risks disrupting your sleep cycle, which isn’t something you want to happen during a stressful period like finals, Kairouz said.

According to Shalev, the physical reaction coffee causes can result in increased anxiety among people who are already prone to anxiety. This happens when the body interprets a faster heart rate and increased alertness as a sign of danger and raises stress levels. “I become stressed when I have more coffee than I’m used to,” said Sara Betinjaneh, a second-year political science student at Concordia.

Yet many students, including first-year sociology major Yasmin Mehri, rely on coffee to stay awake to study or finish assignments. Drinking coffee to stay up late can work to a certain extent, but too much can cause an imbalance in sleeping patterns, Kairouz explained. “It’s a loss more than a gain when you are not adopting a healthy lifestyle during finals,” she said. “Students should focus on an equilibrium.” Shalev reiterated that, as long as coffee consumption is moderate, it is not considered an addiction—not until it negatively affects the functioning of your daily life.

Why is coffee part of your day?

“My day is organized around my coffee,” said student Betinjaneh. “That’s when I take breaks.” According to Kairouz, “the ritual, the habit and the routine of having coffee daily limits the capacity to remove coffee from our daily life.” This dependence on the drink is also sociological because there is a whole experience that comes with drinking coffee, she explained. Drinking coffee has become a very popular social activity—when people meet up, it often happens over a cup of coffee.

“There is a connection that exists in people’s lives between working or studying and drinking coffee,” Kairouz said. The accessibility of coffee also plays a huge role in society’s growing dependence on coffee. Kairouz offered the example of Montreal’s Mackay Street, where there are at least six coffee shops. “I love the idea and the feeling of sitting in a coffee shop and having my coffee,” Betinjaneh said. The stimulation from an environment filled with coffee shops has impacted our caffeine consumption, Kairouz said.

Easy access to caffeine has impacted the amount we consume since a single press of a button can make our coffee right at home. According to the Coffee Association of Canada, coffee makers are increasingly popular in Canadian homes with 47 per cent of households owning a drip coffee makers and 38 per cent using single-cup machines. Kairouz added that the consumerist environment we live in plays a role in people’s coffee dependence as well. Since coffee has become ingrained in our culture, this leaves a looming question: are we having coffee because we need it or because we just walked by a cute coffee shop that serves the best latte art?

Photo by Kirubel Mehari.


Siding with evidence rather than opinion

Concordia professor: Measuring client progress through feedback is necessary

In May 2016, 26-year-old John Chayka was named general manager of the National Hockey League’s Arizona Coyotes. Chayka’s hiring was not only surprising because of his young age, but also because he was the first analytics-driven executive to lead a hockey organization. He has never played professional hockey, and was a recent business administration graduate from Western University’s Ivey Business School.

Since the successful use of performance metrics in the early 2000s by Major League Baseball’s Oakland Athletics, many sports have followed suit, hiring stats geniuses in their 20s and 30s to manage their teams. Politics, like sports, have also embraced the use of metrics for polling and recruitment. According to clinical psychologist Tony Rousmaniere, big data could also transform mental health treatment, “if only psychologists would stop ignoring it.”

In an essay published last April in The Atlantic, Rousmaniere reminded readers that therapists don’t have instruments of measurement as other doctors do, like stethoscopes or lab tests.

Instead, therapists are the instruments themselves—they are the ones who measure how much their client’s mental health has improved. According to Adam Radomsky, a Concordia professor and the university’s research chair in anxiety and related disorders, this is a real problem in mental health care.

“There are guidelines [from the Ordre des psychologues du Québec (OPQ)] saying that you should use evidence-based approaches, but there are no evidence-based police out there to come and make sure you’re doing something that’s been shown to work,” Radomsky told The Concordian. The OPQ is the professional body responsible for licensing psychologists in the province.

What Radomsky described as “evidence-based approaches” and what Rousmaniere calls feedback-informed treatment, or FIT, in his article, are types of feedback that inform therapists about the progress their clients are making. According to Rousmaniere, “perhaps no field faces higher barriers of incorporating performance feedback than psychotherapy.”

Clients often feel vulnerable when meeting a therapist, Radomsky explained, so they might not talk openly about the state of their mental health, even if it’s deteriorating.

“Many clients are more willing to report worsening symptoms to a computer—even if they know that their therapists will see the results—than disappointing their therapist face-to-face,” Rousmaniere wrote in The Atlantic.

Radomsky said evidence-based psychological therapy can refer to two different things. The first is the use of a treatment that’s been shown to work, “that’s been studied extensively [and] it has met that threshold,” he explained. The other “is that you use evidence to track the progress of your work with clients or patients.”

The Concordia professor—who has a small number of clients in addition to teaching—added that he “absolutely would not” be able to work without client feedback.

According to Rousmaniere, nearly 50 feedback systems for therapists have been developed over the last 20 years.

Radomsky explained that many of the clients he has seen and supervised fill out one or “a very small number of questionnaires” every week or each time they come in for a therapy session.

“These are often standardized questionnaires, validated through scientific studies, so we know what they’re measuring and we know how well they measure them,” Radomsky explained. “Then we track that over time to make sure that things are moving in the [right] direction.”

One system developed by Brigham Young University researcher Michael Lambert involves a 45-question online survey conducted before each appointment. If the clients appear to be at risk, Rousmaniere explained in The Atlantic, “their therapists are sent alerts that are colour-coded for different concerns. Red for risk of dropout or deterioration, yellow for less-than-expected progress.”

Rousmaniere said his “anecdotal impression is that use of FIT today remains disappointingly low among therapists.” According to Radomsky, using an evidence-approach is “very uncommon for some, and absolutely required for others.”

It can often depend on the psychologist’s training, Radomsky said. Older approaches to psychotherapy “weren’t really subjected to scientific tests in the same way some of the newer approaches are.” One of the newer and most commonly used approaches by psychologist right now, according to Radomsky, is cognitive behaviour therapy.

“I think that those of us that have been trained in the newer approaches, [like] cognitive behaviour therapy and other similar approaches, a part of what you do, is you track the progress of your work,” he added. “I think some people would never use it, some people would always use it. I’m not sure how many people are in between.”

Educational process

Radomsky said clients should ask their therapists about their approach and whether there is evidence to show that it works. However, he admitted it can be uncomfortable to ask these questions. “If the answers seem strange or cryptic or vague, find another therapist,” he advised. “A good therapist is happy to answer these questions.”

The Concordia professor tells his clients that, “if after about eight weeks, we’re not starting to see some improvements, I might need to fire myself.”

“I refuse to be an unhelpful therapist,” Radomsky said. “It doesn’t mean that the problems will be all gone in eight weeks, but what it does mean is that we should be tracking the progress of the work.”

According to Radomsky, the biggest push towards using evidence-based approaches comes from training programs like those in Concordia’s psychology department.

“I think it’s sometimes harder for people who’ve been doing things in a particular way for a very long time to change,” Radomsky said. “I think they should, but at the moment, there isn’t a way to force them to do that.”

Five years ago, the OPQ, which could not be reached for comment before publication, started requiring practicing psychologists to take courses or attend conferences to keep their training up to date, Radomsky told The Concordian.

“All psychologists providing therapy in the province are required to show that they are continuing to learn and train on an ongoing basis,” he explained.

The research chair said he believes the increasing use of evidence-based approaches is an ongoing process, and it needs to be more common.

“What is the alternative? Opinion doesn’t cut it.”

Photo by Kirubel Mehari

Student Life

Blame squeezing the life out of cuteness on science

The next time you pick up an adorable little fuzzy puppy and declare it to be so cute you’re going to die, don’t blame your emotions. Blame science.

The “it’s so fluffy, I’m gonna die!” response is explained by science to have positive effect on our overall happiness. Photo by flickr user

A group of graduate student researchers at Yale University recently coined the term “cute aggression,” to explain the body’s response to overwhelmingly adorable things and presented a paper on it earlier this year.

SoulPancake, a Youtube channel dedicated to positive psychology, picked up on this study and incorporated it into their new series, The Science of Happiness.

“[Yale scientists] found out that if you’re overwhelmed with a sense of happiness or giddiness, your body and your brain looks for some way to quickly and efficiently exert that,” said The Science of Happiness co-creator Mike Bernstein in a behind-the-scenes video on Youtube. “And the fastest way your body can come up with, is aggression.”

Now, this doesn’t mean that you’re more likely to turn around and start kicking faces after you see a kitten sneeze and fall over. The aggression is more likely to be exerted by pinching someones cheeks, squeezing too hard during a hug or popping bubble wrap.

Yale researchers had 109 volunteers look at cute, funny, or neutral pictures and asked whether they agreed that it was I-just-can’t-handle-it cute or if they felt the need to squeeze something and say “grr.”

They found that the cuter the picture was, the more aggressive the response would be.

“We think it’s about high positive-affect, an approach orientation and almost a sense of lost control,” said research group-leader Rebecca Dyer in an article written earlier this year by Popular Science contributor Shaunacy Ferro and entitled “Why Do We Want to Squeeze Cute Things?”

After the initial test, the researchers invited the volunteers back, gave them bubble wrap, and had them watch another animal slideshow.

Volunteers would pop 120 bubbles while looking at cute pictures and only 80 to 100 bubbles when looking at neutral ones.

SoulPancake did a similar test and found that one volunteer popped 45 bubbles for the cute pictures and only four for neutral ones.

Dyer has two theories for why we display cute aggression.

First, she suggested that when we are unable to reach through the screen and take care of the cute thing (which we are biologically programed to do) we become frustrated, and then aggressive.

Conversely, our brains are overwhelmed with the torrent of happiness that cuteness brings so the brain gives the happy emotion a negative response in attempt to balance the high levels of energy and emotion. This is similar to when we are so overwhelmed with happiness that we begin to cry.

“Ultimately cute aggression is nothing to worry about,” said The Science of Happiness’ host Julian Huguet in SoulPancake’s video A Study of Cute Aggression. “But, if that aunt [who also pinches your cheeks] does tells you that you’re so cute she could just eat you up, run.”

To check out the video and many other positive psychology studies search ‘The Science of Happiness – A Study of Cute Aggression’ on Youtube.



Student Life

Marketers learn the perks of the motto “the customer is always right”

Anew study from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) identifies customization as one of five trends shaping consumer behaviour.

In a world where you can order a latte with the exact amount of caffeine, sweetness and fat that you want, it seems that no matter what you are selling, customization is key. Press photo

“It’s a great way to differentiate yourself in a crowded market,” said Pierre Cléroux, chief economist for the BDC.

The study finds that consumers are looking for products catered specifically to their needs and desires, and new technology makes it all possible.

Customization—individually customized goods or services—is profitable for companies because customers feel appreciated when their individuality is promoted.

The trend will soon reach smartphones—making them as unique as the way you take your coffee.

In late October, Google-owned phone company, Motorola, unveiled Project Ara: a build-your-own-phone approach to smartphones.

Project Ara will enable users to buy a basic frame and customize every aspect inside of it, from adding a keyboard, to choosing the battery and camera size. This level of customization has yet to be seen in smartphones, but Google remains hopeful the move will increase its current 6.9 per cent smartphone market share.

While customization remains mostly uncharted territory in the realm of smartphones, it’s well established in the coffee world of handcrafted beverages.

Starbucks Coffee is a shining example of the success of customization. Customers are notoriously known by baristas for their long list of amendments to standard drinks. If the many recent store openings in the province of Quebec are any indication, letting customers have their way seems to be in their best interest.

However, customization can be like overeating, according to Leslie H. Moeller, vice-president of the Booz Allen strategy and technology consulting firm in Cleveland.

“It feels good when you’re doing it. Then you wake up one day and you’re 80 pounds overweight,” Moeller told management magazine strategy+business.

Marketing professor, Jerry Wind, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, added,  “If customers have too much choice, they cannot make a decision; they freeze.”

While customization is mostly great for businesses, it can be a pitfall for consumers. Eli Pariser, author of The Filter Bubble, argues that despite the perks of customization, unintended negative consequences may arise.

In a TED talk, Pariser explained that the Internet is being subject to filtering, without users necessarily being consulted beforehand. Sites like Facebook, which are tailored to our individual online habits, filter our content accordingly. News and search results, on engines like Google, act the same way using various algorithms. As such, we risk not getting exposed to critical information, simply because other information is being filtered out by customization.

To demonstrate how extreme this idea of relevance could become, Pariser asked two friends, Scott and Daniel—both Caucasian and both from New York—to google “Egypt.” Daniel’s first page didn’t mention anything about the protests in Egypt, which was a major headline at the time, while Scott’s page did. Instead, Daniel’s results included links to travel agencies, the CIA Factbook of Egypt, and Egypt Daily News. These filters, according to Pariser, amount to a “filter bubble.” The danger, he argues, is that you don’t decide what gets in, and more importantly, you don’t see what’s left out.

While filtered content or “customized content” raises a number of privacy and information questions, the fact remains that most consumers want a product best suited for their needs and what better way to have that then by actively taking part in the production process—whether it’s your double non-fat extra foam macchiato or your new smartphone.

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