March 2011

These fake drug commercials are hilarious. Maybe it’s just that I have psych-meds “on the brain” because I’ve just finished a child-diagnosis class and reading Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic.




How do you make your hamster depressed? Leave the TV on at night.

I didn’t even know that hamsters got depressed, but apparently they do, according to an article by PsychCentral. One of the ways you can tell is that they start drinking less sugar water. “Scientists assume this occurs because they’re not getting as much pleasure from normally enjoyable activities.” If that is true, then the hamsters are experiencing anhedonia, which is one of the diagnostic criteria for depression.

The article was about an experiment in which scientists tested the effects of leaving a light on that was about as bright as a TV (5 lux) at night for some hamsters and turning the lights off for other hamsters. Not only did the TV-hamsters get depressed, but when the scientists cut up their brains, they found they had atrophied.

Does this apply to humans? Let’s check it out with sample size one: I prefer total darkness at night, too. The lights from neighbors’ houses shining into my room irritate me. Unfortunately, irritable mood is not one of the diagnostic criteria for depression unless you are a child or adolescent. Adults have to feel moods like “sad” or “empty” to qualify for a depressed mood in the DSM. Plus, my desire for sugar water increases when I’m depressed.

It looks like we’ll have to wait for some human trials of this experiment. Without the cutting-up-their-brains part.

One of the ways that John Gottman says people talk themselves out of their marriages is “rehearsing distress-maintaining attributions” in between arguments. That is, instead of making up stories about how their troubles are passing and circumstantial, they make up stories about how their troubles have to do with permanent flaws in their partner’s character. Over time, this version of the story solidifies and they reinterpret the entire history of the relationship using that filter.

This is another of Gottman’s gendered findings; it is mostly a problem because the men (in heterosexual marriages, at least) do it. It’s a problem when women do it, too, they just don’t tend to as much.

The alternative to rehearsing distress-maintaining attributions is rehearsing relationship-enhancing attributions, and this is exactly what Gottman found that the people in marriages that ended up happy and stable did. It’s probably a good idea, then, to practice rehearsing relationship-enhancing attributions if you can. Try thinking about the strengths of your relationship, good times, things you are proud of, ways that current conflict is passing and circumstantial. If that is difficult to do, think instead about couples counseling.  If you want to keep your relationship, you probably need help.