Seen at the Convention, Saturday, Aug. 9

Some 12,000 attendees joined the convention activities Saturday in Washington, D.C. Below, a gallery of some of the sights, and the psychologists, at and around the convention center.

Sessions to See: Making the Most of the Last Day

at APA 2014

at APA 2014

Convention is winding down and many people are preparing for the last day of sessions before heading home. After a busy three days of activities, most people are ready to skip out on sessions to sleep in or go to the airport to beat the afternoon madness.

However, the convention still offers lots of exciting and interesting sessions. Plus, it’s a great time to visit the bookstore to make your purchases. As the convention comes to a close, below are some sessions that may be interesting to see if you’re still wondering, “What session should I go to?”


Therapist Self-Care – A Lifespan Perspective: Evidence-based Expressive Writing as a Tool

CC Room 145A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will cover empirical studies of expressive writing, an experiential portion involving expressive writing, and discussion.

How Do Psychologists with Privilege Respond to the Stigmatized Others?

CC 209A (50 minutes)

The session will focus on individual, cultural and contextual barriers and assets, as well as training implications for working with culturally stigmatized others.


Integrating Individual, Family and Systems- Focused Interventions: A Video Illustration

CC 101 (50 minutes)

The session will illustrate the interdependent nature of individual-, family- and systems-based interventions in a program focusing on family-based treatment of adolescent substance abuse and delinquency.

Taking a Stand? Sport Psychology, Media and GLBT Athletes in Sochi

CC 158 (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will focus on the experiences of GLBT athletes competing in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System

CC 209A (50 minutes)

The session will present on overview of ASD by a psychologist and a parent of a child with autism who is also a former judge.


Children’s Resilience in the Context of Military Deployment and Their Aftermath

CC 204C (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will discuss how scientific knowledge about resilience can provide the evidence base for programs to support and enhance the resilience of military-connected families.


Influence of Culture and Context on Family: School Partnerships

CC 209A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will explore various influences of culture and context on the development and implementation of family-school partnerships.


Global Violence Toward Women: Interventions and Strategies for Change

CC 152A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will explore global violence toward women through an examination of sexual assault and rape in Africa, domestic violence and international sex trafficking, emphasizing treatment methods and interventions.


Interprofessional Training: Preparing Psychology Students for the Changing Health Care Market

CC 154B (50 minutes)

The session will showcase an interprofessional training program for psychology graduate students and interns to address changes in health care.

Self-Care and the APA Convention

As psychologists, we know that self-care is important to well-being. Life can be a challenge at times for everyone and having a balanced approach helps to prevent burnout and physical health problems.

Sometimes life gets busy and makes it extremely difficult to engage in self-care. One of those busy moments is the APA convention. As I write this blog at the end of a busy convention day, I realize that self-care takes about as much effort as it takes to do other important task.

photo 1Throughout this convention, I have been working to balance my schedule and engage in self-care. For example, exercise and fitness have been an integral part of my life since being a graduate student. Being at convention with a full day of activities sometimes makes me feel like I should avoid practicing my typical self-care activities Yet, I have been motivated thought the past three days to have a little balance.

My self-care activities have included:

  1.  Went to the gym to exercise
  2.  Walked to the convention center from my hotel, which is several blocks away, instead of taking a cab
  3.  Took the stairs instead of the escalator (if possible)
  4.  Used relaxation techniques
  5.  Watched a little reality TV
  6. Attended division social hours

    photo 4

    Food truck festival

According to the APA Practice Organization (APAPO), balancing a healthy mind and body enhances our personal and professional lives. Engaging in my self-care activities definitely gave me the energy to make it through the day. Below are some additional tips for the APAPO:

  • Maintain awareness of stressors
  • Use self-assessment and plan coping strategies
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Nurture meaningful relationships
  • Allow for leisure time


receiving Judy E. Hall, PhD Early Career Psychologist Award from the National Register of Health Service Psychologist (L-R, Dorothy Holmes, Ph.D. (Board member), Erlanger Turner, PhD., and Sammons

Receiving Judy E. Hall, PhD Early Career Psychologist Award from the National Register of Health Service Psychologist (L-R, Dorothy Holmes, PhD (board member), Erlanger Turner, PhD, and Morgan Sammons, PhD (executive director)

Food for Thought: Too Sweet for their Own Good?

160493980Most of us, intentionally or not, have consumed foods and beverages flavored with artificial, or non-nutritive, sweeteners. They are widespread in processed foods, including soft drinks, candy, dairy products, baked goods and numerous other products. The words aspartame, sucralose or saccharin no longer look foreign or hard to pronounce. On the contrary, they are frequently used by millions worldwide, and many people are not even aware that their low-calorie (but delicious!) foods often contain one or more artificial sweeteners.

The idea is appealing at the very least – sweetness without the caloric impact (and guilt). Why drink a can of soda that has 130 calories when you can enjoy one that has none? This is one reason why using artificial sweeteners has been a strategy to combat the obesity epidemic. Similarly, non-nutritive sweeteners are an attractive option for those with diabetes, because unlike sugar, they do not raise blood glucose levels since they do not contain carbohydrates.

However, it turns out that the process is more complicated than it may seem. According to Susan E. Swithers, PhD, a psychologist from Purdue University, the consumption of artificial sweeteners might contribute to, rather than ameliorate, weight gain and exacerbate chronic diseases like diabetes, heart diseases and high blood pressure. She talked about this yesterday in her presentation.

“Although we’ve been led to believe that artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sucralose and aspartame will automatically lead to better health outcomes, long-term data from human cohort studies indicate that risks for chronic diseases is actually higher in people who are consumers of diet beverages compared to those who don’t use them,” said Swithers.

Based both on her as well as prior animal research, high-intensity sweeteners have been associated with increased food intake and weight gain. Interestingly, though, consumption of artificial sweeteners (as opposed to glucose) caused the most weight gain in animals fed “Westernized” diets high in fats and sugars.

With that said, the idea that non-caloric, high-intensity sweeteners may promote rather than prevent weight gain is not a new one. The premise behind it is that non-caloric sweeteners and fat substitutes disrupt taste-calorie associations that regulate eating and adiposity. In other words, people tend to calorically over-compensate for the zero-calorie beverages or low-calorie foods they consume. The result is too many calories, often from health-wise suboptimal sources, and weight gain.

Yet Swithers’ finding is an intriguing one. It suggests that some of us may be more prone to weight gain from non-nutritive sweetener use than others. And unfortunately, those who are at highest risk are also those who are most likely to choose them.

“We tend to think that the negative effects of artificial sweeteners on things like weight gain are due to cognitive distortions that lead people to overeat, but the animal work indicates that these products can interfere with much more fundamental learning processes that are typically happening in the background without us having to use cognitive resources,” she said. “And these data show that interfering with these basic processes can alter release of hormones that normally help us regulate not only our food intake, but our blood sugar as well, and that have protective effects on the cardiovascular system over the long run. So even if people could somehow compensate for the tendency to overeat, these physiological effects may still make them more vulnerable to chronic diseases.”

In light of these findings, what recommendations about artificial sweetener use should a doctor give to an obese patient in order to promote weight loss? Should his or her regular diet and gender be considered? While it may still be too early to translate and apply animal research findings to humans, as with most things in life, I would err on the side of caution. Even though artificial sweeteners have been on the market for several decades now, we still don’t know everything about the non-nutritive sweeteners. A regular chocolate chip cookie – if you really want it – and a brisk walk may therefore be your best bet when trying to prevent the excess pounds.

Have more thoughts on this topic? Reply below.

Nicole Avena, PhD studies appetite and addiction at the NY Obesity Research Center, at Columbia University. You can learn more about her work at She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, or on her Psychology Today blog.

Why Do Old Habits Die So Hard?

Wish you flossed every night but not able to make it a habit? Blame your habitual mind. According to psychologist Wendy Wood, PhD, of the University of Southern California, we are all of two minds — the habitual mind and the intentional one.

The habitual mind often overrides our best intentions because it’s fueled by potent repetition and cues, said Wood in a session at APA’s 2014 Annual Convention. In other words, we want to floss, but we didn’t last night. Or the night before.

“The thoughtful, intentional mind is easily derailed, easily taken offline,” she said. “And when that happens, people tend to fall back on their habits.”

Our habitual mind is particularly tough to overpower when we are stressed or distracted, or if the right contextual cues are in place, Wood added.

78739972To illustrate this, Wood took a closer look at a contextually cued habit many of us have  — eating popcorn at the movies. To see what might prompt people to bag the habit, Wood gave people who were and weren’t habitual movie-popcorn eaters either stale or fresh popcorn during a movie. Turns out, old popcorn couldn’t override people’s habits: Even those who said they hated their stale popcorn still ate most of their box if they were regular movie munchers.

In fact, most habit studies find that our routines often eclipse our best intentions, Wood said. Part of the problem is that efforts to change behavior —  such as public service campaigns and weight-loss interventions — tend to target the intentional mind rather than the habitual one. These programs are often successful at increasing people’s motivation and changing their intentions, but aren’t overriding their bad habits, she said. To do that, the next generation of behavior change research should focus on finding ways to derail bad habits and disrupt their cues. That can help people repeat desired behaviors to form new habits and ensure that stable context cues are in place to trigger these new paths, she said.
“These are central principles that need to be included in behavior change programs so that we can … ensure those changes are maintained over time,” she said.

One good example, Wood said, appears in a 2013 study of flossing behaviors in the British Journal of Health Psychology. Researchers encouraged people to floss before or after they brushed their teeth for 28 days. They found that people who flossed after they brushed were still flossing regularly eight months later because their tooth brushing cued the flossing. “You can maintain these behaviors if you repeat them in ways that they can be cued by the context in which you live,” she said.

The Psychology of Stop and Frisk

483292865When Johanna Williams, a doctoral student at Howard University, lived in New York City, a police officer stopped and questioned her. She wasn’t frisked, in part because she had a badge indicating that she worked at Child Protective Services, she presumes.

In general, stop-and-frisk policies allow police to question someone whom they reasonably suspect has committed, is committing or is going to commit a crime. If the officer has good reason to think the person is armed and dangerous, he or she can pat them down.

Most discussions and research on stop-and-frisk policies tend to center on racial profiling, highlighting victims and community members who have been affected by them. But Williams’s work focuses on the other faction involved in these situations: the police. “If you don’t also look at the people who are enforcing this and their thought processes behind this, we are missing a huge part of the discussion,” she said at the Thursday APA convention session “We Want You! The Psychology of Stop and Frisk.”

Williams said police officers’ enforcement of stop-and-frisk policies is influenced by multiple factors, including work culture, cultural identity and history of trauma. “These police officers are coming with particular backgrounds that may heighten or lessen their degree of intrusion or use of excessive force,” she said.

Williams suggested that the TSC-2, a trauma-screening test, be used during aspiring police officers’ psychological evaluations. She also endorsed psychological assessments for police officers every six months and integrated psychological services that encompass police officers’ families. “Those are just some starting points,” she said.

Once a Cheater …

… always a cheater, or so the saying goes. At a Thursday symposium reviewing new research on unmarried couples and families, University of Denver psychology graduate student Kayla Knopp confirmed that people who cheat on their partners in one relationship are three-and-a-half times more likely to report cheating again in their next relationship.

In the study with 484 unmarried 18-to-34-year-olds, Knopp also found that people who were cheated on in the past are also more likely to be cheated on again.

179085943The past also seems to predict the future when it comes to physical and psychological aggression in relationships: Respondents who reported lots of yelling, shouting, pushing and shoving in one relationship were three times more likely to engage in the same behaviors in their next relationship — even after controlling for their partners’ aggression in both relationships. And people who reported being the victims of aggression in a previous relationship were five times more likely to report being victims again in their next relationship.

“We like to think that we can learn from our experiences and our mistakes, especially when it comes to love,” Knopp said. But as this study shows, that is likely not the case. More research is need to help develop clinical interventions to help people learn from their past experiences and making better relationship choices, Knopp said.