Ferguson: One Year Later

Sunday marked exactly one year since 18-year-old Michael Brown’s fatal shooting by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Brown’s death ignited protests and demonstrations in the St. Louis suburb, and launched a national conversation about racism and police brutality in the United States. Research conducted at the Center for Trauma Recovery at the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL) has shown that members of the Ferguson community still have hope for change and progress.

Five months after Brown’s shooting, while many protests continued, the researchers collected questionnaires filled out by 287 residents of Ferguson and surrounding communities as well as 261 police officers involved in responding to the riots. UMSL psychologist Zoe Peterson shared the study’s initial results at a symposium Sunday on hope and growth in trauma recovery.

Overall, findings showed that both groups experienced significant distress from watching news coverage of the events. In addition, 25 percent of participants met DSM-5 criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder and 38 percent exceeded clinical cutoff levels for depression.

Despite the trauma, more than 80 percent of Ferguson community members were somewhat or extremely hopeful that change was possible, that the situation in their community would improve, and that these positive changes would be meaningful and enduring. Law enforcement officers, however, reported significantly less hope — only about 50 percent felt that positive change was possible and would endure. The team is now conducting additional follow-up with both groups to see how things fare a year after the event.

“What happens in the aftermath of trauma is really important to promoting growth,” said Richard Tedeschi, PhD, psychology professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the symposium’s discussant. “Helping this community process this trauma and develop some kind of meaning from it is very much needed to ensure positive change endures.”


Psychologists Can Help Reduce Racial Profiling in Policing

Psychologists know the statistic well: Although blacks constitute only 12 percent of America’s population, they represent 40 percent of the nation’s prison inmates. Stanford University social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt, PhD, has been studying the consequences of the psychological association between race and crime for more than a decade. Her findings, which she shared Saturday during a plenary address on race and policing in America, reveal the startling ways that race influences us, even when we don’t think it does.

In one seminal study, for example, participants were subliminally primed with a series of black or white faces on a computer screen, and then watched as blurry pictures of guns and knives came into focus. Eberhardt found that participants — no matter their race — tended to recognize the weapons quicker when exposed to black faces in the primer versus white faces.

More recently, her research has shown that informing white people about the disproportionate incarceration rate of blacks makes them likely to support the expansion of harsh punitive policies, such as California’s Three Strikes Law and similar measures in other states.

Despite the pervasiveness of society’s association between blacks and crime, our behavior in response to those unconscious racial biases can be changed, Eberhardt said. Research has shown, for example, that more training — particularly in the use of firearms — can help police officers overcome racial biases.

She also pointed to the potential role of technology in addressing racial biases, noting that mandating police officer use of body cameras can help improve police relations with the public.

“We need to begin to think about this footage as data, not just as courtroom evidence,” she said. “We can look across the thousands of these videotapes to examine, in the aggregate, whether officers do indeed approach African-Americans in a different way than other groups — whether there’s a more negative tone or pitch to the voice, and whether that can predict whether the interaction is going to escalate. The footage can also be used to more fully appreciate the interactions where things go right and where officers have been able to skillfully de-escalate conflict.”


Stop pathologizing the selfie trend

While many may roll their eyes at the news articles over Kim Kardashian tweeting a selfie with Hilary Clinton on Thursday, psychologist Pamela Rutledge, PhD, says selfies are more than just a narcissistic trend with a newly accessible technology.

“Selfies are an extraordinary documentation of the process of life,” Rutledge told attendees Friday at a symposium on the use of media and technology for good.

Before launching into her talk, Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center and a psychology professor at Fielding Graduate University, asked everyone to pull out their phones and take a selfie with those sitting around them.Selfie blog photo

“You have just created a moment that you will be able to look back on and re-experience, and you’ll remember the emotional feeling you had, whether it was funny, or maybe a little bit of discomfort because you don’t do this kind of thing,” Rutledge said.

While admitting that people — particularly teens and young adults — take a lot of “stupid” selfies, Rutledge explained that the photos are often part of a young person’s exploration of self, and can even serve as a way to cultivate mindfulness.

She recommended that psychologists stop pathologizing the selfie trend and instead embrace its use and encourage people to take photos of themselves in moments of gratitude, courage, struggle, achievement and even silliness.

“There are so many moments worth capturing and revisiting,” she said. “If you capture them regularly as a visual journal, you’ll have an extraordinary little journey through what it was like to be you.”

Mobile technology in private practice — keep up or get left behind

An estimated 97,000 mobile health apps are now available worldwide, aiming to help us track our diet and exercise, monitor our moods, even monitor our chronic diseases. Yet many of these apps — including some which claim to address mental health issues — are not regulated, nor is there much evidence of their effectiveness, cautioned speakers at a symposium Friday on the use of apps and text-messaging in the practice of psychology.

“We’re scientists — we need to have evidence that something works before we use it with our clients,” said Marlene Maheu, PhD, executive director of the TeleMental Health Institute in San Diego.

Telehealth blog photoTo help practitioners figure out the safest and most effective apps to recommend to their clients, the speakers recommended examining these key questions when evaluating a mobile health app:

  • Will it meet your clients’ or patients’ needs and is it appropriate?
  • Is the app from a reputable source?
  • Is there an established evidence-base for the app, including research on the intervention underlying the app, as well as specifically associated with the app itself?
  • What are the user ratings and how often is the app downloaded?
  • Does it meet regulatory requirements based on its intended use?
  • If a client’s health information is going to be transmitted to you or another party, does the app meet data and privacy requirements, particularly related to HIPAA?

Finally, test the app yourself before endorsing it with your clients, said David Luxton, PhD, a research health scientist at the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego. He also recommended examining the list of U.S. FDA approved mobile health devices.

“It you’re not familiar with these technologies today as a clinician, it’s time to start paying attention because our patients are demanding them,” Luxton said.



Studies have shown that it takes 17 years on average for research findings to translate into improvements in clinical care. That’s a long time for a child in pain to wait, Christine Chambers, PhD, told attendees at a symposium on children’s health on Thursday.

In an effort to move child health research off the shelf and into practice sooner, Chambers, a clinical psychologist and professor of pediatrics, psychology and neuroscience at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, has partnered with several other health researchers and the Yummy Mummy Club (YMC), a group of Canadian “mommy bloggers.” They created a social media campaign dedicated to increasing parent’s use of evidence-based knowledge on children’s pain.

shotsThe “It Doesn’t Have to Hurt” social media campaign (#itdoesnthavetohurt), led by the Centre for Pediatric Pain Research, where Chambers also holds an appointment, launches on Sept. 15. It will include a year of targeted sharing and discussion of content about children’s pain, using blogs, videos, Twitter parties, Facebook polls and social media images, all posted and promoted on the Yummy Mummy Club website and through social media.

Chambers already has had success using social media to improve parental behavior around pediatric pain. Last year, she developed a YouTube video providing parents with evidence-based strategies to help children better handle shots. She also posted the video on Facebook and delivered a TEDx talk on the topic, moves that led to almost 150,000 YouTube views in 120 countries. Chambers also conducted a parental survey on the video and found that after watching the video, parents felt more confident in how to help their children deal with shots and were likely to use the video’s tips, including distracting the child with videos and games and having them blow bubbles before a shot to promote deep breathing.

“There’s a Pew Research Center survey that came out just last month showing that parents are really heavily using social media for parenting advice,” Chamber said. “It’s so important for us to work together to use these powerful tools to make sure our good research evidence reaches families sooner.”