We are pleased to present the following keynote speakers, who will present their influential research in the field of Psychology and Health: Erik Scherder, Gabriele Oettingen and Suzanne Segerstrom.
Professor Erik Scherder
Prof. dr. Erik Scherder is professor in Clinical Neuropsychology at the VU University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands and is head of the department of Clinical Neuropsychology at the same university. In addition, he is professor in Human Movement Sciences at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. His group develops two lines of research: 1) the relationship between enriched environment among which physical activity and music, and cognition, mood, and sleep-wake rhythm in children with autism and older persons with neurodegenerative diseases; and 2) the influence of neurodegenerative diseases on pain experience.
Keynote abstract: Train the Sedentary Brain
There is ample evidence from epidemiological studies that we increasingly lead a sedentary life: we sit more and move less with a moderate to vigorous intensity. An inactive lifestyle increases the risk for several diseases, e.g. diabetes type II, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and cancer. It is quite alarming that the prevalence of diabetes type II occurs nowadays already at the age of 30 or even younger. An exciting question is therefore: at what age does ‘aging’ starts? These sedentary-related comorbidities will affect the vascularization of the brain, in particular the white matter, i.e. the connections between brain areas. In other words, a sedentary lifestyle harms structural and functional neuronal circuits. I like to show you in my presentation that these neuronal circuits not only play a crucial role in motor behavior but also in major cognitive functions such as executive functions like planning, set-shifting and impulse control. Considering the huge overlap between motor and cognitive circuits, one could imagine that physical activity may improve cognitive functions, or may slow down cognitive decline during aging. It may even postpone the onset of dementia. Indeed, and this is exciting, particularly executive functions respond positively to a daily increase in physical activity of a moderate intensity. For example brisk walking or stair climbing are feasible and excellent activities! Executive functions are essential for independent functioning in daily life. Also challenging the brain of older people by doing completely new things (e.g. hobby’s) appears to have a most positive effect on cognitive functions like memory. However, cognitive training itself will not challenge the cardiovascular system. I will finish my talk by addressing the results of a recent meta-analysis that showed that even in the presence of dementia, physical activity (exercise) has a positive effect on cognitive functions. The question remains though, whether these latter improvements generalize to other cognitive domains.
Professor Gabriele Oettingen
Gabriele Oettingen is a Professor of Psychology at New York University. She is the author of more than a 100 articles and book chapters on thinking about the future and the control of cognition, emotion, and behavior. She received her Ph.D. from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology in Seewiesen, Germany. Her major contribution to the field is research on the perils of positive thinking and on Mental Contrasting, a self-regulation technique that is effective for mastering one’s everyday life and long-term development. Gabriele Oettingen’s work is published in social and personality psychology, developmental and educational psychology, in health and clinical psychology, in organizational and consumer psychology, as well as in neuropsychological and medical journals. Her findings contribute to the burgeoning literature on behavior and life style change, and educational institutions have increasingly become interested in the application of her research.
Her first trade book, RETHINKING POSITIVE THINKING: Inside the New Science of Motivation has been published by Current, an imprint of Penguin Random House, in October 2014 (for more information, see www.woopmylife.org).
Keynote abstract: Thinking About the Future and Health Behavior Change
“Think positive!” quotes are found everywhere, but contrary to popular belief merely thinking positively about the future hurts effort and success. Research conducted over more than 20 years finds that dreaming about a desired future leads to lower investment and less effective health behavior change. So, how can we avoid the perils of positive thinking? By juxtaposing our dreams with personal obstacles, we end up pursuing desired futures that can be realized and letting go from those that cannot. I will talk about this self-regulation strategy, named mental contrasting, its non-conscious mechanisms, and how people can use it just by themselves as a cost- and time-effective tool to improve their health behavior. But what if people face obstacles that are very hard to overcome? Here, planning in the form of implementation intentions or if-then plans helps. It supports people to overcome obstacles by explicitly strengthening the link between the obstacle and the behavior to overcome the obstacle. Combining mental contrasting with implementation intentions (MCII) has proven to be most effective in changing health behavior. MCII enables people to autonomously find and pursue relevant health goals that then can be successfully implemented. I will present various ways of how to apply MCII as an effective health-behavior tool in everyday-life.
Professor Suzanne C. Segerstrom
Suzanne C. Segerstrom is a University Research Professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. Her research includes investigations into the effects of self-regulation, goals, and goal pursuit on psychological health and cardiovascular and immune function, particularly in older adults. Her book Breaking Murphy’s Law focuses on how optimism both leads to and follows from more effective goal pursuit. Dr. Segerstrom’s work has been sponsored by the NIH, the Norman Cousins Program in Psychoneuroimmunology, the Dana Foundation, and the Templeton Foundation. She is the 2002 recipient of a Templeton Positive Psychology Prize for her work on optimism. Dr. Segerstrom has a B.A. with majors in Psychology and Music from Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, where she was named the 2004 Outstanding Young Alumna. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Psychology from University of California, Los Angeles.
Keynote abstract: Self-Regulation and Health in Older Adults
Self-regulation – changing or managing one’s emotions, thoughts, behaviors, and impulses – has many pathways to health. A person who has more worry and distress is at higher risk for heart disease; conversely, a person who engages in more physical activity and resists impulses to eat French fries is at lower risk. As people age, measures of self-regulatory capacity such as executive cognitive functioning and heart rate variability decline, but for many older adults, self-regulatory performance does not. How do capacity and performance relate to each other and affect pathways to health among older adults? Repetitive thought comprises a cognitive pathway between self-regulation and health. Thinking more positively, but not thinking less, was associated with self-regulatory capacity and better health; more repetitive thinking may actually have health benefits. Self-regulatory capacity may also affect social pathways. When self-regulatory capacity was fatigued, older adults made less optimal social choices as suggested by socioemotional selectivity theory. Older adults also appeared to be more sensitive to self-regulatory fatigue than younger adults. How self-regulatory capacity affects health behavior and physiology comprises more links between self-regulatory capacity and performance and health. In conclusion, self-regulatory capacity affects multiple pathways to health for older adults.