About a year ago, we posted about a study at the University of Manchester who were evaluating the impact of podcast about psychosis on attitudes towards unusual mental states. Mind Hacks readers formed a large bulk of the participants and the paper has just been published in the journal Psychosis.
So, in possibly one of the most recursive posts you’re likely to read for a while, I’m going to write about a study you were part of because you read about it on Mind Hacks.
The research was motivated by the fact that although anomalous psychosis-like experiences are common (for example, about a third of people report naturally occurring hallucinations) those who end up in front of mental health professionals are more likely to have assumed that these psychological distortions are uncontrollable, unacceptable or dangerous.
Imagine if you started occasionally hearing voices. The majority of people who hear voices don’t become mentally ill, they’re absolutely fine. But if you didn’t know this you might automatically think you were ‘going mad’ or ‘losing your mind’ and become, understandably, very distressed.
Of course, voices can be a symptom of mental illness but headaches can be a symptom of a brain cancer and imagine how you’d feel if you assumed that every headache meant you had a tumour.
Importantly, there is evidence that distress from worry about unusual experiences can actually worsen the mental state, making it more likely that the person becomes mentally ill.
Ideally, we’d want everyone to know that unusual experiences, like headaches, can be normal but to go to the doctor if they are causing any sort of interference or difficulty.
Unfortunately, most people don’t know this and getting the word out is hard, so the team at Manchester decided to run a pilot study to see if a short podcast that gave good advice would help, so they set about evaluating it.
They asked people to complete some psychological questionnaires online that measured attitudes to hearing voices and attitudes to feeling paranoid, asked people to listen to the podcast, and then return to complete the questionnaires again afterwards.
I have to say, the podcast was not the most gripping and the sound quality could have been improved but despite this, after listening, participants were more likely to accurately rate how common unusual experiences are reported less negative and distressing attitudes towards voices and paranoid thoughts.
As the researchers note, to understand whether this was genuinely an effect of the psychosis podcast, rather than just spending 30 minutes relaxing with an mp3 player, they’d need to run a control group who listened to something else, but this is a promising start and they hope to take the project further to develop a useful mental health education tool.
This is also the first time Mind Hacks appears in the medical literature. The paper mentions Mind Hacks, quotes our entire post, and links to us:
The authors of a popular high-quality psychology blog (http://www.mindhacks.com) also kindly agreed to mention the study to their readers in a short internet post.
So forget your hit counts and blog rankings, the claim that Mind Hacks is a “popular high-quality psychology blog” is now SCIENTIFIC FACT! Although, largely of course, because of you. Researcher Paul Hutton also asked us to pass on his thanks to you all, and we can only do the same.
Link to DOI entry and summary for psychosis podcast study.