Family and Relationships

family stress, holiday stress,

Brain Responds Differently to Family, Study Suggests

December 31, 2008 01:01 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
Just in time for the conclusion of the holiday season, a new study suggests that seeing family members in person or in photos prompts primal responses in the brain.

How We Process Images of Relatives

The study was published in the journal Neuropsychologia and “found that relatives and self-lookalikes are processed through a self-referential part of the brain,” while strangers and friends affect other brain areas that deal with “important and risky decisions,” reports MSNBC.

The study’s co-authors, Steven Platek and Shelly Kemp, suggest that merely viewing photographs of family members can trigger “somewhat primal” brain activity, which can impact thoughts on family, friends and oneself. The results of the study could shed light on why family members often “get on our nerves” and “why people who look like us can spark immediate feelings of trust,” reported MSNBC.

The study is particularly intriguing as the holiday season draws to a close, and many people are struggling to cope with stressful family get-togethers.

A psychologist interviewed by the Hartford Courant said, “Some of my family members are jealous of each other, so they pick and prod at each other during Christmas.” The behavior is indicative of what many people experience during the holidays, according to the article. “Holidays are the perfect time for … the Absolute Truth to come calling,” reports the Harford Courant, which offers several tips for dealing with family stress.

Opinion & Analysis: On analogue studies

According to the blog Pyschcentral, the study is an analogue study “because they aren’t actually measuring the real process.”

The blog takes issue with title of the MSNBC article, which is that seeing family “warps” our brains. A study in which “subjects lay down on their backs, are inserted into a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine, and shown various photos while researchers monitor the subject’s brain activity” does not show “warping” of our brains, the blog says.

Related Topic: Extreme coping mechanisms

The New York Times blog Motherlode touched on an extreme method of coping with family stress: hiring a Family Coach.

“Part therapist, part time-manager, part sounding-board for things parents already know but need someone else to tell them,” the family coach is “a new profession that does what the extended family or the coffee-klatch of neighbors used to do,” writes blogger Lisa Belkin. Families could help themselves by trusting their own instincts, or developing a “trusted circle” of friends to “bounce things off of,” she continued.

Reference: Family and relationships


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