My research group is particularly curious about emotional mental images. The theme of this 2015 congress is “Shiny Happy People” - Positive emotions in cognitive behavioral treatment: from resilience and healthy optimism to uncontrollable self-aggrandizement and craving. We will therefore take the opportunity to explore mental imagery in this regard.
Neuroscience suggests that mental imagery is like weak perception. Imagery has a powerful impact on emotion. Emotional, intrusive memories can flash back to the past or flash-forward to the future, and critically have either positive or negative emotional content. We may be able to exploit properties of mental imagery for treatment innovation. We have proposed that imagery can act as an “emotional amplifier” - and vivid imagery will amplify both positive and negative mood states. Conversely, that weak positive imagery is associated with weaker positive affect.
First, we will discuss the idea of promoting positive imagery when positive affect is weak e.g. for people with depression. There is some evidence such imagery may be helpful and associated with optimism. However, our recent randomised control trial attempting to boost positive imagery in depression through computerised cognitive training did not show superiority to a computerised training control (Blackwell et al, 2015). Future directions will be explored.
Second, we will discuss “overly positive” imagery associated with mania in bipolar disorder (Ivins et al, 2014). Indeed, young people with hypomanic traits – and a tendency to be overly “shiny and happy” appear to have an increased vulnerability to intrusive images after an experimental stressor (Malik et al, 2014). We have recently developed a cognitive therapy protocol to tackle “overactive imagery” in bipolar disorder. Initial clinical case series data of imagery-focussed cognitive therapy for bipolar disorder will be explored, with the aim of improving mood stability (Holmes et al, in prep).
Finally, we are interested in the future of mental health science generally and psychological treatments in particular . We have argued that psychological therapies have not yet fully benefited from scientific advances in many fields related to mental health (Holmes, Craske & Graybeil, 2014). Positive emotions in cognitive behavioral treatment, from the adaptive to the maladaptive, offer just such a frontier where insights from the experimental study of mechanisms may aid future treatment development. Imagery gives one example of this. It is a pleasure to visit the Dutch Association of Behavior and Cognitive Therapy to discuss these topics.
Blackwell, Browning, Mathews, Pictet, Welch, Davies, Watson, Geddes & Holmes (2015). Positive imagery-based cognitive bias modification as a web-based treatment for depressed adults. Clinical Psychological Science, 3(1), 91-111
Ivins, Di Simplicio, Close, Goodwin, & Holmes (2014). Mental imagery in bipolar affective disorder versus unipolar depression: Investigating cognitions at times of ‘positive’ mood. Journal of Affective Disorders, 166, 234–242
Malik, Goodwin, Hoppitt & Holmes (2014). Hypomanic experience in young adults confers vulnerability to intrusive imagery after experimental trauma. Clinical Psychological Science, 2(6), 675-684
Holmes, Craske, & Graybiel (2014). A call for mental-health science. Clinicians and neuroscientists must work together to understand and improve psychological treatments. Nature 511, 287-289.
Mental imagery in depression: phenomenology, potential mecanisms, and treatment implications.
Mental Imagery: functional mechanisms and clinical applications