Discussions Regarding the World of Psychology (www.lapsych.com)

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A new study released in April 2012 in Current Biology has found a significant causal link between Visual Spatial Attention and Reading Acquisition.  In plain English, what this means is that parents and clinicians may now be able to identify as well as intervene to better prevent a child from being held back by the handicap that dyslexia can cause for them as they grow older. 

The study found that poor readers demonstrated an impaired ability to scan and search through visual material when they were prereaders.  In addition, the study reports that 60% of poor readers displayed visual-attention deficits when prereaders.  The causal relation was made that visual attention in preschoolers specifically predicts future reading acquisition.   

This study can be tremendously helpful to parents, teachers, and clinicians in our ability to identify and help these children.  Parents can take notice of their child’s ability to maintain visual attention and practice these skills in a fun manner such as ‘Visual Search & Find’  (i.e.: Where’s Waldo type games).  Preschool teachers and programs can make it a point to incorporate such activities into their curriculum to help build these skills in children.  Lastly, clinicians can focus greater attention on the use of visual scanning assessment tools as one of the various measures used to identify dyslexia at a younger age. 

For parents who are interested in practicing these skills with their young children but who need some guidance in how to begin, a good starting place is to discuss it with your child’s teacher.  Another option would be to work with a psychologist who specializes in educational assessments and can tailor a plan for you to work on these skills with your child.   In addition, if your child is demonstrating significant difficulties in his/her visual attention at a young age (approximately 3-5), you may want to closely track their growth in attaining reading skills as they grow older and get them evaluated for dyslexia in early elementary school if you are concerned.  Never dismiss your gut feelings as a parent… if you feel like something is not right, it’s important to get them evaluated early.  After all, nobody knows your child better than you do. 

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian

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I read about a study today that peaked my interest.  Professor Brashears from Cornell University recently conducted a study in which he discovered that Americans today have 1/3 fewer true friends or confidants as was the norm 25 years ago.  Studies done about 25 years ago noted that Americans, on average, had 3 friends that they would trust to turn to in times of emotional difficulty.  The study that he conducted recently has found that number has currently dropped to 2 friends.  In a world of social media and the ease of staying connected, one would think that we would all be closer to one another, but this does not appear to be the case.

Let’s look at reasons that this finding may be true.  First off, although it is nice to stay in touch with people on Facebook, the truth of the matter is that the majority of our Facebook friends would have been completely disconnected from us had social media not been an option.  Therefore, I wouldn’t really call them friends… they’re acquaintances if anything.  Therefore, the fact that someone may have 100+ Facebook friends does not have any connection to their true friendships.  On the other hand, I believe that the option of using social media such as Facebook makes us lazier in out true friendships.  Truth be told, it’s just so much easier to FB message someone or text them with what you actuallywant to say as opposed to picking up the phone to call them and having a drawn out conversation before getting to the point of why you were calling in the first place.

I’m conflicted about whether I like to have the ease of social media at my fingertips.  As much as we feel too tired to call a friend and talk about how we are doing and how they are doing, that conversation serves a strong purpose in maintaining and growing that relationship.  First off, it allows you to catch up regarding the details of one another’s lives.  Second, it helps preserve your sense of empathy because you can actually talk about how the other person is doing and not just focus on getting your needs met at that given moment.  Finally, it creates new opportunities to connect over topics that would have not come up over text messaging. 

However, another reason  we may have less real friends as a society may be due to the fact that we are more stressed out as a society.  Financial stress, longer work hours, more responsibilities at an early age, etc are all contributing factors to our need to focus on ourselves and slowly drift away from our friends.   These factors cause the majority of us to isolate and try to figure it out on our own, but as a result, we end up drifting away from the very people who may have been able to help us through those difficult times.  The lonelier we feel, the higher our rates of depression.  Therefore, it is important to share not only our good and happy moments with our friends, but to trust them in also sharing our difficult times with them.  Once this can be done, that is when that person can truly be call a ‘friend’.

If you know anyone who appears to be isolating and shutting down in sharing their emotions and experiences with you, try to have that conversation with them and be there for them.  If you feel that it is becoming a real problem, it may be helpful to encourage them to talk to a psychologist about the possibility and treatment of depression.

In conclusion, social media serves a great purpose in giving us the opportunity to stay connected with the extended people in our social circle.  However, it becomes dangerous when it is used as the primary means of communication with those that we actually love and trust.  In the end, if you genuinely care about someone, pick up the phone and call them.  Otherwise, in the long run, you may not have as much to talk about as you do now…

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


We’ve all heard the saying ” I perform better under stress”.  Although this may be true for some of us, it is not the case for everyone.  A recent study from the University of Chicago found that during times of stress (measured by elevated levels of cortisol), people who tend to perform better are the one’s who have a higher level of confidence to begin with.  However, people who are anxious and unsure of themselves tend to perform poorly when faced with situations of increased stress.  It appears that the cortisol associated with stress helps individuals who are confident but it hinders those who are anxious.

This study is very helpful for individuals living with anxiety as well as for the general public.  It also brings home the importance of self-confidence and esteem in future success.  It appears that stress is a benign entity, but rather, it’s your mind’s interpretation of that stress that causes one to succeed or to fail.  Confident people seem to interpret the stress as a driving force.  On the contrary, anxious people interpret this same stress in a negative manner, engage in a series of negative thoughts regarding themselves, end up failing or performing poorly, and  as a result of the poor performance, they increase their negative thoughts and level of anxiety.  It’s a vicious cycle that needs to be addressed.

Psychological treatment can be very helpful for individual with anxiety.  With the use of cognitive behavioral therapy, one can learn to identify the negative thoughts and work toward stopping and replacing them with positive ones.  In addition, therapy can help one identify the source of their anxiety and work through those issues.  In addition, this study brings up thoughts of the importance of positive parenting.  More than ever, the research is showing us that the most important thing that we can give our children is a high level of self-confidence.  It is more important for them to believe that they will be able to solve a problem as opposed to being the first to solve it.  For example, it’s more crucial for the healthy development of a child for his/her parents to teach the child to believe that he/she is good at math as opposed to instilling in the child the need to get the answer correct every time.  We can’t be next to our children at every moment to make sure that they do every problem correctly, but we can instill the self-confidence and positive thought patterns to help them get through those future stressful situations in a successful manner.  It’s not the stress that causes us to fail; it’s how we interpret the stress that makes or breaks us…

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


I often see/hear discussions in the community regarding how children/adolescents are posting too much personal information on social media sites such as Facebook and I feel that this is legitimately a source of concern for parents.  Therefore, I found a new study from the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science which addresses the issue to be very relevant.  The study found that the amount of personal information that teens share on FB is actually similar to the amount of personal information that their parents share.  The only difference is that teens spend more time on these kinds of sites.  This, in turn, gives them more time to post content that is personal.  On average, it was determined that teens spend 55 minutes per day on Facebook, whereas adults spend 38 minutes/day.  However, the personal nature of the posts (i.e. pictures, locations, etc) between parents and children is similar in content.

One thing that this study brought to mind for me is that although the personal nature of the posts between the parents and children may be similar, that does not account for the content of the posts.  In other words, although a parent may feel it appropriate to post a picture of him/herself with their spouse, the content of that picture may be more conservative than a picture that their teen may post of him/herself with their boy/girlfriend.  I would appreciate a study that would further look into this issue regarding if the personal posts uploaded by teens place them in a more compromising position than the personal posts uploaded by their parents. 

That said, I believe that social media is a territory that parents need to address and discuss with their teens.  It is not something that is going away anytime soon and generally speaking, can actually be a great way for teens to express themselves.  However, like any other aspect of raising teenagers, limits and boundaries need to be set around its use and occasional monitoring is needed.   Most importantly, it is critical to talk to your teens about the consequences of the information they choose to post on social media sites and the permanent nature of the content they place on the internet.  Open communication and trust are vital aspects in a parent and teen relationship.  This does not mean that you should treat your teenager like they are your friend but that you are there to be a sounding board for them if/when they are having issues.  If your teen then chooses to follow a path that you disapprove of as a parent, that it when it is necessary to give them a consequence.  If you are struggling in communicating effectively with your teen, it is important to address the issue by seeing a psychologist before it gets out of control.  However, just try to keep in mind that they are going through a difficult time in their lives in which they are trying to determine how their personal values/beliefs align with the social environment in which they exist and how to go about being accepted in light of who they are.  For some, this struggle does not end in adolescence, but is a lifelong journey…

-Dr. Sheyda Melkonian


ADHD and it’s link to substance abuse is a topic that has been discussed at great length in both the media as well as the world of scientific research.  However, I felt that this particular study conducted by Massachusetts General Hospital is significant in that it is one of the only longitudinal studies that followed the participants for over a decade to determine the risk of substance abuse.  In addition, this study specifically examined whether any of the specific symptoms of ADHD such as impulsive behavior, cognitive problems, school problems, accompanying conditions such as bipolar disorder or conduct disorder, or family factors were each individually responsible for the risk or whether it was the diagnosis as a whole. 

The results of the study found that participants diagnosed with ADHD had a one and a half times greater risk of developing substance abuse than did control participants.  In addition, it was determined that the factors of gender, cognitive difficulties,  mood disorders, or school problems were not responsible for the risk.  Having been diagnosed with conduct disorder, however, increased the chances of substance abuse by three times when coupled with ADHD. 

What this study tells us is that there is scientifically a significant link between having ADHD and being more susceptible to substance abuse.  For this reason, it is imperative that children who may be exhibiting behaviors associated with ADHD undergo an evaluation by a qualified mental health professional to determine if they, in fact, have ADHD.  Some of the symptoms of ADHD include, but are not limited to, impulsivity, inattention, forgetfulness, hyperactivity, difficulty with time management, etc.  If an individual is diagnosed with ADHD, early intervention and being proactive with that child can be the determining factor in whether they will fall into the group that uses substances to self medicate or the group that employs healthy and functional tools to succeed.  The risk may already be there, but what is done to derail them from heading down a path of substance abuse is up to you.


 Have you ever wondered if your infant realizes it when you’re upset or arguing with your spouse?  New research shows that although infants may not be able to tell us how they are feeling, a conflictual relationship between their parents stresses them out, as demonstrated by the effect that it has on their sleep  patterns.  Research recently published in the journal  Child Development explains that marital instability when the infant was nine months old was related to child sleep problems at 18 months, including difficulties falling asleep and staying asleep.  Although all infants and children go through periods of sleep difficulty, it is important to consider whether exposure to a conflictual relationship may be further worsening the problem.  In other words, not all sleep difficulties in children are due to parental conflict, but if parental conflict is present and your baby is experiencing sleep difficulties, it is likely that the exposure to conflict is having a negative impact on the baby’s sleep pattern.

Sleep in crucial to the healthy development of infants as discussed in a research study from Emory University, which was recently published in the journal SLEEP.  The study shows that longer bouts of sleep in infants end with an increase in weight and body-fat composition tied to an increase in length.  In other words, sleep affects a baby’s physical development by helping them get taller and it also increases the baby’s weight and abdominal fat.  Therefore, preventing a baby from achieving optimal levels of sleep due to environmental stressors such as marital conflict can impact not only their emotional, but also their physical development. 

Although parents do not intend to hurt their infants when arguing with their spouse in front of the infant, it is important to know that it does have an impact on them.  Most parents assume that during infancy, babies have no idea what is going on in the world, so they do not need to filter their behavior or language as they would if they were upset at their partner in the presence of an older child.  More and more, however, we are seeing that this assumption is not true.  Although babies do not have a clear sense of what is being said or why, they sense the emotions that are involved in the relationships surrounding them.  In other words, if you are yelling at your partner, the baby does not understand what you are saying, but they understand that you become angry when interacting with your spouse.  This, in turn, affects your baby’s emotional state and (as this study shows us) their physical development.  Therefore, it is important to stay composed and contain the expression of negative emotions in the presence of infants as one would in the presence of an 8-year-old child.  Otherwise, it can affect their ability to emotionally and physically thrive ( as well as your ability to get a good night’s sleep).   It is important to seek the services of a psychologist if you feel like your baby’s sleep difficulties are caused by emotional difficulties in the home.  Family and/or couples therapy is very helpful in providing healthy outlets for the communication of negative emotions in relationships. 

Dr. Melkonian


Have you ever felt confident in your level of knowledge regarding a certain topic only to feel yourself getting anxious before the test and blanking out?  If so, this is more common than you think.  Test anxiety can be your worst enemy when you are in school.  It can literally be the obstacle between you and the career that you are meant to pursue.  The truth of the matter is that the majority of professional career paths require you to participate in a great deal of standardized testing as a means of achieving the end result… obtaining your license.

The good news is that test anxiety is not something you need to live with or accept.  You do not need to give up on achieving the career you have always dreamed of due to fear of failure caused by anxiety.  There are a variety of therapy techniques to treat test anxiety.  As with most other forms of anxiety, the most common approach is cognitive behavioral.  This orientation focuses on addressing the negative thoughts which give rise to the feelings of anxiety.  It also looks at the repertoire of behaviors that are associated with the anxiety and focuses on changing those behaviors.  The basic idea is that if you change your thoughts and behaviors, then your feelings and reactions will change also.  Other routes of treatment may focus on how your previous life experiences have shaped your reactions to testing situations and have resulted in this pattern of feeling significantly anxious before a test.  Whichever modality fits your needs best is a decision that you and your therapist will need to make together. 

The take away message of this post is to make students aware of the fact that ignoring the issue of test anxiety will not make it go away… it needs to be addressed.  There are many options available to treat this issue, but the first and most important step is to acknowledge it, ask for help, and talk about the problem with a therapist.  Recent research from the University of Chicago has found that even the mere process of journaling feelings of anxiety for 10 minutes before a test has resulted in students improving their high-stakes test scores by nearly one grade point.  That is a BIG DEAL!  When you give yourself the opportunity to identify, acknowledge, and process the feelings that are holding you back from achieving your dreams, they lose the power that they have over you.  All emotions feel significantly heavier when they reside inside of you and are not allowed to be expressed.  Once people express these feelings, they will often feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders and they are then able to tackle the real issues behind it.    

If you are interested in discussing possible treatment options for test anxiety or anxiety in general, please call my office at 818-523-9394 or you can reach me by e-mail at drmelkonian@lapsych.com

Dr. Sheyda Melkonian



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