The Success in One’s Stress


By Rowena Kong

Research has mostly focused on how various socioeconomic problems and health challenges can limit disadvantaged children’s creativity and success. For instance, the effect of socioeconomic status on academic achievement has been extensively examined. However, it seems that most geniuses of the century – Einstein, Newton and Beethoven, to name a few – did not really get to enjoy a remarkably normal childhood or adult life, and yet they made unprecedented scientific and artistic contributions to the world at large. Even their children and direct descendants paled in comparison to their astounding achievements. Past assumptions that intelligence is solely inherited have been debated on grounds that it can be nurtured and created by schools, which provide stimulating discussion-based learning in the classroom (Resnick, & Schantz, 2015). As for physical barriers posed by debilitating health conditions, we can treat ourselves to the admirable story of surviving genius Stephen Hawking, who, despite having been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis at the young age of 21, has lived past 50 and remained strong in the field of academics as a renowned theoretical physicist. I would say that this is nothing short of God’s miracle and a reminder to us of man’s undefeatable potential.

Can stressful and harsh conditions be unusually beneficial and serve as a strong drive for the person with above-average willpower and determination to succeed? In short, how do stressful situations filter out the best from the average? A study which looked into aspects of personality that differentiated senior executives who did not fall ill after exposure to high-degree stressful life events over a period of time from those who did reported that more hardiness, such as having an attitude of vigorousness toward the environment, a sense of meaningfulness and an internal locus of control, contributed to the more favourable health response of those who remained well after being stressed (Kobasa, 1979).

Personality-environment interaction aside, it might be worth taking a look at certain neural processes that occur when a person faces stress. The neurotransmitter dopamine plays a significant role in reward anticipation and learning, and research has investigated the link between its release in the mesocorticolimbic structures in the brain and an individual’s stressful state. A positron emission tomography (PET) study by Pruessner, Champagne, Meaney and Dagher (2004) reported significant release of dopamine in the ventral striatum when subjects who experienced low early parental care were exposed to a psychosocial stressor. What is also worth noting is that the salivary cortisol level of these subjects was positively correlated with dopamine release levels. Such an increase of this neurotransmitter may be presumed to be localized in the region. However, in an early animal microdialysis study which assessed the difference in extracellular dopamine levels between rats’ states of rest and exposure to tail-shock stress, there were increases in the nucleus accumbens and medial frontal cortical regions as well (Abercrombie, Keefe, DiFrischia, & Zigmond, 1989). Cabib and Puglisi-Allegra (2012) proposed that stress-induced mesoaccumbens dopamine increase serves as a promoter of active coping strategies and that this initiative to action is coordinated by the event appraising function of the medial prefrontal cortex.

On one hand, in addition to sharpening one’s skills at coping and problem-solving, there is also the role that dopamine plays in creativity, as evidenced in studies of Parkinson’s disease. Lhommée et al. (2014) reported that the creativity of patients of the disease, who were given higher dosages of a dopamine agonist, decreased after they underwent a surgery to improve their motor symptoms. We also know that it takes unique creativity to be a genius problem-solver.

Perhaps, we are still scratching the surface in terms of piecing together the puzzle of the relationship between dopamine and stress, and the ways in which both factors couple to lead a person boldly along the road to success. I think future directions of research should consider the potential therapeutic effect of multi-functional (and still mysterious) dopamine under stressful conditions, while keeping in mind at the same time the anticipatory influence it has on us emotionally and cognitively.


Abercrombie, E. D., Keefe, K. A., DiFrischia, D. S., & Zigmond, M. J. (1989). Differential effect of stress on in vivo dopamine release in striatum, nucleus accumbens, and medial frontal cortex. Journal of Neurochemistry, 52(5), 1655-1658. doi:10.1111/j.1471-4159.1989.tb09224.x

Cabib, S., & Puglisi-Allegra, S. (2012). The mesoaccumbens dopamine in coping with stress. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36(1), 79-89. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.04.012

Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: An inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(1), 1-11. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.37.1.1

Lhommée, E., Batir, A., Quesada, J., Ardouin, C., Fraix, V., Seigneuret, E.,…Krack, P. (2014). Dopamine and the biology of creativity: Lessons from Parkinson’s disease. Frontiers in Neurology, 5, 55. doi:10.3389/fneur.2014.00055

Pruessner, J. C., Champagne, F., Meaney, M. J., & Dagher, A. (2004). Dopamine release in response to a psychological stress in humans and its relationship to early life maternal care: A positron emission tomography study Using [11C]Raclopride. The Journal of Neuroscience, 24(11), 2825-2831. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3422-03.2004

Resnick, L. B., & Schantz, F. (2015). Re-thinking intelligence: Schools that build the mind. European Journal of Education, 50(3), 340-349. doi:10.1111/ejed.12139

Sirin, S. R. (2005). Socioeconomic status and academic achievement: A meta-analytic review of research. Review of Educational Research, 75(3), 417-453. doi:10.3102/00346543075003417

About the author:

Rowena Kong is a fourth year Psychology major who is interested in writing about a diverse range of topics. The brain’s mirror neurons and dopaminergic reward system fascinate her just as much as cultural universals and implicit social communication. During her spare time, she enjoys photography, fanfiction, and working with Photoshop to improve her amateurish skills. 

Explaining the Emotional and Social Costs of East Asians’ Experience of Depression


By Rowena Kong

The difference in rates of depression between East Asians and North Americans has long attracted research leading to explanations for such findings. According to a summary study by Weissman et al. (1996) which analyzed the rates of major depressive disorder in different countries based on community surveys, depression’s prevalence rate in Taiwan stood low at 1.5% for every 100 people while that of Korea was a close 2.9%. Another study indicated China’s 1-year incidence rate for unipolar depression at 2.3%, which was much lower than that of the United States at 10.3% (Kessler et al., 1994; Murray, & Lopez, 1996). Along with their lower lifetime prevalence, the Chinese also tended to report more somatic than psychological depressive symptoms (Parker, Gladstone, & Chee, 2001; Ryder, & Chentsova-Dutton, 2012). A study which compared depressed Malaysian Chinese and Euro-Australians found that the former were more likely to express somatic complaints than were the latter (Parker, Cheah, & Roy, 2001).

Continue reading

Hidden Neuroprotective Functions: The Potential Roles of Caffeine and Acetaminophen in Delayed Progression of Parkinson’s Disease


By Rowena Kong

Tylenol and caffeine: they are too common in our everyday life and language to be ignored. When physical symptoms call for our action, we reach for the bottle of Tylenol; to satisfy our cravings, we aim for the kitchen coffee-brewer or the nearest cafe. They are effective and have always been so. But are these remedial actions just about all that acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) and caffeine can offer us? Continue reading

Against All Odds: Priceless Consciousness in the Minds of the Seemingly Deprived

Abstract design made of outlines of human head, technological and fractal elements on the subject of artificial intelligence, computer science and future technologies

By Rowena Kong

Many unfortunate and unresponsive patients might never be able to show a hint of perception of their loved-ones’ faithful support by the bedside or the sight of their tears behind hopeful smiles. As such, the very existence of these patients’ level of consciousness and the accuracy of their clinical behavioural assessments have been debatable. Medical authorities and experts have come up with the category of disorders of consciousness to include conditions that impair one’s state of awareness. “Minimally conscious state” and “persistent vegetative state” are two categorizations that have attracted particular interest due to the difficulty inherent in their identification and diagnosis (Bernat, 2006). In the case of patients in a minimally conscious state, there remains a certainty in their behavioural exhibition of sense of self and of the environment (Giacino et al., 2002). As for the persistent vegetative state, the condition is more severe and impacts one’s full range of behavioural responses to sensory stimuli in terms of their sustainability, reproducibility, purposefulness and voluntary nature (The Multi-Society Task Force on PVS, 1994). Of particular significance is the fact that the vegetative patient exhibits a total loss of awareness of the self and the environment while other autonomic bodily functions are still preserved at variable degree.

Continue reading

Should You Think Twice Before Popping Another Pill of Tylenol?

Psyched_Tylenol and Social Pain_Pic1

By Rowena Kong

It would be difficult to imagine that anyone in this day and age is unfamiliar with Tylenol and its active ingredient, acetaminophen. Tylenol is the most popular over-the-counter pain-reliever drug, and it should undeniably be present at all times in our medicine cabinets. Some are even hesitant to travel without it in their handy luggage. Our lives would be ‘painful’ without its existence, as it is being the most accessible (and relatively affordable) reliever of our common suffering. For some, it can even be a necessity that enables them to lead a less tormented life. We pride ourselves in the fact that we would never be labelled as ‘addicts’ or ‘abusers’ with our frequent consumption of Tylenol. However, that naggy silent voice of conscience and a natural aversion to all things with the word ‘drug’ attached just bugs me each time I see a loved one popping the pills repeatedly, especially when they describe their aches as rather ‘mild’.

Continue reading

Insomnia: Real or Imagined?


By Rowena Kong

Dear Miss Summer,

I know you must have answered this common question a number of times, but personally I just can’t seem to get rid of this problem no matter how hard I try. I’ve been losing sleep for quite some time now – spending all night mind-wandering and staring at the clock until dawn. Although my work is not so much affected at present, I deeply fear that one day this huge sleep debt might ruin my life and career. Please help!


Dear Sleep-Agonized,

I can understand your problem. In spite of it being a common and recurrent problem today, insomnia happens to each person for different reasons and to varying degrees. What matters to Tom may not trouble Harry because every person is a unique individual. To address your question, it sounds like the sleeplessness has been going on for quite a while now. Allow me to say that it is usually not an easy task to tackle a problem once it has reached its climax because it takes a longer process of retrospection and analysis of what has occurred. However, I tried to pick up on your hints and perceived that there has been much going on for you in terms of thoughts, fears, and career. A conscientious person who highly values her work accomplishments would definitely feel vulnerable upon realizing that her circadian rhythms are off. Perhaps you should start considering this area to be of relevance to your ongoing struggle. Try not to be too hard on yourself when things fall short of your expectations and standards, when the report you produced does not receive positive feedback from your supervisor, or clients fail to appreciate you going the extra mile for them. One thing you should also think about is the level of guilt you have due to this sleep loss problem. Be aware that it is not your fault that this is happening. Lastly, I would encourage you to take some time off work to enjoy the world outside and the new season, and even to do more mind-wandering in a non-stressful and health-rejuvenating way, because you deserve it. That way, you can loosen the tight bonds of schedule-consciousness, which might have played a role in your insomnia…

All the best and take care,

Miss Summer”

Alright, I confess – the above introduction is not an excerpt from a magazine advice column but was taken from a piece of fiction written by me and posted elsewhere. Nevertheless, it kindled an interest that caused me to start researching the topic of insomnia. I get the notion that the term, which describes sleep deprivation and its related problems, is so general and overused that its connotation is one of vagueness and ambiguity. When someone close to me recently complained of the problem, questions started popping up in my restless head of its causes and triggers, onset, duration; and, most of all, how the nature of her job might have exacerbated the condition.

Continue reading

Recruiting for the Visual Attention/Perception Study of Men With and Without Prostate Cancer

There is a new study looking at vision and perception in prostate cancer patients. The study is a collaborative project between researchers Drs. Alan Kingstone and Richard Wassersug at UBC, and Dr. Jaime Palmer-Hague at Trinity Western University in Langley.

The study will compare the perceptual responses of men with prostate cancer to that of age-matched men without prostate cancer, and more generally, seeks to investigate the ways in which people view, understand, and interact with visual stimuli. The study is especially important for prostate cancer patients on certain drugs that might affect their mood and attention. Continue reading

Think Creative? Think People, and Culture…


By Rowena Kong

Which would you do better at: detecting similarities amongst a group of items, or brainstorming an original title for a thriller movie? Chances are, your level of performance on these two representative measures of creativity can be influenced by the social environment around you, and particularly by the behaviour and backgrounds of the people with whom you interact. One study by Ashton-James and Chartrand (2009) showed that the effect of social interaction on creativity occurred through the activation of thinking styles. The authors hypothesised that mimicry of participants’ behaviour without their awareness would induce a convergent thinking style, and that a divergent thinking style would be observed when participants were not mimicked. Indeed, the outcome revealed that the mimicry condition led to higher scores on a convergent thinking task (pattern recognition) while the non-mimicry condition produced better performance on a divergent thinking task (generation of novel product labels).

Continue reading

You Are Not Sleeping Enough!


By Samantha Chong

Midterms and paper due dates haven’t all passed yet, and with finals coming up, it never seems to end. Have you been getting as much sleep as you would like since everything started? We know all too well how important it is to get enough sleep. In addition to being vital for ensuring physical and mental wellbeing, sleep also plays a role as a protective factor against various health problems and chronic illnesses (Roberts, Roberts & Xing, 2011). But let’s be truthful here – the majority of us have poor sleeping habits. As university students trying to keep up with our lives, getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night has inevitably become one of the many luxuries we cannot afford.

Continue reading

While You Are Doing, I Am Feeling: The Potential of Mirror Neurons

By Rowena Kong


Since the discovery of mirror neurons about two decades ago, research into their functions to explain their existence in humans and primates have provided us with an ever richer understanding of their remarkable network system in the brain (Marshall, 2014). The mirror neuron circuitry was first observed in the premotor cortex of the macaques, and subsequently in other frontal and parietal cortical regions, particularly those responsible for perceptual and motor processes. Mirror neurons are essentially motor neurons which fire during both execution and observation of an action. The first researchers to discover this group of neurons termed them mirror neurons based on the discovery that the macaques in their study were observing actions as if they were a reflection of their own in a mirror. Thus, the pioneering discovery was followed by research on imitation and empathy in an effort to piece together the puzzle of these neurons’ existence and function(s) from theoretical and empirical standpoints.

Continue reading

A Dose of Reality (TV)

By Paula Concepcion


I have to admit: I absolutely love watching TV.

If I’m not busy studying or reading or sleeping, I’m probably watching TV – catching a new episode of one of those series I’m into, or, more often than not, a new episode of one of my favorite reality TV shows.

I’ve been watching reality TV probably since I was eleven, and it all began with my family catching an episode of the third season of The Amazing Race. Since then, I’ve kept up with that show along with other shows like Survivor and America’s Next Top Model. I have also watched parts of shows like The X Factor, The Voice, and American Idol. This makes me wonder: what is it about these kinds of shows that keeps me tuning in, anticipating a new episode? Continue reading