Patty Wellborn



A photo of a person interacting with an smartphone AI assistant.

UBCO Professor Wendy Wong is one of two professors who will discuss the government’s role in the ever-changing digital era at a public talk Friday.

As artificial intelligence starts acting more human, could it change the way governments understand their relationships with citizens?

This is one of many questions up for discussion on Friday night, says Dr. Wendy H. Wong, a Professor of Political Science in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Dr. Wong is a world-renowned author and researcher who has organized a public talk called Virtual Realities: States and Territory in the Digital Era. On Friday, she and fellow AI researcher Dr. Louise Amoore will discuss government’s role in the digital era.

Why are you hosting this event?

I’m the founder of the Governance of Emerging Technologies group, which is primarily a collection of scholars who’ve been brought together through a shared interest in the political and social impacts of technology, and how those impacts might be managed.

We understand that the public has an important stake in these issues as well as scholars, so this event is about creating a space where we can all have honest conversations about the impacts of technology.

What is the goal of this event?

Our goal is to educate the public on how the logics created by deep learning technologies—like ChatGPT and other forms of artificial intelligence—impact the way governments are able to understand themselves and their relationships to citizens. For example, what are the social benefits and costs of either “leading” or “falling behind” on AI?

Can you tell us about the evening’s guest speaker Dr. Louise Amoore?

Dr. Louise Amoore is a widely celebrated scholar of political geography from Durham University in the United Kingdom. Dr. Amoore has published several books on technology and algorithms, most recently one called Cloud Ethics. Her work is wide-ranging and showcases how changing technological landscapes can impact our political futures.

What can people expect?

Guests can expect a brief, publicly oriented lecture by Dr. Amoore, followed by a conversation between myself and Dr. Amoore. I will ask exploratory questions that follow up on her lecture. I expect Dr. Amoore to explain how AI changes the way that governments think about themselves in relation to their citizens.

This shift in the “logic” of sovereignty means that there is potential for states to change the way they govern. How do existing rules apply when the logic of AI, which runs on extensive data collection and high levels of computing power that run sophisticated algorithms, becomes part of what government does?

Are states more or less powerful as a result?

As this talk is designed to be open-ended and broad, guests can also expect discussions on AI-related topics like data and data collection. Following the presentation, there will be a Q&A session.

Who is welcome to attend this event?

Thanks to sponsors, this event is free and open to everyone. Due to space restrictions, pre-registration is required.

The event takes place, Friday, May 5 at 5 pm at the Kelowna Innovation Centre, at 460 Doyle Ave. To register or find out more, visit:

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An image generated by an AI visualization program that is meant to represent AI positively

The above image was generated by Midjourney, an AI visualization program, using a simple prompt:
“create an image showing how AI is positively and negatively affecting the world.”

In an environment of increasing polarization, debates can serve as a way of bringing worlds together. This belief is behind UBC Okanagan’s venture to champion civil discourse.

“At UBC Okanagan, we believe that debate is an antidote to polarization,” says Lesley Cormack, UBC Okanagan’s Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and host of the marquee event. “Universities can facilitate tough conversations and convene opposing perspectives, and UBC Okanagan Debates will serve as a lively and engaging platform to examine tough topics in an illuminating way.”

The inaugural debate on May 3 will tackle artificial intelligence—one of the most defining issues of our time. Debaters will present either an optimistic or skeptical perspective of AI and discuss whether we should take a step back and press pause or embrace this potentially disruptive technology.

The debate will be moderated by Nora Young, radio personality and host of CBC’s Spark—a show devoted to digital technology.

“We have the luxury of living in the information age, but the downside is that we are drowning in information,” says Marten Youssef, Associate Vice-President of University Relations at UBCO. “Quantity of information isn’t just the problem, but it’s the quality of it too. This is why debating artificial intelligence is both urgent and important.”

On Wednesday, May 3, UBCO will convene four leading thinkers in artificial intelligence to debate the optimistic and skeptical sides of this topic. How it will impact our human connections, our creativity and the way we work. The debaters are:

On the optimist side:

Kevin Leyton-Brown—a Computer Science Professor who likes to play games with machines. He teaches them how to learn, cooperate and compete in complex environments such as auctions and markets.

Madeleine Ransom—a Philosophy Professor who likes to explore how we perceive the world. She investigates how our senses, cognition and technology shape our understanding of reality and art. She is philosophical about AI: it’s going to change the world for the better.

On the skeptic side:

Bryce Traister—Dean of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, he has expertise in early American literature, culture, religion and science fiction. He is also a master debater who can challenge any professor to a verbal duel. He loves sci-fi and is proud to be a nerd.

Wendy Wong—a Professor and Principal’s Research Chair of Political Science. She has written a book about data and human rights that will be published in October 2023. She thinks AI poses a threat to our social and political frameworks, and it is time to empower the stakeholders in AI discussions.

Hosted by Dr. Cormack, the event takes place at UBCO’s Commons theatre at 7 pm. The event is free and open to the public but registration is required. More information, and a registration link, can be found at:

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A photo of shoes

UBCO students will debate if a temporary wealth tax could help with Canada’s affordability crisis.

What: Roger Watts Debate: Be it resolved that Canada’s affordability crisis justifies a temporary wealth tax
Who: UBC Okanagan student debaters
When: Wednesday, March 29 at 5:30 pm
Where: Mary Irwin Theatre, Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Ave., Kelowna

In a world of division, debate matters.

As many Canadians struggle with the rising costs of food, gas and accommodation, some wonder if the government should or could do more.

These struggles are at the centre of this year’s Roger Watts Debate, a community event where top UBC Okanagan student debaters take the stage to argue for and against a timely, controversial topic: Be it resolved that Canada’s affordability crisis justifies a temporary wealth tax.

Debate organizer Dr. Julien Picault, an Economics Professor in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, says he’s looking forward to the return of the in-person debate.

“It’s going to be a really fun evening,” says Dr. Picault. “We try to choose topics that Canadians are thinking about, and this year is no exception as inflation and housing costs are weighing heavily on the minds of many.

“We all endure the effect of the affordability crisis in Canada, and many have strong feelings about whether or not a temporary wealth tax would be viable or even fair. That’s exactly why this debate is necessary, so we can all understand the differing perspectives and arguments at hand,” he adds.

Student debaters will be evaluated by a panel of community judges and a $1,000 prize will be awarded for first place, with $500 for the runners-up.

The annual debate is named after the late Roger Watts, a respected member of the Okanagan’s legal community.

This event is free, open to the public, and supported by local donors and community sponsors.

To register or find out more, visit:

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A photo of a dove in a gun barrel

With the Russian invasion now into its second year, this week’s Roger Gale symposium hosts a number of experts on Ukraine, the invasion and the world’s reaction to the war.

What: Roger W. Gale Symposium in Philosophy, Politics and Economics
Who: Keynote speaker Dr. Norman Naimark and expert panellists Barbara J. Falk, Stephen Turner, Seva Gunitsky, Marco Sassòli, Serhy Yekelchyk and Adam Jones
When: Wednesday, March 1, with sessions between noon and 8 pm and Thursday, March 2, with sessions between 9 am and noon
Where: UBC’s Okanagan Campus, University Centre Ballroom, room UNC 200, and Kelowna Innovation Centre, 460 Doyle Ave.

It’s been one year since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of Ukraine.

And the destruction can be difficult to comprehend.

In that time, it’s estimated 43,000 people have lost their lives, while 15,000 are classified as missing persons and 14 million have been displaced from their homes.

Liberal democracies and international organizations alike have tried to intervene in a concerted way—but have their actions been effective and do their efforts deserve a passing grade?

On Wednesday, March 1, and Thursday, March 2, UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences presents Lessons from Ukraine: Armed Conflict, Dictatorship, and Responses from Liberal Democracies.

The two-day event will explore the authoritarianism that motivated the invasion and its implications for democracy and the future of the world. A panel of experts, including keynote speaker Dr. Norman Naimark, will take the stage to explore this topic in individual and panel sessions.

Event organizer, Associate Professor of Philosophy Dr. Manuela Ungureanu says the symposium comes at a time when the war in Ukraine continues to lead global geopolitical discussions, with Russia recently announcing they’ve suspended their participation in the New START Nuclear Arms Control Treaty with the United States.

“The war in Ukraine is by now a defining event of our time, so it is crucial we try to come to grips with its utter complexity, and do so at a different pace than those afforded by the 24-hour media channels,” says Dr. Ungureanu. “The symposium provides an exemplary space for the community to examine the long history of conflict in Eastern Europe. Our speakers will also provide some insight into the motivations behind the invasion, recent foreign policy and military interventions and the help being provided to Ukraine or its refugees by main international organizations.

There are virtual and in-person options for this symposium, which is free and open to the public. Pre-registration is required at:

The Roger W. Gale Symposium is a series of events, organized by UBCO’s department of Economics, Philosophy and Political Science, that focus on current issues overlapping multiple disciplines. Its goal is to bring together the academic and public worlds for a fulsome dialogue with subject-matter experts.

The post What has the world learned from the invasion of Ukraine? appeared first on UBC Okanagan News.

A photo of a speaker in front of an audience

UBCO’s History and Sociology Department is hosting a four-part speaker series, bringing in experts to discuss issues facing the globe today. Friday’s event examines international borders, migration, transnational feminism and their combined impact on international asylum law.

UBC Okanagan’s History and Sociology Speaker Series will return to the Okanagan Regional Library this week following a hiatus due to COVID-19.

The speaker series is known for bringing leading thinkers from around the world to Kelowna to discuss some of the big issues of today, tomorrow and the past, explains Dr. Jessica Stites-Mor, a Professor of History in the Department of History and Sociology.

As organizer of the upcoming events, Dr. Stites-Mor explains the history behind the public lectures and what people might learn from the four highly respected speakers coming to Kelowna.

What is the History and Sociology Speaker Series?

I’m glad to say it’s back as an annual event put on by the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. We aim to present a series of public lectures by leading historians and sociologists in their respective fields.

What is the goal of the series?

These public lectures explore new and important issues within the field. They also introduce research approaches and theories to our partners in the community, and give an inside look at how academics move through the investigative process.

What can a participant expect?

Each event will open with a presentation from our guest speaker and lead into a welcoming and inclusive Q&A session.

This series is comprised of four lectures—does the content of each talk stand on its own or do they build off each other in some way?

Each talk has a unique theme, so people can attend whatever sessions they’re able to. The series is a showcase of the broad research and teaching interests of faculty members in the department and provides an opportunity for community members to interact with the academic community. I encourage anyone with a keen interest in policy and social change to attend this series.

All events take place at Okanagan Regional Library’s downtown location, at 1380 Ellis Street, open to the public and free to attend. No pre-registration is required.

The first lecture takes place this Friday, February 17 with the following events taking place on March 9, March 23 and April 9.

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A Therapist Meeting with a Client stock

A UBCO researcher is calling for better ways to assess, diagnose and provide proper treatment for people who have mental health or substance use disorders.

While the federal government has pledged to help fund the expansion of free mental health services across Canada, UBC Okanagan’s Dr. Lesley Lutes says this is just the tip of the iceberg.

And she is not talking about money.

With the first ministers’ meeting on health care taking place in Ottawa this week, the Canadian Psychological Association has provided recommendations to help with federal and provincial collaboration regarding mental health and substance use health. Dr. Lutes says while this is positive news, more needs to be done.

She is the Director of the Centre for Obesity and Wellbeing Research Excellence in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. While the pledge for funding is positive news, she says that still won’t bring parity between mental and physical health care.

You’ve been working for years to bring mental health care to the same level of funding as physical health care. Can you explain why you are so passionate about this?

Let me say that we are in a landmark moment in history. After decades of advocacy and talking about mental health, the stigma surrounding it and the need for treatment—it is now front and centre in almost every conversation. Which is phenomenal. And is something to appreciate, savour and celebrate. However, when it comes to funding, mental or physical health care is treated like apples and oranges. In reality, there should be no difference between access to this care.

For example, patients undergoing cancer treatment have access to a multidisciplinary team with trained health-care professionals at all levels of expertise and focus. However, the existing structure and funding of care does not afford patients the same access to care that could provide lifesaving mental health treatment.

Can you imagine a patient needing a heart transplant having that surgery done by just one nurse in the operating room? Of course not. But that’s the reality when it comes to mental health care.

Other than funding, how can this be fixed?

Currently, when people need mental health help it is said that they just need “support” or “counselling” or “someone to talk to.” They are all lumped together and people believe that they all mean the same thing.

People need timely screening, focused assessment, diagnosis and treatment—targeted to their presenting issue, illness or disease—that can be tracked and evaluated across time.

On a very personal level, I know how lack of access to treatment impacts and shatters lives. I have lost an aunt to suicide. And some of the people I love and care about most in this world suffer from anxiety, depression and substance misuse.

The Canadian government is working toward establishing transfers to the provinces to expanding the delivery of comprehensive and accessible mental health services. Is this what you want to see?

While this investment would be the largest for mental health care in recent history, it is only the first step. Currently, there is a lack of a consistent definition of mental health or who is qualified to provide this care and the metrics for success. This lack of clarity threatens the foundation upon which we are creating and the very funding we need for this national mental health transformation.

So, it isn’t just about the money?

It is partly, but patients who need mental health care shouldn’t have to be burdened with understanding the training, regulatory oversight or scope of practice of each provider. That is the government’s job.

Our government ensures that our nurses and physicians and medical specialists are all providers that are regulated and performing duties consistent with their training and skills. That is currently not the case with the provision of mental health care.

Patients need proper assessment and diagnosis which in turn are critical to ensuring the right evidence-based treatment is offered and implemented with its outcomes evaluated. While programs can and do offer a range of services and supports, the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental and substance use disorders can only be performed by or under the supervision of regulated providers that have specialty training.

Without a clear determination of the services offered, who provide those services, and the evaluation and public reporting of meaningful service outcomes, mental health care will continue to be a blunt intervention that lacks the patient-centred precision we have come to expect for physical illness.

And it is the patients who continue to suffer.

Anyone with any health concerns, whether it be general wellness, mental health or mental illness needs to be treated in a timely, professional and equitable manner. It is possible. There are working models around the globe who have been doing this for decades. We just need to do it here in Canada. Until this is the case, I will continue to lobby for change.

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An MRI of a brain after trauma

As many as 92 per cent of women who experience violence at the hands of a partner may experience brain injury, which can lead to chronic physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms.

Lingering trauma from a brain injury can increase challenges facing survivors of intimate partner violence in child custody and access cases, according to new research from UBC Okanagan.

Dr. Paul van Donkelaar, a Professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development, oversaw the research conducted as part of UBC’s Supporting Survivors of Abuse and Brain Injury Through Research (SOAR) project. Researchers explored the ethics of how a woman with a brain injury, sustained through partner violence, might be treated in Canada’s justice system.

“A brain injury will contribute to the way the person behaves in fairly predictable ways, and that needs to be considered during legal proceedings between survivors and perpetrators of intimate partner violence,” he says. “This paper is the first of its kind that looks at how the legal system might use a brain injury diagnosis in parenting disputes, and how women are unfairly treated—including during a custodial challenge.”

As many as 92 per cent of women who experience violence at the hands of a partner may experience brain injury, which can lead to chronic and sometimes debilitating physical, cognitive and emotional symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, memory issues, trouble with sleep and difficulty regulating emotions.

The research, published in the Journal of Law and the Biosciences, was conducted by Quinn Boyle, a doctoral student working with Dr. Judy Illes at Neuroethics Canada. While there have been recent improvements when it comes to mental health issues in custody disputes, Boyle says this is not the case with a brain injury.

“If a lawyer raised the diagnosis of depression, anxiety or PTSD as a reason why a woman would be unfit to parent, they would be scoffed at,” says Boyle. “For the most part, basic mental health disorders are no longer used against a woman during a parenting dispute where intimate partner violence is involved because evidence has shown that they can be managed effectively.”

There is a lot of overlap between mental health symptoms and those of a brain injury, he adds.

“If we’re now saying there is a likelihood of brain injury, we may have a situation in the Canadian justice system where that brain injury is used against the woman during a legal challenge for custody of her children,” he says. “A lawyer could hypothetically say the brain injury is a concern and that the woman is unfit to parent.” More specifically it is the lack of gold-standard treatment for brain injury that creates uncertainty about a woman’s recovery trajectory and timeline. It is this uncertainty that will likely be weaponized against women.

Current legislation and confidentiality laws surrounding health information leave these women vulnerable as the brain injury can be disclosed in court regardless of their preference, and also be critically examined and weaponized by opposing counsel. The lawyers interviewed unanimously expressed their strategy as opposing counsel would include using a brain injury to argue the mother is unfit to parent, as their professional duty is to represent the best interests of their client. This is despite them acknowledging it as abhorrent, immoral behaviour earlier in the interview.

Dr. Deana Simonetto, Assistant Professor with the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and co-author of the paper, says this research provides good insight into a family’s experience of parenting with a brain injury and what the legal system does in terms of parenting disputes.

“It’s important to think through how the legal system is structured and how women have been historically treated in parenting dispute cases,” she says. “We want to do the best for them, so our solutions need to change these structures. However, they are not easily changed.”

In a crime that is under-reported, and where there are often no witnesses, it’s already difficult for survivors of intimate partner violence to receive the supports they need. Given brain injury often goes unrecognized and undiagnosed, the challenges facing survivors are even greater.

“A brain injury can leave a person seeming out of sorts and confused. The police might think they are acting erratically, and interpret the behaviour as being caused by substance use or mental health issues, rather than a physical injury to the brain,” says Dr. Simonetto.

Current and previous SOAR research has focused on developing education and training for frontline workers—including police, paramedics and shelter workers—to better recognize and respond to brain injury from intimate partner violence.

The next step, says Dr. van Donkelaar, is to raise awareness in the legal system of brain injuries caused through intimate partner violence. This latest paper provides four recommendations, including training lawyers and judges about brain injury and its effect on survivors of intimate partner violence. The authors also propose organizations conduct brain injury assessments on survivors of intimate partner violence to prioritize allyship with medical experts who are willing and able to advocate for women in parenting disputes. Lastly, they recommend that women are offered complete transparency so they know how a brain injury diagnosis might be used against them in court.

“We need to work with the relevant agencies at the provincial levels—those that work with lawyers and judges—and help them recognize that brain injury is likely occurring in victims of intimate partner violence,” says Dr. van Donkelaar. “When a brain injury is involved, we need to better understand the injury and do the right thing both from a medical and legal perspective.”

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What: Fifth annual Life Raft Debate
Who: UBC professors compete to win a role to lead society
When: Wednesday, January 25, beginning at 7 pm
Venue: COM 201, Commons building, 3297 University Way and over Zoom

As the Okanagan winter progresses some people might dream of being cast away on a deserted beach.

But a few UBC Okanagan professors have now landed on a fictional island and have their work cut out for them.

Each year UBC Okanagan’s Society of Scholars hosts a Life Raft Debate, pitting faculty against each other as they maintain why they alone have the skills to help save the world and therefore deserve the last seat on the life-raft.

The premise for the fifth annual Life Raft Debate involves faculty who have crash-landed on a fictional tropical deserted island, explains Society of Scholars spokesperson Aimee Davarani. Recognizing the necessity for governance in their new home, the survivors must hold an election to determine who will become their leader and last hope for a civilized society.

“This is their chance to campaign as the new leader of the island,” she says. “With all the resources provided to stay alive, the chosen one must take on the challenge of forming a new culture that can be sustained for the future. Because who knows when help will arrive? But first, they must win the debate.”

“The members of the audience are the ones who will vote for their new leader, making this an entertaining and interactive evening,” Davarani adds, a third-year psychology student.

This year the debating professors include Dr. Jordan Stouck from the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, School of Engineering’s Dr. Alon Eisenstein and Dr. Renaud-Phillippe Garner from the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

“We invite people to come and watch the professors from different faculties debate against each other to prove that their discipline is superior to all others when it comes to creating and maintaining a new society,” adds Davarani.

To add intrigue to the evening, the final debater, Dr. Matthew Nelson, will play the role of Devil’s Advocate. The biology professor will campaign that none of the academic debaters deserve to be in a leadership role and the fate of society should rest with the audience as a whole.

“We really encourage our community to come watch our faculty members as they deal with this unique twist on defending their expertise,” says Davarani. “The annual Life Raft Debate has become a fun and entertaining way to help people discover how different points of view and areas of expertise can work together, or against, improving our society.”

More information and registration can be found at:

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UBCO experts suggest wrapping gifts in reusable bags or boxes as one of several ways to keep the holiday season sustainable.

Regardless of what, or if, you decide to celebrate at this time of year, it’s hard to stay in budget and keep the holiday season sustainable.

A group of UBC Okanagan experts has some tips on how to keep the green in your pocket while ensuring it’s a green holiday for the planet.

Bryn Crawford, Research Engineer, Program Manager, PacifiCan-MMRI Accelerating Circular Economy

It’s all about the packaging. Think about how something is packaged before you buy it. Is the packaging recyclable or reusable? Also, when it comes to wrapping, keeping and re-using gift-wrapping paper is a great way to reduce waste. Look for gifts that don’t use materials that would persist in landfill or would divert waste from landfill.

“I suggest people look for gifts that are composed of natural, untreated materials such as wood, paper, cotton, or highly recyclable materials such as aluminum or steel. Also look for items made from upcycled waste, try to shop at stores that allow you to bring in a bottle or container to refill, or look for merchants that sell items in bottles or packages that are made from 100 per cent recycled plastics.”

Nathan Pelletier, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Science/Faculty of Management

Every Christmas there is inevitably a debate regarding the sustainability of real versus artificial trees.

So, which is better? Unfortunately, Dr. Pelletier says there is no simple answer.

Relative impacts and benefits will be influenced by production practices and location, transportation distances—including your own. Spending half a day searching for a tree in a pickup truck will definitely weight the outcome. And use behaviours should also be considered. An artificial tree used for 15 years will have a fraction of the impact of one that is only used for five years.

Also important to keep in mind are the specific aspects of sustainability that we consider, and how we prioritize among them. For example, carbon footprints versus biodiversity impacts, or jobs versus landscape aesthetic value.

“Comparisons are always complicated and perhaps distract from simple, powerful strategies like giving the gift of time to those we love and focusing on quality over quantity.”

Eric Li, Faculty of Management

Be present and give fewer presents. Use your time generously and think about volunteering at a local organization or providing your time to do something with someone, even if it’s a neighbour or acquaintance.

“We all live in a busy world, so perhaps the gift of your time is something another person might really appreciate. A key component of the season is about being with family and friends, so make a point of doing that.”

By all means, give gifts, but think about the material products. What’s really necessary. Maybe buy less this year. And try to buy local. Also think of where the packaging this gift is coming from and where it might end up.

Ross Hickey, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences

Donations to registered Canadian charities are on sale this year, as always. Giving to charities on behalf of others can help people give a gift that lets the recipient know how much the giver truly knows the recipient. Also, giving to registered religious organizations and advocacy groups can help others in a variety of ways. You’re giving a gift twice, to the charity and also to the recipient.

A fan of the 1905 classic tale the Gift of Magi, Dr. Hickey says shoppers should keep that story in mind while shopping.

“The story is about a young couple who each sell their most prized possessions to buy a gift for each other,” explains Dr. Hickey. “While they both ended up with gifts they couldn’t use, the theory is a gift that comes from self-sacrifice and love is what really matters. When it comes to overspending, I think that story says it all.”

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Young woman listening to music and daydreaming

Research from UBCO says young women can feel better about their body image after a mindfulness session. However, body dissatisfaction returns as soon as they see images of “idealized” thin women.

A team of psychology researchers at UBC Okanagan has determined women who participate in one 10-minute intervention can come away feeling better about themselves and their perceived body image.

Associate Professor Dr. Maya Libben and her former honours undergraduate student Erin Fraser are researching the trend of micro-interventions. Just a quick 10-minute session with a soothing, previously recorded voice seems to make a significant difference when it comes to body satisfaction.

“In our lab we do lots of research around body image, self-assessments and interventions to discuss the effects of body dissatisfaction,” Dr. Libben explains. “We are also interested in micro-interventions. What can be accomplished from a quick gratitude meditation?”

Dr. Libben, who teaches psychology in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, says the issue of body dissatisfaction, especially in young teens and women, is chronic and concerning. More than 50 per cent say they are dissatisfied with their weight, shape and size. This can lead to adverse physical and mental health outcomes, including low self-esteem, depression, stress, obesity and social anxiety. Body dissatisfaction can also contribute to the development of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating.

Her team has done previous research, including a large-scale eight-week gratitude project, with school girls aged between 12 and 14. And while the longer programs were successful, Dr. Libben was intrigued by the idea of trying a one-time, 10-minute intervention.

For this particular study, 175 female undergraduate students, aged between 18 and 24, listened to three different sessions, recorded by someone with a soothing voice. One recording was about mindfulness, one about gratitude and one was a reading from a history textbook.

After each 10-minute session, participants were asked how they felt.

“What’s interesting is that body dissatisfaction decreased in all three conditions,” Dr. Libben adds. “We were expecting this for meditations but not for the history reading. What we realized is it is simply taking a 10-minute break and listening to something nice and calming can help body image. After each pep talk our study participants felt better about themselves.”

However, Dr. Libben notes things quickly changed.

Study participants were shown one of two sets of images—a set of neutral photos depicting inanimate objects, such as a car, or images of a perceived ideal woman, a typical thin body image.

“The feeling of body dissatisfaction shot right up again as soon as they saw images of thin women,” she says. “While we’ve learned we can bring down the feeling of dissatisfaction with moments of gratitude, it’s not enough to buffer you. This is troubling, especially in today’s society that is full of photoshopped bodies on social media.”

Her study, published in Body Image, confirms media exposure to “perceived perfect” images corresponds with women’s generalized dissatisfaction with their bodies, increased investment in appearance and the increased endorsement of disordered eating behaviours.

“Research has demonstrated a clear link between exposure to idealized imagery and body image disturbances,” Dr. Libben adds. “And even positive micro-interventions are not enough to fully buffer the negative impact exposure to thin-ideal images can have on young women.”

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