After my first year of university in Iceland, I decided I wanted to go traveling over the summer break. At the time, backpacking to Asia hadn’t really taken off in Iceland, so most people thought I was absolutely insane. However, I had set my mind and excel file to it, so there was no stopping me. After a year of working nights at a psychiatric hospital and eating nothing but pasta, I said goodbye to my teary family and set off into the big unknown world!

I traveled to Japan, South Korea, China, Mongolia, Philippines, Brunei, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, and it was all amazing. There is no better way to learn about people than to travel to different cultures. In fact, I think I learned more about people on that trip than during my first few years of studying psychology.

“I got scammed in Thailand” is the story that most people like to hear about.

After coming back from a big backpacking trip, people often want to hear about the tough stuff. The tricky situations, the scams, the bad food, bed bugs, etc. These usually make the best stories, so obviously you don’t give equal weight to the 95% of the trip that ran smoothly. Unfortunately, focusing on these stories can have a negative side-effect. It can fuel the fears that others have about unknown places. You should always be aware of this negative bias when you are gathering information about a place you want to visit.

Speaking to locals in other countries can give an interesting perspective on negative biases

It can be very interesting to talk to people in other countries about their impressions of where you come from. For example, few years back I traveled through a country called Turkmenistan (don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it – I hadn’t either). I took the picture below one night when we camped next to the Derweze gas crater.

Burning for 35 years in Turkmenistan's desert
Burning for 35 years in Turkmenistan’s desert

Turkmenistan is both fascinating and terrifying at the same time. A quick read about the terrible human rights violation gives you an idea of what I mean. However, I had a conversation with a local girl that made an impression on me. She had been invited to study arts in Seattle, but turned it down because in her mind, the US is far too dangerous to visit.

This was an eye opener to me, as I felt much more vulnerable in Turkmenistan than I ever have in America. It was a great illustration of the idea that we often overestimate the dangers associated with things we’re unfamiliar with.

What is the lesson in this? Don’t let your fear of the unknown or familiarity biases stop you from going outside your comfort zone. Life is too short!




Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, MClinPsych, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety




Question: When I blush, is my face as red as I think it is?

Answer: Probably not!

blushing social anxiety

During my postgraduate training at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia, I was lucky to be involved with a fascinating research project related to blushing and worry about blushing. The team was led by Professor Peter Drummond, one of the leading authorities in blushing research. ABC Science in Australia published a great article about the work: Fear of blushing brings blush on itself.

For the project I was involved in [1], we looked at the actual physiological changes in people who had fear of blushing, and compared this to a control group. This involved measuring changes in blood flow in subject’s faces while they performed embarrassing or stressful tasks, such as delivering a speech and listening to it afterwards.  The results demonstrated that people with a fear of blushing tended to overestimate the extent of their actual physiological change. As Professor Drummond concludes in the article above “it turned out there was very little connection between how strongly people blush and how much they thought they were blushing”.  This is good news for people who are worried about blushing, as it suggests that their faces are not as red as they think.


Social Anxiety and Blushing

Professor Drummond’s more recent work examines the relationship between social anxiety and blushing. The results show that social anxiety is one of the best predictors of blushing. Therefore, as the title of the article suggests, the fear of blushing can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This finding is valuable as it has direct practical implications for the treatment of social anxiety. In particular, it suggests that targeting the fear of blushing (e.g. through CBT) may have wider benefits.



[1] Drummond, P.D., Back, K., Harrison, J., Dogg Helgadottir, F., Lange, B., Lee, C. (2007). Blushing During Social interactions in people with fear of blushing. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45 (7), 1601-1608. More…





Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, MClinPsych, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety


Website Design

As you may have already noticed, we’ve given the AI-Therapy website a facelift. There are a number of improvements, including easier navigation, more content, and higher quality video.  Please take a look, and let us know what you think!





We also have a new logo, which was designed by the same person who helped us with the new website (Rob Hogg of Skinny Whippet):




Conference Travel

We’re pretty excited to be going to the World Congress of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (WCBCT 2013) in Lima, Peru in July this year. This conference is held every three years, in various countries around the world. It provides an opportunity for researchers and clinicians to meet and discuss the “state of the art” in CBT.

I will be giving two talks at the conference:

  1. I was honoured to be invited to speak in a symposium with world’s leaders in online CBT (the other speakers are Gerhard Andersson and Per Carlbring from Sweden, Pim Cuijpers from Netherlands, and Nick Titov from Australia). The title of the symposium is The latest developments in internet-based treatments of common mental disorders. I will be speaking about some of my work at the University of Oxford, as well as the latest developments with AI-Therapy.
  2. My second talk is based on work I conducted with Ross Menzies of the University of Sydney and Mark Jones of the University of Queensland. The title is Superstitious behaviour in Iceland during and after the global financial crisis simulates the aetiology of obsessive-compulsive disorder.


We’re pretty busy these days, but there are exciting times ahead!





Fjola  Helgadottir, PhD, MClinPsych, is a clinical psychologist, a senior research clinician at the University of Oxford, and is a co-creator of, an online CBT treatment program for overcoming social anxiety