Thursday, September 29, 2016

Ae You a Jerk?

Here's your question for today: are you a jerk?

Jerk self-knowledge is hard to come by, says Eric Schwitzgebel, a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, according to

Schwitzgebel posited a Theory of Jerks in Aeon Magazine in 2014 and has revisited the topic a few times in his blog, “The Splintered Mind.” He continues that exploration this month in an article titled “How to Tell If You’re a Jerk,” and today blogged a five-question quiz to help determine personal levels of what he refers to as “jerkitude.”

Schwitzgebel defines a jerk as “someone who culpably fails to appreciate the perspectives of others around him, treating them as tools to be manipulated or fools to be dealt with rather than as moral and epistemic (validated) peers. The jerk faces special obstacles to self-knowledge of his moral character, partly because of his disregard of the opinions of people who could give him useful critical feedback.”

Hmm, sound like any politicians running for President we know?

“There are, presumably, genuine jerks in the world, and many of those jerks, presumably, have a pretty high moral opinion of themselves, or at least a moderate opinion of themselves,” he writes in the  essay. “They don’t think of themselves as jerks, because jerk self-knowledge is hard to come by.”

There is no official scientific designation that matches the full range of ordinary application of the term “jerk” to the guy who rudely cuts you off in line, the teacher who casually humiliates the students, and the co-worker who turns every staff meeting into a battle, he acknowledges. Or the politician who calls women "pigs, slobs and dogs."  (And who graded himself the winner in a poll in which he scored 27% to his competitor's 62%).

Here's what makes you a jerk, he points out: narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic personality.  OMG, we're getting so close to someone.

“Narcissists regard themselves as more important than the people around them, which jerks also implicitly or explicitly do. And yet narcissism is not quite jerkitude, since it also involves a desire to be the center of attention, a desire that jerks don’t always have. Machiavellian personalities tend to treat people as tools they can exploit for their own ends, which jerks also do. And yet this too is not quite jerkitude, since Machivellianism involves self-conscious cynicism, while jerks can often be ignorant of their self-serving tendencies. People with psychopathic personalities are selfish and callous, as is the jerk, but they also incline toward impulsive risk-taking, while jerks can be calculating and risk-averse.”

He just wrote someone's autobiography!

Here's the quiz:

he Jerk Quiz
1. You’re waiting in a line at the pharmacy. What are you thinking?
(a) Did I forget anything on my shopping list?
(b) Should I get ibuprofen or acetaminophen? I never can keep them straight.
(c) Oh no, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to bump you.
(d) These people are so damned incompetent! Why do I have to waste my time with these fools?
2. At the staff meeting, Peter says that your proposal probably won’t work. You think:
(a) Hm, good point but I bet I could fix that.
(b) Oh, Loretta is smiling at Peter again. I guess she agrees with him and not me, darn it. But I still think my proposal is probably better than his.
(c) Shoot, Peter’s right. I should have thought of that!
(d) Peter the big flaming ass. He’s playing for the raise. And all the other idiots here are just eating it up!
3. You see a thirty-year-old guy walking down the street with steampunk goggles, pink hair, dirty sneakers, and badly applied red lipstick. You think:
(a) Different strokes for different folks!
(b) Hey, is that a new donut shop on the corner?
(c) I wish I were that brave. I bet he knows how to have fun.
(d) Get a job already. And at least learn how to apply the frickin lipstick.
4. At a stop sign, a pedestrian is crossing slowly in front of your car. You think:
(a) Wow, this tune on my radio has a fun little beat!
(b) My boss will have my hide if I’m late again. Why did I hit snooze three times?
(c) She looks like she’s seen a few hard knocks. I bet she has a story or two to tell.
(d) Can’t this bozo walk any faster? What a lazy slob!
5. The server at the restaurant forgets that you ordered the hamburger with chili. There’s the burger on the table before you, with no chili. You think:
(a) Whatever. I’ll get the chili next time. Fewer calories anyway.
(b) Shoot, no chili. I really love chili on a burger! Argh, let’s get this fixed. I’m hungry!
(c) Wow, how crowded this place is. She looks totally slammed. I’ll try catch her to fix the order next time she swings by.
(d) You know, there’s a reason that people like her are stuck in loser jobs like this. If I was running this place I’d fire her so fast you’d hear the sonic boom two miles down the street.
How many times did you answer (d)?
0: Sorry, I don’t believe you.
1-2: Yeah, fair enough. Same with the rest of us.
3-4: Ouch. Is this really how you see things most of the time? I hope you’re just being too hard on yourself.
5: Yes, you are being too hard on yourself. Either that, or please step forward for the true-blue jerk gold medal!

(The quiz is for entertainment and illustration purposes only, Schwitzgebel says. “I don’t take it seriously as a diagnostic measure!”)

Schwitzgebel says there is likely no correlation between people’s self-opinion about their degree of jerkitude and their true degree of jerkitude.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Happy Spouse, Healthy Life

Well, not for me.  Years ago, when we were first dating, a woman I know told me never to marry someone who hated what he did.

Unfortunately, I did, because I loved him, but over 30 years with a man who violently hates what he does (he's a dentist) has made my life, well, if not unhealthy, then extremely hellish!

A new study has found that if your spouse is happy, you will be healthy. reports that having a happy spouse could be good for your health, at least among middle-aged and older adults, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

In a nationally representative study of 1,981 middle-age heterosexual couples, researchers found that people with happy spouses were much more likely to report better health over time. This occurred above and beyond the person’s own happiness, according to the study.

“This finding significantly broadens assumptions about the relationship between happiness and health, suggesting a unique social link,” says William Chopik, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University and principal investigator of the study. “Simply having a happy partner may enhance health as much as striving to be happy oneself.”

Previous research suggests happy people are generally healthy people, but Chopik wanted to take it one step further by exploring the health effects of interpersonal relationships. He says there are at least three potential reasons why having a happy partner might enhance a person’s health, irrespective of one’s own happiness:

• Happy partners likely provide stronger social support, such as care-taking, as compared to unhappy partners who are more likely to be focused on their own stressors.
• Happy partners may get unhappy people involved with activities and environments that promote good health, such as maintaining regular sleep cycles, eating nutritious food and exercising.
• Being with a happy partner should make a person’s life easier even if not explicitly happier.

“Simply knowing that one’s partner is satisfied with his or her individual circumstances may temper a person’s need to seek self-destructive outlets, such as drinking or drugs, and may more generally offer contentment in ways that afford health benefits down the road,” Chopik said.

Now, it's not all bad.  My husband did get me to begin exercising regularly and I can now outrun him (if you don't count the fact that he has a bad knee), and that has made me a happier person (yes, I compete with him but it's more about the endorphins I get from closing in on 4 miles -- we won't talk about how long that takes me!).

And he's taught me (and our son) to get enough sleep.  He's a nut about that.  Finally, he did get me to give up fried chicken, my all-time favorite food.  So I guess he qualifies for some of that.

But the worst thing about his unhappiness is that it makes me unhappy to see him so stressed and uptight and unable to enjoy so much of life.  Sometimes I think how different my life would be if I were with someone who liked what he did.  We probably wouldn't fight nearly as much (resentment of what he does makes him angry), and we'd have a lot more fun.  Instead, we spend most of our time commiserating about how patients refuse to open their mouths or, when they do, complain when he puts his hands in.

So what can we do?  I love what I do, so that makes it easier, in some ways, for me but not so much for him.  I just have to remember all the other reasons I fell in love with him (he's kind, he's decent, he's (still) hot) and most of the time, it's enough.  But listen to my friend?  I'm not so sure I shouldn't have.  Might have saved me a few trips to the ER -- broken wrist, slit eyelid, bruised nose.  But then I could blame him for that, too. It's dangerous when I'm running! 

Monday, September 26, 2016

High-Level Job? Don't Get Depressed, Treatment Might Not Work For You

It probably shouldn't come as a surprise but a high-status job means you are less likely to respond to treatment for depression.

Could it be the stress, the tension, the high expectations of those around you?

Up to a third of patients who receive drug treatment for depression do not respond to treatment.  Although there is a wealth of research showing that low social and economic status is associated with a greater risk of depression, there has been little work focusing on how occupational levels respond to treatment.

 A group of international researchers from Belgium, Italy, Israel and Austria enlisted 654 working adults attending clinics for depression, and classified their work according to occupational level, according to,  336 (51.4%) of whom held high occupational level jobs, 161 (24.6%) middle-level, and 157 (24%) low level. Around two-thirds of the patients were female (65.6%), which reflects the normal gender difference in reported depression. Most patients were treated with SRIs (Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors), although other pharmaceutical agents were also used, as well as psychotherapy. Those in the higher levels were found to have received fewer SRIs and more psychotherapy.

On analyzing results after treatment, they found that 55.9% in the highest occupational group were resistant to treatment. In contrast, only 40.2% of the middle-level workers remained treatment resistant, and 44.3 of the low-level workers. This difference was also reflected in the degree of remission, with only around one in 6 in remission in the higher status group, as against around one in 4 for the other groups.

“Though these findings should be considered preliminary, they indicate that high occupational levels may be a risk factor for poor response to treatment," say researchers. "A number of variables may explain these findings. For example, there may be specific working environment demands and stressors. People may find it difficult to accept or cope with illness, or to continue with medication; or there may be other factors, related for example to cognitive, personality and behavioral differences”.

Co-worker Professor Joseph Zohar (ECNP Past-President, Tel-Hashomer, Israel) adds, “This shows that the need for precise prescribing is not only related to the symptoms and genetics but also to occupational level.  One might need to prescribe different medication for the same disorder and need to take into account the occupational level in order to reach optimum effect."

"The results of this study might sound counterintuitive, but people with highly demanding jobs are subject to a lot of stress, and when they breakdown with depression it may be particularly difficult to cope with their previous life," notes Professor Eduard Vieta (ECNP Executive Committee member and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Psychology, Hospital Clinic, University of Barcelona).

He pointed out that an alternative explanation may be that high-status job patients may be more prone to request psychosocial treatments without the support of pharmacotherapy. "The ideal treatment of depression is, in general, the combination of both pharmacotherapy and psychotherapy."

So if you're at a high level and become depressed, should you just fake it and take it?  No, of course not. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Did You Know You Can Inherit Loneliness?

Can genes make you lonely?

Yes, if you're also prone to being neurotic and depressed, according to

It turns out loneliness is a heritable trait, but no one gene is responsible.  And it may not be as bad as all that.

Loneliness is linked to poor physical and mental health, and is an even more accurate predictor of early death than obesity, the web site reports. To better understand who is at risk, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine conducted the first genome-wide association study for loneliness — as a life-long trait, not a temporary state. They discovered that risk for feeling lonely is partially due to genetics, but environment plays a bigger role.

Just as physical pain alerts us to potential tissue damage and motivates us to take care of our physical bodies, loneliness — triggered by a discrepancy between an individual’s preferred and actual social relations — is part of a biological warning system that has evolved to alert us of threats or damage to our social bodies, researchers found.

But not everyone perceives loneliness in the same way.

“For two people with the same number of close friends and family, one might see their social structure as adequate while the other doesn’t,” say researchers. “And that’s what we mean by ‘genetic predisposition to loneliness’ — we want to know why, genetically speaking, one person is more likely than another to feel lonely, even in the same situation.”

The heritability of loneliness has been examined before, in twins and other studies of both children and adults. From these, researchers estimated that 37 to 55 percent of loneliness is determined by genetics. Previous studies also tried to pinpoint specific genes that contribute to loneliness, focusing on genes related to neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and serotonin, or other cellular systems associated with human attachment, such as oxytocin. But, these studies mostly relied on small sample sizes, researchers point out.

Using a larger sample size in this new study, participants answered three well-established questions that measure loneliness.

  • How often do you feel that you lack companionship?

  • How often do you feel left out?

  • How often do you feel isolated from others?
And here's what they found: loneliness, the tendency to feel lonely over a lifetime, rather than just occasionally due to circumstance, is a modestly heritable trait — 14 to 27 percent genetic, as compared to the previous estimates of 37 to 55 percent.

This new estimate of the genetic contribution to loneliness could be lower than previous estimates because the research team relied on chip heritability, a method that only captures common genetic variations and not rare genetic variation.

The researchers also determined that loneliness tends to be co-inherited with neuroticism (long-term negative emotional state) and a scale of depressive symptoms. Weaker evidence suggested links between heritable loneliness and schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. In contrast to previous studies, the researchers did not find loneliness to be associated with variations in specific candidate genes, such as "those that encode dopamine or oxytocin."

Who hasn't been lonely?  They say marriage can be one of the loneliest places and at times, I'd have to agree.  I like to be alone and I know there's a difference between that and loneliness, but sometimes, they can seem to be the same.

Friday, September 16, 2016

So You Forgot Where You Put Your Glasses AGAIN? Relax, You Probably Don't Have Alzheimer's

Memory loss is not enough for a diagnosis of the dreaded disease.

Relying on clinical symptoms of memory loss to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease may miss other forms of dementia caused by Alzheimer’s that don’t initially affect memory, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study, according to

“These individuals are often overlooked in clinical trial designs and are missing out on opportunities to participate in clinical trials to treat Alzheimer’s,” says first study author Emily Rogalski, associate professor at Northwestern’s Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center.

Now here's the truly scary part. There is more than one kind of Alzheimer's disease. Alzheimer’s can cause language problems, disrupt an individual’s behavior, personality and judgment or even affect someone’s concept of where objects are in space.

If it affects personality, it may cause lack of inhibition. “Someone who was very shy may go up to grocery store clerk -- who is a stranger -- and try to give her a hug or kiss,” Rogalski says.

This all depends on what part of the brain it attacks. A definitive diagnosis can only be achieved with an autopsy. Emerging evidence suggests an amyloid PET scan, an imaging test that tracks the presence of amyloid -- an abnormal protein whose accumulation in the brain is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s -- may be used during life to determine the likelihood of Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

In the past it was thought the disease could only be diagnosed at death, after an autopsy of the brain.

Who hasn't been there?  I've lost track of the times I've lost my glasses, or my wallet (4 times in the last 2 years),  or my keys. 

The study demonstrates that knowing an individual’s clinical symptoms isn’t sufficient to determine whether someone has PPA due to Alzheimer’s disease or another type of neurodegenerative disease. Therefore, biomarkers, such as amyloid PET imaging, are necessary to identify the neuropathological cause, the authors said.

Stressed Out By Politics at Work -- Election Politics, That Is?

Now, that's a surprise.  One in four U.S. employees are negatively affected by political talk at work this election season.

I've lost (or chosen to lose) two friends for the person they're supporting.  And I can see how discussing that at work could be harmful to my co-workers, and certainly, me (especially if my boss, as is likely, would disagree!).

 Younger workers in particular experiencing diminished productivity, more stress, according to

This year’s extraordinary presidential campaign is taking a toll on American workers, some of whom report feeling stressed, argumentative and less productive because of political discussions on the job, according to a survey released today by the American Psychological Association.

More than 1 in 4 younger employees reported feeling stressed out because of political discussions at work, and more than twice as many men as women said political talk is making them less productive, according to the survey from APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence. The “Politics in the Workplace: 2016 Election Season” survey was conducted online on APA’s behalf by Harris Poll from Aug. 10-12, 2016, among 927 U.S. adults who are employed full or part time.

Men were more likely than women, and younger workers (ages 18-34) were more likely than older generations, to have experienced negative consequences of political discussions at work this election season, the survey found. This includes having difficulty getting work done, producing lower-quality work and being less productive overall.

Similarly, these groups were more likely to have said that because of political discussions at work, they feel more isolated from their colleagues, have a more negative view of them and have experienced an increase in workplace hostility. Compared to women, men were more than four times as likely to report having argued about politics with a coworker (18 percent vs. 4 percent).

Among all workers surveyed, nearly half (47 percent) said people are more likely to discuss politics in the workplace this election season than in the past. Although a majority of working Americans (60 percent) indicated that people at work are generally respectful toward others with differing political views, more than a quarter (26 percent) have witnessed or overheard their coworkers arguing about politics, and about 1 in 10 (11 percent) have gotten into an argument themselves.

Overall, more than a quarter of working Americans (27 percent) reported at least one negative outcome as a result of political discussions at work during this election season.

“The workplace brings people together from different backgrounds who might not ordinarily interact with each other. When you add politics to the mix – a deeply personal and emotional topic for many –there is potential for tension, conflict and problems for both employees and the organization,” says David W. Ballard, PsyD, MBA, director of APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

I can just see going to that performance review after dissing your employer's choice.

Other key findings from the survey:

• More than half of American workers (54 percent) said they avoid discussing politics with colleagues, and 1 in 5 (20 percent) reported avoiding some coworkers because of their political views.
• Although some workers have bonded with their colleagues over political discussions this election season, with almost a quarter reporting they feel more connected to coworkers (24 percent) and have a more positive view of them (23 percent), a small but significant number of employees reported a more negative view of coworkers, and said they feel more isolated from them, perceive more workplace hostility and that team cohesiveness has suffered (13 percent each).
• As a result of political discussions at work this election season, at least 1 in 10 working Americans said they have felt tense or stressed out (17 percent), have been more cynical and negative at work (15 percent), have had more difficulty getting work done (10 percent), have been less productive at work (13 percent) and that their work quality has suffered (10 percent).
• Men were more than twice as likely as women to have said they regularly discuss politics with coworkers (28 percent vs. 13 percent). Similarly, almost twice as many men reported feeling isolated from their coworkers because of political discussions (16 percent vs. 9 percent) and 18 percent said workplace hostility has increased (vs. 8 percent of women).
• Compared to women, more than twice as many men reported that they have had more difficulty getting work done (13 percent vs. 6 percent), that their work quality had suffered (14 percent vs. 5 percent) and that they had been less productive at work (18 percent vs. 7 percent) as a result of political discussions at work this election season.
• For younger workers (ages 18-34), 28 percent said political discussions at work have made them feel stressed out; 23 percent reported feeling more isolated from their coworkers; and 25 percent said workplace hostility has increased. Almost 1 in 5 younger workers (18 percent) reported having an argument with a coworker about politics.
• More than 1 in 4 younger employees (ages 18-34) said they have a more negative view of coworkers as a result of political discussions at work (26 percent), and that they avoid some coworkers because of their political views (28 percent).
• Compared to older generations, younger workers (ages 18-34) were more likely to have reported that political talk has negatively affected their work performance, with almost a quarter saying they have been less productive (24 percent), 21 percent citing a decline in work quality and 19 percent reporting having difficulty getting their work done.

 Here's an interesting finding: Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, the survey found few differences across political party or philosophy when it comes to how the 2016 election is affecting American workers.

Maybe we're more alike than we know.  So why can't we all just get along?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Feel Entitled? Watch Out for a World of Unhappiness

Who doesn't remember the Stanford swimmer who got off very lightly after raping an unconscious co-ed?  Or, if you're old enough, the preppy killer, Robert Chambers, who strangled his girlfriend and used "rough sex" as his defense.  He's now in jail for 19 years on a drug charge.

So what's up with all these people who feel so entitled?  (And the people who grant it to them, like judge Aaron Persky, who faced recall after his decision.)

Says Joshua Grubbs, the primary author of a new paper on entitlement and a recent PhD graduate in psychology from Case Western Reserve, “At extreme levels, entitlement is a toxic narcissistic trait, repeatedly exposing people to the risk of feeling frustrated, unhappy and disappointed with life."

Entitlement—a personality trait driven by exaggerated feelings of deservingness and superiority—may lead to chronic disappointment, unmet expectations and a habitual, self-reinforcing cycle of behavior with dire psychological and social costs, according to new research by Case Western Reserve University.

In a new theoretical model, researchers have mapped how entitled personality traits may lead to a perpetual loop of distress, according to

Some call it a damning recipe for happiness.

We've all known them.  Growing up in an affluent part of the country, I was exposed to the kids whose fathers gave them brand-new convertibles when they turned 16 (sadly, mostly because they were never around), or the ones who expected salespeople to wait on them first (hmm, I'm thinking of a certain presidential candidate).

“Often times, life, health, aging and the social world don’t treat us as well as we’d like. Confronting these limitations is especially threatening to an entitled person because it violates their worldview of self-superiority,” said Grubbs, now a clinical psychology professor at Bowling Green State University.
Reacting to perceived injustices, entitled people may direct their anger outward, blaming others, while reassuring themselves of their own specialness—thus beginning the cycle again.

Here's what the study found:
  • First, entitlement creates a constant vulnerability to unmet expectations.
  • Unmet expectations then lead to dissatisfaction and other volatile emotions. 
  • Emotional distress demands a remedy, leading to the reinforcement of superiority.
“Reassurance stemming from entitlement can provide temporary relief from the very distress caused by entitlement,” adds Julie Exline, co-author of the study and a professor of psychological sciences at Case Western Reserve.

But these benefits are short-lived; long-term consequences associated with entitled behavior include poor relationships, interpersonal conflicts and depression.

“The entire mindset pits someone against other people,” Exline notes. “When people think that they should have everything they want—often for nothing—it comes at the cost of relationships with others and, ultimately, their own happiness.”