Sunday, October 23, 2016

What's the Most Tweeted Word?No, It's Not "Sex"

Quick.  What's the one word tweeted most?  No, it's not sex.  Or Hillary.  Or Trump.  It's a food.  And it's "coffee", followed by "pizza," then "beer."

Besides hinting at which foods are popular, tweets may reveal something about our health, according to Communities that expressed positive sentiments about healthy foods were more likely to be healthier overall.

Scientists at the University of Utah surveyed nearly 80 million Twitter messages - a random sample of one percent of publicly available, geo-tagged tweets - over the course of one year. They then sorted through the 4 million tweets about food for ones that fell on opposite ends of the health spectrum: tweets mentioning fast food restaurants, or lean meats, fruits, veggies or nuts.

Out of that top 10 list, only the fourth most popular food-related item, "Starbucks", fit into the fast food category. The seventh, "chicken", was the only one considered as healthy food.

Hmm.  Wonder why, one in three obese people in America.

But the real insights came after cross-referencing the two types of food tweets with information about the neighborhoods they came from, including census data and health surveys. They found, for instance, that tweets from poor neighborhoods, and regions with large households, were less likely to mention healthy foods. Also, people in areas dense with fast food restaurants tweeted more often about fast food.

Twitter has already been used to track health by gauging the prevalence of smoking and finding the source of outbreaks. The difference here is that these types of comparisons could provide clues as to how our surrounding neighborhood - the environment that we live, work, and play in - impacts our health and well-being.

There's evidence that tweets are more than just small talk. Some types track with a community's overall health. Areas with more chatter about walking, dancing, running and other physical activities had fewer deaths and lower rates of obesity. Positive sentiments towards healthy foods were also broadly related to fewer deaths and lower rates of chronic health conditions. However, unexpectedly, fast food tweets did not track with measures of community health.

Now, come on.  What if people are just tweeting about where they're going to have lunch?  (And it's McDonald's, five times a week?!)

OK, so it's not 100% legit.  But experts feel it could be a good way to track the health of a community -- and offer better solutions.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Wanna Win in November? Copy Your Opponent

I don't know about you but I have no intention of watching the debate tonight (I have my son's Open House at school so I have a ready-made excuse, if anyone asks).

But I've just had enough of all the hatred and spewing of vitriol and I can't wait for it all to be over.

Now a new study is saying that a linguistics trick could boost poll numbers.

A study of U.S. presidential debates between 1976 and 2012 found that matching certain aspects of an opponent's language can lead to a bump in the polls, according to

"Linguistic style matching," says a University of Michigan professor who led the study, has nothing to do with tone, cadence or the number of times one candidate interrupts the other. Nor is it about content—the nouns and regular verbs that make up "what" a speaker says.

It's much more subtle. Linguistic-style-matching zeroes in on so-called function words that reflect how a speaker is making a point. It refers to conjunctions like "also," "but" and "unless;" quantifiers like "all," "remaining" and "somewhat;" and other supporting parts of speech.

Guess it leaves out all the four-letter and nasty slang words for women's body parts.

"These function words are inherently social, and they require social knowledge to understand and use," adds study author Daniel Romero, an assistant professor in the U-M School of Information, as well as in computer science and engineering. "We think that matching an opponent's linguistic style shows greater perspective- taking and also makes one's argument's easier to understand for third-party viewers."

 The eight style markers they evaluated in the study amount to 444 words: quantifiers, conjunctions, adverbs, auxiliary verbs, prepositions, articles, personal pronouns and impersonal pronouns. Examples include "about," "especially," "perhaps," "must," "might," "these" and "our." Each candidate in each debate was given a score for how closely they matched their opponent's linguistic style according to these parameters, when their opponent had been the first to speak.

Then the team examined Gallup polls and meshed the data. They found that linguistic-style-matchers gained a median of one point. And those that didn't match lost a median of one percentage point in the polls.

"We already knew a lot about how linguistic-matching can affect a relationship between two people. It can lead to better outcomes for negotiators, for example. In this case, we were interested in something different," Romero says. "And that's when a third person is watching the exchange and judging who is doing a better job. We didn't know a lot about that before."

The outcome didn't surprise Romero.

"We think linguistic-style-matching is linked to processing fluency and if that's the case, it helps the third person have an easier time understanding the candidate's response," he explains.

No candidate over the years stood out as being a supreme style-matcher. Some did well in particular debates, only to get low marks in others against the same opponent. And poll data didn't always correlate with election outcomes.

For example, Gerald Ford received a positive linguistic-style-matching score of .02 in the '76 election's first debate. His poll numbers spiked 6.5 percentage points. In contrast, Carter's linguistic matching score was -.53. He was not adept in that case at mirroring how Ford made his points. Carter's poll numbers dropped by 2 points. But it was Carter who prevailed in November.

In contrast, the first debate of 2000 turns out to have predicted the White House inhabitant. George W. Bush matched Al Gore well, for a score of 1.43. He rose two percentage points in the polls. Gore, on the other hand, got a negative matching score of -0.41. He fell in the polls by three points.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Can You Be Worked to Death?

We've all complained.  "This job is killing me."  "I'd rather die than go back to work one more day in that office."  "My boss will be the death of me."

But what if it's true? 

A new study has found that high-stress jobs, with very little or no control, can actually land you in the grave early.

According to, previous academic research has found that having greater control over your job can help you manage work-related stress. But it's never suggested that it was a matter of life and death -- until now.
New research from the Indiana University Kelley School of Business finds that those in high-stress jobs with little control over their workflow die younger or are less healthy than those who have more flexibility and discretion in their jobs and are able to set their own goals as part of their employment.

The study of  2,363 Wisconsin residents in their 60s over a seven-year period found that for individuals in low-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 15.4 percent increase in the likelihood of death, compared to low job demands. For those in high-control jobs, high job demands are associated with a 34 percent decrease in the likelihood of death compared to low job demands.

 "We explored job demands, or the amount of work, time pressure and concentration demands of a job, and job control, or the amount of discretion one has over making decisions at work, as joint predictors of death," says Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resources at the Kelley School and the paper's lead author. "These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making."

Gonzalez-Mulé said the paper's results do not suggest that employers necessarily need to cut back on what is expected from employees. Rather, they demonstrate the value in restructuring some jobs to provide employees with more say about how the work gets done.

"You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritize their decision-making and the like," he adds, also recommending that firms allow "employees to have a voice in the goal-setting process, so when you're telling someone what they're going to do … it's more of a two-way conversation."

Thus, micro-managing employees can have a public health impact. Among people in the study's sample, the researchers also found that the same set of causal relationships applied to their body mass index. People in high-demand jobs with low control were heavier than those in high-demand jobs with high control.
"When you don't have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff," Gonzalez-Mulé says. "You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it."

Twenty-six percent of deaths occurred in people in front-line service jobs, and 32 percent of deaths occurred in people with manufacturing jobs who also reported high job demands and low control.

"What we found is that those people that are in entry-level service jobs and construction jobs have pretty high death rates, more so than people in professional jobs and office positions," he says, of the study. "Interestingly, we found a really low rate of death among agricultural workers."

So unless you want to go work on a farm, it seems the way to deal with this kind of situation is to calmly look at your situation, acknowledge that it's a tough thing to deal with, and take a deep breath.  Or get a new job.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Partner Stressed? Here Comes the Pounds (For You)

Well, this is encouraging.  Did you know that when your partner is under stress, you gain weight?

Really.  Isn't that depressing?  But according to a new study, older adults gain weight when a spouse is stressed out.

Oh my. 

A new University of Michigan study looked at how the negative quality of marriage can be detrimental for weight gain—possibly leading to obesity—when couples 50 and older are stressed. The results varied by gender, reports.

The study specifically focused on chronic stress, which is an ongoing circumstance occurring for more than a year and threatens to overwhelm an individual's resources, such as financial problems, difficulties at work or long-term care-giving.

The sample included 2,042 married individuals who completed questions about their waist circumference, negative marriage quality, stress levels and other factors in 2006 and 2010. Couples were married for an average of 34 years.

Greater negative quality ties as reported by husbands exacerbated the effects of partner stress on both husbands' and wives' waist circumference.

Interestingly, lower negative quality ties reported by wives exacerbated the effect of wife stress on husbands' waist circumference, said Kira Birditt, a research associate professor at ISR's Survey Research Center.

For the increased risk of obesity, 59 percent of the husbands and 64 percent of the wives were at higher risk of disease in the study's first assessment, whereas 66 percent of husbands and 70 percent of wives were at increased risk at the study's conclusion.

Now I can't remember when my husband wasn't stressed (he's a dentist and he hates what he does), and I suppose, since I've struggled with my weight all my life, there may be some truth to this.   But I can't say that his stress has too much to do with whether I eat too much (though I did gain quite a bit of weight when I was diagnosed with a serious illness 10 years ago).

About 9 percent of the participants showed a 10 percent increase in waist circumference, which represented an average increase of four inches of more over four years, the study indicated.

"Marriage has powerful influences on health," say study authors. "The stress experienced by partners, and not the individual's stress, was associated with increased waist circumference. This effect of stress was even stronger in particular spousal relationships."

Husbands, she said, usually experience lower negative marital quality and thus greater negative feelings may be less expected and more harmful. Because women tend to report greater negative marital quality, low levels of negative marital quality among wives may be an indicator of a lack of investment in the marriage.

And younger couples?  You're at risk, too.

Great. Yet another reason to gain weight.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Better Teamwork? Don't Group Propellorheads with Novelists

Guess what the key to a team is?  Design it around their learning style.

That's according to a new study, as reported at 

Past research on collective problem-solving has come to conflicting conclusions. Some studies have found that people collaborate best when they can communicate with all other group members, emailing or meeting to exchange ideas continuously. Other studies have found that working in smaller subgroups is better, with each member communicating closely with a few neighbors.

Striking the right balance between exploration (searching for new ideas) and exploitation (taking an idea and running with it) requires matching a particular group’s social learning style with the right type of network, the study finds.

I used to be in teams when I worked at a Fortune 500 company where everybody was pretty much a propellorhead and I was the one doodling in the margins.  Safe to say, I didn't propose very many ideas, or have the ones I did, worked on.

The study authors discovered that network structure determines the success of the strategies, and vice versa. “When you copy the best solution your collaborators have found so far, you quickly pick up on promising solutions and explore less, risking zooming in on inferior solutions,” the researchers say. “This fast strategy works well in less connected, slower networks that help strike the right balance between exploration and exploitation.”

“If you are choosing the most frequent solution used by your collaborators,” adds Mirta Galesic, a Santa Fe Institute professor in human social dynamics, “you need to wait for the solution to be adopted by several others before accepting it. This slow strategy explores more and benefits from a more tightly connected network structure that spreads information fast and encourages exploitation.”

 The study highlighted some of the factors that determine how much time a group will spend looking for better solutions, how long it will continue to exploit a known solution that is good but maybe not the best, and whether it will zoom in too quickly on a solution or wait too long to make a decision.

“These results highlight that interventions aimed at changing the social environment," the authors write, "while disregarding social learning strategies might not produce the desired effects.”

Monday, October 10, 2016

Want to Enjoy Being a Leader? Get Political

I think we're all pretty much sick of politics (I know I am).  But experts are now saying that political skills are important to leadership.

Leaders skilled at influencing others may be happier at work, according to a Kansas State University researcher, as reported at

Andrew Wefald, associate professor in the Staley School of Leadership Studies, says political skill — the ability to build connections, foster trust and influence other people — is a fundamental quality of a transformational leader and being good at it can increase job satisfaction and engagement.

"Most people think of political skills as manipulative and negative but, basically, it is building connections with other people," Wefald says. "In a positive sense, politically skilled people foster supportive and trusting environments to benefit organizations and are going to be more transformational leaders, which will lead to higher job satisfaction."

Building connections with other people makes everyone happy, he explains. (Maybe we should tell that to certain Presidential candidates?)

The researchers tested three types of interpersonal skills: emotional control, defined as control of one's own emotions; emotional sensitivity, defined as understanding emotions of others; and political skills, defined as understanding people and being able to influence them in ways that contribute to personal, group or organizational success.

Out of the three, political skill was the only skill to have an independent positive relationship with transformational leaders and their job satisfaction.

"Think of the best boss you ever had — most likely they were very politically skilled," Wefald says. "Leading without political skills is possible but it is going to be like wearing a weighted vest."

There are four components of political skills: networking ability, apparent sincerity, social astuteness and interpersonal influence.

"These are all things a good leader is going to be able to do," Wefald notes. "Someone with those skills is going to be in a better position to help the organization because they will be better able to get things done than someone who doesn't have those skills."

The researchers dug deeper and looked at the relationship of high political skills to participants' reported work engagement and job satisfaction. Those who were highly engaged in their work had high transformational leadership skills and high political skills.

"Work engagement is the level of a person's physical, mental and emotional energy with their job and if they are fulfilled from that work," Wefald states. "Being engaged at work leads to several positives for the individual, such as more energy and stamina, and the organization, such as less employee turn over."

He adds that it's a developable skill but there are many personality traits and variables that may prevent a person from developing a high level of the skill from nothing. "Some people's window might be wider, some people's might be narrower — it's just going to depend on the person they are and their personality," he concludes.


Saturday, October 8, 2016

Want to Live Five Years Longer? Play Golf.

I've never had much use for it (though I do admit I like watching it on TV, the calming soft voices and the beautiful landscapes).  And plenty of business deals have been solidified on the course.  But golf to me is a boring sport.

However, it may be time to rethink this.  Studies are finding that you golf, you live.  Longer, that is.  Golf has been shown to increase life expectancy

Research conducted by Scotland's University of Edinburgh suggests golf can help your cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic health, according to CNN. 

"We know that the moderate physical activity that golf provides increases life expectancy," the cable TV network quotes Dr. Andrew Murray, lead researcher at the university's Golf & Health Project. "It can help prevent and treat more than 40 major chronic diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer.
"Given that the sport can be played by the very young to the very old, this demonstrates a wide variety of health benefits for people of all ages. One study in Sweden found regular golfers lived an average of five years longer than non-golfers."
 While golf may not look like much of a sport (at least to us duffers), on a regular 18-hole course, most players will walk between four and eight miles, burning at least 500 calories. Yes, this does mean forgetting the golf cart.

And as some of my son's friends have found out, golf is really intense when you caddy.  

Exposure to fresh air and sun also helps boost Vitamin-D levels, while the act of swinging a club can improve muscle endurance and balance, particularly in old age.
And the benefits aren't just physical. Golf could help reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and dementia, improving an individual's "wellness, self-esteem, and self-worth," according to Murray.
He hopes that the research, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, will help boost participation levels in golf worldwide."Only 55 million people -- about one percent of the world's population -- play golf," he says. "Anyone can play -- from the age of four to 104 -- and now there is six-hole golf and speed-golf, making it more accessible."
Nah.  I still don't think I'll try it.