Thursday, December 18, 2014

Express Your Religion at Work? Go for it, Experts Say

Who knew?  Employees who are open about religion are happier, this from a new study, as reported by

The study also found that it may be beneficial for employers to not only encourage office Christmas parties but also celebrate holidays and festivals from a variety of religions, according to a Kansas State University researcher.

Researchers discovered that employees who openly discuss their religious beliefs at work are often happier and have higher job satisfaction than those employees who do not.

"For many people, religion is the core of their lives," said study author Sooyeol Kim, doctoral student in psychological sciences. "Being able to express important aspects of one's life can influence work-related issues, such as job satisfaction, work performance or engagement. It can be beneficial for organizations to have a climate that is welcoming to every religion and culture."

Now, I find this hard to believe.  I'm sure the study did not mean the people who might circle your desk, waiting for an opportunity to plug their church.   In my 20s I lived briefly in the Midwest and was befriended by the president's secretary, who also lived in my apartment building. She was a very nice woman but she was an Evangelical (no two people of opposite sexes sitting in a room without the lights on; church on Sunday mornings and nights, and Wednesday nights,  too, and when we did go to church together, those people standing and throwing their arms up in the air, or being overcome by a force that made them start speaking nonsense in rough, guttural voices) and I found it all a little scary.

I dated several men while living in Minnesota and down to a one, they all desperately tried to "save" me, to get me to go up to the altar and claim Jesus as "my lord and savior."  Couldn't do it. 

An attractive college friend came for a visit and was immediately set upon by several of the men.  But then I was told they couldn't ask her out because she and I were not among the chosen. (Ironically, she went on to, briefly, marry a man she met in a bar while she was out there.)

This is not to say that religion has not played a large role in my life.  It has.  It's helped me overcome many obstacles -- infertility, cancer, my mother's death -- and I am grateful to have God in my life.  But the practice of that kind of religion was just not for me.   And I'm sure not too many workplaces would embrace it.

Results of the study showed that employees who valued religion as a core part of their lives were more likely to disclose their religion in the workplace. Employees who felt pressure to assimilate in the workplace were less likely to disclose their religious identity, Kim said.

But most significantly, the researchers found that the employees who disclosed their religion in the workplace had several positive outcomes, including higher job satisfaction and higher perceived well-being.

"Disclosing your religion can be beneficial for employees and individual well-being," Kim said. "When you try to hide your identity, you have to pretend or you have to lie to others, which can be stressful and negatively impact how you build relationships with co-workers."

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas and Materialism? A Good Fit

It's the Christmas season and materialism is rearing its ugly head.

According to two psychologists who studied the subject, materialism tends to be associated with treating others in more competitive, manipulative and selfish ways, as well as with being less empathetic. It 's associated with people making a lot of money and being able to buy a lot of things.  And did you know that TV makes us more materialistic?

"Research shows two sets of factors that lead people to have materialistic values," says Tim Kasser, Ph.D., a professor of psychology Knox College in Galesburg, IL. "First, people are more materialistic when they are exposed to messages that suggest such pursuits are important, whether through their parents and friends, society, or the media. Second, and somewhat less obvious -- people are more materialistic when they feel insecure or threatened, whether because of rejection, economic fears, or thoughts of their own death,"

 I have a shopping addiction.  Buying things gives me a high.  I wouldn't say I'm materialistic but I guess, looking at my credit card bills, there's no other conclusion to draw!

Research shows that the more that people watch television, the more materialistic their values become. That's probably because both the shows and the ads send messages suggesting that happy, successful people are wealthy, have nice things, and are beautiful and popular. One has to remember that, in the U.S. at least, the vast majority of media are owned by a few for-profit corporations that make money by selling advertising, and the purpose of advertising is to sell products.

 Other research has shown that the more that advertising dominates the economy, the more materialistic youth are.

And a different study finds another societal norm to blame -- social media.  That makes sense, since most social media messages also contain advertising, which is how social media companies make a profit.

Researchers even divide materialists into two groups:  some are "loose" with their money and some are "tight." Both types of people care about having money and possessions, but the loose materialist is going to spend and spend and spend, whereas the tight materialist will be more like Scrooge, trying to accumulate wealth.

I guess I fall in the "loose" category.

Materialism is associated with lower levels of well-being, less pro-social interpersonal behavior, more ecologically destructive behavior, and worse academic outcomes, according to Kasser.  But spending does have its pluses.

From the point of view of an economic/social system that relies on spending to drive high levels of profit for companies, economic growth for the nation, and tax revenue for the government, consumption and over-spending related to materialism may be viewed as a positive, he says.

But the more highly people endorsed materialistic values, the more they experienced unpleasant emotions, depression and anxiety, the more they reported physical health problems, such as stomachaches and headaches, and the less they experienced pleasant emotions and felt satisfied with their lives. 

Materialistic values are associated with living one's life in ways that do a relatively poor job of satisfying psychological needs to feel free, competent, and connected to other people. When people do not have their needs well-satisfied, they report lower levels of well-being and happiness, as well as more distress.

I remember when I was a stay-at-home mom, I shopped all the time.  Looking back now, I realize it was because, though I loved my son, I hated staying home and not going to a job and I needed something to fill that need.

A couple of studies have found that the negative relationship between materialism and well-being is even stronger for people who are religious. This is probably because there is a conflict between materialistic and religious pursuits.  It seems that trying to pursue materialistic and spiritual goals causes people conflict and stress, which in turn lowers their well-being.
 And what about materialism at Christmas?  To the extent people focused their holiday season around materialistic aims like spending and receiving, the less they were focused on spiritual aims.  Studies have also showed that people reported "merrier" Christmases when spirituality was a large part of their holiday, but reported lower Christmas well-being to the extent that the holiday was dominated by materialistic aspects.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Does Your Kid Lie? Don't Punish Him, Researchers Say

I remember the last time my son lied to me.  Actually, it was last night.  He went in to take a shower and ran the water, then came out.  This morning I noticed that the tab that releases the shower spray wasn't up, the way it always is when he showers (and then splashes down all over me when I get in our shower tub to take mine).

"Did you take a shower?" I demanded.

"Ye-e-e-e-s," he said in that nasty teenage voice, when they're angry you're asking (and afraid you've caught them). 

Of course I can't prove it but he hates taking a shower (what is it with boys?) and would do just about anything to get out of it.

So what did I do?  The usual.  Nothing.  I took him at his word, even though I knew he most likely was not telling the truth.

Now a new study is saying that maybe I did the right thing, after all.  Researchers have found that punishing kids for lying just doesn't work.

If you want your child to tell the truth, it’s best not to threaten to punish them if they lie. That’s what researchers discovered through a simple experiment involving 372 children between the ages of 4 and 8, according to 

Researchers left each child alone in a room for one minute with a toy behind them on a table, having told the child not to peek during their absence. While they were out of the room, a hidden video camera filmed what went on. When the researchers returned, they asked the child, a simple question: “When I was gone, did you turn around and peek at the toy?”

Slightly more than 2/3 of the children peeked at the toy. For every one-month increase in age, children became slightly less likely to peek. Do they get better at delayed gratification?

But that's another study.

When the children were asked whether or not they had peeked, again about 2/3 of them lied and month-by-month as children aged, they both become more likely to tell lies and -- here's the scary part -- more adept at maintaining their lies.

Now here's where it gets really interesting.  Children were less likely to tell the truth if they were afraid of being punished than if they were asked to tell the truth either because it would please the adult, or because it was the right thing to do and would make the child feel good.

The researchers expected -- and found - that while younger children were more focused on telling the truth to please the adults, the older children had better internalized standards of behavior which made them tell the truth because it was the right thing to do.

“The bottom line is that punishment does not promote truth-telling,” says Victoria Talwar, the lead researcher on the study, at “In fact, the threat of punishment can have the reverse effect by reducing the likelihood that children will tell the truth when encouraged to do so. . .useful information for all parents of young children and for the professionals like teachers who work with them and want to encourage young children to be honest.”

So next time I'm standing outside the bathroom door and waiting to hear the thump when he gets in the tub.  

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Torn Meniscus? There's Hope. Thank a Sheep.

This is going to make my husband very happy.

The news today that meniscus -- that pesky knee tissue that rips so easily -- can now be regrown using a 3D printed imprint.

Say what?  I fail to see how a piece of paper produced in a computer printer can do anything more than, well, rip itself.  But researchers at Columbia University Medical Center have devised a way to replace the knee’s protective lining, called the meniscus, using a personalized 3D-printed implant, or scaffold, infused with human growth factors that prompt the body to regenerate the lining on its own, according to

The therapy, successfully tested in sheep, could provide the first effective and long-lasting repair of damaged menisci, which occur in millions of Americans each year and can lead to debilitating arthritis.

My husband, a star athlete in his youth, tore his meniscus about 15 years (and 5,000,000 complaints) ago, forcing him to give up his beloved tennis (where he was an eternal tournament winner, even against younger men).

I didn't have much sympathy for him, until I tore mine this summer.

"At present, there’s little that orthopedists can do to regenerate a torn knee meniscus,” said study leader Jeremy Mao, DDS, PhD, the Edwin S. Robinson Professor of Dentistry (in Orthopedic Surgery) at the Medical Center.

“Some small tears can be sewn back in place, but larger tears have to be surgically removed. While removal helps reduce pain and swelling, it leaves the knee without the natural shock absorber between the femur and tibia, which greatly increases the risk of arthritis," he added.

Larry had laser surgery right after he tore it but back then, the game was pretty much over and recently he's been going for cortisone shots.

A damaged meniscus can be replaced with a meniscal transplant, using tissue from other parts of the body or from cadavers. That procedure, however, has a low success rate and carries significant risks. Approximately one million meniscus surgeries are performed in the United States each year.

Enter 3D printing.

Dr. Mao’s approach starts with MRI scans of the intact meniscus in the undamaged knee. The scans are converted into a 3D image. Data from the image are then used to drive a 3D printer, which produces a scaffold in the exact shape of the meniscus, down to a resolution of 10 microns (less than the width of a human hair). The scaffold, which takes about 30 minutes to print, is made of polycaprolactone, a biodegradable polymer that is also used to make surgical sutures.

The scaffold is infused with two recombinant human proteins: connective growth factor (CTGF) and transforming growth factor β3 (TGFβ3). Dr. Mao’s team found that sequential delivery of these two proteins attracts existing stem cells from the body and induces them to form meniscal tissue.

For a meniscus to properly form, however, the proteins must be released in specific areas of the scaffold in a specific order. This is accomplished by encapsulating the proteins in two types of slow-dissolving polymeric microspheres, first releasing CTGF (to stimulate production of the outer meniscus) and then TGFβ3 (to stimulate production of the inner meniscus). Finally, the protein-infused scaffold is inserted into the knee. In sheep, the meniscus regenerates in about four to six weeks. Eventually, the scaffold dissolves and is eliminated by the body.

"This is a departure from classic tissue engineering, in which stems cells are harvested from the body, manipulated in the laboratory, and then returned to the patient—an approach that has met with limited success,” said Dr. Mao. “In contrast, we’re jumpstarting the process within the body, using factors that promote endogenous stem cells for tissue regeneration.”

"This research, although preliminary, demonstrates the potential for an innovative approach to meniscus regeneration," said co-author Scott Rodeo, MD, sports medicine orthopedic surgeon and researcher at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. "This would potentially be applicable to the many patients who undergo meniscus removal each year."

Will it work in humans?  It was tested in sheep, who have knees (who knew?) closest to humans'.  A small group of sheep were given the procedure and now, walk normally.  Researchers are currently conducting studies to determine whether the regenerated tissue is long-lasting.

Is it real hope, or just a pipe dream?  I guess we won't know for a while.  I just know that Larry is going to be first in line when they offer it to humans.  Just hope he won't "baaaaa!" in his sleep.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Almost Half of US Kids Exposed to Violence, Traumatic Situations in Their Homes

This is truly shocking.

Almost half the kids in this country have been exposed to violence or a traumatic situation in their families in their childhoods.

According to, nearly 50% of all children in the United States are exposed to at least one social or family experience that can lead to traumatic stress and have an impact on their healthy development – be it having their parents divorce, a parent die or living with someone who abuses alcohol or drugs – increasing the risk of negative long-term health consequences or of falling behind in school, suggests new research led by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

 Growing up, parents were expected to hit their kids, some with belts, others (like my mom) with whatever was handy!  And we've all heard the outcry, right or wrong, against Adrian Peterson.  Today we know better, supposedly.  But looking at the results of this study, clearly, it still happens.

 The good news is, maybe we're handling it better, as a society.  The study reports on new data showing the magnitude of these adverse experiences in the child population in the U.S., while also suggesting that training parents, providers and communities to help children with trauma cope and build even basic aspects of resilience may soften the blows and lead to later success, despite the obstacles.

 "This study tells us that adverse childhood experiences are common among U.S. children and, as demonstrated in adult studies, have lifelong impacts that begin early in life,” says study leader Christina D. Bethell, PhD, MPH, MBA, a professor in the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The survey of almost 10,000 children under 17 included questions about extreme economic hardship, parental divorce/separation, living with someone with a drug or alcohol problem, been a witness or victim of neighborhood violence, living with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal, witnessing domestic violence, having a parent who served time in jail, was treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity, and the death of a parent. The survey also included data on family and neighborhood environments and parental well-bein, in addition to children’s schooling and medical care.

The study found that more than 22 percent of children represented in the survey had two or more of these traumatic childhood experiences. Broken down by state, Utah had the lowest number of children experiencing two or more traumatic experiences (16.3 percent) while Oklahoma had the highest (32.8 percent).

Researchers found that children with two or more adverse experiences were more than 2.5-times more likely to repeat a grade in school as well as be disengaged in school, compared to those without any traumatic experiences, and after adjusting for factors such as race, income and health status.

Children with these experiences were also much more likely to have a wide range of chronic health problems, including asthma, ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders, obesity and other health and risk factors. Children with adverse childhood experiences were also less likely than those without to live in a protective home environment and have mothers who were healthy.

But, not surprisingly, kids who had had two or more adverse experiences who already have a chronic condition requiring regular doctor visits showed one aspect of resilience, probably because there was someone outside the family aiding them.  Those who had access to any kind of help were 1.5-times more likely to be engaged in school and nearly half as likely to repeat a grade in school compared to those who had not learned this skill.

And children and families who received quality health care from a doctor who knows, listens to and ensures children’s whole health care needs are met and coordinated did better than those who did not.

So where do we go from here?  Schools and churches and synagogues may be able to reach out when seeing children struggling with home issues.  It should be one of our most important goals to help kids get over, and through, their troubling family situations.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Religion and Marriage, Mixed. Can It Work?

I admit, this distressed me.

Adolescents who attend religious services with one or both of their parents are more likely to feel greater well-being, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. Ours does not.

Now,our son, who is 13, might have a better excuse than most.  His father is Jewish, his mother, Christian, and though he was bar-mitzvahed, he also celebrates Christmas (Christmas Eve in church) and Easter.  My rules.  (He was also baptized, but my husband doesn't really know what that means.  Just blame it on my Catholic cousins who taught me that those babies who aren't, and die, go to Purgatory, and even though it's undoubtedly untrue, I wasn't taking any chances).

The study looked at how spiritual beliefs or behaviors have appeared to strengthen generally happy marriages and how a person’s religious and/or spiritual functioning may influence that of his or her family members.

Sadly, once kids have their bar mitzvahs, many if not all never go back to temple (my husband, included).  So I don't know how much my son will get out of his commitment to the Jewish religion, in the end.

(He started out saying he didn't believe in God, and then he had the ceremony, and suddenly he wasn't so sure.) 

“These studies exemplify an emerging subfield called relational spirituality, which focuses on the ways that diverse couples and families can rely on specific spiritual beliefs and behaviors, for better or worse, to motivate them to create, maintain and transform their intimate relationships,” according to Annette Mahoney, PhD, of Bowling Green State University, and Annamarie Cano, PhD, of Wayne State University, who edited sections of the study.

Religion has never been a big factor -- at least a positive factor -- in our marriage, as we both come from such different backgrounds.  I'm a baptized and confirmed Presbyterian who's also an elder and Sunday school teacher.  Did I want my son to grow up in my church?  Of course.

But when he was little and starting Sunday school, we gave him the choice and he went for the temple (they had challah).  

So has it had a big effect on our marriage?  Of course.  But something funny happened to me when I was forced -- at first, very grudgingly -- to help Phillip get ready for his bar mitzvah.  Parents have to give a talk about their child at the service, and when I sat down to write mine, I realized the anger was gone.  Part of it was that the temple welcomed me, and I even developed a friendship with its wonderful rabbi.  It was a beautiful ceremony and our son came out the other side, if not yet a man, as the bar mitzvah is supposed to make him, a teenager with a better sense of the world, and who he is, in it.

And who was most changed by it all?  Ironically, me.   But he's definitely getting married in a church!


Bigger Baby at Birth? Probably Do Better in School, Too, New Study Says

My son weighed one ounce less than nine pounds when he was born, a week early.  The doctors took him at 39 weeks because they were afraid he'd be 10 or 11 pounds if he went full-term.

Now a new study is saying that a higher birth weight can mean better performance in school.

It's really a no-brainer, in the end. It’s no secret that low-birth-weight babies face significantly greater risks for certain health problems early on, such as respiratory distress or infection. Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Florida (UF) and Northwestern University shows that lower weights at birth also have an adverse effect on children’s performance in school, which is likely due to the early health struggles small babies often face.

Studying birth and school records of almost 2 million children in Florida from 1992 to 2002, researchers found the higher the weight at birth, the better children performed on reading and math tests in school. I'm bragging, I admit, but my son scored at the top of his school on a recent national reading test.  The findings held true throughout elementary school and into middle school, regardless of the quality of the schools children attended, according to

These findings held true when socioeconomic and demographic factors were equal among children’s families.  But sadly, when socioeconomic factors and demographics are not equal, higher birth weights don’t always translate to better performance in school.

 For example, lower-birth-weight babies of highly educated parents tend to perform better in school than heavier babies of high school dropouts because the educational level of a child’s mother is a stronger predictor of school success, researchers said. But when they compare children with similar family backgrounds, birth weight plays a key role in predicting future school success.

So is my kid smart because of me?  I highly doubt it.  I never earned higher than a "C" in math and he's snagging "A's" in 9th grade honors algebra, even though he's only in 8th.  Am I grateful he's doing so well?  Of course.  But I can't take any of the credit.