Monday, January 26, 2015

Trust Your Friends? They May Know How Long You'll Live

I don't know whether to be delighted -- scared-- but supposedly your friends know how long you'll  live. 

That's according to a new study by Washington University in St. Louis.  Apparently, close friends  may have a better sense of whether you'll live a long life, suggests new research on personality and longevity.

“You expect your friends to be inclined to see you in a positive manner, but they also are keen observers of the personality traits that could send you to an early grave,” says Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences, at

The study demonstrates that your personality at an early age (20s) can predict how long you will live across 75 years and that close friends are usually better than you at recognizing these traits.

Male participants seen by their friends as more open and conscientious ended up living longer. Female participants whose friends rated them as high on emotional stability and agreeableness also enjoyed longer lifespans, the study found.

Oh, no.  Is this the old positive thinking thing?  I remember being told when I was treated for cancer that my thoughts were very important, and any negative ones would make the treatment not work.  

“Our study shows that people are able to observe and rate a friend’s personality accurately enough to predict early mortality decades down the road,” Jackson says. “It suggests that people are able to see important characteristics related to health even when their friends were, for the most part, healthy and many years from death.”

I'm starting to think this is more on the scary side.  

It’s no secret that a person’s personality traits can have an impact on health, researchers say. Traits such as depression and anger have been linked to an increased risk of various diseases and health concerns, including an early death.

But it's not really as mystical as all that.  Men who are conscientious are more likely to eat right, stick with an exercise routine and avoid risks, such as driving without a seat belt. Women who are emotionally stable may be better at fighting off anger, anxiety and depression, Jackson suggests.

While other studies have shown that a person’s view of his or her own personality can be helpful in gauging mortality risk, there has been little research on whether a close friend’s personality assessment might also predict the odds of a long life.

I kind of hate to give that much power to other people.  

But peer ratings of personality were stronger predictors of mortality risk than were self-ratings of personality, the study showed.

“There are two potential reasons for the superiority of peer ratings over self ratings,” Jackson says.
“First, friends may see something that you miss; they may have some insight that you do not. Second, because people have multiple friends, we are able to average the idiosyncrasies of any one friend to obtain a more reliable assessment of personality. With self reports, people may be biased or miss certain aspects of themselves and we are not able to counteract that because there is only one you, only one self-report.”

Well, anyway. 

This was interesting: the study also revealed that men’s self-ratings of personality traits were somewhat useful in predicting their lifespans, whereas the self-reports of women had little predictive value.

Jackson suggests this gender difference in self-reporting may be a function of the era in which the study began, since societal expectations were different then and fewer women worked outside the home.

Young women seen as highly agreeable and emotionally stable may have increased odds for a long and happy life since their personalities were well suited for the role of a supportive and easy-going wife, which would have been the norm in the 1930s. It is likely that fewer gender differences would arise in more modern samples if we were able to wait 75 years to replicate the study, he says.

“This is one of the longest studies in psychology,” Jackson says. “It shows how important personality is in influencing significant life outcomes like health and demonstrates that information from friends and other observers can play a critical role in understanding a person’s health issues"

All the same, I think I'll stay away from my friends for a while.  

Intrude on Your Kid's Computer Use? Maybe Not, Says Study

I'm not so sure about this but a new study has found that if we as parents intrude too much on our kids' computer use, it could be a bad thing.  Uh oh.  Guess I'm guilty.

But not of intruding.  More of yelling at him to get off it.  But anyway.

According to the University of Haifa, intrusive monitoring of Internet use by parents actually leads adolescents to increase their risky behavior online, reports.

I keep thinking about a recent episode of "Married," that slightly obscene (but funny) cable show about middle-aged marriage, where the parents of three young girls go to visit another family and the bored dad wanders upstairs to find a computer, and starts looking at porn, only to have the poor pimply teenaged son blamed by the father in the other family when the alarm he set goes off.  Guess you had to be there.

Anyway, the study found that parents who very closely monitor their children’s Internet use in an attempt to reduce unsafe online behavior may actually be achieving the opposite effect. “It seems that during adolescence, during which teens are seeking ways to achieve autonomy, overly restrictive monitoring actually motivates them to seek ways to circumvent the supervision,” say the researchers.

Hmm.  Now how'd they come up with that?

I remember as a teen (they didn't have computers back then) being forbidden by my parents to wear short skirts to school.  So, no problem.  At the bus stop, about a half-mile from my house, I just rolled the top of my skirt up at my waist till it was barely touching my thighs. We all actually did that.

But I suppose the Internet presents more dangers than getting sent home from school from having your skirt too short.  Ah, those were the days.

Getting back to the survey . . .It notes that the concern of many parents regarding their children’s online habits tend to relate to hazardous behaviors, ranging from the disclosure of personal information on public forums and revealing feelings to strangers, to face-to-face meetings with strangers. "Parents, naturally, want to prevent such precarious behaviors to the degree possible without infringing on their teens’ feeling of independence," the researchers add.

I guess because I grew up with controlling parents, I decided I would not be one with my son.  Some feel I've gone too far the other way, certainly when it comes to computer use.  I admit that I let him stay on far more than he probably should.  I let him play Black Ops II online with his friends, Skype all the time, and watch movies, none of which I supervise or censor.

I do feel guilty about it but as I'm working two jobs now, one from home, it frees me to get my work done.  It's selfish, I know.  But I trust my kid.  He's proven to me that he's, well, trustable.  The movies he watches are mostly Alfred Hitchcock (he loved "The Birds," though he did look over his shoulder a couple of times when crows cawed at us on a walk), and he didn't think "Psycho" was so scary (neither did I).

And what if he were watching porn?  I would hope I would be a good enough parent (and have enough presence of mind) to talk to him about it, about how it doesn't make you a bad person (right?) just, don't do it too much.  And then again, maybe not. (He got really mad when they did the sex talk in fifth grade so I think I'm OK for another couple of years.)

But the main reason I don't worry so much?  He's on the computer, in the family room.  Right under my nose. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Is Your Tot Autonomous? It's All Good, if He Is

I'm starting to think maybe I wasn't such a good mom.

It seems that tots who are more autonomous tend to, later in life, have higher cognitive skills (I think that means they're smarter), according to a new study.

When my son was young, I didn't let him do anything alone.  (He didn't want to, but that wasn't because of me, right?)  I kept an eagle eye on him no matter where he was, except for the one time I was in the kitchen and he climbed up on a car seat we happened to have in the house in the family room and it tipped over, crashing his head into the glass table (only one stitch, and they were able to glue it).  Maybe that's one of the reasons I decided never to leave him alone again. 

Even once he went to school.  (On the first day of kindergarten, I actually let him go on the bus.  But that was because we had a whole slew of kids at the bus stop and the older ones tended to look out for the younger ones.)

I remember the day in first grade he wasn't on the bus coming home.  I flew home (running a half-mile from the bus stop, my heart in my throat), jumped in my car and raced to the school, where he was sitting comfortably in the office, being entertained by the principal.  He was perfectly fine.  I was the one who cried, walking him out.

Then there were all the birthday parties.  He didn't want me to leave him.  So I stayed with him, through all the ice cream cakes and Doritoes, wondering if I did take it a little too far.  (But that cake was so good.)

Autonomy support includes things such as teaching children problem-solving skills, but why does he need that?  He has me.   

I myself have always been autonomous, going to Hawaii all by myself, and the Bahamas, when no one I knew could get time off.  Why stay home when I had the time and the money?  (Though I met the people who would introduce me to my husband in the Bahamas, the only thing I brought back with me -- it rained almost day in both Hawaii and the Bahamas -- was strep throat.)

I did get a little better, with my son.  There was the four-day, three-night trip the fifth graders took upstate.  Even when I heard that the first night, the boys were up all night, lights on, music blasting (this, in fifth grade!), I still didn't go and bring him home, like some moms did.  In the end, he had a fantastic time and I was glad I left him alone.  But I didn't leave his side the whole rest of the weekend, and I bugged other moms endlessly for photographs because he didn't bring a camera.

Then there was middle school.  In the beginning, I walked him to the door every day.  (In sixth grade they're not yet embarrassed by their parents.)   In seventh grade he told me less and less about his day In sixth grade, he'd had a girlfriend, which I only learned about from the other parents, but in seventh, everyone was mum.  Moms didn't tell me anything because maybe they didn't know, either.

And now eighth grade?  When I ask how school was, all I get is, "Boring."  I barely know who his teachers are.  One day recently we were walking down the hall after school (he let me go with him to drop off a late assignment'; he was a little afraid of the teacher), and a pretty young girl said, "Hi, Phillip."

"Who was that?" I said as soon as we were down the hall.  "No one," he said.  I guess that thing about autonomy?  He's graduated, big time.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Now, Can Your Cell Phone Help You Lose Weight?

Figures.  I just finished writing about how weight loss devices don't help you lose weight.  And now experts are saying cell phones can do the trick.

That's because cell phones can besiege you with reminder texts about losing weight and maintaining it.   I say "besiege" because that's the absolute last thing I would want from my phone.  (I barely tolerate the texts from my friends.)

“In conjunction with reducing caloric intake and increasing physical activity, mobile messaging services could help to maintain and sustain weight loss over time,” says Tanika Kelly, associate professor of epidemiology at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, who did a study on this.   “It reminds us to continue our good behaviors.”

In the study, done in China (where, admittedly, not too many people are overweight), those who got weight loss reminders and encouragement over their phones lost 3 pounds more than those who did not.  That may not sound like a lot but in this country, where two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, that can translate to some health savings and may lead to more, over time.

Weight Watchers has gone one step further.  They actually have counselors standing by 24/7 to talk to when you're about to have a Big Mac attack, a lot like Alcoholics Anonymous (which the meetings are very similar to, too -- only, thank goodness, you don't have to stand and say, "Hi, my name is Debbie and I'm fat").  And what about that new show on The Learning Channel with the young woman who's fat and proud of it?

Anyway, so can a cell phone really help you lose weight?  I don't know.  I've learned over the years there's no magic bullet, no combination of foods that, when eaten together, melt the pounds away.  It's mostly how you think. 

I was having this discussion, yes, at Weight Watchers, with a friend about how it's not really our bodies that switch on the overeating but our heads and if we could just turn off our heads -- or make them not tell us to reach for a Hershey bar when we're feeling bored or lonely or down -- we'd look just as good as Marie Osmond.  Well, maybe Donny.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Men Will Commit When Women are Scarce

Wouldn't you just know?

When women are scarce, men will do just anything to get one.  That's according to a new study of, of all things, the Makushi people in Guyana, which showed that men are more likely to seek long-term relationships when women are in short supply, as reported by

In my experience, it's the woman who's always looking for the commitment, while the man, looking over his shoulder to make sure he hasn't missed someone cuter.

“Commitment to a relationship is influenced by the availability of partners. So we can think of the number of men and women in a population as a potential mating market where the principles of supply and demand hold sway,” says University of Utah anthropologist Ryan Schacht, first author of the study published online Wednesday, Jan. 14 in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

 I suppose that's true.  I haven't been on the dating scene for quite a while but I seem to remember that the more laid-back you were about a potential mate, the better your chance of snagging one.  (I remember my husband saying he didn't think I liked him because I wouldn't give him my business card when we met.  Little did he know it was because I wanted to spare myself the disappointment of him never calling!)

 Schacht notes that it seems to be true that men will be interested in short-term relationships when more women are available. But when women are difficult to find, they become valued resources, so men will attempt to attract and maintain a single partner because it is costly to lose a partner when partners are rare.

 Interestingly, he also says the findings suggest just the opposite of the conventional view that when men outnumber women, there are more likely to be male-male fights and increases in sexually transmitted diseases.

 One of the reasons women may be scarce in some places is because they are drawn more to urban areas than rural areas where construction, logging, farming and mining draw men. When I was just out of college. I had a job where I traveled to farms in the Midwest and one farmer was young and just starting out in what, in those days, was considered pretty cool -- a tractor with air-conditioning and music spilling from a speaker.  He asked me to marry him and I thought he was kidding.  But he wasn't. I got on the first plane I could and went home.

For women in urban environments, it may be challenging to nail down a single, committed partner, Schacht says. “Women in rural places may find it easier to find a partner ready to settle down and commit," he says.

Anyone looking for a farmer?.  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Want the Good Life? It's Easier Than You Think

It's what we all want.

The good life.

Now a new study says it may be easier than we think.

According to Vanderbilt University anthropologist and World Health Organization well-being adviser (did you know there was such a thing?) Ted Fischer, it's not about getting more money or things, but a journey.  He studied German supermarket shoppers and Guatemalan coffee farmers to discover what hopes and dreams they share, and how anthropology can tell us about what the “good life” means for all of us.

“It’s not just money, and I think we’re realizing that more and more,” Fischer said. “But that’s a big realization because for a long time we’ve thought that money is the answer.”

 A journey?  You know all that talk about life being not a destination but a journey?  Turns out it might be true.  For the longest time in my life, I thought -- if I could just publish my novel, move in with my boyfriend, find a more fulfilling job, get married, have a child -- then life would be perfect.

But sadly, (or maybe not so much) life doesn't work that way.  How often have you really, really wished for something to happen, it didn't, and then, months or maybe even years later, you see how it didn't need to?

I do that a lot with my son.  I desperately want him to get into AITE next year (it's decided by a lottery and we haven't had much luckwith that!).  But I also know that if he doesn't, he will do just fine at Stamford High and that that's where he's meant to be.  

It's taken me many years to accept the knocks and disappointments in my life.  But nine times out of 10 -- maybe even 10 out of 10 -- what happens instead of the dream is, if not better, at least as good.

I guess it's all about accepting what comes your way in life.  Who knew this could lead to happiness?  But I find, at least with me, that it's brought a peace, a sense of calmness, to my formerly frenetic life.  I no longer have to wait for three red cars in a row at a light (he'll get in!) or make sure he writes just the right thing for his application essay.

I've learned to trust that what is meant to be will, well, be.  And then I see the journey I've been on. 

It's not easy of course.  Certainly, you don't always get your way and it's hard sometimes to not be bitter.  But I know if I take a deep breath, and relax, in time it will come to me that something better may be on its way.   All I have to do is accept that, and wait.

So I guess life is a journey.  Looking back I see now that I needed to marry a man who was a little bit withdrawn and frugal with his emotions, but now that I'm a little more comfortable with commitment, I'm not so scared when he tries to take my hand, like he never did in the old days.

As for having a child late in life, sometimes I regret I didn't do it younger, when I had more life ahead of me, and the possibility of having another.  It was a long road to having my son, with several unsuccessful pregnancies along the way.  But now that I have him, I realize I had to go all the way down this road, heart-breaking as it was, at times, to wind up with the child I was meant to have, all along.

Am I cool about not having my dreams answered?  Of course not.  It takes time to come to acceptance about not getting something you really wanted.  But there's a beauty when that acceptance comes, a real peace.  And if he doesn't get into AITE, I'll know he was meant to go to Stamford High, and that everything will be well, my favorite mantra, and all is as it should be. What better good life can there be?

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Want Your Kid to Get Good Grades? Send Him to Bed At a Regular Time Every Night


Looks like my husband was right again.  A new study has found that getting kids to bed at the same time every night (read: early) is a very good thing.

Researchers found that a good night’s sleep is linked to better performance in math and languages – subjects that are powerful predictors of later learning and academic success, according to

 In findings published recently in the journal Sleep Medicine, the researchers reported that “sleep efficiency” is associated with higher academic performance in those key subjects. Sleep efficiency is a gauge of sleep quality that compares the amount of actual sleep time with the total time spent in bed.

While other studies have pointed to links between sleep and general academic performance, these   scientists examined the impact of sleep quality on report-card grades in specific subjects. The upshot: with greater sleep efficiency, the children did better in math and languages – but don't go nuts about science and art.  These grades weren’t affected.

 We believe that executive functions (the mental skills involved in planning, paying attention, and multitasking, for example) underlie the impact of sleep on academic performance, and these skills are more critical in math and languages than in other subjects,” says Reut Gruber, a clinical child psychologist who led the study, at

Low academic achievement in children is a common and serious problem that affects 10-20 % of the population. “Short or poor sleep is a significant risk factor for poor academic performance that is frequently ignored,” says Gruber, who is a researcher at the Douglas Institute and professor in McGill’s Department of Psychiatry.

We've been getting our son to bed (he's 13) on school nights by 8.  A brilliant plan.  Except, he doesn't fall asleep till close to 10. Actually, maybe my husband isn't so smart.