Thursday, May 26, 2016

Be Careful How You Argue With Your Partner: Your Heart, or Back, Could Be Affected

Which would you rather have, a bad heart or a bad back?

Marital spats can cause either, or both.  Partners who get it all out are at risk of high blood pressure and chest pains while those who go silent and inside themselves can anticipate back problems.

Those who rage with frustration during a marital spat have an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as chest pain or high blood pressure later in life, according to new research from Northwestern University and the University of California, Berkeley, reports.

Conversely, shutting down emotionally or “stonewalling” during conflict raises the risk of musculoskeletal ailments such as a bad back or stiff muscles, according to the study, published online in the journal Emotion.

It’s well known that negative emotions may harm physical health, but it turns out that not all negative emotions have equal consequences. Using 20 years of data, and controlling for such factors as age, education, exercise, smoking, alcohol use and caffeine consumption, the researchers were able to connect specific emotions to corresponding health problems.

“Conflict happens in every marriage, but people deal with it in different ways," says study lead author Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of human development and social policy in Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy. "Some of us explode with anger while some of us shut down. Our study shows that these different emotional behaviors can predict the development of different health problems in the long run.”

I tend to lash out when I'm angry, but I'm also someone who can withdraw.  My husband, on the other hand, sulks when he's mad and tends to stop talking to me, which I find more infuriating than whatever the argument was about.

Over the years we've been able to talk it out more, and try to see the other's point.  But we still have our fights where we don't talk for days.

Overall, the link between emotions and health outcomes was most pronounced for husbands, but some of the key correlations also were found in wives. The researchers analyzed married couples in the throes of tense conversations for just 15 minutes, but that was long enough to predict the development of health problems over 20 years later.

So, partners, pay attention.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Paper or Screen? For Learning, It Matters

I admit I do it.  But then, I was the last one to give up my typewriter for a desktop back when the newsroom switched over.

I'm talking about reading on paper vs. on a screen.  I know a lot of people -- maybe most of America -- prefers e-books but I just can't shake the need to hold something in my hands when I'm reading.

Now a new study says how you read may just affect how you learn.  The study suggests that it’s not only what you read, but how you read it that matters, according to 

Reading on paper versus on a digital screen may impact what you end up absorbing from the text, according to a study by Dartmouth researchers. This research is being presented at the Association for Computing Machinery conference in San Jose, California, this week, and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. 

"In the study, people who used computer screens for learning did better when it came to understanding concrete details, but they had more difficulty understanding abstract concepts. To put this into perspective: consider reading a chapter from a history book. Concrete thinkers will tell you the timeline of what happened, and abstract thinkers will tell you why it happened," the web site explained. 

“We weren’t sure what to expect,” said Geoff Kaufmann, assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science and one of the paper's co-authors. “Some of our previous work showed that people had a hard time seeing ‘big picture’ information when they did activities on an electronic device compared to paper.” 

A research team led by Kaufman and Mary Flanagan, a professor of digital humanities at Dartmouth, conducted four experiments on more than 300 young adults. They compared how the brain processed information using a computer screen and with good old-fashioned printed paper. 

Whether they analyzed fake Japanese cars or took a pop quiz about a David Sedaris short story, in all four experiments, researchers looked at how well participants were able to gasp both concrete and abstract information from what they had read.

While using computer screens for learning worsened abstract thinking, it improved recall of concrete details.
“Smartphones are great devices for looking up quick, concrete facts like the name of an actor or a restaurant we want to try,” Flanagan says. “They may not be best at helping us remember larger concepts, though.” 

I've tried to read the news on my smart phone and though I've pretty much been able to accomplish it, I so much more prefer holding The New York Times' in my dirty, inky hands.  

Monday, May 23, 2016

Can Too Much Sex Be Bad For You? Maybe Yes, For Females (Beetles, That Is)

Ok, so we're talking about beetles here, but a new study has found that sexual conflict between males and females can lead to changes in the shape of their genitals, according to research on burying beetles by scientists at the University of Exeter, as reported by

Genital shape varies enormously across the animal kingdom compared, for instance, to body shape. One reason for this may be that the shapes of male and female genitalia co-evolve as a result of sexual conflict. Dr Megan Head, one of the authors of the new study said: "It takes two to tango, so when changes in shape in one sex leads to corresponding changes in the other sex, this is known as co-evolution."

Sexual conflict over mating occurs because, while having lots of sex is usually good for a male -- as it increases the number of offspring he is likely to produce -- it is not so good for a female because she only needs to mate a few times to fertilize all her eggs. In addition too much sex can be costly for female burying beetles as it reduces their ability to provide parental care.


The study also found that changes in one sex were reflected by changes in the shape of the other sex, showing there was co-evolution. The greatest changes in shape occurred in beetles selected for high mating rates, where sexual conflict was greatest: males evolved to have longer organs and females responded by evolving more pronounced 'claws' on their genitalia.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Grit Don't Mean Spit When It Comes to Success

That's right.  All the guts and grit and get-up-and-go you have may turn out not to matter so much in the long run, according to a new study.

Seems it's been over-hyped, say researchers.   There are many paths to success, but the significance of grit in helping you reach that goal has been greatly overstated, says an Iowa State University psychologist at

The study found no evidence that grit is a good predictor of success. While some educators are working to enhance grit in students, researchers say there’s no indication that it’s possible to boost levels. And even if it were possible, it might not matter.

Grit is defined as perseverance and commitment to long-term goals. The research – often associated with University of Pennsylvania professor Angela Duckworth, who first studied grit – is relatively new, compared to the decades of work on performance indicators such as conscientiousness and intelligence. Researchers say their analysis of almost 100 independent studies, with nearly 67,000 people, shows that grit is really no different than conscientiousness. 

Good thing John Wayne is dead.  People of a certain age may remember him in the movie, "True Grit," the personification of grit and gumption in this film about a drunken, hard-nosed U.S. Marshal and a Texas Rangerwho help a stubborn teenager track down her father's murderer in Indian territory.

But getting back to the point,  “If you look at the questions on the grit measure, they’re often almost identical to the questions that we ask when we measure conscientiousness. Many are almost word-for-word the same,” says Marcus Credé, an assistant professor who studies techniques to improve academic performance.  “It’s really just a repackaging or relabeling of conscientiousness, which we’ve known about for over 50 years. It’s perhaps a sexier title, but it’s nothing new.”

The most well-known data source on grit is based on West Point cadets who complete basic training at the United States Military Academy. According to one paper describing these cadets, those with above-average levels of grit are 99 percent more likely to finish the training than cadets with average levels of grit. However, Credé says, the original data were misinterpreted. His analysis shows the increase in likelihood is really closer to 3 percent, rather than 99 percent.

“It’s a really basic error and the weird thing is that no one else has ever picked it up. People just read the work and said, ‘It’s this massive increase in people’s performance and how likely they are to succeed.’ But no one had ever looked at the numbers before,” Credé says.

Manager Try to Inspire You? She May Harm You, Instead

This may surprise you.  I know it did me.

But singing the company song in a circle or going to camp with your colleagues, like they used to do at IBM,  may just not be good for you.

They did it to instill spirit in workers, but now a new study says inspirational managers may actually harm employees.

"Managers who inspire their staff to perform above and beyond the call of duty may actually harm their employees’ health over time, according to researchers from the University of East Anglia," reports.

The findings suggest that constant pressure from these "transformational leaders" may increase sickness absence levels among employees. They also indicate that some vulnerable employees in groups with transformational leaders may, in the long term, have increased sickness absence rates if they ignore their ill-health and frequently show up for work while ill, known as "presenteeism."

Transformational leaders are defined as those who encourage their employees to perform above and beyond the call of duty, who formulate a clear vision of what is to be achieved by the team, and encourage employees to seek out challenges at work and engage in proactive problem solving. They also function as role models and consider individual employees' needs.

It hasn't always been seen as bad.  Transformational leadership has previously been associated with positive employee well-being, better sleep quality, fewer depressive symptoms and reduced general absenteeism in the short term. 

However, the new study suggests that a transformational leader who encourages their group to make an extra effort at work may exacerbate sickness absence, as high levels of presenteeism may result in reduced opportunities for recovery along with the risk of spreading contagious conditions, such as the common cold, in the long term.

“It is possible that high-performance expectations pose a risk to both healthy and vulnerable employees and the motivational aspects of transformational leadership may backfire,” says Karina Nielsen, professor of work and organizational psychology.   “Transformational leaders may promote self-sacrifice of vulnerable employees for the greater good of the group by encouraging them to ignore their illnesses and exert themselves. This can lead to increased risks of sickness absence in the long term."

She adds, “Such leaders express values to perform above and beyond the call of duty, possibly at the expense of employees’ health because they have a self-interest in demonstrating low sickness absence rates in their work groups. This pattern may be a particular problem in organizations where managers are rated according to their ability to control sickness absence levels.”

Pretty funny.  The study was done on postal workers.

So the next time your boss tells you it's time for the company song, tell him you can't, you might get a headache.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How Happy You Are With Your Mate Depends on the Rest of the Dating Pool

Well, big duh.

Relationship satisfaction depends on the mating pool, according to a new study, as reported by

Relationship satisfaction and the energy devoted to keeping a partner are dependent on how the partner compares with other potential mates, a finding that relates to evolution’s stronghold on modern relationship psychology, according to a study at The University of Texas at Austin.

 UT Austin psychology researcher Daniel Conroy-Beam and his collaborators developed a method to test how mate preferences influence behavior and emotions in relationships in the study “What predicts romantic relationship satisfaction and mate retention intensity: mate preference fulfillment or mate value discrepancies?” he writes in Evolution & Human Behavior.

Who hasn't been there?  You want to go to the prom but the only guy you think will ask you is kind of a big jerk.  But you'll go with him, anyway.  And then he doesn't ask you!  This happened to me.

“Few decisions impact fitness more than mate selection, so natural selection has endowed us with a set of powerfully motivating mate preferences,” Conroy-Beam says. “We demonstrate that mate preferences continue to shape our feelings and behaviors within relationships in at least two key ways: by interacting with nuanced emotional systems such as how happy we are with our partner and by influencing how much or little effort we devote to keeping them.”

For the study, researchers simulated a mating pool from 119 men and 140 women who had been in relationships for an average of 7½ years, each rating the importance of 27 traits in an ideal mate and the extent to which they felt each trait described both their actual partner and themselves. Researchers then  calculated each of the participants’ and their partners’ mate value, or desirability within the mating pool as determined by the group’s average ideal preferences.

The study discovered that satisfaction was not reliably dependent on how a partner compared with a person’s idea of the perfect mate, but rather whether others in the mating pool better matched a person’s ideal preferences.

Those with partners more desirable than themselves were satisfied whether or not their partners matched their ideal preferences. But, participants with partners less desirable than themselves were happy with their relationship only if their partner fulfilled their ideal preferences better than most other potential mates in the group, Conroy-Beam said.

“Satisfaction and happiness are not as clear cut as we think they are,” Conroy-Beam said. “We do not need ideal partners for relationship bliss. Instead, satisfaction appears to come, in part, from getting the best partner available to us.”

Even though I've been happily married for over 20 years, I still smart about that prom.  

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

If You Could Read My Mind . . .Maybe Someday It Could Happen

What if you could read your partner's mind?  Some of us might not like what we find there, but now a new study is saying that "mapping" the brain might help us do it.

What mapping does is to decode the brain, according to researchers as reported at 

Scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, have built a "semantic atlas" that shows in vivid colors and multiple dimensions how the human brain organizes language. The atlas identifies brain areas that respond to words that have similar meanings.

In a brain imaging study, neural activity was recorded while  volunteers listened to stories from the "Moth Radio Hour." The results show that at least one-third of the brain's cerebral cortex, including areas dedicated to high-level cognition, is involved in language processing.

One study found that different people share similar language maps: "The similarity in semantic topography across different subjects is really surprising," says study lead author Alex Huth, a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UC Berkeley.
While mind-reading technology remains far off on the horizon, charting how language is organized in the brain brings the decoding of inner dialogue a step closer to reality, the researchers note.

For example, clinicians could track the brain activity of patients who have difficulty communicating and then match that data to semantic language maps to determine what their patients are trying to express. Another potential application is a decoder that translates what you say into another language as you speak.

"To be able to map out semantic representations at this level of detail is a stunning accomplishment," says Kenneth Whang, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Information and Intelligent Systems division. "In addition, they are showing how data-driven computational methods can help us understand the brain at the level of richness and complexity that we associate with human cognitive processes."

The studies pointed out that the maps show that many areas of the human brain represent language that describes people and social relations rather than abstract concepts.

"Our semantic models are good at predicting responses to language in several big swaths of cortex," Huth says. "But we also get the fine-grained information that tells us what kind of information is represented in each brain area. That's why these maps are so exciting and hold so much potential."