Saturday, October 3, 2015

Stressed out? Go Wash Some Dishes

I don't really believe this but did you know that washing dishes can cancel out that horrendous, five-mile back-up commute home?

According to a new study, it can be stress-relieving.  Student and faculty researchers at Florida State University have found that mindfully washing dishes calms the mind and decreases stress.

It's that old (or new) trend, being in the moment.  And I have to say, for me, it works.

The study looked at whether washing dishes could be used as an informal contemplative practice that promotes a positive state of mindfulness — a meditative method of focusing attention on the emotions and thoughts of the present moment, reports.

“I’ve had an interest in mindfulness for many years, both as a contemplative practitioner and a researcher,” says Adam Hanley, a doctoral candidate in FSU College of Education’s Counseling/School Psychology program and one of the study’s authors. “I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increase overall sense of well-being.”

After conducting a study with 51 students, the researchers found that mindful dishwashers — those who focused on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water, the feel of the dishes — reported a decrease in nervousness by 27 percent and an increase in mental inspiration by 25 percent. The control group, on the other hand, didn’t experience any benefits. 

Who can complain about those stats?  Friends of mine say ironing does the same trick.  What's that old saying?

The past's history, the future a mystery.  That's why it's called the present.  It's a gift.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Like Red Wine with Dinner? Maybe Think Again

First it was rice.  Now it's red wine.

Arsenic, anyone?

According to a new study, arsenic is found in many red wines, even some in the metro New York region.   A new University of Washington study that tested 65 wines from America's top four wine-producing states — California, Washington, New York and Oregon — found all but one have arsenic levels that exceed what's allowed in drinking water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows drinking water to contain no more than 10 parts per billion of arsenic. The wine samples ranged from 10 to 76 parts per billion, with an average of 24 parts per billion.

But a companion study concluded that the likely health risks from that naturally-occurring toxic element depend on how many other foods and beverages known to be high in arsenic, such as apple juice, rice, or cereal bars, an individual person eats. Want to be really scared?  The highest risks from arsenic exposure stem from certain types of infant formulas, the study estimated.

Unless you are a heavy drinker consuming wine with really high concentrations of arsenic, of which there are only a few, there's little health threat if that's the only source of arsenic in your diet," says UW electrical engineering professor Denise Wilson ."But consumers need to look at their diets as a whole. If you are eating a lot of contaminated rice, organic brown rice syrup, seafood, wine, apple juice — all those heavy contributors to arsenic poisoning — you should be concerned, especially pregnant women, kids and the elderly."

Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that is toxic to humans in some forms, and can cause skin, lung and bladder cancers, and other diseases. As rain, rivers or wind erode rocks that contain arsenic, it leaches into water and soil. From there, the toxic metalloid can work its way into the food chain.

So should you stop drinking red wine?  Probably not.  But cut down a little?  That might be wise.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Think Karma's to Blame For Your Illness? You May Feel More Pain

OK.  So you don't go to church.  But you may pay a price for that.

A new study has found that people who have negative spiritual beliefs, or, as put its, blame karma for their pain feel it, well, more.

"In general, the more religious or spiritual you are, the healthier you are, which makes sense,” says Brick Johnstone, a neuropsychologist and professor of health psychology in the MU School of Health Professions. “But for some individuals, even if they have even the smallest degree of negative spirituality – basically, when individuals believe they’re ill because they’ve done something wrong and God is punishing them – their health is worse.”

Johnstone and his colleagues studied nearly 200 individuals to find out how their spiritual beliefs affected their health outcomes. Individuals in the study had a range of health conditions, such as cancer, traumatic brain injury or chronic pain, and others were healthy.

The researchers divided the individuals into two groups: a negative spirituality group that consisted of those who reported feeling abandoned or punished by a higher power, and a no negative spirituality group that consisted of people who didn’t feel abandoned or punished by a higher power. Participants answered questions about their emotional and physical health, including physical pain.

 I've suffered from ill health (cancer) and I do agree that my belief in God and that He would take care of me, somehow, some way, helped me fight it, twice. 

Those in the negative spirituality group reported significantly worse pain as well as worse physical and mental health while those with positive spirituality reported better mental health. However, even if individuals reported positive spiritual beliefs, having any degree of negative spiritual belief contributed to poorer health outcomes, the researchers found.

“Previous research has shown that about 10 percent of people have negative spiritual beliefs; for example, believing that if they don’t do something right, God won’t love them,” Johnstone says. “That’s a negative aspect of religion when people believe, ‘God is not supportive of me. What kind of hope do I have?’ However, when people firmly believe God loves and forgives them despite their shortcomings, they had significantly better mental health.”

Individuals with negative spiritual beliefs also reported participating in religious practices less frequently and having lower levels of positive spirituality and forgiveness.

I'm not saying church, and belief in God, is the answer for everyone.  But it did help me.

Take Food Advice From a Fattie? Maybe Not

And yet one more cross for overweight people to bear.

Not only are they often shunned and made fun of but now a new study has found that those who blog may be found less credible for readers seeking food advice.

I guess it stands to reason.  Would you take driving advice from someone with DUIs? 
The Cornell study revealed that when a blogger is overweight, as shown in the blogger’s photo, readers are far more skeptical of the information that blogger provides when compared with a thin blogger’s recommendations, even when the content is exactly the same, according to

The findings are increasingly important as more than half of smartphone users report that they use their device to look up health-related information, making the Internet one of the top places people get informed about health issues.

"When we dramatically increased the fat and calorie content, it had just as much impact as when we said the food was posted by a heavy person,”says Jonathon Schuldt, assistant professor of communication and lead author of the study.  “When we search for health information online, there are a lot of related cues that can bias our perceptions in ways that we may not be consciously aware of,”

 Awareness of these biases could help us better navigate health information online, he says. "It could also help us avoid being swayed by nutritional information simply because it is posted by someone who is thin rather than heavy,” he adds.

But the study also suggests that “weight bias and prejudice – which are so rampant in our society – can spill over and affect not only the inferences we make about people, but also objects that are associated with them,” Schuldt says. "People appear to assume that if a heavier person is recommending food, it is probably richer and less healthy."

Can;t say I totally disagree.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Are You Quantum Probabilistic?

Who knew?

Quantum physics is behind our irrational decisions.

According to a new report, when you decide to buy $300 worth of shoes when you can't pay your cell phone bill (like me), you're not acting irrationally.  You're just being quantum probabilistic.

Say what?

The next time someone accuses you of making an irrational decision, just explain that you’re obeying the laws of quantum physics.

A new trend taking shape in psychological science not only uses quantum physics to explain humans’ (sometimes) paradoxical thinking, but may also help researchers resolve certain contradictions among the results of previous psychological studies, according to

For those who try to model our decision-making processes mathematically, the equations and axioms that most closely match human behavior may be ones that are rooted in quantum physics.

“Whenever something comes up that isn’t consistent with classical theories, we often label it as ‘irrational,'" says  heng Joyce Wang, one of the researchers.  But from the perspective of quantum cognition, some findings aren’t irrational anymore. They’re consistent with quantum theory—and with how people really behave.”

Their work suggests that thinking in a quantum-like way¬—essentially not following a conventional approach based on classical probability theory—enables humans to make important decisions in the face of uncertainty, and lets us confront complex questions despite our limited mental resources.

When researchers try to study human behavior using only classical mathematical models of rationality, some aspects of human behavior do not compute. From the classical point of view, those behaviors seem irrational, Wang explains.

 For instance, scientists have long known that the order in which questions are asked on a survey can change how people respond—an effect previously thought to be due to vaguely labeled effects, such as “carry-over effects” and “anchoring and adjustment,” or noise in the data. Survey organizations normally change the order of questions between respondents, hoping to cancel out this effect. But  last year, Wang and her collaborators demonstrated that the effect can be precisely predicted and explained by a quantum-like aspect of people’s behavior.

We usually think of quantum physics as describing the behavior of sub-atomic particles, not the behavior of people. But the idea is not so far-fetched, Wang says. “In the social and behavioral sciences as a whole, we use probability models a lot,” she says. “For example, we ask, what is the probability that a person will act a certain way or make a certain decision? Traditionally, those models are all based on classical probability theory—which arose from the classical physics of Newtonian systems. So it’s really not so exotic for social scientists to think about quantum systems and their mathematical principles, too.”

Quantum physics deals with ambiguity in the physical world. The state of a particular particle, the energy it contains, its location—all are uncertain and have to be calculated in terms of probabilities.
Quantum cognition is what happens when humans have to deal with ambiguity mentally. Sometimes we aren’t certain about how we feel, or we feel ambiguous about which option to choose, or we have to make decisions based on limited information.

“Our brain can’t store everything. We don’t always have clear attitudes about things. But when you ask me a question, like ‘What do you want for dinner?” I have to think about it and come up with or construct a clear answer right there,” Wang says. “That’s quantum cognition.  I think the mathematical formalism provided by quantum theory is consistent with what we feel intuitively as psychologists. Quantum theory may not be intuitive at all when it is used to describe the behaviors of a particle, but actually is quite intuitive when it is used to describe our typically uncertain and ambiguous minds.”

So the next time I go into Lord and Taylor's and see the shoe sale sign, I'll think about quantum physics and that may probably keep me walking right on by.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How Good is Your Sense of Smell? Your Life May Depend on It

Whether you can smell that bread baking or not may determine how much longer you live.

According to a new study, a defective sense of smell appears to be a good predictor of dying within five years.

I remember my grandmother, who lived into her early 80's, complaining that she just couldn't taste food anymore.  But now it looks like this loss applies to smell, as well.

Now, some of us -- stuck in traffic or on a crowded subway or in line behind someone whose shirt bears last night's meal -- might be grateful for that.

I suffer from allergies that stuff up my nose and I used to believe that was a good thing -- if I couldn't taste food, it would help me lose weight.

But just the opposite happens.  You eat more in the hopes that you will taste (or smell) something.

The good news is that researchers believe that the decline in the ability to smell is an indicator of some other age-related degeneration, and is not itself a cause of death.  But let's face it.  It may tell you death is near.

Lead study authors say loss of the ability to smell is not something to ignore.  They say if people have problems, they should get evaluated. "This is a gross indication of your health, so if you’re having some trouble, you should see a doctor," they point out.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Does Your Doc Feel Your Pain? Some Mad He Doesn't

I remember it well.  A week before Christmas, an ice storm.  And a fall out running that broke my wrist.

Now a new study says that patients with immediate medical needs tend to perceive doctors as emotionless.

Mine was really a funny story.  I hit a bus on my way to the ER (it pulled out in front of me).  I was in such pain I just kept going.

But sitting in the exam room, waiting for the doctor, two cops walked in to tell me I was being investigated for hitting a bus.  It turned out to be minor -- we had clicked mirrors, no damage -- but that added to the enjoyment of the day.

Anyway, since I was at an immediate care center that didn't offer surgery (if needed) or high-caliber pain-killers, I was told to drive myself to the local hospital, that did.  Back in the car I went, only to arrive there to wait 13 hours to have my wristbone yanked three times to try to put it back in place.

Oh my God.

So I'm not sure it mattered too much whether my doc was wincing along with me, I just wanted the pain to end.  But others are not so sure.

When a patient is in urgent need of a doctor for illness or injury, expecting that doctor to help is natural. 

But a new study finds that the greater patients' need for medical care, the more likely patients will view their doctors as "empty vessels," devoid of emotions or personal lives of their own; at the same time, those patients expect their physicians to be able to contain the patients' emotions and experiences.

The study is unusual in that most research focuses on the reverse—how physicians view patients.

Research found that, when patients are in immediate need of a physician, they don't view their doctor as a human being with emotions. At the same time, these patients think that their doctors should empathize with them and feel patients' emotions.

"When people really need to see a doctor, whether it is for something immediate such as a broken bone or a life-threatening illness, they look at the doctor in terms of their own health goals and not as a person with emotions," says one researcher.

I didn't really care if my doctor -- actually just a young resident -- felt my pain.  I just wanted him to end it.