Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Uncertainty? Guess What? It's Motivating

A new study has found that uncertainty can be motivating.

Say what?  For years experts have thought that uncertainty was disconcerting and was hurting the markets and the economy.

But now they're seeing that, when they compared the time, money and effort that people put into wining a certain reward versus an uncertain reward, they found that the uncertain reward was more motivating.

The researchers ran several experiments that established this motivation. For example, in one study they asked college students to drink a large amount of water in two minutes. Some were told they would receive $2 for completing the task, while others were told they would receive either $1 or $2. They found that more people finished the water to receive the uncertain amount of money

Here's why: making the unknown known — that is, figuring out what is in a wrapped package or finding out which reward one has earned — is a positive experience. Because people are excited to find out what they can actually get, working for an uncertain reward makes the whole situation more like a game and less like work.

 Counter-intuitive?  Maybe.

My husband hates uncertainty.  He does things the same way every day -- exercise first, then breakfast, then work, then more exercise, then home for dinner.  Every day.  That would drive me crazy (and has).  He's also that way about exercise.  Every morning, first the elliptical.  Then the bike.  Then sit-ups and push-ups.  You can set a clock by him.  He loves regularity.  He hates uncertainty.  So he probably would not be motivated by that.

I, on the other hand, wouldn't say I embrace uncertainty.  There's been enough of that in my life!  But I like when things are different every day.  In my new job I'm constantly being thrown new projects and having to understand new technology and terminology.  I love it.  Larry says he would hate it.

I guess each to his own.  But it's interesting that in a world that's so uncertain, people can still long for -- even enjoy -- when the outcome's not always known.

We're Making Lots of Mistakes When Giving Our Kids Meds

Pretty scary.  A new study says most of us make mistakes when giving our kids medicine.

One child is affected every eight minutes, usually by a well-meaning parent or caregiver unintentionally committing a medication error, according to

The most common medication mistakes in children under the age of six occur in the children’s home, or another residence and school. The most common medicines involved are painkillers and fever-reducers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, the Web site reports.

“This is more common than people may realize,” said Huiyun Xiang, MD, MPH, PhD, director of the Center for Pediatric Trauma Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, principal investigator at the hospital’s Center for Injury Research and Policy. “The numbers we report still underestimate the true magnitude of these incidents since these are just cases reported to national poison centers.”

Instances in which these mistakes can occur include caregivers giving one child the same medication twice, misreading dosing instructions or administering the wrong medication.

“We found that younger children are more apt to experience error than older children, with children under age one accounting for 25 percent of incidents,” said Xiang, senior author of the study published by Pediatrics online today and also a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.

What's the worst that can happen?  Children may die.  I remember holding a screaming baby and trying desperately to read the instructions, then follow them.  My son was prone to strep throat so I was constantly giving him antibiotics.  I'm sure I erred on that.  (Thankfully, he survived.)

But there's help on the way.

“There are public health strategies being used to decrease the frequency and severity of medication errors among young children,” said Henry Spiller, director of the Central Ohio Poison Center and co-author of the study. “Product packaging needs to be redesigned in a way that provides accurate dosing devices and instructions, and better labeling to increase visibility to parents.”

Friday, October 17, 2014

Soda with 250 Calories? Walk Five Miles to Burn it Off

I remember hearing that you have to walk a football field to burn off one M&M. (Not true.)

But not too far from it.

Adolescents who saw printed signs explaining the number of miles they would need to walk to burn off the calories in a sugary drink were more likely to leave the store with a lower calorie beverage, a healthier beverage or a smaller size beverage, according to new Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health research.

The study says this adds to the growing evidence suggesting that simply showing calorie counts on products and menus isn’t enough to break Americans from their bad eating habits. With calorie counts expected on menus in chain restaurants with more than 20 outlets by early next year the Affordable Care Act, the researchers say policymakers may need to rethink how that information is communicated.

 “People don’t really understand what it means to say a typical soda has 250 calories,” says study leader Sara N. Bleich, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. “If you’re going to give people calorie information, there’s probably a better way to do it. What our research found is that when you explain calories in an easily understandable way, such as how many miles of walking needed to burn them off, you can encourage behavior change.”

Or make them never check calories again.

The study found that, when they told the kids participating in it that each bottle contained 250 calories, had 16 teaspoons of sugar, would take 50 minutes of running to work off those calories or would take five miles to walk the calories off, guess what?  They decided to have diet soda.

I'm rethinking those M&Ms right now.

Facebook and Loneliness? A New Connection

Does Facebook make you lonely?  For me, it does when I see all the parties I'm not invited to.  But beyond that, a new study has found that only the lonely use it the most.

Not so surprising, but, according to, a new study has found that, though social media was supposedly developed to bring people closer together, it may just be the people who are the most distanced from others who are drawn to it.

There is a relationship between Facebook use and loneliness. The researchers concluded that relationship exists because the feeling of loneliness brings its users to Facebook, rather than because Facebook makes people lonely.

The researchers chose to focus on Facebook because it is by far the most popular online social media site, with people using it to share personal information, meet people and develop friendships, according to the study. The use of Facebook – at home and at work – accounts for 54 percent of users’ time online globally and 62 percent of their time in the United States.

For several decades, researchers have been looking at whether Internet use, in general, is psychologically beneficial or detrimenta, reports.

The good part is that when people communicate online, they can reflect and think longer before saying something. This gives people a way to connect with others while feeling less anxiety. However, once you put it in writing, it's there forever.  And who knows who else is seeing it?

While Internet use in general has been studied extensively, not as much research has been done on the relatively newer phenomenon of Facebook.

It turns out there is a relationship between Facebook use and loneliness. That is, as loneliness increases, the time spent on Facebook increases. This means, at least, that Facebook does not help in reducing loneliness even if we feel more connected while using it, researchers say.

I must admit, I do worry about my 13-year-old who uses Skype and texting to communicate with his friends and rarely sees them in person, other than in school.  You do wonder if kids today are ever going to be able to have face-to-face relationships with people.

And I know I love the Internet because I'd much rather -- curmudgeon that I am -- get things done that way than having to talk to people.  I like things within my control and that gives me that.  I can respond when I feel like it, and then the monkey is off my back.  (My old boss taught me that when you can shove a project onto someone else, it's called getting the monkey off your back!).

So, is Facebook good for us or not?  I guess, as with anything, it depends.   If you use it to avoid people, no.  But if it makes you feel like there's really someone out there, when you need a voice in the wilderness, then go right ahead.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Definite Link Between Oral Sex, Tobacco and Cancer

As if you needed another reason to quit smoking. . .

Now there's definitive proof it's linked to oral cancer.

According to, researchers have found a link between tobacco and the virus that causes this kind of cancer.

Johns Hopkins scientists have shown a strong association between tobacco use or exposure and infection with oral human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16), the sexually transmitted virus responsible for mouth and throat cancers worldwide. The numbers of such cancers have increased 225 percent in the United States over the past two decades.
HPV16 is found in 80 percent of cancers located in the back of the throat and is transmitted through oral sex.   Remember Michael Douglas?

“The practice of oral sex is common, but this cancer is rare. So there must be cofactors in the process that explain why some people develop persistent HPV16 infections and HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancers when most other people don’t,” says Gypsyamber D’Souza, Ph.D., M.S., M.P.H., an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

The research team found that HPV16 infection is more common among people who have recently used or been exposed to tobacco, independent of their sexual behavior, according to authors of the new study published in the Oct. 7 issue of JAMA.

“It appears that tobacco exposure increases the likelihood of having oral HPV16 infection, and although we do not yet know why, we suspect that the virus may not be cleared from the body as easily in people who use tobacco,” says D’Souza.

But the researchers caution that although the study shows an independent relationship between tobacco and HPV16 infection, they cannot fully rule out the possibility that people who use more tobacco might also have more oral sex, and therefore have a higher risk of HPV16 infection.

So, quit smoking.  Or. . .   You decide.

Don't Touch That Grocery Cart Handle!

When I have a little time, I like to scroll through the top news stories at  Now I wish I hadn't.

AARP did a study of the eight things you should never touch, and lemon wedges were right up there at the top of the list.   The article says you should never use lemons in a restaurant.  Request your drink naked, it said.  But I live on iced tea and drinking that without a lemon would be like, well, french fries without ketchup.  Pizza without cheese.  Romeo without Juliet.  You get my drift.

The article said that the reason lemon wedges are so dicey is because of all the people who don't wash their hands and then touch the food.  (Scary fact: only 15% of people wash their hands correctly after using the rest room.)

On average, an adult can touch as many as 30 objects within a minute, including germ-harboring, high-traffic surfaces such as light switches, doorknobs, phone receivers and remote controls, according to AARP.

And you don't have to be a germ-o-phobe, especially in these days of lethal infectious diseases. 

I used to laugh at Donald Trump for not shaking hands.  But now, whenever I do, I try to get to a sink as quickly as possible and wash my hands.  I carry wipes in the car for those grocery store cart handles.

Now, before you start thinking I'm totally insane, here's one I never thought of.  Do you know the dirtiest thing in a restaurant?  It's not those soiled rags they use sometimes to wipe the table.  Or the floors (now, how many times do you eat off those -- not counting the 5-second rule!).  It's the menus.

Have you ever seen anyone wash a menu? Probably not, says the AARP.  A study recently reported that cold and flu viruses can survive for 18 hours on hard surfaces. If it's a popular restaurant, hundreds of people could be handling the menus — and passing their germs on to you. Never let a menu touch your plate or silverware, and be sure to wash your hands after you place your order.

Okay, I'm not so sure I'd go that far.  But still.

And what about condiment dispensers.  How many times do you think restaurants wash out ketchup containers?  If your guess is never, you're on.  They can harbor germs from the people who touched it before -- and didn't wash their hands after using the rest room.  So while you may be diligent, the guy who poured the ketchup before you may not have been, which means his germs are now on your fingers — and your fries. Squirt hand sanitizer on the outside of the condiment bottle or use a disinfectant wipe before you grab it.

Again, maybe not so much.

It's enough to make you never want to eat in a restaurant again.  Another germy no-no?  This one's kind of obvious.  Rest room door handles.  I used to think the people who used paper towels to grab the handles were a little neurotic.  Now I do it, too. 

Then there's soap dispensers (dirty hands again, using them); of course, shopping cart handles (you don't want to know what's on them); movie seats; airplane bathrooms, and finally, doctor's offices.   Don't touch the magazines, toys or just about anything else, and keep at least two chairs between you and others, if possible (although, in this day of waiting rooms packed like a staidum, it may not be).

My husband, a dentist, never worries about germs. He leaves his toothbrush lying out on the bathroom shelf in a puddle of dried toothpaste.  He eats buckets of berries and fruit and never washes any of it.   And he doesn't wash his hands much, either (at least, at home).  

So is it ever safe to leave the house?  Of course, it is.  You don't have to be as germ-conscious as I am (and I swear I don't know where that came from; when I was growing up, no one washed their hands!).  But it does make sense to wash your hands often during the day.  And don't get suckered into using hand sanitizers instead (though my son, who's never washed his hands a day in his life -- or at least, that's what his fingernails look like -- swears by them; maybe that's where my husband gets it from).  Supposedly, they're leading the way to creating more germs that resist antibiotics. 

The article suggests you take your lemon wedges with you, if you must.  But I think that's a little much.    I guess I'll stick to my iced tea with lemon, and take my chances.  And maybe cut out the cheese on my pizza.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Feeling Down? Find Someone Worse Off on Facebook

Admit it.

When you've had a bad day, don't you want to go on Facebook and see that your work friend's car slid off the driveway in the ice storm and smashed into a tree?  Or your college pal's getting a divorce?  Or the neighbor who never waves back has her windows shaving-creamed on Halloween.

OK, so maybe you have friends like I do, who only post wedding anniversaries in the Caribbean (we had our 20th at Kozi's) or children who get 1600s on their SATs. 

But a new study says, if you're in a bad mood, chances are your best bet is to head to Facebook and find someone else who's worse off, according to

When people are in a bad mood, they are more likely to actively search social networking sites like Facebook to find friends who are doing even worse than they are, the study suggests.

Researchers found that, in general, people use social media to connect with people who are posting positive and success-oriented updates.

“But when people are in a negative mood, they start to show more interest in the less attractive, less successful people on their social media sites,” said Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick, co-author of the study and professor of communication at The Ohio State University.

“Generally, most of us look for the positive on social media site," said Benjamin Johnson, co-author of the study, recently a doctoral student in communication at Ohio State and now an assistant professor at VU University Amsterdam.  "But if you’re feeling vulnerable, you’ll look for people on Facebook who are having a bad day or who aren’t as good at presenting themselves positively, just to make yourself feel better.”

I can't say how many times I've felt worse looking at all the parties and dinners out and kids scoring touchdowns, when we pretty much stay at home all the time and I'm lucky if my kid kicks a soccer ball around a couple times a week.

Overall, researchers found that people tended to spend more time on the profiles of people who were rated as successful and attractive on social media.

But participants who had been put in a negative mood spent significantly more time than others browsing the profiles of people who had been rated as unsuccessful and unattractive.

“If you need a self-esteem boost, you’re going to look at people worse off than you,” Knobloch-Westerwick said. “You’re probably not going to be looking at the people who just got a great new job or just got married. One of the great appeals of social network sites is that they allow people to manage their moods by choosing who they want to compare themselves to.”

Well said.