Monday, June 18, 2018

Venting Anger
When you feel angry beating up on a pillow or punching bag actually makes you angrier.
What should you do when you get angry?  Many people believe the best way to safely get rid of anger is by a process called catharsis, or venting your anger.  For example an angry person could work off their anger by doing things like exercising, beating on a pillow, hitting a punching bag or just screaming as loud as they could.  Although this advice is common in the popular media, does it really work at reducing anger?  To answer that question researchers from Iowa State University and Case Western University conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
Participants in the experiment first read a newspaper article, created by the experimenters, which talked about catharsis.  Some participants read an article that said a Harvard psychologist had determined catharsis worked very well at relieving people’s anger (the Pro-catharsis article).  Other participants read an article that said the Harvard psychologist had determined catharsis did not work at relieving people’s anger (the Anti-catharsis article).  These articles were used to get participants to believe, or not believe, that catharsis worked.
Next participants wrote a short essay discussing their views on abortion and another participant in a different room (who didn’t really exist) graded their essay.  To make the participants feel angry; their essays were always returned with a handwritten comment saying, “This is one of the worst essays I have every read!”  After getting this bad feedback on their essay participants were given 2 minutes to hit a punching bag, if they wanted to, while the experimenter prepared the next part of the study.
To see how aggressive people would be, the participants played a game against another person.  The participant had to hit a button faster than their opponent did; and if they won, they could blast their opponent with a loud noise as punishment.  Some participants were told their opponent was the person who had graded their essay, and others were told the opponent was not the person who had graded their essay.  The “opponent” was actually a computer that randomly let the participant win half of the time.
Results showed that participants who thought catharsis worked, and had hit the punching bag, were actually more aggressive against their opponent in the reaction time game.  They blasted their opponent with louder noise than participants who read the Anti-catharsis article and had hit the punching bag.  Who the opponent was didn’t matter.  Even when the opponent was not the person who graded their essay, the Pro-catharsis participants who had hit the punching bag still blasted him with louder noise.
Why should it matter to me?
When we feel angry many of us are tempted to vent our anger, thinking it will help us calm down.  Unfortunately, this venting actually builds up the anger and makes our problem worse.  A better way to calm down is to get away from the situation and relax.  Later, after we have cooled down, we are better able to constructively deal with the source of our anger.
Source: Bushman, Brad J., Baumeister, Roy F. & Stack, Angela D. (1999). Catharsis, Aggression and Persuasive Influence: Self-Fulfilling or Self-Defeating Prophecies?  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 367-376.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Certain stressful events cause different cardiovascular reactions in men and women.
Although many people have to deal with the same types of stressful situations in their daily lives, not everybody is affected the same way by those situations.  For instance, men seem to be more concerned with performance-oriented situations, such as work challenges and tasks involving physical fitness.  Women, however, seem to be more concerned with socially-oriented situations, such as marital conflict and physical appearance.  If men and women differ in how stressful they view certain events, their bodies may also react differently to those events.  To find out, researchers from Brown University and Ohio State University conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
One body reaction commonly associated with stress is an increase in cardiovascular activity, such as heart rate and blood pressure.  Therefore, the researchers decided to measure participants' cardiovascular reactions to different stressful events.  To begin the experiment participants sat in a comfortable chair and listened to soft music for 10 minutes.  During this time the researchers measured the participant's heart rate, diastolic blood pressure, systolic blood pressures, and mean arterial pressure.  These measurements served as a stress-free baseline the researchers could then compare later measurements against.  After the baseline readings were taken, participants completed four different tasks.  Three of the tasks were designed to be performance-oriented and one task was designed to be appearance-oriented.  For the performance tasks, participants had to do subtraction problems in their head while being timed, trace a star pattern while only looking at its mirror image, and squeeze a handgrip for 2.5 minutes.  For the appearance-oriented task, participants had to give a four minute speech on what they liked and disliked about their body and physical appearance.  After participants finished each task, the researchers again measured their cardiovascular responses.
The results showed that men's cardiovascular system reacted more than women's during the performance-oriented tasks.  In other words, men's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels during the performance-oriented tasks, whereas women's cardiovascular readings did not rise.  During the appearance-oriented tasks, however, women's cardiovascular readings rose above their baseline levels, whereas men's did not.  These results seem to suggest that men respond more to performance situations, whereas women respond more to appearance situations.

Why should it matter to me?
When men and women work together, it's important for them to realize how each gender reacts to certain types of situations.  Situations that don't seem stressful to men may be very stressful for women and vice versa.  Being sensitive to these differences can help reduce annoyance at another person's stressed out reaction to a seemingly "harmless" event and even prepare working partners to better help each other cope.
Source: Stroud, Laura R., Niaura, Raymond S., & Stoney, Catherine M. (2001). Sex differences in cardiovascular reactivity to physical appearance and performance challenges. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 8, 240-250. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Can “living in the moment” reduce stress?
The term “mindfulness” has its roots in the Buddhist tradition. It refers to being aware of and paying attention to what is taking place in the present. If you are like many people, you probably spend little time in a mindful state. It is hard not to be distracted by what the world is throwing at us on a constant basis. Try this – spend the next five minutes in a quiet space. Pay attention to what is going on around you, AT THE PRESENT TIME. Do not think about what you are having for dinner. Do not think about that argument you had with your spouse the other day. Do not think about how to get your kids to study more. Do not think about whether you will have enough money after retirement. It’s hard, isn’t it? With this said, there is evidence that being able to at least approach a mindful state of mind can have psychological benefits, including the reduction of stress.
What was the research about?
Kirk Brown and Richard Ryan, of the University of Rochester, conducted a formal test of the psychological benefits of mindfulness. What they found was that people who reported being “more mindful” than others also reported having positive psychological traits as high self-esteem, higher life satisfaction, more positive feelings, less anxiety, and less depression. They next tested whether inducing a mindful state can alleviate stress during an extremely stressful period – the time following cancer surgery. They trained a group of cancer patients to enter a mindful state. What they found was that indeed, patients who were trained to become more mindful did, in fact, report less stress. This suggests that being more mindful can reduce stress, even during the most stressful times of our lives.

Why should it matter to me?
The results of this study strongly support the notion that mindfulness may have powerful psychological benefits. The fact that it appears to reduce stress in cancer patients is evidence that it may have a wide range of therapeutic applications. You may be able to reduce your own level of stress, in addition to reaping the other psychological rewards of mindfulness by practicing techniques designed to induce a state of mindfulness in yourself.
Source: Brown, Kirk, W., & Ryan, Richard, M. (2003).The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 822-848.




Thursday, May 31, 2018

How men and women cope with the same stressful event
When coping with stress, people generally choose between two basic strategies.  Some choose what’s called emotion-focused coping.  Emotion-focused coping involves doing things that help the person cope with the negative emotions caused by their stress.  People will wish the problem were gone, daydream about it turning out differently, re-interpret the problem by “looking on the bright side”, blame others for the problem or just avoid thinking about the problem at all.  Other people choose what’s called problem-focused coping.  Problem-focused coping involves doing things that actually affect the problem itself.  For example, people will think about possible solutions to the problem, gather information about it or take real action to address the problem.  How does a person’s gender influence which strategy they pick to cope with their stress?  Researchers at the University of Washington and Iowa State University explored this question by exposing male and female participants to the same stressful event.
What was the research about?
A total of 114 participants (53 women & 51 men) participated in the experiment over the course of two days.  The participants were told the experiment was trying to use personality characteristics to predict who would be an effective teacher.  Participants were instructed they would first complete some personality questionnaires today, and tomorrow they would return to give a 5-minute lecture about the pros and cons of using animals in scientific research.  They were also informed their lecture was going to be graded by several research assistants.  Immediately after learning about giving the lecture, the participant’s pulse was taken and they filled out a questionnaire measuring how stressful they thought giving the lecture would be.
            On the next day the participants returned and, before giving the lecture, they completed a questionnaire that measured the types of thoughts they were having about the lecture and their pulse was taken.  After participants gave their lecture they completed questionnaires measuring how they had coped with the event, how many other stressors they were currently experiencing and how well they thought their lecture went.
            Results showed that male and female participants had equivalent pulse rates, gave similar ratings of how stressful they thought the lecture would be and had similar thoughts immediately before the lecture.  These results indicated that males and females experienced the stressful event (the lecture) in the same way.  Even though they had similar reactions to the event, males and females did use different coping strategies to deal with the stress caused by the upcoming lecture.  Men reported using more problem-focused coping techniques than women did.  Interestingly, men and women reported using a similar degree of emotion-focused coping techniques.
Why should it matter to me?
Coping with stressful problems can be difficult and it’s important to realize and appreciate the different ways people may choose to cope with their problems.  This realization can be valuable when men and women must work together to cope with problems, such as a family problem or a problem affecting a group at work.
Source: Ptacek, J. T.; Smith, Ronald E. & Dodge, Kenneth L. (1994). Gender Differences in Coping with Stress: When Stressor & Appraisals Do Not Differ. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin. v. 20, pp. 421-430.

Monday, May 21, 2018

When helping people cope with their stress, don’t be too obvious about it.
When a person we care about is trying to cope with a stressful event in their life, we obviously want to help them cope as much as possible.  Unfortunately our attempts to help may actually be no help at all.  Researchers have found that people, who report receiving help coping with a stressful event, only cope as well or even worse than people who don’t report receiving any help.  This may happen because receiving help draws our attention to our problem, is a blow to our self-esteem or the “help” is just not that good and makes the problem worse.  Researchers have also found, however, that people who just believe they have access to social support if they should need it, cope better than those who don’t think they have sources of social support.  In other words, in times of stress, if we think we have sources of social support we cope well.  Yet if we actually receive help from those sources of social support we don’t cope as well.  These two findings seem contradictory, so a group of researchers from New York University and Harvard Medical School conducted an experiment to try and reconcile these inconsistent findings.
What was the research about?
The researchers recruited 68 couples in which one person was preparing to take the New York State Bar Examination.  The Bar Examination is a 2-day test that all aspiring lawyers must pass before they can practice law and is generally a very stressful event.  For each of the 32 days leading up to the Bar Exam, both members of each couple individually completed a short diary form.  In the diary form, the person about to take the Bar Exam (the examinee) indicated their feelings of anxiety and depression, as well as whether they had received social support from their partner that day.  The partner indicated whether he or she had given the examinee social support that day.
Results showed that during the time of highest stress (the week before the exam), feelings of anxiety and depression actually increased on days when the examinee reported receiving social support from their partner.  This was true whether or not the partner had actually provided any social support that day.  On the other hand, anxiety and depression decreased on days when the partner provided social support but the examinee did not report receiving social support.  In other words, on days when the person under stress was given social support but just didn’t realize it, they felt better.  How could a person receive support and not realize it?  One example is when your partner does a household chore without even telling you.  The stress associated with the chore is gone but you don’t even realize your partner helped you out.  These results show that receiving social support does help people cope with stress, but only when their attention is not drawn to the fact they are getting help from another person.
Why should it matter to me?
It’s very common for people to want to help others cope with a stressful event.  If we aren’t careful how we approach helping the other person, however, we may just cause them more stress.  If we help them in a very obvious way this may just make the person feel worse by highlighting their vulnerability to stress.  Instead, we should try to help them in ways that don’t draw their attention to their stress.  Realizing how to best help a person cope is also important in times when we end up causing them more stress.  By understanding which type of help is actually beneficial, we can avoid becoming confused or angry if a person reacts negatively to receiving our “help”.
Source: Bolger, Niall; Zuckerman, Adam & Kessler, Ronald C. (2000). Invisible Support and Adjustment to Stress. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology. 79, 953-961. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

Workaholics and their well-being
As long as you enjoy your work, being a workaholic may not be bad for your emotional and physical health.
Do you know someone who works every chance they get, feels driven to keep working hard after others have stopped and even misses their work when on vacation?  These are the characteristics of a “workaholic”.  There are a wide variety of opinions about workaholism.  Some people view workaholics positively because they believe workaholism leads to increased productivity.  Others, however, view workaholics negatively because they believe workaholism leads to unhappiness, health problems and stress for co-workers.  Which view is more accurate?  To help answer that question a researcher from the school of business at York University conducted a questionnaire study.
What was the research about?
A total of 530 MBA graduates, who had all graduated some time prior to 1996, completed a mailed questionnaire.  The questionnaire asked respondents to report how involved with work they were, how driven they felt to work hard, how much they enjoyed work, their psychological well-being, any psychosomatic symptoms experienced in the past year (e.g., headaches), their lifestyle behaviors (e.g., how often they exercised) and emotional well-being.
Respondents who reported being highly involved with their work and very driven to work hard were classified as workaholics.  Results showed that only workaholics who didn’t enjoy their work reported poorer psychological well-being, more psychosomatic symptoms, less healthy lifestyle behaviors and poorer emotional well-being than non-workaholics.  Workaholics who did enjoy their work were just as psychologically and emotionally well as the non-workaholics.  Therefore, how much a person enjoys their work, instead of how hard they work, seems to be the best predictor of their psychological and emotional well-being.
Why should it matter to me?
When we think someone is a workaholic we may get a negative impression of that person because we think they are a slave to their job and suffer the consequences.  This impression may be completely inaccurate.  Some workaholics may work so much just because they enjoy their job a lot, and this doesn’t appear to be such a bad thing, at least as far as their psychological and emotional health is concerned.
One important point to keep in mind, however, is the results of this study are only correlational and don’t necessarily mean that enjoying work causes that person to experience better psychological and emotional well-being.  An alternative conclusion could be the reverse; that having better psychological and emotional well-being causes the person to enjoy their work more.  More research needs to be done before these two explanations are sorted out, but this study does show there is an important relationship between work enjoyment and a person’s well-being.
Source: Burke, Ronald J. (2000). Workaholism in Organizations: Psychological and Physical Well-Being Consequences. Stress Medicine. 16, 11-16.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Stress and Smoking
Reducing feelings of stress may be a reason teenagers smoke.
People commonly report they smoke because it reduces their feelings of stress, and research shows that smokers tend to report higher levels of overall stress in their lives than non-smokers do.  People who stop smoking also experience increased feelings of stress, and this stress makes quitting for good less likely.  All of this research relating smoking to stress, however, has only examined adult smokers.  Therefore, a pair of researchers from Australia decided to study the relationship between stress and smoking in teenagers.
What was the research about?
A sample of 2625 adolescents, obtained from various Australian high schools, was given questionnaires to complete.   The questionnaires measured how much stress the respondent experienced from a variety of sources, such as attending school, family conflict and parental control, as well as how much the respondent smoked.
Results showed that adolescents who smoked regularly reported higher levels of overall stress compared to non-smokers.  Interestingly, girls reported experiencing greater levels of stress associated with most of the sources than boys did.  Stress associated with attending school, family conflict and parental control was most related to smoking for girls.  These sources of stress distinguished well between girls who smoked and didn’t smoke.  Stress associated with attending school was most likely to distinguish between boys who smoked and didn’t smoke.  Thus stress from school, family and parental control may be what leads a teenager to smoke.  These results are correlational, however, so it’s not clear whether these sources of stress actually cause a teenager to smoke or not.
Why should it matter to me?
Clearly stress is an important factor in teen smoking.  Whether or not stress causes a teen to smoke is not certain; however, teens that begin to smoke may be more likely to continue because smoking does seem to help alleviate stress.   Smoking may also help teens to better fit in with other peers.  Adolescence is a time when identity is very important; therefore socially smoking may be a way for teens to help establish their peer group.  By realizing that teen smoking is at least associated with stress, parents can take steps to help their kids avoid smoking.  A good start is to be aware of the stress your child experiences and help him or her cope with that stress.  Of course parents must be careful when doing this because their efforts to help may be interpreted by the child as an attempt to control their behavior.
Source: Byrne, D. G. & Mazanov, J. (1999). Sources of Adolescent Stress, Smoking, and the Use of Other Drugs. Stress Medicine, 15, 215-227.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Motivation for Volunteering and Stress
Having too many motivations for volunteering can lead to added stress
When someone decides to volunteer for an organization they usually have at least one personal motivation for doing so.  A person may be motivated by their values, their desire to better understand other people, to meet a personal challenge or to show concern and empathy for others.  Despite these good intentions, volunteering does have a downside because it costs time and can be stressful.  Generally when people feel they have achieved their personal motivations, however, they report feeling less stress and very satisfied with their volunteering experience.  If achieving personal motivations reduces the stress associated with volunteering, would people with more than just one motivation to volunteer be more likely to enjoy their volunteering experience?  To answer this question, researchers conducted three experiments that compared volunteers who had just one or multiple motives for volunteering.
What was the research about?
The first experiment included 282 volunteers in an AIDS service organization who provided emotional support and day-to-day assistance to people with HIV/AIDS.  These volunteers completed an initial survey immediately before they began their volunteering duties, and then completed a follow-up survey 6 months later.  The initial survey asked the volunteers to indicate their personal motivations for choosing to volunteer.  The follow-up survey asked volunteers to report the stress they experienced while volunteering and how much volunteering had cost them (e.g., taking up too much time).  The follow-up survey also asked volunteers to report how much each of their motivations for volunteering had been fulfilled and how satisfied they felt about their experience.  Results showed that volunteers who had more than one motivation for volunteering reported experiencing more stress, more costs, less satisfaction and less fulfillment of their motivations compared to volunteers who had just one motivation for volunteering.  The second experiment also found these same results with a sample of 146 hospice volunteers.
The third experiment actually manipulated how many motivations participants had for volunteering.  Before they took part in a “volunteer activity” (stuffing envelopes for an environmental organization), participants read a testimonial supposedly written by another volunteer explaining why he had volunteered for the environmental organization.  Participants were instructed to use this testimonial to “get in the mindset” before they stuffed envelopes.  The testimonial contained either one or two motivations for volunteering.  After stuffing envelopes for 15 minutes participants indicated how much their motivations for volunteering (as read in the testimonial) were satisfied.  Results showed that participants who had only read about one motivation for volunteering reported more satisfaction.
Why should it matter to me?
Our time is a very precious commodity; therefore, when you actually do have the time to volunteer you may want to ask yourself exactly what your motivation for volunteering really is before you commit yourself.  If you have one single strong motivation to volunteer, chances are you will enjoy the experience more than if you have a variety of motivations.  Why might this be so?  One reason may be that people who have multiple motivations to volunteer just can’t satisfy any one of those motivations very much, therefore, they just don't enjoy the activity as much as a person who has one clear reason for volunteering.  So in the future, make sure you know why you are volunteering and you will probably feel much more fulfilled.
Source: Kiviniemi, Marc T., Snyder, Mark & Omoto, Allen M. (2002). Too Many of a Good Thing?  The Effeccts of Multiple Motivations on Stress, Cost, Fulfillment & Satisfaction. Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 732-743. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Chewing Gum and Smoking
Chewing gum, instead of smoking a cigarette, may effectively reduce stress and nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Many smokers report they usually light up when they feel stressed because smoking makes them feel calmer.  Researchers now believe many smokers are dependent on cigarettes as a way to cope with their stress.  When smokers are not able to smoke during times of stress they tend to suffer withdrawal symptoms such as irritability and nervousness.  With widespread smoking restrictions in the U.S. many smokers are not able to use smoking as a means of dealing with their stress.  One popular alternative to smoking is chewing gum, but is chewing gum an effective way to deal with stress?  Even if it is, will a smoker experience withdrawal symptoms if he or she chews gum instead of smokes?  To explore these questions, researchers from Oklahoma State University conducted a study.
What was the research about?
Forty-five participants, who smoked at least 16 cigarettes per day, were recruited for the study.  All participants began the study by smoking one cigarette of their preferred brand.  After their cigarette all participants completed a series of questionnaires that measured their urge to smoke, their withdrawal symptoms and how much stress they were experiencing (the Time 1 measure).  To create feelings of stress, the experimenters told participants they would soon have to give a 3-minute speech on their body and physical appearance, and the speech would be videotaped.  Immediately after they learned about the speech, participants were either told to smoke one cigarette, chew one piece of gum or do nothing.  While they smoked or chewed their gum they filled out another set of the questionnaires (the Time 2 measure).  Participants then spent 2 minutes mentally preparing for their speech and then filled out another set of questionnaires (the Time 3 measure).  At this point participants actually gave their speech for 3 minutes and then filled out the questionnaires again (the Time 4 measure).  Finally, following a 10-minute rest period, participants filled out another set of questionnaires (the Time 5 measure).
The results showed that participants who smoked, and those who chewed gum, experienced fewer withdrawal symptoms than the control group during the last measure (Time 5).  In other words, chewing gum was just as effective at curbing withdrawal symptoms as actually smoking a cigarette was.  The results also showed there were no differences in feelings of stress at any of the measurement times.  Therefore, neither smoking nor chewing gum reduced feelings of stress compared to the control group.  The interesting thing was these results were obtained even though participants who chewed gum still had an urge to smoke.  Despite feeling an urge to smoke, the gum-chewing participants still didn’t experience any more withdrawal symptoms or feelings of stress than the smoking participants did.
Why should it matter to me?
Smoking has been shown to be bad for a person’s health, which makes quitting a potentially life-altering decision.  Quitting smoking, however, is a difficult thing to do for many people.  The results of this study offer some hope that there are alternatives to smoking when a person feels stressed.  Chewing gum may be a healthier substitute that also helps a person avoid withdrawal symptoms when they can’t smoke.
Source: Britt, Dana M.; Cohen, Lee M.; Collins Jr., Frank L.; Cohen, Michelle L. (2001). Cigarette Smoking & Chewing Gum: Response to a Laboratory-Induced Stressor. Health Psychology. 20, 361-368. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Not all stress is bad for your health.
Stressful situations you can actively cope with may not weaken your immune system.
Scientists have known for some time now that stress can be the cause of health problems because stress seems to depress the ability of a person’s immune system to combat illness.  However, we all face different types of stressful situations in our lives.  Sometimes we are faced with situations involving stress we can actively cope with by doing things that address the source of the stress.  For example, if a person is annoyed with a coworker’s behavior, she can actively cope with her stress by confronting the coworker and discussing the issue to sort things out.  Other times we are faced with situations involving stress we can only passively cope with by trying not to focus on the stress.  For example, if a loved one dies all you can do is try to deal with your negative feelings because you are powerless to change the person’s death (the source of the stress).  One question that scientists from the University of Amsterdam had was whether these two different types of stressful situations both negatively affect a person’s immune system.  To explore that question they conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
The experiment exposed 34 undergraduate students to three different types of conditions.  To simulate a stressful situation involving active coping, participants were given a time-paced memory test.  To simulate a stressful situation involving passive coping, participants watched a video showing various surgical operations.  There was also a control condition in which participants watched a boring documentary.  As a way to examine how the stressful situations influenced the participant’s immune system, the researchers took samples of saliva from the participant’s mouth before, during and after each stressful situation.  In the saliva, the researchers measured how much of secretory immunglobulin A (S-IgA) was present.  S-IgA is used by the body to protect against the invasion of microorganisms and toxins.  The less S-IgA present, the higher the risk of health problems such as upper respiratory infection.  To measure stress levels, participants completed a questionnaire after each saliva sample was collected.
Results showed there were no differences in how stressed participants felt during the memory test and while watching the surgery video.  Even though participants felt equally stressed in both conditions, their levels of S-IgA increased in the active stress condition (the memory test) but decreased in the passive stress condition (the surgery video).  This indicates that participants in the passive stress condition were less defended against microorganism and toxin invasions.  On the other hand, participants in the active stress condition were actually better defended than normal because their S-IgA levels had increased in response to the stressful situation.
Why should it matter to me?
Based on evidence from this experiment it seems all stressful situations are not created equal.  Passive stress situations seem to have a debilitating effect on at least one aspect of the body’s immune system functioning.  Active stress situations, however, seem to actually boost one of the body’s protective actions.  If this effect extends to other aspects of the body’s immune system, then people may want to be more careful what types of stressful situations they expose themselves to.  Also, when deciding how to cope with stress, people may want to try and choose more active-coping strategies.  By actively coping with your stress, instead of just passively trying to ignore it, you may better protect your health in the process.
Source: Bosch, J. A., Kelder, A., Veerman, E. C. I., Hoogstraten, J., Nieuw Amerongen, A. V., De Geus, E. J. C. (2001). Differential effects of active versus passive coping on secretory immunity. Psychophpysiology, 38, 836-846. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Popularity, Stress and your Health
Being popular may put you at greater risk of contracting an upper respiratory infection when you are under stress.
Typically people think being popular is a good thing.  This belief makes sense because popularity offers many benefits such as greater opportunities from having social contacts, a boost to self-esteem and respect from others.  Research has also shown that the diverse social networks popular people have may also help them cope with stress better than less popular people.  Popularity, however, may have a down side because popular people are exposed to a greater number of infectious agents when they interact with people in their diverse social networks.  If this is true, then are popular people more likely to get sick when their immune system is weakened by stressful life events?  To find out researchers from Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study.
What was the research about?
The experimenters recruited 114 college students for their study.  The study began with participants completing several questionnaires indicating any stressful life events they had experienced in the last 12 months (the measure of stress level) and how diverse their social network was (the measure of popularity).  After completing the initial questionnaires, all participants kept weekly diaries for the next 12 weeks.  In their weekly diary entries, participants indicated whether they had any symptoms normally associated with an upper respiratory infection such as nasal congestion, cough, sore throat, etc.  When any participants did report having these symptoms, they were immediately scheduled to visit the campus infirmary for a check-up to verify if they did actually have an upper respiratory infection.
The study results showed that less popular participants had an equal number of upper respiratory infections whether they were under stress or not.  The popular participants, however, had fewer infections when they were not stressed but more infections when they were under stress.  Therefore, the popular participants enjoyed better health as long as they were not under stress, but when under stress they actually got sick more often than the less popular participants did.
Why should it matter to me?
Although being popular can be nice, it may sometimes jeopardize your health by exposing you to more infectious agents.  When a person’s immune system is already weakened by stress they may be more likely to get sick as they socialize with all their friends.  Add to this the pressure some people feel to constantly socialize in an attempt to increase their popularity, and popularity becomes a real liability.  Perhaps it’s best, as with food and drink, to enjoy socialization in moderation, and even less so when under increased stress.
Source: Hamrick, Natalie, Sheldon, Cohen, & Rodriguez, Mario, S. (2002). Being popular can be healthy or unhealthy: Stress, social network diversity, and incidence of upper respiratory infection. Health Psychology, 21, 294-298. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Breast-feeding and Stress
Breast-feeding may reduce a woman’s stress level.
One of the many decisions facing new mothers today is whether they should breast-feed or bottle-feed their child.  One advantage of breast-feeding scientists only recently began investigating is a reduction in stress.  Researchers have found some evidence that a mother’s stress level is lowered as she breast-feeds her child.  The problem with this research, however, is that it has not controlled for other factors that may be responsible for the relationship between breast-feeding and stress reduction.  For example, perhaps women who choose to bottle-feed are also more prone to be anxious or stressed, which limits their production of breast milk and forces them to choose bottle-feeding.  In this case, how easily the woman becomes anxious, instead of the fact she doesn’t breast-feed, is what causes her more stress.  To help determine whether breast-feeding really does cause a reduction in stress, researchers from Columbia University and State University of New York at Stony Brook conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
The experiment involved 28 mothers who were both breast-feeding and bottle-feeding when they were recruited for the study.  The experiment consisted of 2 sessions that were scheduled one week apart.  The first session began with each mother completing a questionnaire that measured the positive and negative aspects of her current mood.  Afterwards she rested for 10 minutes and then either breast-fed or bottle-fed her child.  After feeding her child she rested for another 10 minutes and then completed the same questionnaire as before.  After 1 week each mother returned for the second experimental session.  The procedure for the second session was identical to the first session except this time each mother fed her child in the opposite way.  So if a mother breast-fed her child during the first session, she bottle-fed her child during the second session and vice-versa.  Conducting the experiment this way allowed the experimenters to control for the influence of other factors that may have affected the results.
The results indicated that when a mother breast-fed her child, the negative aspects of her mood decreased while the positive aspects remained the same.  Thus, breast-feeding reduced stress by reducing negative mood but did not actually increase positive mood.  Based on the way this experiment was conducted, the act of breast-feeding, rather than some other aspect, appears to be the cause of stress reduction in mothers who breast-feed.
Why should it matter to me?
If breast-feeding reduces stress, this is an important consideration when a woman is deciding whether or not to breast-feed her child.  Given that women are somewhat more vulnerable to psychological disorders immediately following childbirth (e.g., postpartum depression), the stress-reduction role of breast-feeding may help buffer this risk.  Even without considering psychological disorders, the time after childbirth is a time of great change and increased stress.  Mothers, especially first time mothers, can use breast-feeding as an opportunity to help reduce their stress.

Source: Mezzacappa, E. S., & Katkin, E. S. (2002). Breast-feeding is associated with reduced perceived stress and negative mood in mothers. Health Psychology, 21, 187-193. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Music and the Stress of Driving
Listening to your favorite music may reduce the stress of driving during rush hour.
For many people commuting to work in rush hour traffic is a major source of stress.  Although carpooling, mass transit and tele-working from home are possible solutions to the problem of commuting; these options are not always available to every person.  An alternative solution to the stress of commuting may be listening to your favorite music.  Music may help reduce the stress of commuting by distracting the driver’s attention from the heavy congestion, the primary source of stress, and relaxing the driver.  To test whether music does help reduce stress while driving, researchers from York University in Ontario Canada conducted an experiment.
What was the research about?
The experiment involved a group of 40 students and business workers who all commuted alone, to school or their place of employment, using the same major highway.  Half of the participants were randomly assigned to choose their favorite tape or CD and listen to it during their commute.  The other half of the participants were not allowed to listen to any music or talk radio during their entire commute.  During their commute, the participants called the experimenter twice, using a cell phone, and verbally completed a questionnaire that measured their level of stress.  To make sure all participants reported their stress levels at the same point during their commute, the researchers designated two specific landmarks along the highway.  When the participants reached each of these two landmarks, they called the experimenter.  One of the landmarks was located along a typically low-congestion section of the highway and the other landmark was located along a typically high-congestion section of the highway.  This allowed the researchers to compare how stressed participants were when in high-congestion and low-congestion traffic during their commute.
Results showed that listening to music did reduce participant’s feelings of stress when they were in high-congestion traffic.  When participants were in low-congestion traffic, however, listening to music did not affect their stress levels.
Why should it matter to me?
            Commuting to work is a necessary evil for many Americans that can create a lot of stress before the actual work day even begins.  To help alleviate this stress commuters may want to try taking along a favorite CD or tape and listening to it during their commute.  This may help reduce stress by relaxing the person and giving them more of a sense of control during their commute.  Even if a person’s job itself is stressful, at least getting to that job doesn’t have to be.
Source: Wiesenthal, David, L., Hennessy, Dwight, A., and Totten, Brad. (2000). The influence of music on driver stress. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 30, 1709-1719

Monday, March 19, 2018

Pessimism and your health
Explaining bad events in a pessimistic way may jeopardize your health.
Everybody has something bad happen to them at some point.  People differ, however, in how they explain why the bad event happened.  Some people have a pessimistic style of explaining why bad things happen to them, whereas others have an optimistic style of explaining bad events.  Pessimists tend to explain bad events using internal (it's my fault), stable (it's going to last forever) and global (it's going to affect every aspect of my life) explanations.  Optimists, on the other hand, explain bad events using external (it's not my fault), unstable (it won't last long) and local (it's only this one thing) explanations.  For example, after failing a test a pessimist may think, "I failed the test because I'm stupid (internal cause).  I'm going to keep failing my upcoming tests in this class (stable).  My grades will go down, I'll never graduate, I'll never get a good job and all my friends will hate me (global)."  The optimist thinks, "I failed the test because the teacher's lectures were very confusing (external cause).  I'll do better on the next test (unstable).  After all it's just this one test, which is only 15% of my class grade, and I'm still doing well in my other classes (local)."  Research has shown that a pessimistic way of explaining bad events is linked to stress and depression.  Could a pessimistic outlook on life also make a person more susceptible to illness?  To answer that question researchers from the University of Missouri and the University of Michigan conducted a study.
What was the research about?
The study followed 198 students over a 9-week time period.  During the first week all participants completed a questionnaire indicating how stressful they felt their life was at that time.  During the second week all participants completed a questionnaire that measured how they tended to explain hypothetical bad events.  The researchers used this questionnaire to classify participants as having either a pessimistic or optimistic way of explaining bad events.  During every week of the study participants also completed a questionnaire that measured how often they had felt ill, missed class because of illness and visited a doctor because of illness.  In addition participants reported how much they had been bothered by various health problems such as colds, headaches and extreme tiredness.
Results indicated that participants who had a pessimistic style of explaining bad events showed a positive relationship between their level of stress and how many illness symptoms they reported.  In other words, the more stress the pessimists were under, the more they experienced illness symptoms.  Participants with an optimistic style of explaining bad events, however, showed no relationship between stress and illness symptoms.  Therefore, an optimistic style of explaining bad events seems to help protect a person from getting ill while under increased stress.
Why should it matter to me?
Although people often can't completely prevent bad things from happening to them, they can control how they deal with those events.  Of course people should acknowledge their role in bad outcomes and learn from their mistakes, however, there is no need to beat oneself up over bad events.  Explaining events in a way that blows them out of proportion only enhances stress and may increase your odds of contracting an illness.  Instead try to realize the limits of a bad event and see the positive side of things.  Using this strategy will not only limit your stress, it may also help maintain your health.
Source: Jackson, Benita, Sellers, Robert, M., and Peterson, Christopher (2002). Pessimistic explanatory style moderates the effect of stress on physical illness. Personality and Individual Differences, 32, 567-573.