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.