Why do men prefer nice women? Responsiveness and desire

People’s emotional reactions and desires in initial romantic encounters determine the fate of a potential relationship. Responsiveness may be one of those initial “sparks” necessary to fuel sexual desire and land a second date. However, it may not be a desirable trait for both men and women on a first date. Does responsiveness increase sexual desire in the other person? Do men perceive responsive women as more attractive, and does the same hold true for women’s perceptions of men? A study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin seeks to answer those questions.Femininity and AttractivenessResearchers from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya, the University of Rochester, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, collaborated on three studies to observe people’s perceptions of responsiveness. People often say that they seek a partner that is “responsive to their needs,” and that such a partner would arouse their sexual interest. A responsive person is one that is supportive of another’s needs and goals. “Sexual desire thrives on rising intimacy and being responsive is one of the best ways to instill this elusive sensation over time,” lead researcher Gurit Birnbaum explains. “Our findings show that this does not necessarily hold true in an initial encounter, because a responsive potential partner may convey opposite meanings to different people.”In the first study, the researchers examined whether responsiveness is perceived as feminine or masculine, and whether men or women perceived a responsive person of the opposite sex as sexually desirable. …

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Contrary to expectations, life experiences better use of money than material items

Despite knowing that buying life experiences will make them happier than buying material items, shoppers might continue to spend money on the latter because they mistakenly believe items are a better value, according to a San Francisco State University study published today. That belief, however, isn’t accurate.Those surveyed after making a purchase rated life experiences both making them happier and as a better use of their money, indicating many are sacrificing their well-being for a sense of value that never materializes. The study is one of the first to shed light on why people buy material items even though years of research has shown experiences provide a greater happiness boost.”People actually do know, and accurately predict, that life experiences will make them happier,” said SF State Associate Professor of Psychology Ryan Howell, a co-author of the study who has extensively researched the link between spending and happiness. “What they really underestimate is how much monetary value they will get out of a life experience. Even though they’re told experiences will make them happier and they know experiences will make them happier, they still perceive material items as being a better value.”Part of the reason, Howell suggests, is that material items are a tangible reminder of what the item is worth. Life experiences produce only memories, which can be harder to put a price tag on.”We naturally associate economic value with stuff. I bought this car, it’s worth $8,000,” he said. “We have a hard time estimating the economic value we would place on our memories.”To conduct the study, Howell and lead author Paulina Pchelin, a student at SF State when the research took place, surveyed individuals both before and after making a purchase. Prior to the purchase, respondents said they believed a life experience would make them happier but a material item would be a better use of their money. After the purchase, however, respondents reported that life experiences not only made them happier but were also the better value.”There were just huge underestimates in how much value people expected to get from their purchase,” Howell said. …

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Male Eurasian jays know that their female partners’ desires can differ from their own

New research shows that male Eurasian Jays in committed relationships are able to share food with their female partner according to her current desire.The behaviour suggests the potential for ‘state-attribution’ in these birds — the ability to recognise and understand the internal life and psychological states of others.The research was carried out in Professor Nicola Clayton’s Comparative Cognition lab at Cambridge University’s Department of Psychology, and is published today in the journal PNAS.Researchers tested mated jays and separated males from females. The females were fed one particular larvae, either wax moth or mealworm — a treat for the birds, like chocolates — allowing the males to observe from an adjacent compartment through a transparent window.Once the pairs were reintroduced and the option of both larvae was presented, the males would choose to feed their partner the other type of larvae, to which she hadn’t previously had access — a change in diet welcomed by the female.Through different tests using variations on food and visual access to the females during feeding, the researchers show that the males needed to actually see the females eating enough of and become sated by one type of larvae — called ‘specific satiety’ — to know to offer them the other type once reunited.This demonstrates that the males’ sharing pattern was not a response to their partner’s behaviour indicating her preference but a response to the change in her internal state.”Our results raise the possibility that these birds may be capable of ascribing desire to their mates — acknowledging an ‘internal life’ in others like that of their own,” said Ljerka Ostojic, who led the research.”Ascribing internal states to other individuals requires the basic understanding that others are distinct from the self and others’ internal states are independent from, and differ from, one’s own.When there was no opportunity to feed the female, males chose between the two foods according to their own desires. Only when they could share with the female did they disengage from their own desires and select food the female wanted.The researchers believe that this ability to respond to another’s internal state in a cooperative situation might be important for species living in long-term relationships. Food-sharing is an important courtship behaviour for the Jays — so the ability to determine which food is currently desired by his partner might increase the male’s value as a mate.”A comparison might be a man giving his wife chocolates. The giving and receiving of chocolates is an important ‘pair-bonding’ ritual — but, a man that makes sure he gives his wife the chocolates she currently really wants will improve his bond with her much more effectively — getting in the good books, and proving himself a better life partner.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Cambridge. The original story is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Life lessons: Children learn aggressive ways of thinking and behaving from violent video games, study finds

Children who repeatedly play violent video games are learning thought patterns that will stick with them and influence behaviors as they grow older, according to a new study by Iowa State University researchers. The effect is the same regardless of age, gender or culture. Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics, says it is really no different than learning math or to play the piano.”If you practice over and over, you have that knowledge in your head. The fact that you haven’t played the piano in years doesn’t mean you can’t still sit down and play something,” Gentile said. “It’s the same with violent games — you practice being vigilant for enemies, practice thinking that it’s acceptable to respond aggressively to provocation, and practice becoming desensitized to the consequences of violence.”Researchers found that over time children start to think more aggressively. And when provoked at home, school or in other situations, children will react much like they do when playing a violent video game. Repeated practice of aggressive ways of thinking appears to drive the long-term effect of violent games on aggression.”Violent video games model physical aggression,” said Craig Anderson, Distinguished Professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State and co-author of the report. “They also reward players for being alert to hostile intentions and for using aggressive behavior to solve conflicts. Practicing such aggressive thinking in these games improves the ability of the players to think aggressively. In turn, this habitual aggressive thinking increases their aggressiveness in real life.”The study followed more than 3,000 children in third, fourth, seventh and eighth grades for three years. …

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Life lessons: Children learn aggressive ways of thinking and behaving from violent video games

Children who repeatedly play violent video games are learning thought patterns that will stick with them and influence behaviors as they grow older, according to a new study by Iowa State University researchers. The effect is the same regardless of age, gender or culture. Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics, says it is really no different than learning math or to play the piano.”If you practice over and over, you have that knowledge in your head. The fact that you haven’t played the piano in years doesn’t mean you can’t still sit down and play something,” Gentile said. “It’s the same with violent games — you practice being vigilant for enemies, practice thinking that it’s acceptable to respond aggressively to provocation, and practice becoming desensitized to the consequences of violence.”Researchers found that over time children start to think more aggressively. And when provoked at home, school or in other situations, children will react much like they do when playing a violent video game. Repeated practice of aggressive ways of thinking appears to drive the long-term effect of violent games on aggression.”Violent video games model physical aggression,” said Craig Anderson, Distinguished Professor of psychology and director of the Center for the Study of Violence at Iowa State and co-author of the report. “They also reward players for being alert to hostile intentions and for using aggressive behavior to solve conflicts. Practicing such aggressive thinking in these games improves the ability of the players to think aggressively. In turn, this habitual aggressive thinking increases their aggressiveness in real life.”The study followed more than 3,000 children in third, fourth, seventh and eighth grades for three years. …

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Obesity, depression linked in teen girls, new study shows

Depression and obesity have long been associated, but how they relate over time is less clear. New research from a Rutgers University-Camden professor shows that adolescent females who experience one of the disorders are at a greater risk for the other as they get older.”Adolescence is a key developmental period for both obesity and depression, so we thought it significant to look at the onset of these disorders at an early age,” says Naomi Marmorstein, an associate professor of psychology at Rutgers-Camden.By assessing a statewide sample of more than 1,500 males and females in Minnesota over a period of more than 10 years, Marmorstein and two colleagues found that depression occurring by early adolescence in females predicts obesity by late adolescence.Meanwhile, obesity that occurs by late adolescence in females predicts the onset of depression by early adulthood. No significant associations between the two disorders across time were found in males during the study.Marmorstein’s article, “Obesity and depression in adolescence and beyond: reciprocal risks,” was recently published in the International Journal of Obesity. She co-authored the study with University of Minnesota psychology professor William Iacono and research associate Lisa Legrand.”When researchers looked at this connection over time, data had been mixed,” Marmorstein says. “Some found that depression and obesity go hand-in-hand, while others did not see that connection. We tried to take the next step in clarifying this link by looking at a sample of youth that we followed from ages 11 to 24.”This method improves on past research that included recurrence or persistence of depression and obesity rather than focusing on the onset of each disorder. Participants in Marmorstein’s study were assessed at ages 11, 14, 17, 20, and 24 by using height and weight measurements and clinical, interview-based diagnosis of major depressive disorder. The researchers looked specifically for onsets of either disorder by age 14, between the ages of 14 and 20, and between ages 20 and 24.Marmorstein emphasizes that this study was not designed to investigate the reasons for these associations, but other theories and research speaks to possible explanations. She says depression can lead to obesity through an increased appetite, poor sleep patterns, and lethargy, while obesity can cause depression due to weight stigma, poor self-esteem, and reduced mobility.”When a person is young, she is still developing eating and activity patterns, as well as coping mechanisms,” Marmorstein explains. “So if she experiences a depressive episode at age 14, she may be more at risk for having an onset of unhealthy patterns that persist.”The Rutgers-Camden scholar says a child who is obese may be more susceptible to negative societal messages about obesity or teasing, which could contribute to depression.”At this age, adolescents are starting to establish relationships becoming self-conscious, so teasing can be particularly painful,” Marmorstein says.She says prevention efforts aimed at both of these disorders at the same time when one of them is diagnosed in adolescents might help in decreasing their prevalence and comorbidity.”When an adolescent girl receives treatment for depression, the clinician might consider incorporating something relating to healthy eating and activity,” she says. …

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Genes play key role in parenting: Children also shape parents’ behavior

Scientists have presented the most conclusive evidence yet that genes play a significant role in parenting.A study by two Michigan State University psychologists refutes the popular theory that how adults parent their children is strictly a function of the way they were themselves parented when they were children.While environmental factors do play a role in parenting, so do a person’s genes, said S. Alexandra Burt, associate professor of psychology and co-author of a study led by doctoral student Ashlea M. Klahr.”The way we parent is not solely a function of the way we were parented as children,” Burt said. “There also appears to be genetic influences on parenting.”Klahr and Burt conducted a statistical analysis of 56 scientific studies from around the world on the origins of parenting behavior, including some of their own. The comprehensive analysis, involving more than 20,000 families from Australia to Japan to the United States, found that genetic influences in the parents account for 23 percent to 40 percent of parental warmth, control and negativity towards their children.”What’s still not clear, however, is whether genes directly influence parenting or do so indirectly, through parent personality for example,” Klahr said.The study sheds light on another misconception: that parenting is solely a top-down process from parent to child. While parents certainly seem to shape child behavior, parenting also is influenced by the child’s behavior — in other words, parenting is both a cause and a consequence of child behavior.”One of the most consistent and striking findings to emerge from this study was the important role that children’s characteristics play in shaping all aspects of parenting,” the authors write.Ultimately, parenting styles stem from many factors.”Parents have their own experiences when they were children, their own personalities, their own genes. On top of that, they are also responding to their child’s behaviors and stage of development,” Burt said. “Basically, there are a lot of influences happening simultaneously. Long story short, though, we need to be sensitive to the fact that this is a two-way process between parent and child that is both environmental and genetic.”The study is published in Psychological Bulletin, a research journal of the American Psychological Association.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by Michigan State University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Infants using known verbs to learn new nouns: Before infants begin to talk in sentences, they are paying careful attention to conversations

There is a lot that 19-month-old children can’t do: They can’t tie their shoes or get their mittens on the correct hands. But they can use words they do know to learn new ones.New research from Northwestern University demonstrates that even before infants begin to talk in sentences, they are paying careful attention to the way a new word is used in conversations, and they learn new words from this information in sentences.For example, if you take an infant to the zoo and say, “Look at the gorilla” while pointing at the cage, the infant may not know what exactly is being referred to. However, if you say, “Look! The gorilla is eating,” the infant can use the word that they do know — “eating” — to conclude that “gorilla” must refer to the animal and not, for example, the swing she is sitting on.The zoo scenario mirrors the method the researchers used for their experiment. First, infants at ages 15 and 19 months were shown several pairs of pictures on a large screen. Each pair included one new kind of animal and a non-living object. Next, the objects disappeared from view and infants overheard a conversation that included a new word, “blick.” Finally, the two objects re-appeared, and infants heard, for example, “Look at the blick.””After overhearing this new word in conversation, infants who hear a helpful sentence such as ‘the blick is eating’ should look more towards the animal than the other, non-living object,” said Brock Ferguson, a doctoral candidate in psychology at Northwestern and lead author of the study. “We show that by 19 months, they do just that. In contrast, if infants heard the new word in an unhelpful sentence such as ‘the blick is over here’ during the conversation, they don’t focus specifically on the animal because, after all, in this kind of sentence, ‘blick’ could mean anything.”The researchers said many people believe that word learning occurs only in clear teaching conditions — for example, when someone picks up an object, brings it to the baby, points to it and says its name. In fact, infants usually hear a new word for the first time under much more natural and complex circumstances such as the zoo example described.”What’s remarkable is that infants learned so much from hearing the conversation alone,” said Sandra Waxman, senior author of the study, the Louis W. …

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LGBT youth face greater cancer risks, study shows

A new study led by City College of New York psychologist Margaret Rosario found that youths of same-sex orientation are more likely to engage in behaviors associated with cancer risk than heterosexuals. The peer-reviewed findings appear in the February 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.Titled “Sexual Orientation Disparities in Cancer-Related Risk Behaviors of Tobacco, Alcohol, Sexual Behaviors, and Diet and Physical Activity: Pooled Youth Risk Behavior Surveys,” the study pooled YRBS (Youth Risk Behavior Survey) data from 2005 and 2007. The YRBS is a national survey of high school students conducted biennially.Dr. Rosario, professor of psychology in CCNY’s Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership and The Graduate Center, CUNY, and her research team then studied 12 cancer-risk behaviors in sexual minorities (youth with same-sex orientation) and heterosexuals in grades 9 through 12. Of an available sample of 65,871 youth, 7.6 percent were found to be a sexual minority.The 12 cancer-risk behaviors included tobacco use, drinking alcohol, early sex, multiple sexual partners, higher body mass index (BMI) and lack of exercise. The report found that for all 12, sexual minorities were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in the risky behavior.”Sexual minorities are at risk for cancer later in life, I suggest, from a host of behaviors that begin relatively early in life,” said Professor Rosario. “No sex or ethnic racial group is at greater risk or protected for these behaviors. Overall, the study underscores the need for early interventions.”Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by City College of New York. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Asian elephants reassure others in distress: First empirical evidence of consolation in elephants

Asian elephants console others who are in distress, using physical touches and vocalizations, finds a study to be published in the open access journal PeerJ. The findings are the first empirical evidence of consolation in elephants, says lead author Joshua Plotnik, who began the research as a graduate student of psychology at Emory University.”For centuries, people have observed that elephants seem to be highly intelligent and empathic animals, but as scientists we need to actually test it,” he says.Consolation behavior is rare in the animal kingdom, with empirical evidence previously provided only for the great apes, canines and certain corvids.”With their strong social bonds, it’s not surprising that elephants show concern for others,” says co-author Frans de Waal, an Emory professor of psychology and director of Living Links at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center. “This study demonstrates that elephants get distressed when they see others in distress, reaching out to calm them down, not unlike the way chimpanzees or humans embrace someone who is upset.”Plotnik received his Ph.D. from Emory in 2010 and is currently a lecturer in conservation biology at Mahidol University in Thailand and CEO of Think Elephants International, a non-profit focused on education and conservation. His main research interest is convergent cognitive evolution: The independent evolution of similar features of intelligence in species of different lineages.While Plotnik was still at Emory, he and de Waal provided evidence that elephants can both recognize themselves in a mirror — a test of self-awareness passed only by some apes, dolphins and magpies — and problem-solve cooperatively.”Humans are unique in many ways, but not in as many ways as we once thought,” Plotnik says.The current study focused on a group of 26 captive Asian elephants spread over about 30 acres at an elephant camp in northern Thailand. For nearly a year, the researchers observed and recorded incidents when an elephant displayed a stress reaction, and the responses from other nearby elephants.The initial stress responses came from either unobservable, or obvious, stimuli: Events such as a dog walking past, a snake or other potentially dangerous animal rustling the grass, or the presence of another, unfriendly elephant. “When an elephant gets spooked, its ears go out, its tail stands erect or curls out, and it may emit a low-frequency rumble, trumpet and roar to signal its distress,” Plotnik says.The study found that nearby elephants affiliated significantly more with a distressed individual through directed, physical contact following a stress event than during control periods. As a typical example, a nearby elephant would go to the side of the distressed animal and use its trunk to gently touch its face, or put its trunk in the other animal’s mouth.The gesture of putting their trunks in each other’s mouths is almost like an elephant handshake or hug, Plotnik says. “It’s a very vulnerable position to put yourself in, because you could get bitten. It may be sending a signal of, ‘I’m here to help you, not hurt you.'”The responding elephants also showed a tendency to vocalize. …

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Dreams, déjà vu and delusions caused by faulty ‘reality testing’

New research from the University of Adelaide has delved into the reasons why some people are unable to break free of their delusions, despite overwhelming evidence explaining the delusion isn’t real.In a new paper published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, University of Adelaide philosopher Professor Philip Gerrans says dreams and delusions have a common link — they are associated with faulty “reality testing” in the brain’s higher order cognitive systems.”Normally this ‘reality testing’ in the brain monitors a ‘story telling’ system which generates a narrative of people’s experience,” Professor Gerrans says.”A simple example of normal reality testing is the person who gets a headache, immediately thinks they might have a brain tumor, then dismisses that thought and moves on. Their story episode ‘I might have brain cancer’ gets tested and quickly rejected.”In someone who has problems with reality testing, that story might persist and may even be elaborated and translated into action. Such people can experience immense mental health difficulties, even to the point of becoming a threat to themselves or to others,” he says.In his paper, Professor Gerrans discusses delusions triggered by feelings of familiarity and unfamiliarity, such as the “Capgras delusion” — the delusion of “doubles.” One example is of a man who, after serious head injury following a motor vehicle accident, returned home from the hospital after a year only to state repeatedly that his family had been replaced by impostors.”His family looked familiar but didn’t feel familiar, and the story in his head made sense of that feeling. It didn’t matter how much people tried to point out that his family was the same, in his mind they had been completely replaced by impostors,” Professor Gerrans says.He says in the “Fregoli delusion,” people think they’re being followed by a familiar person in disguise as a way of coping with a feeling of familiarity evoked by seeing a stranger.”People also experience feelings of familiarity and unfamiliarity in dj vu — a sense that a new place is strangely familiar, and the reverse, jamais vu — a sense of extreme unfamiliarity evoked by a familiar place. However, such feelings do not lead to delusion in people whose reality testing is intact.”Professor Gerrans says better understanding this reality testing system could help to improve outcomes for people living with such difficulties.”Trying to treat someone experiencing these delusions by telling them the truth is not necessarily going to help, so new strategies need to be developed to assist them. Ultimately, that’s the aim of this work — to help explain the nature of reality testing in order to help people find a way of working through or around their delusions so that the delusions no longer adversely affect their lives.”Professor Gerrans’s new book, The Measure of Madness. Philosophy and Cognitive Neuropsychiatry (MIT Press), will be published this year.What’s the difference between a dream, a delusion and an hallucination? Professor Gerrans explains:Dream: The images, sensations and thoughts we experience during sleep. In dreams we simply have experiences, we don’t have beliefs about experience because “reality testing” systems are not active.Delusion: An irrational belief at odds with reality maintained in the face of obvious contrary evidence and logical argument.Hallucination: The apparent perception of an object not actually present.Dj vu: The feeling that you have previously experienced a situation which is in fact unfamiliar. Caused by an erroneous “sense of familiarity.”Jamais vu: The feeling that a familiar situation has not been experienced before. …

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Wealthy neighborhoods fuel materialistic desires, study says

Where you live could affect whether or not you spend compulsively, according to new research from San Francisco State University published today in the Journal of Consumer Culture.Individuals who live in wealthy neighborhoods are more likely to have materialistic values and poor spending habits, the study says, particularly if they are young, living in urban areas and relatively poor compared with their surroundings. The study is the first to show a connection between neighborhood socioeconomic status and materialism.The reason for the link, said co-author and SF State Associate Professor of Psychology Ryan Howell, may have to do with “relative deprivation,” or the feeling someone gets when they believe they are less well-off than those around them. If someone is bombarded with images or reminders of wealth, such as an abundance of investment banks nearby or neighbors driving luxury cars, they are likelier to feel a need to spend money they may not have to project an image of wealth they don’t actually possess.”People who live in more affluent areas are vulnerable to this implicit social comparison, where you start to see other people spending a lot of money,” Howell said. “Because you feel the need to live up to that standard, you end up impulsively buying material items, even though they don’t actually make you happier.”To conduct the study, researchers determined a neighborhood’s socioeconomic status by looking at its per-capita income and poverty rate as well as the number of financial institutions present. That information was compared with survey data measuring participants’ materialistic values, views about money and spending, and savings habits. After controlling for age, gender and individual socioeconomic status, researchers found residents of wealthier neighborhoods were likelier to be materialistic, spend compulsively and manage their money poorly than those living in less well-off areas.The effect was seen especially in younger people, who Howell said tend to be more materialistic in general, those who live in urban areas, where residents are exposed to a larger socioeconomic spectrum, and those whose individual socioeconomic status is lower than their neighborhood’s. Conversely, someone with a high individual socioeconomic status was less susceptible to such behavior.”We did find that individual socioeconomic status is negatively correlated with materialism, so the more money you have for yourself, the less materialistic you are,” said Jia Wei Zhang, lead author of the study and current University of California, Berkeley graduate student who conducted the research with Howell while an undergraduate at SF State. “But it doesn’t fully negate the effect of a wealthy neighborhood. Regardless of how much someone is worth in general, the richer their neighborhood, the more likely they are to be materialistic, independent of their own socioeconomic status.”The next step in the research, Howell said, is to explore whether there are ways to counter a neighborhood’s effect on an individual’s materialistic values. This could be done simply by making more people aware of the correlation, or through interventions developed to make people feel more grateful for their status. …

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Loneliness is a major health risk for older adults

Feeling extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14 percent, according to research by John Cacioppo, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago.Cacioppo and his colleagues’ work shows that the impact of loneliness on premature death is nearly as strong as the impact of disadvantaged socioeconomic status, which they found increases the chances of dying early by 19 percent. A 2010 meta-analysis showed that loneliness has twice the impact on early death as does obesity, he said.Cacioppo, the Tiffany & Margaret Blake Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology at the University, joined other scholars at a seminar on “The Science of Resilient Aging” Feb. 16 at the American Association for the Advancement of Science Annual meeting in Chicago.The researchers looked at dramatic differences in the rate of decline in physical and mental health as people age. Cacioppo and colleagues have examined the role of satisfying relationships on older people to develop their resilience, the ability to bounce back after adversity and grow from stresses in life.The consequences to health are dramatic, as feeling isolated from others can disrupt sleep, elevate blood pressure, increase morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol, alter gene expression in immune cells, and increase depression and lower overall subjective well-being, Cacioppo pointed out in a talk, “Rewarding Social Connections Promote Successful Aging.”Cacioppo, one of the nation’s leading experts on loneliness, said older people can avoid the consequences of loneliness by staying in touch with former co-workers, taking part in family traditions, and sharing good times with family and friends — all of which gives older adults a chance to connect others about whom they care and who care about them.”Retiring to Florida to live in a warmer climate among strangers isn’t necessarily a good idea if it means you are disconnected from the people who mean the most to you,” said Cacioppo. Population changes make understanding the role of loneliness and health all the more important, he explained.”We are experiencing a silver tsunami demographically. The baby boomers are reaching retirement age. Each day between 2011 and 2030, an average of 10,000 people will turn 65,” he said. “People have to think about how to protect themselves from depression, low subjective well-being and early mortality.”Although some people are happy to be alone, most people thrive from social situations in which they provide mutual support and develop strong rapport. Evolution encouraged people to work together to survive and accordingly most people enjoy companionship over being alone.Research by Cacioppo and his colleagues has identified three core dimensions to healthy relationships — intimate connectedness, which comes from having someone in your life you feel affirms who you are; relational connectedness, which comes from having face-to-face contacts that are mutually rewarding; and collective connectedness, which comes from feeling that you’re part of a group or collective beyond individual existence.It is not solitude or physical isolation itself, but rather the subjective sense of isolation that Cacioppo’s work shows to be so profoundly disruptive. Older people living alone are not necessary lonely if they remain socially engaged and enjoy the company of those around them. …

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Even fact will not change first impressions

Knowledge is power, yet new research suggests that a person’s appearance alone can trump knowledge. First impressions are so powerful that they can override what we are told about people. A new study found that even when told whether a person was gay or straight, participants generally identified the person’s sexual orientation based on how they looked — even if it contradicted the facts presented to them.”We judge books by their covers, and we can’t help but do it,” says Nicholas Rule of the University of Toronto. “With effort, we can overcome this to some extent, but we are continually tasked with needing to correct ourselves.” The less time we have to make our judgments, the more likely we are to go with our gut, even over fact, he says.A series of recent studies, presented today at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) annual conference in Austin, shows that appearance shapes everything from whether we ultimately end up liking someone to our assessment of their sexual orientation or trustworthiness. And researchers say that whether a first impression occurs online versus in person is important. While we may be able to size up someone’s personality from a Facebook photo, it will often be more negative impression than one formed face-to-face.Appearance trumps fact”As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed,” Rule says. “This happens so quickly — just a small fraction of a second — that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know.”In the study on first impressions of sexual orientation, Rule and colleagues showed 100 participants photos of 20 men, identifying them either as gay or straight. The photos had been previously coded based on a consensus opinion on whether the men “looked” gay or straight, which accurately matched to their real-life sexual orientations. The researchers then tested participants’ recall of the men’s sexual orientations several times to ensure perfect memorization.After this learning phase, the researchers then showed participants the faces again, varying the amount of time they had to categorize the men’s sexual orientations. The less time they had to categorize the faces, the more likely the participants were to categorize the men according to whether they looked gay or straight rather than what they had been told about their sexuality. …

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What do women want? It depends on time of month

If she loves you and then she loves you not, don’t blame the petals of that daisy. Blame evolution.UCLA researchers analyzed dozens of published and unpublished studies on how women’s preferences for mates change throughout the menstrual cycle. Their findings suggest that ovulating women have evolved to prefer mates who display sexy traits — such as a masculine body type and facial features, dominant behavior and certain scents — but not traits typically desired in long-term mates.So, desires for those masculine characteristics, which are thought to have been markers of high genetic quality in our male ancestors, don’t last all month — just the few days in a woman’s cycle when she is most likely to pass on genes that, eons ago, might have increased the odds of her offspring surviving and reproducing.”Women sometimes get a bad rap for being fickle, but the changes they experience are not arbitrary,” said Martie Haselton, a professor of psychology and communication studies at UCLA and the paper’s senior author. “Women experience intricately patterned preference shifts even though they might not serve any function in the present.”The findings will appear online this month in Psychological Bulletin, which is published by the American Psychological Association.Whether women’s mate preferences shift at high fertility has been a source of debate since the late 1990s, when the first scholarly studies to hint at such a change appeared. Since then, several papers have failed to replicate the early studies’ results, casting doubt on the hypothesis.Haselton and Kelly Gildersleeve, a UCLA doctoral candidate in psychology and the study’s lead author, spent three years attempting to resolve the controversy. They solicited raw data from dozens of scholars who have conducted research on the topic and then translated the data from 50 studies into the same mathematical format so that the findings could be statistically analyzed together.The strength of women’s preference shift proved to be statistically significant, although “small” to “medium” in size, relative to most findings in the field. As a point of comparison, the size of the shift was statistically comparable to the difference researchers have found between men’s and women’s self-reported number of heterosexual sex partners (with men reporting more sex partners).The findings are less clear, however, about which male characteristics are most alluring to ovulating women. But women’s responses to male body scents could be capable of producing the strongest effects, Haselton said.In the few scent studies conducted so far, researchers asked women to smell T-shirts that had been worn by men with varying degrees of body and facial symmetry. (Across a large body of research on many different animals, body and facial symmetry are associated with larger body size, more pronounced sexual “ornaments” such as the attractive plumage on male birds, and better health, suggesting that symmetry could be an indicator of genetic quality.) Women preferred the odors of more symmetrical men when in the fertile portions of their cycles. The UCLA meta-analysis likewise showed a large shift in women’s preference for the body odor of symmetrical men, although more studies are needed to determine whether this effect is robust.Haselton, who is based in UCLA’s College of Letters and Science, is one of a handful of pioneers in research on behavioral changes at ovulation. …

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Another reason to not mix work, family: Money makes parenting less meaningful, study suggests

Money and parenting don’t mix. That’s according to new research that suggests that merely thinking about money diminishes the meaning people derive from parenting. The study is one among a growing number that identifies when, why, and how parenthood is associated with happiness or misery.”The relationship between parenthood and well-being is not one and the same for all parents,” says Kostadin Kushlev of the University of British Columbia. While this may seems like an obvious claim, social scientists until now have yet to identify the psychological and demographic factors that influence parental happiness.New research being presented today at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) conference in Austin offers not only insight into the link between money and parental well-being but also a new model for understanding a variety of factors that affect whether parents are happier or less happy than their childless counterparts.Money creates conflicting goalsFascinated by research suggesting that parenting is linked to lower well-being, Kushlev and his adviser Elizabeth Dunn sought to determine which aspects of life might influence how much pleasure and pain people got out of being parents. They specifically looked at the influence of wealth on meaning in parenthood.In one recently published study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, they found that a having a higher socioeconomic status lowers people’s sense of meaning while taking care of their children but not during other daily activities. In a field study in the same paper, they found that showing people images of money while filling out a questionnaire at a festival with their children also reduced their levels of meaning in life.In a new study, the researchers took the research a step further — showing some participants money while testing the influence of parents’ objectives when they were taking care of their children at a festival. The researchers asked one group of parents to read a paragraph about the festival in terms of productivity and achievement, while another group read about the festival in the context of satisfying the needs of their children with no expectation for direct return. They then surveyed both groups about parenting and sense of meaning. “This design allowed us to see whether money compromises meaning because of the conflict between the goals associated with money and the goals and the behaviors that parenting normally demands,” Kushlev says.They found that activating goals for both money-making and satisfying the needs of their children at the same time did indeed form a conflict: It made parents feel that what they were doing was less meaningful.Furthermore, they found this effect most pronounced in women. “Money seems to compromise meaning for mothers but not for fathers when they are spending time with their children,” Kushlev says. …

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‘Smelling’ with our eyes: Descriptions affect odor perception

According to Simona Manescu and Johannes Frasnelli of the University of Montreal’s Department of Psychology, an odour is judged differently depending on whether it is accompanied by a positive or negative description when it is smelled. When associated with a pleasant label, we enjoy the odour more than when it is presented with a negative label. To put it another way, we also smell with our eyes!This was demonstrated by researchers in a study recently published in the journal Chemical Senses.For their study, they recruited 50 participants who were asked to smell the odours of four odorants (essential oil of pine, geraniol, cumin, as well as parmesan cheese). Each odour (administered through a mask) was randomly presented with a positive or negative label displayed on a computer screen. In this way, pine oil was presented either with the label “Pine Needles” or the label “Old Solvent”; geraniol was presented with the label “Fresh Flowers” or “Cheap Perfume”; cumin was presented with the label “Indian Food” or “Dirty Clothes; and finally, parmesan cheese was presented with the label of either the cheese or dried vomit.The result was that all participants rated the four odours more positively when they were presented with positive labels than when presented with negative labels. Specifically, participants described the odours as pleasant and edible (even those associated with non-food items) when associated with positive labels. Conversely, the same odours were considered unpleasant and inedible when associated with negative labels — even the food odours. “It shows that odour perception is not objective: it is affected by the cognitive interpretation that occurs when one looks at a label,” says Manescu. “Moreover, this is the first time we have been able to influence the edibility perception of an odour, even though the positive and negative labels accompanying the odours showed non-food words,” adds Frasnelli.This finding indicates that the perceived edibility of an odour can be manipulated by a description, and that olfactory perception may be driven by a top-down (or directive) cognitive process.Reaction times also affected by odoursVarious studies have shown that odours affect the reaction times of individuals. Thus, unpleasant odours cause rapid reactions (recoil, for example), while pleasant odours cause slower reactions. …

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Pinpointing the brain’s arbitrator: Reliability weighed before brain centers given control

We tend to be creatures of habit. In fact, the human brain has a learning system that is devoted to guiding us through routine, or habitual, behaviors. At the same time, the brain has a separate goal-directed system for the actions we undertake only after careful consideration of the consequences. We switch between the two systems as needed. But how does the brain know which system to give control to at any given moment? Enter The Arbitrator.Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have, for the first time, pinpointed areas of the brain — the inferior lateral prefrontal cortex and frontopolar cortex — that seem to serve as this “arbitrator” between the two decision-making systems, weighing the reliability of the predictions each makes and then allocating control accordingly. The results appear in the current issue of the journal Neuron.According to John O’Doherty, the study’s principal investigator and director of the Caltech Brain Imaging Center, understanding where the arbitrator is located and how it works could eventually lead to better treatments for brain disorders, such as drug addiction, and psychiatric disorders, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder. These disorders, which involve repetitive behaviors, may be driven in part by malfunctions in the degree to which behavior is controlled by the habitual system versus the goal-directed system.”Now that we have worked out where the arbitrator is located, if we can find a way of altering activity in this area, we might be able to push an individual back toward goal-directed control and away from habitual control,” says O’Doherty, who is also a professor of psychology at Caltech. “We’re a long way from developing an actual treatment based on this for disorders that involve over-egging of the habit system, but this finding has opened up a highly promising avenue for further research.”In the study, participants played a decision-making game on a computer while connected to a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner that monitored their brain activity. Participants were instructed to try to make optimal choices in order to gather coins of a certain color, which were redeemable for money.During a pre-training period, the subjects familiarized themselves with the game — moving through a series of on-screen rooms, each of which held different numbers of red, yellow, or blue coins. …

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Written all over your face: Humans express four basic emotions rather than six

Human beings are emotional creatures whose state of mind can usually be observed through their facial expressions.A commonly-held belief, first proposed by Dr Paul Ekman, posits there are six basic emotions which are universally recognized and easily interpreted through specific facial expressions, regardless of language or culture. These are: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.New research published in the journal Current Biology by scientists at the University of Glasgow has challenged this view, and suggested that there are only four basic emotions.Their conclusion was reached by studying the range of different muscles within the face — or Action Units as researchers refer to them — involved in signalling different emotions, as well as the time-frame over which each muscle was activated.This is the first such study to objectively examine the ‘temporal dynamics’ of facial expressions, made possible by using a unique Generative Face Grammar platform developed at the University of Glasgow.The team from the Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology claim that while the facial expression signals of happiness and sadness are clearly distinct across time, fear and surprise share a common signal — the wide open eyes — early in the signalling dynamics.Similarly, anger and disgust share the wrinkled nose. It is these early signals that could represent more basic danger signals. Later in the signalling dynamics, facial expressions transmit signals that distinguish all six ‘classic’ facial expressions of emotion.Lead researcher Dr Rachael Jack said: “Our results are consistent with evolutionary predictions, where signals are designed by both biological and social evolutionary pressures to optimize their function.”First, early danger signals confer the best advantages to others by enabling the fastest escape. Secondly, physiological advantages for the expresser — the wrinkled nose prevents inspiration of potentially harmful particles, whereas widened eyes increases intake of visual information useful for escape — are enhanced when the face movements are made early.”What our research shows is that not all facial muscles appear simultaneously during facial expressions, but rather develop over time supporting a hierarchical biologically-basic to socially-specific information over time.”In compiling their research the team used special techniques and software developed at the University of Glasgow to synthesize all facial expressions.The Generative Face Grammar — developed by Professor Philippe Schyns, Dr Oliver Garrod and Dr Hui Yu — uses cameras to capture a three-dimensional image of faces of individuals specially trained to be able to activate all 42 individual facial muscles independently.From this a computer can then generate specific or random facial expressions on a 3D model based on the activation of different Actions Units or groups of units to mimic all facial expressions.By asking volunteers to observe the realistic model as it pulled various expressions — thereby providing a true four-dimensional experience — and state which emotion was being expressed the researchers are able to see which specific Action Units observers associate with particular emotions.It was through this method they found that the signals for fear/surprise and anger/disgust were confused at the early stage of transmission and only became clearer later when other Action Units were activated.Dr Jack said: “Our research questions the notion that human emotion communication comprises six basic, psychologically irreducible categories. Instead we suggest there are four basic expressions of emotion.”We show that ‘basic’ facial expression signals are perceptually segmented across time and follow an evolving hierarchy of signals over time — from the biologically-rooted basic signals to more complex socially-specific signals.”Over time, and as humans migrated across the globe, socioecological diversity probably further specialized once-common facial expressions, altering the number, variety and form of signals across cultures.”The researchers intend to develop their study by looking at facial expressions of different cultures, including East Asian populations whom they have already ascertained interpret some of the six classical emotions differently — placing more emphasis on eye signals than mouth movements compared to Westerners.

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Theatre offers promise for youth with autism

Oct. 22, 2013 — A novel autism intervention program using theatre to teach reciprocal communication skills is improving social deficits in adolescents with the disorder that now affects an estimated one in 88 children, Vanderbilt University researchers released today in the journal Autism Research.The newly released study assessed the effectiveness of a two-week theatre camp on children with autism spectrum disorder and found significant improvements were made in social perception, social cognition and home living skills by the end of the camp. There were also positive changes in the participants’ physiological stress and reductions in self-reported parental stress.Called SENSE Theatre, the Social Emotional Neuroscience & Endocrinology (SENSE) program evaluates the social functioning of children with autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders.Camp participants ages 8 to 17 years join with typically developing peers who are specially trained to serve as models for social interaction and communication, skills that are difficult for children with autism. The camp uses techniques such as role-play and improvisation and culminates in public performances of a play.”The findings show that treatment can be delivered in an unconventional setting, and children with autism can learn from unconventional ‘interventionists’ — their typically developing peer,” said lead author Blythe Corbett, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center investigator.Social perception and interaction skills were measured before and after the camp using neuropsychological measures, play with peers and parental reporting. Significant differences were found in face processing, social awareness and social cognition, and duration of interaction with familiar peers increased significantly over the course of the camp.Additionally, the stress hormone cortisol was measured through saliva samples taken both at home and throughout the camp to compare the stress level of participants at home, at the beginning of the camp and at the end of the camp. Cortisol levels rose on the first day of camp when compared to home values but declined by the end of treatment and during post-treatment play with peers.”Our findings show that the SENSE Theatre program contributes to improvement in core social deficits when engaging with peers both on and off the stage,” Corbett said. “This research also shows it’s never too late to make a significant difference in the lives of children and youth with autism spectrum disorder, as [this program] targets children who are much older than kids who are participating in early intervention, yet we are still seeing significant gains in the core deficits of autism, and in a rather brief intervention.”This research was supported by the Martin McCoy-Jesperson Discovery Grant in Positive Psychology and a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant No. R01 MH085717).Corbett will continue using theatre techniques to study areas of social functioning among children with autism through a newly awarded grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (Grant No. R34 MH097793). This forthcoming study will explore treatment length and peer familiarity as factors in optimizing and generalizing gains and will enroll more than 30 youth with autism ages 8 to 16 in a 10-week program model beginning January 2014.

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