1. A 48-hour sexual ‘afterglow’ helps to bond partners over time

    March 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Sex plays a central role in reproduction, and it can be pleasurable, but new findings suggest that it may serve an additional purpose: bonding partners together. A study of newlywed couples, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicates that partners experience a sexual ‘afterglow’ that lasts for up to two days, and this afterglow is linked with relationship quality over the long term.

    “Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex,” says psychological scientist Andrea Meltzer (Florida State University), lead author on the study. “And people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.”

    Researchers had theorized that sex plays a crucial role in pair bonding, but most adults report having sex with their partners every few days, not every day. Meltzer and colleagues hypothesized that sex might provide a short-term boost to sexual satisfaction, sustaining the pair bond in between sexual experiences and enhancing partners’ relationship satisfaction over the long term.

    To test their hypothesis, the researchers examined data from two independent, longitudinal studies, one with 96 newlywed couples and another with 118 newlywed couples. All of the couples had completed at least three consecutive days of a 14-day daily diary as part of a larger study.

    Every night, before going to bed, the newlyweds were asked to report independently whether they had sex with their partner that day. Regardless of the answer, they were also asked to rate how satisfied they were with their sex life that day and how satisfied they were with their partner, their relationship, and their marriage that day (on a 7-point scale, where 1 = not at all, 7 = extremely).

    The partners also completed three measures of marriage quality at the beginning of the study and again at a follow-up session about 4 to 6 months later.

    On average, participants reported having sex on 4 of the 14 days of the study, though answers varied considerably across participants.

    Importantly, sex on a given day was linked with lingering sexual satisfaction over time. Having sex on a given day was linked with sexual satisfaction that same day, which was linked with sexual satisfaction the next day and even two days later. In other words, participants continued to report elevated sexual satisfaction 48 hours after a single act of sex. Importantly, this association did not differ according to participants’ gender or age, and it held even after sexual frequency, personality traits, length of relationship and other factors were taken into account.

    Overall, participants’ marital satisfaction declined between the beginning of the study and the follow-up session 4 to 6 months later. But participants who reported relatively high levels of sexual afterglow seemed to fare better relative to their peers, reporting higher initial marital satisfaction and less steep declines in satisfaction across the first 4 to 6 months of marriage.

    The same pattern of effects emerged in the two independent studies, providing robust evidence for sexual afterglow, Meltzer and colleagues note. Together, the findings suggest that sex is linked with relationship quality over time through the lingering effects of sexual satisfaction.

    “This research is important because it joins other research suggesting that sex functions to keep couples pair bonded,” Meltzer concludes.


  2. Spiritual retreats change feel-good chemical systems in the brain

    by Ashley

    From the Thomas Jefferson University press release:

    More Americans than ever are turning to spiritual, meditative and religious retreats as a way to reset their daily life and enhance wellbeing. Now, researchers at The Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University show there are changes in the dopamine and serotonin systems in the brains of retreat participants. The team published their results in Religion, Brain & Behavior.

    “Since serotonin and dopamine are part of the reward and emotional systems of the brain, it helps us understand why these practices result in powerful, positive emotional experiences,” said Andrew Newberg, M.D., Director of Research in the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health. “Our study showed significant changes in dopamine and serotonin transporters after the seven-day retreat, which could help prime participants for the spiritual experiences that they reported.”

    The post-retreat scans revealed decreases in dopamine transporter (5-8 percent) and serotonin transporter (6.5 percent) binding, which could make more of the neurotransmitters available to the brain. This is associated with positive emotions and spiritual feelings. In particular, dopamine is responsible for mediating cognition, emotion and movement, while serotonin is involved in emotional regulation and mood.

    The study, funded by the Fetzer Institute, included 14 Christian participants ranging in age from 24 to 76. They attended an Ignatian retreat based on the spiritual exercises developed by St. Ignatius Loyola who founded the Jesuits. Following a morning mass, participants spent most of the day in silent contemplation, prayer and reflection and attended a daily meeting with a spiritual director for guidance and insights. After returning, study subjects also completed a number of surveys which showed marked improvements in their perceived physical health, tension and fatigue. They also reported increased feelings of self-transcendence which correlated to the change in dopamine binding.

    “In some ways, our study raises more questions than it answers,” said Dr. Newberg. “Our team is curious about which aspects of the retreat caused the changes in the neurotransmitter systems and if different retreats would produce different results. Hopefully, future studies can answer these questions.”


  3. Low levels of ‘anti-anxiety’ hormone linked to postpartum depression

    March 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Johns Hopkins Medicine press release:

    In a small-scale study of women with previously diagnosed mood disorders, Johns Hopkins researchers report that lower levels of the hormone allopregnanolone in the second trimester of pregnancy were associated with an increased chance of developing postpartum depression in women already known to be at risk for the disorder.

    In a report on the study, published online on March 7 in Psychoneuroendocrinology, the researchers say the findings could lead to diagnostic markers and preventive strategies for the condition, which strikes an estimated 15 to 20 percent of American women who give birth.

    The researchers caution that theirs was an observational study in women already diagnosed with a mood disorder and/or taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers, and does not establish cause and effect between the progesterone metabolite and postpartum depression. But it does, they say, add to evidence that hormonal disruptions during pregnancy point to opportunities for intervention.

    Postpartum depression affects early bonding between the mother and child. Untreated, it has potentially devastating and even lethal consequences for both. Infants of women with the disorder may be neglected and have trouble eating, sleeping and developing normally, and an estimated 20 percent of postpartum maternal deaths are thought to be due to suicide, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

    “Many earlier studies haven’t shown postpartum depression to be tied to actual levels of pregnancy hormones, but rather to an individual’s vulnerability to fluctuations in these hormones, and they didn’t identify any concrete way to tell whether a woman would develop postpartum depression,” says Lauren M. Osborne, M.D., assistant director of the Johns Hopkins Women’s Mood Disorders Center and assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “For our study, we looked at a high-risk population of women already diagnosed with mood disorders and asked what might be making them more susceptible.”

    For the study, 60 pregnant women between the ages of 18 and 45 were recruited by investigators at study sites at The Johns Hopkins University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. About 70 percent were white and 21.5 percent were African-American. All women had been previously diagnosed with a mood disorder, such as major depression or bipolar disorder. Almost a third had been previously hospitalized due to complications from their mood disorder, and 73 percent had more than one mental illness.

    During the study, 76 percent of the participants used psychiatric medications, including antidepressants or mood stabilizers, and about 75 percent of the participants were depressed at some point during the investigation, either during the pregnancy or shortly thereafter.

    During the second trimester (about 20 weeks pregnant) and the third trimester (about 34 weeks pregnant), each participant took a mood test and gave 40 milliliters of blood. Forty participants participated in the second-trimester data collection, and 19 of these women, or 47.5 percent, developed postpartum depression at one or three months postpartum. The participants were assessed and diagnosed by a clinician using criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, version IV for a major depressive episode.

    Of the 58 women who participated in the third-trimester data collection, 25 of those women, or 43.1 percent, developed postpartum depression. Thirty-eight women participated in both trimester data collections.

    Using the blood samples, the researchers measured the blood levels of progesterone and allopregnanolone, a byproduct made from the breakdown of progesterone and known for its calming, anti-anxiety effects.

    The researchers found no relationship between progesterone levels in the second or third trimesters and the likelihood of developing postpartum depression. They also found no link between the third-trimester levels of allopregnanolone and postpartum depression. However, they did notice a link between postpartum depression and diminished levels of allopregnanolone levels in the second trimester.

    For example, according to the study data, a woman with an allopregnanolone level of 7.5 nanograms per milliliter had a 1.5 percent chance of developing postpartum depression. At half that level of hormone (about 3.75 nanograms per milliliter), a mother had a 33 percent likelihood of developing the disorder. For every additional nanogram per milliliter increase in allopregnanolone, the risk of developing postpartum depression dropped by 63 percent.

    “Every woman has high levels of certain hormones, including allopregnanolone, at the end of pregnancy, so we decided to look earlier in the pregnancy to see if we could tease apart small differences in hormone levels that might more accurately predict postpartum depression later,” says Osborne. She says that many earlier studies on postpartum depression focused on a less ill population, often excluding women whose symptoms were serious enough to warrant psychiatric medication — making it difficult to detect trends in those women most at risk.

    Because the study data suggest that higher levels of allopregnanolone in the second trimester seem to protect against postpartum depression, Osborne says in the future, her group hopes to study whether allopregnanolone can be used in women at risk to prevent postpartum depression. She says Johns Hopkins is one of several institutions currently participating in a clinical trial led by Sage Therapeutics that is looking at allopregnanolone as a treatment for postpartum depression.

    She also cautions that additional and larger studies are needed to determine whether women without mood disorders show the same patterns of allopregnanolone levels linked to postpartum depression risk.

    If those future studies confirm a similar impact, Osborne says, then tests for low levels of allopregnanolone in the second trimester could be used as a biomarker to predict those mothers who are at risk of developing postpartum depression.

    Osborne and her colleagues previously showed and replicated in Neuropsychopharmacology in 2016 that epigenetic modifications to two genes could be used as biomarkers to predict postpartum depression; these modifications target genes that work with estrogen receptors and are sensitive to hormones. These biomarkers were already about 80 percent effective at predicting postpartum depression, and Osborne hopes to examine whether combining allopregnanolone levels with the epigenetic biomarkers may improve the effectiveness of the tests to predict postpartum depression.

    Of note and seemingly contradictory, she says, many of the participants in the study developed postpartum depression while on antidepressants or mood stabilizers. The researchers say that the medication dosages weren’t prescribed by the study group and were monitored by the participant’s primary care physician, psychiatrist or obstetrician instead. “We believe that many, if not most, women who become pregnant are undertreated for their depression because many physicians believe that smaller doses of antidepressants are safer for the baby, but we don’t have any evidence that this is true,” says Osborne. “If the medication dose is too low and the mother relapses into depression during pregnancy or the postpartum period, then the baby will be exposed to both the drugs and the mother’s illness.”

    Osborne and her team are currently analyzing the medication doses used by women in this study to determine whether those given adequate doses of antidepressants were less likely to develop symptoms in pregnancy or in postpartum.

    Only 15 percent of women with postpartum depression are estimated to ever receive professional treatment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many physicians don’t screen for it, and there is a stigma for mothers. A mother who asks for help may be seen as incapable of handling her situation as a mother, or may be criticized by friends or family for taking a medication during or shortly after pregnancy.


  4. Emotional intelligence helps make better doctors

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Loyola University Health System press release:

    Among the qualities that go into making an excellent physician is emotional intelligence.

    Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and to use this awareness to manage your behavior and relationships.

    Emotional intelligence plays a big role in determining a physician’s bedside manner. It helps make patients more trusting, which in turn leads to better doctor-patient relationships, increased patient satisfaction and better patient compliance. Emotional intelligence also can help make physicians more resilient to the stresses of the profession and less likely to experience burnout.

    Loyola University Medical Center is among the centers that are studying emotional intelligence in physicians as a way to improve patient care and physicians’ well-being. In a new study for example, Loyola researchers report that physicians-in-training scored in the high range of emotional intelligence.

    The young physicians as a group had a median score of 110 on an emotional intelligence survey, which is considered in the high range. (The average score for the general population is 100.) The physicians scored the highest in the subcategories of impulse control (114), empathy (113) and social responsibility (112) and lowest in assertiveness (102), flexibility (102) and independence (101).

    The study by Ramzan Shahid, MD, Jerold Stirling, MD, and William Adams, MA, is published in the Journal of Contemporary Medical Education. Dr. Shahid is an associate professor and director of the pediatric residency program. Dr. Stirling is professor and chair of Loyola’s department of pediatrics. Mr. Adams is a biostatistician in the health sciences division of Loyola University Chicago.

    There have been previous studies of emotional intelligence among physicians, but most studies have not included pediatric residents. To address this need, the Loyola study enrolled 31 pediatric and 16 med-peds residents at Loyola. (A resident is a physician who, following medical school, practices in a hospital under the supervision of an attending physician. A pediatric residency lasts three years. A med-peds residency, which combines pediatrics and internal medicine, lasts four years.)

    The residents completed the Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory 2.0, a validated 133-item online survey that assesses emotional intelligence skills.

    Residents in their third and fourth years of training scored higher in assertiveness (109) than residents in their first and second years (100). This could be related to the acquisition of new knowledge and skills and increased self-confidence as residents progress in their training.

    But first- and second-year residents scored higher in empathy (115.5) than third- and fourth-year senior residents (110). “One could hypothesize: Does a resident’s level of assertiveness increase at the cost of losing empathy?” the authors wrote.

    There were no differences in emotional intelligence composite scores between males and females or between pediatric and med-peds residents.

    The study is titled, “Assessment of emotional intelligence in pediatric and med-peds residents.”

    Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence can be taught. “Educational interventions to improve resident emotional intelligence scores should focus on the areas of independence, assertiveness and empathy,” the authors wrote. “These interventions should help them become assertive but should ensure they do not lose empathy.”

    The Loyola pediatrics and med-peds residents recently went through an emotional intelligence educational program that consisted of four hours of workshops. Initial data show the intervention has increased residents’ emotional intelligence scores, including the subcomponents related to stress management and wellness.


  5. To understand others’ minds, ‘being’ them beats reading them

    March 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    We tend to believe that people telegraph how they‘re feeling through facial expressions and body language and we only need to watch them to know what they’re experiencing — but new research shows we’d get a much better idea if we put ourselves in their shoes instead. The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “People expected that they could infer another’s emotions by watching him or her, when in fact they were more accurate when
    they were actually in the same situation as the other person
    . And this bias persisted even after our participants gained firsthand experience with both strategies,” explain study authors Haotian Zhou (Shanghai Tech University) and Nicholas Epley (University of Chicago).

    To explore out how we go about understanding others’ minds, Zhou, Epley, and co-author Elizabeth Majka (Elmhurst College) decided to focus on two potential mechanisms: theorization and simulation. When we theorize about someone’s experience, we observe their actions and make inferences based on our observations. When we simulate someone’s experience, we use our own experience of the same situation as a guide.

    Based on previous research showing that people tend to assume that our feelings ‘leak out’ through our behavior, Zhou, Epley, and Majka hypothesized that people would overestimate the usefulness of theorizing about another person’s experience. And given that we tend to think that individual experiences are unique, the researchers also hypothesized that people would underestimate the usefulness of simulating another person’s experience.

    In one experiment, the researchers asked 12 participants to look at a series of 50 pictures that varied widely in emotional content, from very negative to positive. A webcam recorded their faces as these “experiencers” rated their emotional feelings for each picture. The researchers then brought in a separate group of 73 participants and asked them to predict the experiencers’ ratings for each picture. Some of these “predictors” simulated the experience, looking at each picture; others theorized about the experience, looking at the webcam recording of the experiencer; and a third group were able to simulate and theorize at the same time, looking at both the picture and accompanying recording.

    The results revealed that the predictors were much more accurate when they saw the pictures just as the experiencer had than they were when they saw the recording of the experiencer’s face. Interestingly, seeing both the picture and the recording simultaneously yielded no additional benefit — being able to simulate the experience seemed to underlie participants’ accuracy.

    Despite this, people didn’t seem to appreciate the benefit of simulation. In a second experiment, only about half of the predictors who were allowed to choose a strategy opted to use simulation. As before, predictors who simulated the rating experience were much more accurate in predicting the experiencer’s feelings, regardless of whether they chose that strategy or were assigned to it.

    In a third experiment, the researchers allowed for dynamic choice, assuming that predictors may increase in accuracy over time if they were able to choose their strategy before each trial. The results showed, once again, that simulation was the better strategy across the board — still, participants who had the ability to choose opted to simulate only about 48% of the time.

    A fourth experiment revealed that simulation was the better strategy even when experiencers had been told to make their reactions as expressive and “readable’ as possible.

    “Our most surprising finding was that people committed the same mistakes when trying to understand themselves,” Zhou and Epley note.

    Participants in a fifth experiment expected they would be more accurate if they got to watch the expressions they had made while looking at emotional pictures one month earlier — but the findings showed they were actually better at estimating how they had felt if they simply viewed the pictures again.

    “They dramatically overestimated how much their own face would reveal, and underestimated the accuracy they would glean from being in their own past shoes again,” the researchers explain.

    Although reading other people’s mental states is an essential part of everyday life, these experiments show that we don’t always pick the best strategy for the task.

    According to Zhou and Epley, these findings help to shed light on the tactics that people use to understand each other.

    “Only by understanding why our inferences about each other sometimes go astray can we learn how to understand each other better,” the researchers conclude.


  6. More social connection online tied to increasing feelings of isolation

    March 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences press release:

    The more time a young adult uses social media, the more likely they are to feel socially isolated, according to a national analysis led by University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists. In addition to the time spent online, the scientists found that frequency of use was associated with increased social isolation.

    The finding, published today in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, suggests that use of social media does not present a panacea to help reduce perceived social isolation — when a person lacks a sense of social belonging, true engagement with others and fulfilling relationships. In the past, social isolation has been independently associated with an increased risk for mortality.

    “This is an important issue to study because mental health problems and social isolation are at epidemic levels among young adults,” said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health, and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “We are inherently social creatures, but modern life tends to compartmentalize us instead of bringing us together. While it may seem that social media presents opportunities to fill that social void, I think this study suggests that it may not be the solution people were hoping for.”

    In 2014, Primack and his colleagues sampled 1,787 U.S. adults ages 19 through 32, using questionnaires to determine time and frequency of social media use by asking about the 11 most popular social media platforms at the time: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

    The scientists measured participants’ perceived social isolation using a validated assessment tool called the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System.

    Even when the researchers controlled for a variety of social and demographic factors, participants who used social media more than two hours a day had twice the odds for perceived social isolation than their peers who spent less than half an hour on social media each day. And participants who visited various social media platforms 58 or more times per week had about triple the odds of perceived social isolation than those who visited fewer than nine times per week.

    We do not yet know which came first — the social media use or the perceived social isolation,” said senior author Elizabeth Miller, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics at Pitt and chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. “It’s possible that young adults who initially felt socially isolated turned to social media. Or it could be that their increased use of social media somehow led to feeling isolated from the real world. It also could be a combination of both. But even if the social isolation came first, it did not seem to be alleviated by spending time online, even in purportedly social situations.”

    The researchers have several theories for how increased use of social media could fuel feelings of social isolation, including:

    • Social media use displaces more authentic social experiences because the more time a person spends online, the less time there is for real-world interactions.
    • Certain characteristics of social media facilitate feelings of being excluded, such as when one sees photos of friends having fun at an event to which they were not invited.
    • Exposure to highly idealized representations of peers’ lives on social media sites may elicit feelings of envy and the distorted belief that others lead happier and more successful lives.

    Primack, a family medicine physician, and Miller, a pediatrician, both encourage doctors to ask patients about their social media use and counsel them in reducing that use if it seems linked to symptoms of social isolation. However, they noted, much more study is needed to understand nuances around social media use.

    “People interact with each other over social media in many different ways,” said Primack, also a professor of medicine, pediatrics, and clinical and translational science at Pitt. “In a large population-based study such as this, we report overall tendencies that may or may not apply to each individual. I don’t doubt that some people using certain platforms in specific ways may find comfort and social connectedness via social media relationships. However, the results of this study simply remind us that, on the whole, use of social media tends to be associated with increased social isolation and not decreased social isolation.”


  7. Factors that build or break trust when patients access their mental health providers’ notes

    by Ashley

    From the Veterans Affairs Research Communications press release:

    Thanks to electronic health records and online portals, more and more patients are being given access to the notes their clinicians write about their health care visits. Research suggests this national movement, known as “OpenNotes,” can empower patients and boost communication and shared decision-making. But what about mental health visits? Experts have been unsure whether this area is equally likely to benefit.

    Now, a small study from one Veterans Affairs medical center offers insight into the potential for OpenNotes to help — or hurt — patients’ trust in their mental health clinicians.

    “We found that reading mental health notes may strengthen as well as strain patient-clinician relationships by enhancing or undermining trust,” wrote the authors in a report posted online Feb. 1, 2017, in Psychiatric Services.

    The study was led by a group from the Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC), at the VA Portland Health Care System in Oregon. VA has been studying the benefits and risks of OpenNotes and other pilot features in VA’s MyHealtheVet patient portal. VA became one of the first health systems in the nation to offer OpenNotes access, in 2013. Patients access their notes through the Blue Button feature in MyHealtheVet.

    The new study involved interviews with 28 patients. The group included male and female veterans of various ages, with diagnoses ranging from depression and PTSD to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Patients in the study were being treated by psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health therapists.

    Among the positive themes that emerged in the interviews:

    • Patients appreciated seeing consistency between what had occurred during their appointments and what they later viewed in the clinical notes. Such transparency was important in fostering trust. They liked it, for example, when their clinicians had openly and directly discussed a diagnosis with them before documenting it in the record.
    • They felt respected, and reported greater trust, when the notes showed evidence that their clinicians had truly listened to and understood their personal stories, and had taken note of their individual strengths. One patient said he felt he was “not just a repeat from the last PTSD person [the clinician] talked to, but an individual with PTSD.”

    In contrast, there were several elements that provoked dismay among the patients in the study:

    • They disliked incongruity between what happened in their sessions and what was stated in the notes. They objected to gaps in information, incorrect details, and outdated material that had been copied and pasted in. Some worried that such errors could negatively affect their care from other providers.
    • Many patients said they were upset to see diagnoses that hadn’t been discussed with them. This significantly eroded their trust.

    With the understanding that the OpenNotes initiative is likely to continue to grow, both in VA and other settings, the study team, including lead author Dr. Risa Cromer and senior author and CIVIC Director Dr. Steven Dobscha, offer several recommendations for mental health clinicians. Summing up, they write:

    “Proactive clinician communication with patients about the content of notes and the note-writing process, as well as documenting strengths and highlighting the individuality of patients, may improve the likelihood of maintaining or developing stronger therapeutic alliances between patients and clinicians in the context of OpenNotes.”

    Dobscha noted in an interview that his team has also developed, and is now evaluating, “web-based courses for both clinicians and Veterans to help them optimize use of OpenNotes in mental health care and minimize any unintended consequences.”


  8. Maintaining an active sex life may lead to improved job satisfaction, engagement in work

    March 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Maintaining a healthy sex life at home boosts employees’ job satisfaction and engagement at the office, underscoring the value of a strong work-life balance, an Oregon State University researcher has found.

    A study of the work and sex habits of married employees found that those who prioritized sex at home unknowingly gave themselves a next-day advantage at work, where they were more likely to immerse themselves in their tasks and enjoy their work lives, said Keith Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business.

    “We make jokes about people having a ‘spring in their step,’ but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” said Leavitt, an expert in organizational behavior and management. “Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

    The study also showed that bringing work-related stress home from the office negatively impinges on employees’ sex lives. In an era when smart phones are prevalent and after-hours responses to work emails are often expected, the findings highlight the importance of leaving work at the office, Leavitt said. When work carries so far into an employee’s personal life that they sacrifice things like sex, their engagement in work can decline.

    The researchers’ findings were published this month in the Journal of Management. Co-authors are Christopher Barnes and Trevor Watkins of the University of Washington and David Wagner of the University of Oregon.

    Sexual intercourse triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward centers in the brain, as well as oxytocin, a neuropeptide associated with social bonding and attachment. That makes sex a natural and relatively automatic mood elevator and the benefits extend well into the next day, Leavitt said.

    To understand the impact of sex on work, the researchers followed 159 married employees over the course of two weeks, asking them to complete two brief surveys each day. They found that employees who engaged in sex reported more positive moods the next day, and the elevated mood levels in the morning led to more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday.

    The effect, which appears to linger for at least 24 hours, was equally strong for both men and women and was present even after researchers took into account marital satisfaction and sleep quality, which are two common predictors of daily mood.

    “This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it’s important to make it a priority,” Leavitt said. “Just make time for it.”

    Twenty years ago, monitoring sleep or daily step counts or actively practicing mindful meditation might’ve seemed odd but now they are all things people practice as part of efforts to lead healthier, more productive lives. It may be time to rethink sex and its benefits as well, he said.

    “Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage,” he said. U.S. employers probably won’t follow the lead of a town councilman in Sweden who recently proposed that local municipal employees be allowed to use an hour of their work week for sex. The councilman’s hope is to boost the town’s declining population as well as improve employee moods and productivity.

    But employers here can steer their employee engagement efforts more broadly toward work-life balance policies that encourage workers to disconnect from the office, Leavitt said. The French recently enacted a law that bars after-hours email and gives employees a “right to disconnect.”

    “Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can,” he said. “And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”


  9. Couples may miss cues that partner is hiding emotions, study suggests

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Washington University in St. Louis press release:

    Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,” said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University. “They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

    Titled “Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships,” Eldesouky’s presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

    Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one’s emotions.

    It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

    Other findings include:

    • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
    • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
    • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
    • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

    Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.

    Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.

    In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

    “Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

    “How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added. “This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”


  10. New risk factors for anxiety disorders

    by Ashley

    From the University of Würzburg press release:

    Mental, social and inherited factors all play a role in anxiety disorders. In the journal Molecular Psychiatry, a research team from Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) in Bavaria, Germany, describes a hitherto unknown genetic pathway for developing such diseases: They pinpointed at least four variants of the GLRB gene (glycine receptor B) as risk factors for anxiety and panic disorders. More than 5000 voluntary participants and 500 patients afflicted by panic disorder took part in the study that delivered these results.

    In Germany, around 15 percent of adults suffer from anxiety and panic disorders. Some people may have an extreme fear of spiders or other objects while others have breathing difficulties and accelerated heart beat in small rooms or large gatherings of people. With some afflicted persons, the anxiety attacks occur for no apparent cause. Many patients suffer from the detrimental impacts on their everyday lives — they often have problems at work and withdraw from social contacts.

    How are fear and anxiety triggered? How do anxiety disorders arise and evolve?

    Scientists from Münster, Hamburg and Würzburg have looked into these questions within the scope of Collaborative Research Center (CRC) TR 58 funded by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Their goal is to develop new therapies that are better tailored to the individual patients. Anxiety disorders can be treated with drugs and behaviour therapy for instance.

    Gene triggers hyperekplexia

    The discovery that different variants of the GLRB gene are associated with anxiety disorders might also contribute to the development of improved therapies. The gene had been known to the researchers for some time, albeit only in connection with a different disease:

    “Some mutations of the gene cause a rare neurological disorder called hyperekplexia,” explains Professor Jürgen Deckert, member of the CRC and Director of the Department of Psychiatry at the JMU University Hospital. The patients are permanently hypertonic and show pronounced startle responses, which may even cause sufferers to fall involuntarily. Similar to persons suffering from anxiety disorders, these patients develop behaviour to avoid potentially frightening situations.

    The “fear network” in the brain is activated

    But the GLRB gene variants that have recently been associated with anxiety and panic disorders for the first time are different from the ones described above. They occur more frequently and presumably entail less severe consequences. But they, too, trigger overshooting startle responses, and as a result may excessively activate the brain’s “fear network.” High-resolution images of the brain activities of study participants provided the clues for the Würzburg scientists.

    “The results point to a hitherto unknown pathway of developing an anxiety disorder,” Deckert says. He believes that further investigations are now necessary to determine whether these findings can be harnessed to develop new or individual therapies. For example, it is conceivable to bring the “fear network” that is misregulated by the GLRB gene back on track by administering drugs.