1. Study suggests TV accentuates traditional women’s roles at expense of their needs

    May 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    College women who frequently watch television or who believe that the content is real, tend to endorse the gender roles that are portrayed often on TV, says a University of Michigan researcher.

    Media portrayals teach women to be passive participants in their relationships and prioritize the desires of others — particularly men — instead of prioritizing their own desires, says Rita Seabrook, a U-M doctoral student in psychology and women’s studies. In addition, women learn that they are valued for their appearance and sex appeal.

    Seabrook says that endorsement of these roles — which are called gendered sexual scripts — results in some women having less confidence about using condoms and more shameful feelings about their sexual experience.

    Being confident and proud of one’s sexual experiences “conflicts with gendered expectations that women should abstain from sex except in limited circumstances,” she said.

    The study sampled 415 undergraduate women who described themselves as sexually active heterosexuals. They indicated the number of hours of TV (live or online) and reality TV watched weekly, and disclosed if they believed the programming reflected daily life.

    Questions also focused on relationships, attitudes towards women, sexual beliefs, gender roles and how participants rated their emotions.

    Overall, the women in the study watched 11 hours of mainstream TV and four hours of reality TV. They reported low to moderate levels of being sexual assertive and feeling shame sexually.

    Despite the negative association of adhering to gendered sexual scripts, why do women endorse them?

    “Women who reject traditional gender norms face backlash for failing to adhere to the culture’s expectations for them,” Seabrook said. “Thus, adhering to gendered sexual scripts may protect women from perceived and actual judgment at the expense of their sexual satisfaction and sexual well-being.”

    Not all TV portrayals of women, Seabrook says, are negative or disempowering, but the broader media landscape — TV programs, commercials, music videos — does not promote positive images. She says that women should be encouraged to challenge this negative discourse, which in turn can improve their confidence about sex and women’s roles.

  2. Study looks at circumstances under which attraction-induced eye dilation occurs

    May 5, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Kent press release:

    People’s eyes dilate when they are looking at people they find sexually appealing — but new research from the University of Kent suggests that their response does not depend on whether the person being viewed is naked or clothed.

    Researchers from the University’s School of Psychology studied whether a stronger dilation for the preferred sex is produced when participants viewed images depicting higher levels of sexual explicitness compared to images low on sexual explicitness.

    Using eye-tracking technology in combination with highly controlled stimuli, the team found that pupillary responses to images of men and women appeared to be sex-specific but not sensitive to the sexual explicitness of the image.

    Researcher Dr Janice Attard-Johnson said: ‘We found that changes in pupil size when viewing images of men and women corresponded with participants’ self-reported sexual orientation.

    ‘This meant that in heterosexual men and women, dilation occurred during the viewing of opposite-sex people, but that these responses were comparable when participants viewed both naked and dressed targets.

    ‘Our findings suggest that pupillary responses provide a sex-specific measure that is sensitive to both sexually explicit and non-sexually explicit content.’

    Other research indicates that naked pictures of people elicit stronger signs of arousal than dressed images when this is measured using other physiological reactions, such as genital responses.

    But researchers found this was not the case with pupillary responses, and suggest it is possible that a change in pupil size is elicited with lower levels of sexual arousal than is necessary for other physiological measures.

  3. 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.

  4. Getting into the flow: Sexual pleasure is a kind of trance

    November 2, 2016 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University media release:

    Couple TalkingMany people have speculated on the evolutionary functions of the human orgasm, but the underlying mechanisms have remained mysterious. In a new paper, a Northwestern University researcher seeks to shed light on how orgasm works in the brain.

    Adam Safron, a neuroscientist and Ph.D. candidate in the psychology department’s Brain Behavior Cognition program in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern, reviewed related studies and literature over many years to come up with a model in which rhythmic sexual activity likely influences brain rhythms.

    Safron describes how rhythmic stimulation can enhance neural oscillations at corresponding frequencies, somewhat like pushing someone on a swing. Through this process, called neural entrainment, if sexual stimulation is intense enough and goes on long enough, synchronized activity could spread throughout the brain.

    This synchrony may produce such intensely focused attention that sexual activity outcompetes usual self-awareness for access to consciousness, so producing a state of sensory absorption and trance. This may be crucial for allowing for a sufficient intensity of experience to trigger the mechanisms of climax.

    “Synchronization is important for signal propagation in the brain, because neurons are more likely to fire if they are stimulated multiple times within a narrow window of time,” Safron said. “Otherwise, the signals decay as part of a general resetting mechanism, rather than sum together. This then caused me to hypothesize that rhythmic entrainment is the primary mechanism by which orgasmic thresholds are surpassed.”

    Safron said this research could be relevant for improving sexual functioning, encouraging people to focus more on the rhythmic aspects of sexuality.

    “The idea that sexual experiences can be like trance states is in some ways ancient. Turns out this idea is supported by modern understandings of neuroscience,” Safron said. “In theory, this could change the way people view their sexuality. Sex is a source of pleasurable sensations and emotional connection, but beyond that, it’s actually an altered state of consciousness.”

    Safron found parallels between sexual climax and seizures as well as with music and dance — something he wasn’t expecting.

    In both orgasm and reflex seizures, rhythmic inputs into high-bandwidth sensory channels resulted in an explosive process after certain stimulation thresholds were surpassed.

    “And although obvious in retrospect, I wasn’t expecting to find that sexual activity was so similar to music and dance, not just in the nature of the experiences, but also in that evolutionarily, rhythm-keeping ability may serve as a test of fitness for potential mates.”

    He said this is consistent with the fact that rhythmic song and dances are nearly universal parts of mating, going back hundreds of millions of years to our common ancestors with pre-vertebrate animals such as insects.

    Safron’s previous research has focused on the neural bases of sexual preferences. He said orgasm is related to this work because it is one of the most powerful rewards available, and therefore, may have an important role in shaping preferences.

    Before this paper, we knew what lit up in the brain when people had orgasms, and we knew a lot about the hormonal and neurochemical factors in non-human animals, but we didn’t really know why sex and orgasm feel the way they do,” Safron said. “This paper provides a level of mechanistic detail that was previously lacking.”

  5. Drinking beer helps us see happy faces faster

    October 5, 2016 by Ashley

    From the European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) media release:

    Photo: BeerWhat does drinking beer really do? A new study has shown that drinking beer affects the way we see specific emotions and allows us to see happy faces faster. It also has surprising effects on sexual perception. These results* are presented at the ECNP Conference in Vienna, with simultaneous publication in the peer-reviewed journalPsychopharmacology.

    Although the vast majority of adults have direct experience of drinking alcohol, there is surprisingly little scientific data on the effects of alcohol on the processing of emotional social information or on sexual arousal, and no data on the effects of alcohol on empathy. Now researchers from the University Hospital in Basel, Switzerland, have attempted to answer some of the questions around the way alcohol alters the way we relate to others, and how alcohol affects sexual arousal.

    In a double-blind, random-order, cross-over study, researchers enlisted 60 healthy participants (30 men, 30 women) aged between 18 and 50.They then gave 30 of them a glass of alcoholic beer (0.5L depending on body weight and sex). This raised their blood alcohol content to around 0.4 g/L Thirty control subjects were given non-alcoholic beer.

    The subjects then underwent a range of tasks, including a face recognition test, empathy test, and sexual arousal test. At the end of the tests, the subjects and controls were switched and the process repeated. The main results they found were:

    • Drinking beer helps people see happy faces faster.
    • It also increased the tendency to want to be with others in a happy social situation
    • These effects were greater in women than in men, but were also greater in those who had previously shown some social inhibition
    • It made it easier for people (especially women) to view explicit sexual images, but it didn’t seem to lead to greater sexual arousal

    The researchers also found that ‘before and after’ levels of the hormone oxytocin did not change. (oxytocin is thought to mediate aspects of social cognition and is involved in bonding).

    Lead researcher, Professor Matthias Liechti (University Hospital, Basel) said: “The effect of many medications and substances of abuse have been tested on various tests of emotion processing and social cognition. However, although, many people drink beer and know its effects through personal experience there is surprisingly little scientific data on its effects on the processing of emotional social information. We found that drinking a glass of beer helps people see happy faces faster, and enhances concern for positive emotional situations. Alcohol also facilitates the viewing of sexual images, consistent with disinhibition, but it does not actually enhance sexual arousal. These effects of alcohol on social cognition likely enhance sociability.”

    Commenting, Professor Wim van den Brink (Amsterdam), past Chair of the ECNP Scientific Programme Committee, said: “This is an interesting study confirming conventional wisdom that alcohol is a social lubricant and that moderate use of alcohol makes people happier, more social and less inhibited when it comes to sexual engagement. The sex differences in the findings can either be explained by differences in blood alcohol concentration between males and females with the same alcohol intake, differences in tolerance due to differences in previous levels of alcohol consumption or by socio-cultural factors. It should also be recognized that different effects of alcohol can be seen according to whether your blood alcohol is increasing or decreasing, and of course how much alcohol you have taken. Finally, as Shakespeare noted**, alcohol-related emotions and cognitions as studied are not always consistent with actual behaviors.”

    * See notes for editors for full conference abstract and publication information

    ** “It provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance.” (Macbeth Act 2. Scene 3) [4].

    Research funded By the University Hospital Basel.

  6. The Juliet Effect: Real reason why your mom and your sister don’t like your ‘hunky’ boyfriend

    June 3, 2016 by Ashley

    From the The Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) media release:

    young loveWhy do we choose the partners we do, and why do we get flak about it from our parents? Professor Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair and Associate Professor Robert Biegler from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Psychology say it comes down to simple genetics.

    We see a conflict between mother and daughter because of opposing interests,” says Biegler.

    The researchers knew this was the case from their research several years ago. They even know why, and named the conflict the “Juliet effect” after the conflict between Juliet and her mother Lady Capulet in Shakespeare’s drama.

    Juliet’s mother hates Romeo

    Juliet’s mother would rather have Juliet marry Paris, who is from a good family. Juliet has set her sights on the heartthrob Romeo from the archenemy’s family.

    But what’s new is that you find the same opposing interests between sisters.

    Your sister would choose the steady fellow for you.

    It’s the old story. The daughter of the house brings home the handsome ‘hunk’ and proclaims that he is the love of her life.

    But her mother prefers the respectable fellow with promising prospects, or maybe the rich guy from a good family.

    As it turns out, your sister would probably agree with your mother, and would rather you have a steady, boring partner, too. This despite the fact that mother and sister would both rather have a hunk themselves.

    Everything is ultimately about genetics and mathematics.

    “For their own partners, women focus on an attractive appearance that suggests good health and an ability to pass on their genes. At the same time, they prioritize qualities in their sister’s partner that can provide direct benefits for the whole family,” say the researchers. “This is consistent with our previous studies where we compared mothers’ and daughters’ choices,” they add.

    Studied sisters

    The context for this new insight is a survey that the researchers undertook among female students and their sisters.

    Participants were asked to rank 133 different characteristics that described the perfect partner for themselves or their sister. A similar survey was conducted among mothers and daughters a few years ago.

    For the most part, women choose the same ideal partner characteristics for themselves as for their sister. The qualities of faithfulness, loyalty, honesty, trustworthiness and reliability score highest when women are asked who would make an ideal partner,” says Biegler.

    But some clear differences also emerged. “The women perceived characteristics like being understanding, empathetic, responsible, helpful, sensible and kind as more important for their sister’s partner than for their own,” says Biegler.

    Women found being sincere, humorous, charming, sexually satisfying and fun as more important for their own partner than their sister’s.

    Relative’s partner must contribute directly

    The reason is really simple. You are more closely related to your own kids than to your sister’s kids or your grandchild. The transfer of your own genes is ultimately most important.

    You share so much genetic material with your relatives that you can’t be blasé about whom they have babies with. They also carry on some of your genes and are part of what is known as your “inclusive fitness.” But they can’t get in the way of your own direct gene transfer.

    The ideal partner for your sister or your daughter can’t drain resources from you and decrease the chance that your own genes can be passed on. Preferably he should directly increase your own chances. This can be achieved in part if your sister or daughter makes big gains by choosing a particular partner, and is able to spread your shared genes much more effectively,” says Biegler.

    But an advantage for your sister will rarely outweigh your decreased chances. Normally you want to have the greatest genetic advantage when a relative chooses a partner that can provide direct benefits for you, in terms of wealth or status, for example.

    You don’t want to spend money or other resources on raising your sister’s or daughter’s kids, unless it can bring you a considerable advantage in spreading your shared genetic material. And then you’d often rather spend the resources on increasing the survival and status of your own children, or have more kids yourself who can procreate.

    “Women prefer for their daughter or sister to choose someone who can contribute to the upbringing of their own children and grandchildren, or who at least doesn’t pose a burden,” Kennair says.

    This also means that the man should be trustworthy, take care of his children, preferably be strong financially and have a social status that does not diminish your or your descendants’ chances of spreading their genes. Your own partner may contribute indirectly

    So why would you rather have a good-looker yourself?

    “The underlying truth remains: passing on your own genes is the priority. The primary consideration is to find a partner who can give you attractive children who survive. They need to be attractive enough to pass on their genes to the next generation to the greatest extent possible,” said Kennair.

    That’s why the muscular heartthrob is a more interesting choice than the boring geek for one’s own partner.

    “A healthy hunk is presumably in good health, attractive to others as a partner and can transfer those genes to your children,” says Kennair.

    Then your children might also be more attractive than if you choose the geeky nerd. It’s nice to have a stable guy, but in the end you’ll be drawn to the handsome man instead.

    Trying to exert influence

    But it’s no sure thing that you’ll end up choosing the heartthrob. Your mother or sister might try to influence you to choose a different partner than the one you like best. Yes, this happens even in our society where we like to think that we choose our own partner.

    Whether you opt to listen to them is another matter entirely. That can depend on your own living situation, or if your family refuses to provide financial assistance or other help if you go for the heartthrob against their wishes.

    Not a moral issue

    Kennair and Biegler are moving into an area that often evokes strong feelings. But, they say, none of this is a matter of morality, only of passing on genes.

    “People who haven’t behaved according to this pattern have been deselected through generations. A larger proportion of them simply didn’t get to pass on their genes to a new generation. So their contribution to the gene pool dwindled,” says Kennair.

    But for those who still want to look at it all through a moral lens, it just gets worse.

    Latent in us

    The best possible outcome, of course, is if the heartthrob you’ve set eyes on is also a kind and steady-as-they-come kind of guy with good prospects.

    But there’s no guarantee you’ll just be able to pick one that has absolutely everything, you know. This perfect guy may prefer your sister. Or your mother. It may be part of the reason they won’t allow you this heartthrob.

    It could be that your sister would like you to choose another partner so that the heartthrob will be available to her instead. She may not even be thinking about it, and it’s far from certain that she’s actually trying to steal your guy.

    The same underlying mechanism may even still exist in your mother, even though she is past her baby-making days. It lies dormant in both of them, just as it does in you.

    This mechanism is a result of competition and has yielded the best results over generations, regardless of morality.

    No one is saying that any of this is necessarily conscious. It is a result of genetic transfer through all the generations before you. Your mother and your sister are also out after the best possible partner.

    Equal, but similar

    Perhaps most interesting is that this also applies in a relatively egalitarian society like Norway, where women are largely financially independent and choose their own partners.

    Today, Norwegian women can usually even provide independently for themselves and their children. But they seem to be attracted to partners with exactly the same qualities as the partners of women in countries where the family chooses their partner. In very few cultures do women have much choice.

    “It’s the exception for women to choose their own partners. In most cultures, it isn’t this way,” says Kennair.

    In most cultures, the mother will usually get her way. But the researchers’ hypothesis is that the stronger the parents’ control is over their children in a culture, the stronger the conflict between the sisters is also.

    “If you can’t win over mom, you still have a chance to win against your sister. The less chance you have to win one conflict, the harder you have to fight to win the other,” suggests Biegler.

    That’s why it is more important for you that a grandchild passes on their genes than that a cousin does.

    This has nothing to do with morality. It is more or less pure mathematics. We assume monogamous relationships.

    But even for independent Norwegian women, it can be an advantage if the partner doesn’t take off and leave you with almost all the responsibility for the kids. This can also reduce your chances of effectively passing on your genes.

    Maybe you would have liked to have more kids if you had been able to afford it. Or maybe your sons become paupers who don’t get support from others’ mothers.

    “In the end, though, Norwegian women are more attracted to the good-lookers than the boring, kind and steady types — the same attributes that have been playing out for generations before us for the greatest genetic success,” say the two researchers.

  7. Relationship satisfaction depends on the mating pool, study finds

    May 17, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Texas at Austin media release:

    teens couple loveRelationship satisfaction and the energy devoted to keeping a partner are dependent on how the partner compares with other potential mates, a finding that relates to evolution’s stronghold on modern relationship psychology, according to a study at The University of Texas at Austin.

    When it comes to mating, people choose partners whose collective qualities most closely reflect what they would prefer in an ideal mate. They prioritize from an array of traits such as intelligence, health, kindness, attractiveness, dependability and financial prospects.

    UT Austin psychology researcher Daniel Conroy-Beam and his collaborators developed a method to test how mate preferences influence behavior and emotions in relationships in the study “What predicts romantic relationship satisfaction and mate retention intensity: mate preference fulfillment or mate value discrepancies?” in-press in Evolution & Human Behavior.

    “Few decisions impact fitness more than mate selection, so natural selection has endowed us with a set of powerfully motivating mate preferences,” Conroy-Beam said. “We demonstrate that mate preferences continue to shape our feelings and behaviors within relationships in at least two key ways: by interacting with nuanced emotional systems such as how happy we are with our partner and by influencing how much or little effort we devote to keeping them.”

    For the study, researchers simulated a mating pool from 119 men and 140 women who had been in relationships for an average of 7½ years. Each participant rated the importance of 27 traits in an ideal mate and the extent to which they felt each trait described both their actual partner and themselves. Researchers then used their new method to calculate each of the participants’ and their partners’ mate value, or desirability within the mating pool as determined by the group’s average ideal preferences.

    Participants also reported their relationship satisfaction and happiness. The study discovered that satisfaction was not reliably dependent on how a partner compared with a person’s idea of the perfect mate, but rather whether others in the mating pool better matched a person’s ideal preferences.

    Those with partners more desirable than themselves were satisfied whether or not their partners matched their ideal preferences. But, participants with partners less desirable than themselves were happy with their relationship only if their partner fulfilled their ideal preferences better than most other potential mates in the group, Conroy-Beam said.

    “Satisfaction and happiness are not as clear cut as we think they are,” Conroy-Beam said. “We do not need ideal partners for relationship bliss. Instead, satisfaction appears to come, in part, from getting the best partner available to us.”

    In a follow-up study, the researchers again tested relationship satisfaction but also surveyed participants’ mate retention efforts — energy devoted to maintaining their relationships. They found that people with partners difficult to replace, either because their partner was more desirable than themselves or their partner more closely matched their ideal preferences than others in the group, reported being happier and devoted more effort to mate retention. This included making themselves extra attractive for their partners and “mate guarding,” or shielding their partners from mating rivals to help keep their partners, Conroy-Beam said.

    “Relationship dissatisfaction and mate guarding intensity, in turn, are key processes linked to outcomes such as infidelity and breaking up, both of which can be costly in evolutionary currencies,” said co-author and psychology professor David Buss. “Mate preferences matter beyond initial mate selection, profoundly influencing both relationship dynamics and effort devoted to keeping partners. Mates gained often have to be retained to reap the adaptive rewards inherent in pair-bonding — an evolutionary hallmark of our species.”

  8. Exposure to violence during pregnancy increases risk of prematurity and low birthweight

    April 19, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Leicester media release:

    domestic violence abuseIn a recent paper published in the Journal of Development Economics, researchers Professor Marco Manacorda (Queen Mary University of London) and Dr Martin Foureaux Koppensteiner (University of Leicester) focused on evidence from the exposure of day-to-day violence in Brazil by analysing the birth outcomes of children whose mothers were exposed to local violence, as measured by homicide rates in small Brazilian municipalities and the neighbourhoods of the city of Fortaleza.

    The team estimated the effect of violence on birth outcomes by comparing mothers who were exposed to a homicide during pregnancy to otherwise similar mothers residing in the same area, who happened not to be exposed to homicides.

    The study found that birthweight falls significantly among newborns exposed to a homicide during pregnancy and the number of children classified as being low birthweight increases — and that the effects are concentrated on the first trimester of pregnancy, which is consistent with claims that stress-induced events matter most when occurring early in pregnancy.

    The study found:

    • One additional homicide in small municipalities during the first trimester leads to a reduction in birthweight of around 17g
    • Considering the birth weight classification, one extra homicide leads to an increase in the probability of low birthweight by 0.6 percentage points, an 8% increase compared to baseline
    • Results for the neighbourhoods of Fortaleza, where homicides are much more frequent, are considerably smaller (around 15% of the effects for small municipalities), which is consistent with the interpretation that violence is more stress inducing when they are rare
    • Because of the endemic levels of violence in Fortaleza, the team’s calculations show that homicides can account for 1% of the incidence of low birthweight and 3.5% of the incidence of very low birthweight.

    Dr Martin Foureaux Koppensteiner from the University of Leicester’s Department of Economics explained: “We provide evidence that these effects on birthweight are driven by prematurity rather than growth retardation of full lengths pregnancies, in line with evidence from the medical literature.

    “As the mothers examined in the study are likely to live in very similar environments, by exploiting the precise timing of the occurrence of homicides we are able to disentangle the causal effect of homicides from other correlated effects that may otherwise bias these estimates.

    This study used modelled data, which is one of the ways that we can predict causal relationships.

    “We also find that socio-economic factors, such as the mothers’ low level of education appear to amplify the adverse consequences of violence on birth outcomes, implying that violence compounds the disadvantage that newborns from low socio-economic status already suffer.”

    Professor Marco Manacorda added: “Our results have the potential to generalize to other settings where violence is endemic, as is true for many middle and low-income countries in Latin America and Africa. The results presented shed light on the additional cost of violence, largely ignored previously, in these countries.”

    The study was supported through a grant by the Inter-American Development Bank under the aegis of the programme ‘The Cost of Crime in Latin America and the Caribbean’.

  9. Fewer romantic prospects may lead to riskier investments

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science media release:

    Depression frustrationEncountering information suggesting that it may be tough to find a romantic partner shifts people’s decision making toward riskier options, according to new findings from a series of studies published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “Environmental cues indicating that one will have a relatively difficult time finding a mate can drive people to concentrate their investment choices into a few high-risk, high-return options,” says psychological scientist Joshua Ackerman of the University of Michigan, lead author on the research. “This is true even when the decisions people are making are not explicitly relevant to romantic outcomes.”

    This is exactly opposite from the pattern of investing we would predict if we assumed people were using an economically ‘rational’ decision strategy,” Ackerman explains. “From an evolutionary perspective, if the options are to do whatever it takes to find a romantic partner or risk not finding one, the more rational choice may be to do whatever it takes.”

    Research has shown that people who face uncertain outcomes often diversify their choices as a strategy for mitigating risk–if one investment or option falls through, they still have other investments or options to fall back on. Ackerman and colleagues speculated that diversification may not be the optimal strategy if romantic success depends on passing above a certain threshold when it comes to resources, status, or attractiveness. Choosing high-risk, high-reward strategies, even in domains unrelated to romance, could help an individual surpass the threshold and stand out from his or her competitors.

    To test their hypothesis, the researchers designed a series of studies in which they manipulated the perceived odds of romantic success by presenting participants with information about the ratio of women to men in their area. An unfavorable sex ratio–a majority of men if you’re a heterosexual man, for example–indicates that it will be harder for most people to find and attract a potential partner.

    In one study, 93 heterosexual participants looked at three photos displays containing images of men and women aged 18 to 35 who supposedly lived in the local community. Participants, who thought they were participating in a memory study, looked at the photos and were then asked to recall how many men and women appeared in each display. In this way, the researchers were able to ensure that participants were aware of the sex ratio depicted in the displays.

    Then, as part of an ostensibly unrelated task, participants were asked to imagine they were buying scratch-off lottery tickets and were told to choose which option they would purchase: one $10 ticket for a $10,000 prize or ten $1 tickets for $1000 each.

    Participants who saw an unfavorable sex ratio were more likely to concentrate their resources, choosing the riskier $10 ticket option, than those who saw a favorable sex ratio. In other words, they were more likely to put their proverbial eggs in one basket.

    In a second online study, 105 participants read a newspaper article discussing demographic trends in the U.S. They then evaluated stock packages with equivalent values (e.g., 100 shares in 8 companies, 200 shares in 4 companies, etc.) and chose which package they would invest in.

    Again, the data showed that both male and female participants who read about unfavorable sex ratios opted for riskier investments, choosing more shares in fewer companies, than those who read about favorable ratios.

    A similar pattern emerged when the researchers had participants engage in other types of investing decision making, including allocating funds in a hypothetical retirement account and distributing resources among companies for vaccine research and development. Importantly, the effect did not depend on participants’ own investing experience and relationship status.

    The fact that sex ratio had an impact on decisions that were not directly linked with mating success suggests that sexual competition elicits a general mindset geared toward achieving the largest possible reward, regardless of the risk involved.

    As such, the researchers argue, these findings could have implications for decision making in domains as diverse as retirement planning, gambling, and even making consumer purchases.

    “This research has the potential to affect anyone making decisions with uncertain outcomes, including both single and romantically committed men and women,” says Ackerman.

  10. Breasts putting girls off sport?

    January 26, 2016 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth media release:

    fitnessAbout half of all girls at UK secondary schools might be avoiding sport because of embarrassment or pain caused by their breasts, according to new research.

    The study also found that very few girls knew what sort of bra to wear, whether their bra was a good fit or how to avoid breast pain while exercising.

    The study by researchers in the Research Group in Breast Health based at the University of Portsmouth is the first in the UK to examine the impact of breasts on school girls taking part in sport or exercise. More than 2,000 school girls, aged 11 to 17 years took part.

    It is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

    The researchers are now calling for breast education for all Britain’s school girls.

    Three-quarters of the girls surveyed had at least one concern about their breasts, including embarrassment when getting changed for sport, breast bounce during exercise and breast pain. Their concerns peaked at the age of 14.

    More than half the girls said they never wore a sports bra, and nearly all of them told the researchers they wanted to know more about breast health and breast support.

    Professor Joanna Scurr, who leads the research group, said: “Previous studies of adult women have shown time and again that the same concerns are directly responsible for women no longer taking part in sport or exercise.

    “What makes this worse is, as scientists, we know proper breast support reduces or even eliminates the problems associated with breast movement during sport. All that is needed is better education, preferably at puberty for all girls.”

    It has been estimated that 90 per cent of 14-year-old girls in the UK do not do enough exercise to meet government exercise guidelines.

    Professor Scurr added: “Puberty is undoubtedly a difficult time for children of both sexes, but more girls than boys drop out of sport around this age. Even for those who overcome their physical embarrassment or awkwardness, the bra marketplace can be overwhelming and confusing.”

    The research group is made up of researchers from three universities (Portsmouth, St Mary’s Twickenham and Chichester). The group is internationally renowned for research on the biomechanics of the breast, and is responsible for more than half of all the scientific publications in the area.

    Amanda Brasher is a member of the research group and is leading the project to raise awareness in schools.

    She said: “The research showed that the more concerns school girls have about their breasts, the less they exercise. We want to keep as many girls as possible involved in sport and exercise. With the right education we can alleviate many of the girls’ worries, reduce embarrassment and eliminate the breast as a barrier to sports participation.”

    Research by the group has shown that using the appropriate sports bra reduces breast pain for most women, regardless of breast size, and that many women are unaware that they are wearing a badly fitting bra or routinely purchase ill-fitting bras. Breasts change in size and shape throughout a woman’s life.

    Dr Nicola Brown, from St Mary’s University Twickenham said: “It is surprising how few women are aware of which bra is right for them, and the importance of good breast support.”

    Other findings included:

    – 15 per cent of the girls thought their breasts were too big to be able to exercise;

    – those with larger breasts (D-cup plus) are more likely to opt out of sport and exercise than those with smaller breasts;

    – Only 10 per cent always wore a sports bra when exercising;

    – Even those who took part in a lot of sport, and always wore a sports bra, said they didn’t know if their bra was the right fit for them;

    – 87 per cent wanted to know more about breast health and support.

    Studies have shown that breasts move during exercise by up to 21cms in a figure of eight pattern, causing pain for an estimated three-quarters of women. A sports bra can reduce breast movement by a similar amount for AA cup to G-cup breasts. If breast movement is not reduced, there is a risk of irreparably damaging the fragile Cooper’s ligaments, resulting in breast sag.

    Dr Jenny Smith, one of the authors and a chartered psychologist from the University of Chichester, said: ‘It is important that we help reduce the barriers associated with participating in physical activity to help encourage behaviour change.”

    The researchers are appealing for funding to develop resources for schools to provide breast health education for their pupils.