1. Spread of tau protein measured in brains of Alzheimer’s patients

    May 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Karolinska Institutet press release:

    In a new study presented in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers at Karolinska Institutet have measured how deposits of the pathological protein tau spread through the brain over the course of Alzheimer’s disease. Their results show that the size of the deposit and the speed of its spread differ from one individual to the next, and that large amounts of tau in the brain can be linked to episodic memory impairment.

    Already in a very early phase of Alzheimer’s disease there is an accumulation of tau in the brain cells, where its adverse effect on cell function causes memory impairment. It is therefore an attractive target for vaccine researchers. For the present study, Professor Agneta Nordberg at Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Neurobiology, Care Sciences and Society and her doctoral student Konstantinos Chiotis along with the rest of her team used PET brain imaging to measure the spread of tau deposits as well as the amyloid plaque associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and charted the energy metabolism of the brain cells. They then examined how these three parameters changed over the course of the disease.

    “There’s been an international race to measure tau spread, and we probably got there first,” says Professor Nordberg. “There are no previous reports on how tau deposits spread after 17 months into the disease. Our results can improve understanding of tau accumulation in Alzheimer’s disease, help ongoing research to quantify the effect of tau vaccines, and enable early diagnosis.”

    The study included 16 patients at different stages of Alzheimer’s disease from the memory unit at Karolinska Hospital in Huddinge. The patients were given a series of neurological memory tests and underwent PET scans at 17-month intervals. While all 16 participants had abundant amyloid plaque deposition in the brain, the size and speed of spread of their tau deposits differed significantly between individuals.

    “We also saw a strong direct correlation between size of deposit and episodic memory impairment,” continues Professor Nordberg. “This could explain why the disease progresses at such a varying rate from one patient to the other. That said, tau doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on the global general memory, which is more reasonably related to brain metabolism.”

    The study was conducted in collaboration with Uppsala University, where the PET scans were performed.


  2. Study finds ‘moral enhancement’ technologies neither feasible nor wise

    by Ashley

    From the North Carolina State University press release:

    A recent study by researchers at North Carolina State University and the Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM) finds that “moral enhancement technologies” — which are discussed as ways of improving human behavior — are neither feasible nor wise, based on an assessment of existing research into these technologies.

    The idea behind moral enhancement technologies is to use biomedical techniques to make people more moral. For example, using drugs or surgical techniques to treat criminals who have exhibited moral defects.

    “There are existing ways that people have explored to manipulate morality, but the question we address in this paper is whether manipulating morality actually improves it,” says Veljko Dubljevic, lead author of the paper and an assistant professor of philosophy at NC State who studies the ethics of neuroscience and technology.

    Dubljevic and co-author Eric Racine of the IRCM reviewed the existing research on moral enhancement technologies that have been used in humans to assess the effects of these technologies and how they may apply in real-world circumstances.

    Specifically, the researchers looked at four types of pharmaceutical interventions and three neurostimulation techniques:

    • Oxytocin is a neuropeptide that plays a critical role in social cognition, bonding and affiliative behaviors, sometimes called “the moral molecule”;
    • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often prescribed for depression, but have also been found to make people less aggressive;
    • Amphetamines, which some have argued can be used to enhance motivation to take action;
    • Beta blockers are often prescribed to treat high blood pressure, but have also been found to decrease implicit racist responses;
    • Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a type of neurostimulation that has been used to treat depression, but has also been reported as changing the way people respond to moral dilemmas;
    • Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) is an experimental form of neurostimulation that has also been reported as making people more utilitarian; and
    • Deep brain stimulation is a neurosurgical intervention that some have hypothesized as having the potential to enhance motivation.

    “What we found is that, yes, many of these techniques do have some effects,” Dubljevic says. “But these techniques are all blunt instruments, rather than finely tuned technologies that could be helpful. So, moral enhancement is really a bad idea.

    “In short, moral enhancement is not feasible — and even if it were, history shows us that using science to in an attempt to manipulate morality is not wise,” Dubljevic says.

    The researchers found different problems for each of the pharmaceutical approaches.

    Oxytocin does promote trust, but only in the in-group,” Dubljevic notes. “And it can decrease cooperation with out-group members of society, such as racial minorities, and selectively promote ethnocentrism, favoritism, and parochialism.”

    The researchers also found that amphetamines boost motivation for all types of behavior, not just moral behavior. Moreover, there are significant risks of addiction associated with amphetamines. Beta blockers were found not only to decrease racism, but to blunt all emotional response which puts their usefulness into doubt. SSRIs reduce aggression, but have serious side-effects, including an increased risk of suicide.

    In addition to physical side effects, the researchers also found a common problem with using either TMS or TCDS technologies.

    “Even if we could find a way to make these technologies work consistently, there are significant questions about whether being more utilitarian in one’s decision-making actually makes one more moral,” Dubljevic says.

    Lastly, the researchers found no evidence that deep brain stimulation had any effect whatsoever on moral behavior.

    “Our goal here is to share a cautionary note with those who are discussing different techniques for moral enhancement,” Dubljevic says. “I am in favor of research that is done responsibly, but against dangerous social experiments.”


  3. Study suggests photos are more credible but cartoons are more persuasive when conveying a message

    May 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) press release:

    If you’re creating a message to educate, inform, or persuade, don’t underestimate the power of a well-executed cartoon. A new study at the University of Illinois suggests if you’re trying to convince the public to change their stance on a topic such as wind energy, you may be more successful if you use a cartoon rather than a photograph.

    “Photographs were shown to be more credible, but cartoons were more likely to change behavior,” says U of I agricultural communications professor Lulu Rodriguez who led the study. “A cartoon grabs people’s attention long enough to deliver the message. That’s what you need in today’s message-heavy atmosphere. Why not use a tool that has proven ability to cut through the others and inform people in a way that actually works?”

    In the study, participants were shown one of two versions of the same set of brochures. Each set was designed to debunk a myth about wind energy, the intent being to give readers scientific information about wind energy and assuage their fears. Each pair of brochures was identical in design, text, color, size, etc. The only difference was that the originally designed brochures featured a beautiful, professional photograph of wind turbines, while the look-alike brochures created for the study swapped out the photograph with a cartoon.

    “You have to spend more time with a cartoon to figure out the meaning of the illustrations, and the situation,” Rodriguez says. “People look at cartoons longer, so they’re more cognitively engaged with the cartoon. Usually it includes humor and people work hard at figuring out the punch line. The photos used to represent wind energy on the original brochures were just beautiful scenic shots of the turbine blades or a landscape dotted with turbines so people didn’t look at them as long.”

    Interestingly, the respondents said the content was better in the cartoon brochures (even though the text was identical), but the credibility was lower than the brochures using photographs.

    “It may be because of the more light-hearted approach of cartoons,” Rodriquez says. “Cartoons make a topic like wind energy, which may be a bit scary to people, more accessible. But this notion of credibility is a different issue. We teach students to be conversational in writing. Don’t put on your ‘tuxedo’ language. And yet, people associate big words with credibility.”

    Rodriguez says the use of comics has already been shown to be effective in explaining scientific concepts and principles in high school chemistry classrooms. (Rodriguez is also the director of the agricultural communications program in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences and the College of Media.) She says she has not seen the comparison of photos versus cartoons studied in non-classroom settings.

    In addition to educational settings, the power of cartoons to persuade can be of value to agencies working to educate the public about a science-laden concept — one for which they would like to change opinion, intentions, or behaviors.

    “My interest is in making science more accessible to the public,” Rodriguez says. “This study offers real recommendations to communicate science better to a general audience. Understanding the science helps get people past whatever might be controversial about a scientific breakthrough or innovation. The controversies usually arise out of a lack of understanding.”

    In terms of wind energy, Rodriguez says, people worry about claims that the turbines kill birds, when in fact, cars kill more birds. “We kept hearing scientists say that people do not fully understand wind energy. So we thought, how can we deflect that misunderstanding?”

    Rodriguez cites communicating about GMOs as another possible case in which incorporating cartoons may inform people.

    “Most people don’t know about all the regulatory layers at the local and national level involved in producing GMOs. If you try to describe that for people in text, they may not get it or they may not be motivated to read lines and lines of words. Perhaps a cartoon showing safety regulations or the similarity of genetic engineering to natural crossing of plants would be more convincing,” she says.

    “I have a colleague who actually did this to explain how they got the vitamin A into golden rice using a cartoonish infographic. Not very scientific — but people get it. It’s a lot easier to explain complex scientific concepts that way.”

    Rodriguez admits that text and photos may be the easier route to take.

    “Truth be told, this is easy to recommend, but cartoons and effective information graphics are difficult to create. You have to hire someone with real skills to do it. Making things easier to understand is a difficult thing to do,” she says. “And, when people hire an advertising agency to create a brochure for their product or cause, they may lean toward using photos because they convey prestige or credibility. It may be difficult to convince them to use a cartoon because they think it reduces the classiness of the brochure.”

    The article, “The impact of comics on knowledge, attitude and behavioural intentions related to wind energy,” is published in an issue of the Journal of Visual Literacy.


  4. Study examines psychological effect of mixing energy drinks with alcohol

    by Ashley

    From the INSEAD press release:

    Energy drinks adverts high on risk taking and a lack of inhibition, profoundly influence the way young people believe they are intoxicated when they are mixing them with alcohol. When told an energy drink is mixed in their vodka cocktails, young men feel more intoxicated, daring, and sexually self-confident, new research suggests. The effects of intoxication were stronger in those who believe that energy drinks boost the effect of liquor.

    Previous studies suggested that mixing energy drinks with alcohol could mask the effects of liquor, leading consumers to believe they weren’t drunk but, in a trial of 154 young men at the Paris-based INSEAD Sorbonne University Behavioral Lab, the opposite was found to be true.

    The study participants were told they would drink a cocktail of an energy drink, vodka and fruit juice. Although all drinks had the same ingredients, they had different labels: Red Bull & vodka, a vodka cocktail or a fruit juice cocktail. The effect of the label alone on participants’ self-assessment of intoxication was remarkable.

    Researchers found that participants who believed they were drinking an energy drink and alcohol cocktail were more likely to believe themselves quite drunk and uninhibited. This was especially true among those who had a strong belief that mixing energy drinks with liquor would boost the effects of liquor.

    Labeling the same cocktail as vodka & Red Bull increased perceived intoxication by 51%, compared to labelling it a vodka cocktail or a fruit juice cocktail. It also increased the young men’s intentions to approach and “chat up” women, and their confidence that they would welcome it. Finally, it led also to more risk-taking in a gambling game. All these effects were stronger for the participants who most strongly believed that energy drinks boost the effects of alcohol and that being intoxicated reduces inhibitions and increases risk-taking.

    On the positive side, the authors found that the Red Bull & vodka label increased intentions to wait before getting behind the wheel of a car by 14 minutes because of the perceived intoxication.

    Yann Cornil, Assistant Professor of the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, Pierre Chandon, the L’Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing, Innovation and Creativity at INSEAD, and Aradhna Krishna, the Dwight F. Benton Professor of Marketing at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, published the results of their study in paper “Does Red Bull Give Wings to Vodka? Placebo Effects of Marketing Labels on Perceived Intoxication and Risky Attitudes and Behaviors,” forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

    “Red Bull has long used the slogan ‘Red Bull gives you wings,’ but our study shows that this type of advertising can make people think it has intoxicating qualities when it doesn’t,” said lead author Cornil. “Essentially, when alcohol is mixed with an energy drink and people are aware of it, they feel like they’re more intoxicated simply because the marketing says they should feel that way.”

    Labelling functions as a “placebo” in this study. People read “placebo” and see “fake” but the marketing placebo effect is a real psychological effect in which a brand influences consumers’ expectations and, as a result, their behavior.

    This study shows for the first time that there is a causal effect of mixing alcohol and energy drinks on perceived intoxication and real behaviors driven by the expectation that energy drinks boost the effects of alcohol, rather than the contents of the cocktails. All participants had the same drink yet their belief about what they were drinking had an impact on their behavior.

    “Beliefs that people have about a product can be just as important as the ingredients of the product itself,” said Chandon, co-author and director of the INSEAD Sorbonne Behavioral Lab. “Regulations and codes of conduct should consider the psychological — and not just physiological — effects of products.”

    According to the researchers, the findings highlight a need for policymakers and consumer protection groups to re-examine how energy drinks are advertised and labelled.

    “Given the psychological effects of energy-drink marketing, energy drink marketers should be banned from touting the disinhibiting effects of their ingredients,” said Cornil.

    “The silver lining was that emphasizing the energy drink in the cocktail made the participants less likely to drive,” said study co-author Krishna. “It seems that drunk-driving education is working enough to make people think hard about driving when they are feeling drunk.”

    This article has implications for consumers of energy drinks and alcohol, government regulators, and those who market new products which could be pitched in way that encourages reckless behavior.


  5. Brain injury causes impulse control problems in rats

    by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    New research from the University of British Columbia confirms for the first time that even mild brain injury can result in impulse control problems in rats.

    The study, published in the Journal of Neurotrauma, also found that the impulsivity problems may be linked to levels of an inflammatory molecule in the brain, and suggest that targeting the molecule could be helpful for treatment.

    “Few studies have looked at whether traumatic brain injuries cause impulse control problems,” said the study’s lead author, Cole Vonder Haar, a former postdoctoral research fellow in the UBC department of psychology who is now an assistant professor at West Virginia University. “This is partly because people who experience a brain injury are sometimes risk-takers, making it difficult to know if impulsivity preceded the brain injury or was caused by it. But our study confirms for the first time that even a mild brain injury can cause impulse control problems.”

    For the study, researchers gave rats with brain injuries a reward test to measure impulsivity.

    Rats that were unable to wait for the delivery of a large reward, and instead preferred an immediate, but small reward, were considered more impulsive.

    The researchers found that impulsivity in the rats increased regardless of the severity of the brain injury. The impulsivity also persisted eight weeks after injury in animals with a mild injury, even after memory and motor function returned.

    “These findings have implications for how brain injury patients are treated and their progress is measured,” said Vonder Haar. “If physicians are only looking at memory or motor function, they wouldn’t notice that the patient is still being affected by the injury in terms of impulsivity.”

    After analyzing samples of frontal cortex brain tissue, the researchers also found a substantial increase in levels of an inflammatory molecule, known as interleukin-12, that correlated with levels of impulsivity. Interleukins are groups of proteins and molecules responsible for regulating the body’s immune system.

    The study builds on the researchers’ previous findings about the link between interleukin-12 and impulsivity.

    Catharine Winstanley, the study’s senior author and associate professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the findings are important because impulsivity is linked to addiction vulnerability.

    “Addiction can be a big problem for patients with traumatic brain injuries,” she said. “If we can target levels of interleukin-12, however, that could potentially provide a new treatment target to address impulsivity in these patients.”


  6. Study suggests veterans with PTSD have increased ‘fight or flight’ response

    by Ashley

    From the Physiological Society press release:

    Young veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have an increased ‘fight or flight’ response during mental stress, according to new findings published this week in the Journal of Physiology.

    The team at Emory University School of Medicine, led by Dr Jeanie Park, believe that this contributes to the increased risk of high blood pressure and heart disease in PTSD patients.

    PTSD is prevalent in both military and civilian populations. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in US adults is 7.8% and around 14% in post-9/11 veterans. PTSD patients are known to have a higher risk for developing high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

    The researchers also found that veterans with PTSD had higher adrenaline levels and less control of their heart rate in response to blood pressure changes. While previous studies have suggested that the sympathetic nervous system- the ‘fight or flight’ response- of veterans is overactive, this study was the first to measure this increased activity directly and provide a potential mechanism behind this response.

    Dr Park and her team took these measurements while the participants experienced two types of mental stress. First-person war images and sounds shown through virtual reality goggles recreated mental stress related to PTSD. Mental arithmetic elicited mental stress un-related to PTSD.

    They studied the physiology of post-9/11 veterans, 14 of whom had PTSD and 14 who did not. They measured blood pressure, performed an electrocardiogram (EKG), and recorded sympathetic nerve activity directly in real-time using electrodes placed inside a large nerve. This technique is called microneurography and is considered the gold-standard method for assessing sympathetic nervous system activity in humans.

    Commenting on the study, Dr Park said: ‘To protect patients against high blood pressure and heart disease, we need to first understand how their physiology malfunctions. We can then identify potential treatments.’

    ‘This study looked specifically at veterans with combat-related PTSD, so the findings do not necessarily apply to non-veterans with PTSD, nor to patients with non-combat-related PTSD,’ she added.


  7. Positive father-child relationship can moderate negative effects of maternal depression

    by Ashley

    From the Bar-Ilan University press release:

    Maternal depression negatively impacts children’s emotional and cognitive development and family life. Studies have shown that a home in which the mother suffers from depression exhibits lower cohesion, warmth, and expressiveness and higher conflict, rigidity, and affectionless control. Since 15-18% of women in industrial societies and up to 30% in developing countries suffer from maternal depression, it is of clinical and public health concern to understand the effects of maternal depression on children’s development.

    A family affair

    A new study, published in Development and Psychopathology, by Prof. Ruth Feldman and colleagues at the Department of Psychology and Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University has, for the first time, examined whether fathering can moderate the negative effects of maternal depression on family-level functioning. The results of this study are the first to describe the family process by using direct observations of mothering, fathering, and family patterns in homes where mothers suffer clinical depression during the child’s first years of life.

    Feldman conducted a longitudinal study of a carefully selected sample of married or cohabiting chronically depressed women with no comorbid contextual risk, who were repeatedly assessed for maternal depression across the first year after childbirth and when the child reached age six. The families were home-visited when the child reached preschool age in order to observe and videotape mother-child, father-child, and both-parent-child interactions.

    Sense and sensitivity

    During the first years of life, sensitivity marks the most critical component of the parental style that affects the child’s emotional and social development. Sensitive parents are attuned to their child’s needs and attend to them in a responsive and nonintrusive manner. Parents who act intrusively tend to take over tasks that children are, or could be, performing independently, imposing their own agenda without regard for the child.

    In Feldman’s study depressed mothers exhibited low sensitivity and high intrusiveness, and children displayed lower social engagement during interactions with them. Partners of depressed mothers also showed low sensitivity, high intrusiveness, and provided little opportunities for child social engagement, so that the family unit was less cohesive, harmonious, warm, and collaborative. However, when fathers were sensitive, nonintrusive, and engaged children socially, maternal depression no longer predicted low family cohesion.

    Feldman: “When fathers rise to the challenge of co-parenting with a chronically depressed mother, become invested in the father-child relationship despite little modeling from their wives, and form a sensitive, nonintrusive, and reciprocal relationship with the child that fosters his/her social involvement and participation, fathering can buffer the spillover from maternal depression to the family atmosphere.”

    According to Feldman, because rates of maternal depression appear to increase each decade, and paternal involvement in child care is constantly increasing in industrial societies, it is critical to address the fathers’ potential contribution to family welfare by providing interventions for the development of a sensitive parenting style and other compensatory mechanisms, in order to enhance their role as buffers of the negative effects of maternal depression.

    This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the Simms-Mann Foundation, and the Irving B. Harris Foundation.


  8. Study reassesses Learning Styles

    by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    What is the best way for teachers to teach so students will really learn? That’s an age-old question.

    Since the 1970s, one theory that has been popular among schoolteachers and pervasive in education research literature in the United Kingdom and the United States is the idea of “Learning Styles,” the notion that people can be categorized into one or more ‘styles’ of learning (e.g., Visual, Auditory, Converger) and that teachers can and should tailor their curriculum to suit individual students. The idea is that students will learn more if they are exposed to material through approaches that specifically match their Learning Style.

    But in recent years, many academicians have criticized Learning Styles saying there is no evidence it improves student understanding.

    Now comes a newly published study of 114 academics in higher education in the United Kingdom, led by education researchers Philip M. Newton, Ph.D., and Mahallad Miah, both of the Swansea University Medical School in Swansea, UK. Their study “Evidence-Based Higher Education — Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important?” was published March 27, 2017, in Frontiers in Psychology.

    Their findings are very interesting. Newton and Miah found while 58% of the academics surveyed believe Learning Styles to be beneficial — only 33% actually used the pedagogical tool.

    In other words, there is something about the idea of individualized education that appeals, but actually administering a Learning Styles questionnaire to students and then tailoring the class curriculum to suit individual students’ personal learning styles is only done by a handful of faculty.

    “There is a mismatch between the empirical evidence and the belief in Learning Styles,” said Newton. “Among those who participated in our study far more reported using a number of techniques that are demonstrably evidence-based.”

    These techniques include: assigning formative assessments (i.e., practice tests), peer teaching (i.e., having students teach each other), working problems and examples aloud, and microteaching (i.e., taking video footage of teachers in training so they can reflect on and adjust how they explain material and interact with students).

    Furthermore, 90% of the faculty surveyed said that Learning Styles as an approach is fundamentally flawed.

    “Learning Styles does not account for the complexity of ‘understanding,'” said Newton. “It is not possible to teach complex concepts such as mathematics or languages by presenting these subjects in only one style. This would be like trying to teach medical students to recognize different heart sounds using visual methods, or teaching them how to recognize different skin rashes using auditory methods.”

    Newton and Miah say those faculty who use Learning Styles may in fact represent certain disciplines or subject areas and that to truly evaluate the usefulness of this teaching method would require demographic studies of faculty. But that may not be worth the investment, they say.

    Part of the issue seems to lie in the fact that many respondents embrace a “looser definition” of Learning Styles, preferring to think of it as an overarching theme or general trend rather than a pedagogical tool. In other words: they operate from the standpoint that individual students have different ‘styles of learning’ — lowercase — but don’t formally change their teaching techniques. This philosophical leaning may also explain why some dedicated faculty continue to ‘believe in’ Learning Styles even when presented with the evidence that it doesn’t work.

    It appears Learning Styles has become more a point of awareness or point of view rather than a teaching tool. Thus, say Newton and Miah, rather than debunking Learning Styles — capital letters — a far better focus for education research would be to promote those evidence-based techniques that survey participants indicated they actually use and that are demonstrably effective.


  9. Study suggests exercise can help with boosting mood

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Connecticut press release:

    You don’t have to spend hours at the gym or work up a dripping sweat to improve your mood and feel better about yourself, researchers at the University of Connecticut say in a new study.

    If you lead a sedentary lifestyle — spending large parts of your day sitting at home or at work — simply getting out of your chair and moving around can reduce depression and lift your spirits.

    “We hope this research helps people realize the important public health message that simply going from doing no physical activity to performing some physical activity can improve their subjective well-being,” says Gregory Panza, a graduate student in UConn’s Department of Kinesiology and the study’s lead author.

    “What is even more promising for the physically inactive person is that they do not need to exercise vigorously to see these improvements,” Panza continues. “Instead, our results indicate you will get the best ‘bang for your buck’ with light or moderate intensity physical activity.”

    For those keeping score, light physical activity is the equivalent of taking a leisurely walk around the mall with no noticeable increase in breathing, heart rate, or sweating, says Distinguished Kinesiology Professor Linda Pescatello, senior researcher on the project. Moderate intensity activity is equivalent to walking a 15-20-minute mile with an increase in breathing, heart rate, and sweating, yet still being able to carry on a conversation. Vigorous activity is equivalent to a very brisk walk or jogging a 13-minute mile with a very noticeable increase in breathing, heart rate, and sweating to the point of being unable to maintain a conversation.

    The study looked at 419 generally healthy middle-aged adults who wore accelerometers on their hips to track physical activity over four days. Participants also completed a series of questionnaires asking them to describe their daily exercise habits, psychological well-being, depression level, pain severity, and extent to which pain interfered with their daily activities.

    Here’s what the researchers learned:

    • People who reported higher levels of sedentary behavior also reported lower levels of subjective well-being, meaning those who sat around a lot were the least happiest. Subjective well-being is defined as the positive and negative evaluations that people make of their own lives. These results confirmed previous studies.
    • In general, physical activity improved people’s sense of well-being. Yet, different intensities of physical activity were more beneficial to some people than others. For instance, people who participated in light-intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of depression. People who participated in moderate-intensity physical activity reported higher levels of psychological well-being and lower levels of pain severity.
    • People who led sedentary lives and engaged in light or moderate physical activity showed the greatest improvement in overall sense of well-being. “The ‘more is better’ mindset may not be true when it comes to physical activity intensity and subjective well-being,” says Panza. “In fact, an ‘anything is better’ attitude may be more appropriate if your goal is a higher level of subjective well-being.”
    • While light and moderate physical activity clearly made some people feel better about themselves, when it came to vigorous activity, the results were neutral. There was no positive or negative association found between high intensity physical activity and subjective well-being.

    The last finding is actually good news for folks who enjoy hard, calorie-burning workouts, as it doesn’t support a widely reported recent study that found high intensity workouts significantly lowered some people’s sense of well-being.

    “Recent studies had suggested a slightly unsettling link between vigorous activity and subjective well-being,” says Beth Taylor, associate professor of kinesiology and another member of the research team. “We did not find this in the current study, which is reassuring to individuals who enjoy vigorous activity and may be worried about negative effects.”

    Many previous studies have attempted to identify the best exercise regimen to improve people’s sense of well-being. Yet no clear consensus has emerged. Some studies say moderate or vigorous activity is best. Others say low intensity exercise is better. The differences, the UConn researchers say, may be due to the way the studies were designed and possible limitations in how people’s well-being and levels of physical activity were measured.

    The UConn study is believed to be the first of its kind to use both objective (accelerometers) and subjective (questionnaires) measurements within a single group to examine the relationship between physical activity intensity and well-being.

    Yet the UConn research also has its limits, Panza says.

    All of the individuals who participated in the UConn study had a generally positive sense of well-being going into the project and were generally physically active. So their answers in the questionnaires need to be framed in that context. Whether the same results would hold true for people with lower subjective well-being or lower levels of physical activity is unknown, Panza says.

    Also, the conclusions formed in the UConn study are based on information gathered at a single point in time. A longitudinal study that tracks people’s feelings and physical activity over time would go a long way toward helping determine what exercise regimen might be best for different populations, Panza said.

    “If it doesn’t make us feel good, we don’t want to do it,” says Taylor. “Establishing the link between different types, doses, and intensities of physical activity on well-being is a very important step in encouraging more people to exercise.”

    The study was published in the Journal of Health Psychology in February.


  10. We buy what we grasp: How our hands lead us to choose certain products

    by Ashley

    From the Bocconi University press release:

    The things we touch while shopping can affect what we buy, according to studies by Bocconi Department of Marketing’s Zachary Estes and University of Innsbruck’s Mathias Streicher.

    In “Touch and Go: Merely Grasping a Product Facilitates Brand Perception and Choice,” published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, they conduct a series of experiments and show that blindfolded people induced to grasp familiar products (a bottle of Coke, for example) under the guise of a weight judgement task are then quicker in recognizing the brand name of the product when it slowly appears on a screen, include more frequently the product in a list of brands of the same category, and choose more often that product among others as a reward for having participated in the experiment.

    The authors suggest that tactile exposure to the object “activated the conceptual representation of that object, which then facilitated subsequent processing of the given object.

    In “Multisensory Interaction in Product Choice: Grasping a Product Affects Choice of Other Seen Products,” published in Journal of Consumer Psychology, via another series of experiments, Estes and Streicher demonstrate that grasping an object can facilitate visual processing and choice of other seen products of the same shape and size. “For instance,” explains Estes, “when you’re holding your mobile phone in your hand, you may be more likely to choose a KitKat than a Snickers, because the KitKat is shaped more like your phone. What we find is that consumers are significantly more likely to choose the product that is similar to the shape of whatever is in their hand. For instance, when confronted with a choice between a bottle of Coke and a can of Red Bull, participants who held a bottle of Fanta were more likely to choose a bottle of Coke, but those who held a can of Fanta more often chose the can of Red Bull. These studies show that our hands can lead us to choose certain products.”

    However, there are two caveats to this effect, one situational and one personal. The situational constraint has to do with visual density. That is, some product arrays are very sparse, with plenty of space between the products, whereas others are very dense, with many products placed right next to one another. It turns out that when the visual array is overcrowded the hands have an even larger influence on product choice. “As visual perception becomes less reliable,” the authors write, “tactile perception assumes a greater role in the recognition of object shape.”

    The second constraint is more personal: it depends on one’s “need for touch,” or how much people like to touch products while shopping. Some people really like to pick products up and feel them, and others don’t. As expected, the scholars find that the hands have much more influence on product choice among those consumers who really like to handle products.

    “These results have direct implications for product and package designers and marketing managers,” Estes concludes. “For one thing, distinctive product shapes like Coca-Cola’s iconic bottle design can provide a powerful source of brand identity and recognition. Second, consumers tend to choose products that are shaped like the things they often hold, like a mobile phone, a wallet, or a computer mouse when shopping online. Product designers could create packages that mimic those commonly held forms, and marketing managers can accentuate this effect of product touch by placing several products near one another, and by encouraging consumers to touch the products on display.”