1. Study suggests emotional images sway people more than emotional words

    February 14, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Can your behavior be influenced by subtle, barely visible signals, such as an emotionally charged image briefly flashed on a TV screen or roadside billboard? It may sound like hysteria about covert advertising — but according to new research published in open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology, the answer is yes.

    Piotr Winkielman, of the University of California, San Diego, has been studying the effect for quite a while. In a previous study, Winkielman and colleagues reported that showing brief images of happy faces to thirsty people led them to drink more of a beverage immediately afterwards, whereas images of scowling faces led them to drink less. Remarkably, the participants were not aware of a change in their emotional state. In this new study, the researchers expanded the scope of their tests beyond faces to other images and words.

    “We wanted to compare two major kinds of emotional stimuli that people encounter in their life: words and pictures, including those of emotional faces and evocative images of objects,” says Winkielman. “We also tested if it matters whether these stimuli are presented very briefly or for a longer period of time.”

    The researchers asked undergraduates to classify objects, faces, or words on a computer screen. While showing a series of emotionally neutral images in quick succession, the researchers included brief flashes of faces, pictures or words that were either positive or negative. After the task, the researchers provided a soft drink and allowed the participants to drink as much as they liked.

    The first experiment compared the effect of emotive words, such as “panda” (positive) and “knife” (negative), with that of happy (positive) and angry (negative) facial expressions. The second compared the effect of emotive words with images of emotionally charged objects, such as a gun or a cute dog.

    As in previous studies, participants drank more after seeing happy faces than after seeing angry faces. Participants also drank more after seeing positive objects than after seeing negative objects. In contrast, positive words did not increase consumption.

    “We found that emotive images of objects altered the amount that participants drank, with ‘positive’ objects increasing consumption and ‘negative’ objects decreasing it,” says Winkielman. “But people were not swayed by emotional words, which were somehow powerless — even though the words were rated to be as emotive as the pictures.”

    Surprisingly, nearly invisible images — shown for only 10 milliseconds — had the same effect as clearly noticeable images shown for 200 milliseconds.

    “In our experiment, the duration of the emotional cue did not matter for its ability to influence consumption,” says Winkielman. “This echoes some previous studies, however we need stronger evidence to confidently claim that fleeting images work as well as more noticeable images in altering behavior.”

    Figuring out why emotive images are more powerful than emotive words is the researchers’ next task. They hypothesize that emotionally charged pictures may speak more directly to us than words, which can be nuanced and ambiguous, and may require more thought before they affect us.

    The results raise many questions: “We know from our other research that words in sentences are emotionally impactful, but why?” asks Winkielman. “Is it because they can conjure up images?”

    For now, at least, it appears that a single picture is worth more than a word. More than a thousand words? That’s yet to be discovered.


  2. Study finds more screen time correlated with less happiness in young people

    February 13, 2018 by Ashley

    From the San Diego State University press release:

    Happiness is not a warm phone, according to a new study exploring the link between adolescent life satisfaction and screen time. Teens whose eyes are habitually glued to their smartphones are markedly unhappier, said study lead author and San Diego State University and professor of psychology Jean M. Twenge.

    To investigate this link, Twenge, along with colleagues Gabrielle Martin at SDSU and W. Keith Campbell at the University of Georgia, crunched data from the Monitoring the Future (MtF) longitudinal study, a nationally representative survey of more than a million U.S. 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. The survey asked students questions about how often they spent time on their phones, tablets and computers, as well as questions about their in-the-flesh social interactions and their overall happiness.

    On average, they found that teens who spent more time in front of screen devices — playing computer games, using social media, texting and video chatting — were less happy than those who invested more time in non-screen activities like sports, reading newspapers and magazines, and face-to-face social interaction.

    Twenge believes this screen time is driving unhappiness rather than the other way around.

    “Although this study can’t show causation, several other studies have shown that more social media use leads to unhappiness, but unhappiness does not lead to more social media use,” said Twenge, author of “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy — And Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.”

    Total screen abstinence doesn’t lead to happiness either, Twenge found. The happiest teens used digital media a little less than an hour per day. But after a daily hour of screen time, unhappiness rises steadily along with increasing screen time, the researchers report today in the journal Emotion.

    “The key to digital media use and happiness is limited use,” Twenge said. “Aim to spend no more than two hours a day on digital media, and try to increase the amount of time you spend seeing friends face-to-face and exercising — two activities reliably linked to greater happiness.”

    Looking at historical trends from the same age groups since the 1990s, the researchers found that the proliferation of screen devices over time coincided with a general drop-off in reported happiness in U.S. teens. Specifically, young people’s life satisfaction, self-esteem and happiness plummeted after 2012. That’s the year that the percentage of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50 percent, Twenge noted.

    “By far the largest change in teens’ lives between 2012 and 2016 was the increase in the amount of time they spent on digital media, and the subsequent decline in in-person social activities and sleep,” she said. “The advent of the smartphone is the most plausible explanation for the sudden decrease in teens’ psychological well-being.”


  3. Study suggests motivational music increases risk-taking but does not improve sports performance

    February 11, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    A new study finds that listening to motivational music during sport activities and exercise increases risk-taking behavior but does not improve overall performance. The effect was more noticeable among men and participants who selected their own playlist. The study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, also found that self-selected music had the power to enhance self-esteem among those who were already performing well, but not among participants who were performing poorly.

    Listening to motivational music has become a popular way of enhancing mood, motivation and positive self-evaluation during sports and exercise. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence of music being used in this way, such as the famous Maori “Haka” performed by New Zealand’s national rugby team to get into the right mindset before games. However, the psychological processes and mechanisms that explain the motivational power of music are poorly understood.

    “While the role of music in evoking emotional responses and its use for mood regulation have been a subject of considerable scientific interest, the question of how listening to music relates to changes in self-evaluative cognitions has rarely been discussed,” says Dr. Paul Elvers of the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics and one of the study’s authors. “This is surprising, given that self-evaluative cognitions and attitudes such as self-esteem, self-confidence and self-efficacy are considered to be sensitive to external stimuli such as music.”

    The research team investigated whether listening to motivational music can boost performance in a ball game, enhance self-evaluative cognition and/or lead to riskier behavior. The study divided 150 participants into three groups that performed a ball-throwing task from fixed distances and filled in questionnaires while listening to either participant-selected music, experimenter-selected music or no music at all. To assess risk-taking behavior, the participants were also allowed to choose the distances to the basket themselves. The participants received monetarily incentivized points for each successful trial.

    The data show that listening to music did not have any positive or negative impact on overall performance or on self-evaluative cognitions, trait self-esteem or sport-related anxiety. However, it did increase the sense of self-esteem in participants who were performing well and also increased risk-taking behavior — particularly in male participants and participants who could choose their own motivational music. Moreover, the researchers also found that those who made riskier choices earned higher monetary rewards.

    “The results suggest that psychological processes linked to motivation and emotion play an important role for understanding the functions and effects of music in sports and exercise,” says Dr. Elvers. “The gender differences in risk-taking behavior that we found in our study align with what previous studies have documented.”

    However, more research is required to fully understand the impact of motivational music on the intricate phenomena of self-enhancement, performance and risky behavior during sports and exercise.

    “We gathered evidence of the ability of music to increase risk-taking behavior, but more research is needed to improve the robustness of this finding. Additional research is also needed to address the potential mechanisms that may account for the finding. We believe that music’s ability to induce pleasure as well as its function with respect to self-enhancement serve as promising candidates for future investigations,” Dr. Elvers concludes.


  4. People who sleep less than 8 hours a night more likely to suffer from depression, anxiety

    January 18, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Binghamton University press release:

    Sleeping less than the recommended eight hours a night is associated with intrusive, repetitive thoughts like those seen in anxiety or depression, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.

    Binghamton University Professor of Psychology Meredith Coles and former graduate student Jacob Nota assessed the timing and duration of sleep in individuals with moderate to high levels of repetitive negative thoughts (e.g., worry and rumination). The research participants were exposed to different pictures intended to trigger an emotional response, and researchers tracked their attention through their eye movements. The researchers discovered that regular sleep disruptions are associated with difficulty in shifting one’s attention away from negative information. This may mean that inadequate sleep is part of what makes negative intrusive thoughts stick around and interfere with people’s lives .

    “We found that people in this study have some tendencies to have thoughts get stuck in their heads, and their elevated negative thinking makes it difficult for them to disengage with the negative stimuli that we exposed them to,” said Coles. “While other people may be able to receive negative information and move on, the participants had trouble ignoring it.”

    These negative thoughts are believed to leave people vulnerable to different types of psychological disorders, such as anxiety or depression, said Coles.

    “We realized over time that this might be important — this repetitive negative thinking is relevant to several different disorders like anxiety, depression and many other things,” said Coles. “This is novel in that we’re exploring the overlap between sleep disruptions and the way they affect these basic processes that help in ignoring those obsessive negative thoughts.”

    The researchers are further exploring this discovery, evaluating how the timing and duration of sleep may also contribute to the development or maintenance of psychological disorders. If their theories are correct, their research could potentially allow psychologists to treat anxiety and depression by shifting patients’ sleep cycles to a healthier time or making it more likely a patient will sleep when they get in bed.

    The paper, “Shorter sleep duration and longer sleep onset latency are related to difficulty disengaging attention from negative emotional images in individuals with elevated transdiagnostic repetitive negative thinking” was published in ScienceDirect.


  5. Study suggests scent of romantic partner can help lower stress levels

    January 16, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    The scent of a romantic partner can help lower stress levels, new psychology research from the University of British Columbia has found.

    The study, published yesterday in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, found women feel calmer after being exposed to their male partner’s scent. Conversely, being exposed to a stranger’s scent had the opposite effect and raised levels of the stress hormone, cortisol.

    “Many people wear their partner’s shirt or sleep on their partner’s side of the bed when their partner is away, but may not realize why they engage in these behaviours,” said Marlise Hofer, the study’s lead author and a graduate student in the UBC department of psychology. “Our findings suggest that a partner’s scent alone, even without their physical presence, can be a powerful tool to help reduce stress.”

    For the study, the researchers recruited 96 opposite-sex couples. Men were given a clean T-shirt to wear for 24 hours, and were told to refrain from using deodorant and scented body products, smoking and eating certain foods that could affect their scent. The T-shirts were then frozen to preserve the scent.

    The women were randomly assigned to smell a T-shirt that was either unworn, or had been worn by their partner or a stranger. They were not told which one they had been given. The women underwent a stress test that involved a mock job interview and a mental math task, and also answered questions about their stress levels and provided saliva samples used to measure their cortisol levels.

    The researchers asked women to act as the “smellers” because they tend to have a better sense of smell than men.

    They found that women who had smelled their partner’s shirt felt less stressed both before and after the stress test. Those who both smelled their partner’s shirt and also correctly identified the scent also had lower levels of cortisol, suggesting that the stress-reducing benefits of a partner’s scent are strongest when women know what they’re smelling.

    Meanwhile, women who had smelled a stranger’s scent had higher cortisol levels throughout the stress test.

    The authors speculate that evolutionary factors could influence why the stranger’s scent affected cortisol levels.

    “From a young age, humans fear strangers, especially strange males, so it is possible that a strange male scent triggers the ‘fight or flight’ response that leads to elevated cortisol,” said Hofer. “This could happen without us being fully aware of it.”

    Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the UBC department of psychology, said the findings could have practical implications to help people cope with stressful situations when they’re away from loved ones.

    “With globalization, people are increasingly traveling for work and moving to new cities,” said Chen. “Our research suggests that something as simple as taking an article of clothing that was worn by your loved one could help lower stress levels when you’re far from home.”


  6. Study suggests journaling inspires altruism through an attitude of gratitude

    January 4, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Oregon press release:

    Gratitude does more than help maintain good health. New research at the University of Oregon finds that regularly noting feelings of gratitude in a journal leads to increased altruism.


  7. Researchers discover regions of the brain we use to categorize emotions that are communicated vocally

    December 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Université de Genève press release:

    Gestures and facial expressions betray our emotional state but what about our voices? How does simple intonation allow us to decode emotions — on the telephone, for example? By observing neuronal activity in the brain, researchers at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), Switzerland, have been able to map the cerebral regions we use to interpret and categorise vocal emotional representations. The results, which are presented in the journal Scientific Reports, underline the essential role played by the frontal regions in interpreting emotions communicated orally. When the process does not function correctly — following a brain injury, for instance — an individual will lack the ability to interpret another person’s emotions and intentions properly. The researchers also noted the intense network of connections that links this area to the amygdala, the key organ for processing emotions.

    The upper part of the temporal lobe in mammals is linked to hearing in particular. A specific area is dedicated to the vocalisations of their congeners, making it possible to distinguish them from (for example) environmental noises. But the voice is more than a sound to which we are especially sensitive: it is also a vector of emotions.

    Categorising and discriminating

    When someone speaks to us, we use the acoustic information that we perceive in him or her and classify it according to various categories, such as anger, fear or pleasure,” explains Didier Grandjean, professor in UNIGE’s Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences (SCAS) and at the Swiss Centre for Affective Sciences (CISA). This way of classifying emotions is called categorisation, and we use it (inter alia) to establish that a person is sad or happy during a social interaction.

    Categorisation differs from discrimination, which consists of focusing attention on a particular state: detecting or looking for someone happy in a crowd, for example. But how does the brain categorise these emotions and determine what the other person is expressing? In an attempt to answer this question, Grandjean’s team analysed the cerebral regions that are mobilised when constructing vocal emotional representations.

    The sixteen adults who took part in the experiment were exposed to a vocalisation database consisting of six men’s voices and six women’s, all saying pseudo-words that were meaningless but uttered with emotion. The participants first had to classify each voice as to whether it was angry, neutral or happy so that the researchers could observe which area of the brain was being used for categorisation. Next, the subjects simply had to decide whether a voice was angry or happy or not so that the scientists could look at the area solicited by discrimination. “Functional magnetic resonance imaging meant we could observe which areas were being activated in each case. We found that categorisation and discrimination did not use exactly the same region of the inferior frontal cortex,” says Sascha Frühholz, a researcher at UNIGE’s SCAS at the time of the experiment but who is now a professor at the University of Zurich.

    The crucial role of the frontal lobe

    Unlike the voice-background noise distinction that is found in the temporal lobe, the actions of categorising and discriminating call on the frontal lobe, in particular the inferior frontal gyri (down the sides of the forehead). “We expected the frontal lobe to be involved, and had predicted the observation of two different sub-regions that would be activated depending on the action of categorising or discriminating,” says Grandjean. In the first instance, it was the pars opercularis sub-region that corresponded to the categorisation of voices, while in the second case — discrimination — it was the pars triangularis. “This distinction is linked not just to brain activations selective to the processes studied but is also due to the difference in connections with other cerebral regions that require these two operations,” continues Grandjean. “When we categorise, we have to be more precise than when we discriminate. That’s why the temporal region, the amygdala and the orbito-frontal cortex — crucial areas for emotion — are used to a much higher degree and are functionally connected to the pars opercularis rather than the pars triangularis.”

    The research, which emphasises the difference between functional sub-territories in perceiving emotions through vocal communication, shows that the more complex and precise the processes related to emotions are, the more the frontal lobe and its connections with other cerebral regions are solicited. There is a difference between processing basic sound information (a distinction between surrounding noise and voices) made by the upper part of the temporal lobe, and processing high-level information (perceived emotions and contextual meanings) made by the frontal lobe. It is the latter that enables social interaction by decoding the intention of the speaker. “Without this area, it is not possible to represent the emotions of the other person through his or her voice, and we no longer understand his or her expectations and have difficulty integrating contextual information, as in sarcasm,” concludes Grandjean. We now know why an individual with a brain injury affecting the inferior frontal gyrus and the orbito-frontal regions can no longer interpret the emotions related to what his or her peers are saying, and may, as a result, adopt socially inappropriate behaviour.”

     


  8. Study examines fear of losing control and its role in anxiety disorders

    December 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Concordia University press release:

    Did you lock the front door? Did you double-check? Are you sure?

    If this sounds familiar, perhaps you can relate to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

    Help may be on the way. New Concordia research sheds light on how the fear of losing control over thoughts and actions impacts OCD-related behaviour, including checking.

    Although more traditional types of fear — think snakes, spiders, dogs, etc. — have been well investigated, this is one of the few studies to focus primarily on the fear of losing control.

    “We’ve shown that people who believe they’re going to lose control are significantly more likely to exhibit checking behaviour with greater frequency,” says Adam Radomsky, a psychology researcher in the Faculty of Arts and Science.

    “So, when we treat OCD in the clinic, we can try to reduce their beliefs about losing control and that should reduce their symptoms.”

    The study

    Radomsky’s findings were published this October in the Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, co-authored with PhD student Jean-Philippe Gagné.

    It’s the first in a series of related projects Radomsky is undertaking, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

    “The 133 undergraduate students who participated were given bogus EEGs. They were randomly assigned false feedback that they were either at low or high risk of losing control over their thoughts and actions,” explains Radomsky, Concordia University Research Chair in Anxiety and Related Disorders.

    Next, participants were given a computerized task — trying to control the flow of images on a screen by using a sequence of key commands. At any time, they could push the space bar to check or confirm the key sequence.

    Those who were led to believe that their risk of losing control was higher engaged in far more checking than those who were led to believe that the risk was low.

    ‘Something we can treat’

    Surprisingly, the students who participated in the study did not self-identify as having OCD.

    “If you can show that by leading people to believe they might be at risk of losing control, symptoms start to show themselves, then it can tell us something about what might be behind those symptoms in people who do struggle with the problem,” Radomsky says.

    “This gives us something we can try to treat.”

    The findings were consistent with what he and Gagné expected.

    “We hypothesize that people’s fears and beliefs about losing control may put them at risk for a range of problems, including panic disorder, social phobia, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder and others,” Radomsky adds.

    “This work has the potential to vastly improve our ability to understand and treat the full range of anxiety-related problems.”


  9. Study links healthy eating to kids’ happiness

    December 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BioMed Central press release:

    Healthy eating is associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems, such as having fewer friends or being picked on or bullied, in children regardless of body weight, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health. Inversely, better self-esteem is associated with better adherence to healthy eating guidelines, according to researchers from The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

    Dr Louise Arvidsson, the corresponding author said: “We found that in young children aged two to nine years there is an association between adherence to healthy dietary guidelines and better psychological well-being, which includes fewer emotional problems, better relationships with other children and higher self-esteem, two years later. Our findings suggest that a healthy diet can improve well-being in children.”

    Examining 7,675 children two to nine years of age from eight European countries — Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden — the researchers found that a higher Healthy Dietary Adherence Score (HDAS) at the beginning of the study period was associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems two years later.

    The HDAS aims to capture adherence to healthy dietary guidelines, which include limiting intake of refined sugars, reducing fat intake and eating fruit and vegetables. A higher HDAS indicates better adherence to the guidelines — i.e. healthier eating. The guidelines are common to the eight countries included in this study.

    The authors found that better self-esteem at the beginning of the study period was associated with a higher HDAS two years later and that the associations between HDAS and wellbeing were similar for children who had normal weight and children who were overweight.

    Dr Arvidsson said: “It was somewhat surprising to find that the association between baseline diet and better well-being two years later was independent of children’s socioeconomic position and their body weight.”

    The authors used data from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Study, a prospective cohort study that aims to understand how to prevent overweight in children while also considering the multiple factors that contribute to it.

    At the beginning of the study period parents were asked to report how often per week their children consumed food from a list of 43 items. Depending on their consumption of these foods, children were then assigned an HDAS score. Psychosocial wellbeing was assessed based on self-esteem, parent relations, emotional and peer problems as reported by the parents in response to validated questionnaires. Height and weight of the children were measured. All questionnaires and measurements were repeated two years later.

    The study is the first to analyze the individual components included in the HDAS and their associations with children’s wellbeing. The authors found that fish intake according to guidelines (2-3 times per week) was associated with better self-esteem and no emotional and peer problems. Intake of whole meal products were associated with no peer problems.

    The associations were found to go in both directions; better wellbeing was associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables, sugar and fat in accordance with dietary guidelines, better self-esteem was associated with sugar intake according to guidelines, good parent relations were associated with fruit and vegetable consumption according to guidelines, fewer emotional problems were associated with fat intake according to guidelines and fewer peer problems were associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables according to guidelines.

    The authors caution that children with poor diet and poor wellbeing were more likely to drop out of the study and were therefore underrepresented at the two-year follow-up, which complicates conclusions about the true rates of poor diet and poor wellbeing. As the study is observational and relies on self-reported data from parents, no conclusions about cause and effect are possible.

    Dr Arvidsson said: “The associations we identified here need to be confirmed in experimental studies including children with clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other behavioral disorders rather than well-being as reported by parents.”

     


  10. Study suggests how much people earn is associated with how they experience happiness

    December 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    People who earn more money tend to experience more positive emotions focused on themselves, while people who earn less take greater pleasure in their relationships and ability to connect with others, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

    “Higher income has many benefits, including improved health and life satisfaction, but is it associated with greater happiness?” asked lead author Paul Piff, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine. “After all, most people think of money as some kind of unmitigated good. But some recent research suggests that this may not actually be the case. In many ways, money does not necessarily buy you happiness.”

    The research was published in the journal Emotion.

    The researchers used a survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,519 people. Participants were asked about their household income and answered a series of questions designed to measure their tendency to experience seven distinct emotions that are considered to make up the core of happiness: amusement, awe, compassion, contentment, enthusiasm, love and pride. For example, to measure compassion, participants rated their agreement with various statements, including, “Nurturing others gives me a warm feeling inside.”

    Participants at the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum reported a greater tendency to experience emotions that focused on themselves, specifically, contentment and pride (as well as amusement). Individuals at the lower end of the income scale were more likely to experience emotions that focus on other people, namely compassion and love. Poorer individuals also reported experiencing more awe and beauty in the world around them. There was no apparent difference for enthusiasm, according to the researchers.

    “These findings indicate that wealth is not unequivocally associated with happiness,” said Piff. “What seems to be the case is that your wealth predisposes you to different kinds of happiness. While wealthier individuals may find greater positivity in their accomplishments, status and individual achievements, less wealthy individuals seem to find more positivity and happiness in their relationships, their ability to care for and connect with others.”

    Piff believes these differences may stem from higher-income individuals’ desire for independence and self-sufficiency, while the other-oriented emotions help lower-income individuals to form more interdependent bonds with others to help cope with their more threatening environments.

    Much psychological research over the last few decades has focused on the negative effects of poverty, according to Piff. “Poverty heightens people’s risks for a slew of negative life outcomes, including worsened health,” he said. “Wealth doesn’t guarantee you happiness, but it may predispose you to experiencing different forms of it — for example, whether you delight in yourself versus in your friends and relationships. These findings suggest that lower-income individuals have devised ways to cope, to find meaning, joy and happiness in their lives despite their relatively less favorable circumstances.”