1. Study suggests painting a realistic picture of difficulties of weight loss may actually be helpful

    February 9, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Drexel University press release:

    To reach your New Year’s fitness goals, a bit of reverse psychology might be in order. Telling people that weight loss is extremely challenging — rather than imparting a “You can do it!” mantra — motivated them to shed more weight, according to a new study by psychologists at Drexel University. However, the strategy did not compel participants to achieve the goal for which it was originally designed: to modify or replace many of the unhealthy foods in their homes.

    The study’s findings, published this week in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have conflicting implications, says Michael Lowe, PhD, a professor at Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences.

    “On one hand, giving overweight people a realistic sense of the dilemma that they are in and the powerful forces they are up against — including a genetic predisposition toward obesity and an increased susceptibility to many food cues in the environment — may actually promote cognitive restraint over their eating in the short-term,” Lowe said. “But, on the other hand, this message did not motivate participants to make numerous changes to the foods they surround themselves with.”

    Lowe and a team of researchers originally set out to determine the effectiveness of three weight loss interventions: behavior therapy, behavior therapy plus meal replacements, or a condition focused on getting people to change foods in their home food environments. They enrolled 262 overweight and obese individuals and assigned them to one of the three methods, while tracking their weight over a three-year period.

    Behavior therapy — the current “gold standard” in weight loss treatment — involves group support, regular weigh-ins, exercise, explicit goal setting and monitoring food intake, while meal replacement treatment replaces breakfast and lunch with calorie-controlled shakes or nutrition bars.

    Behavior therapy is aimed at bolstering someone’s internal sense of self-regulation over food intake and exercise. But research has shown that increases in self-control are not sustainable, and lost weight is almost always regained. The powerful lure of foods high in fat, sugar and salt has been well-documented, and existing treatments do not do enough to ensure that foods kept in the home are permanently changed in ways that make self-control more feasible, according to Lowe.

    “You can’t just give advice,” he said. “You have to work with people to eliminate and substitute very specific foods, and teach them to prepare food differently.”

    That’s why his research team hypothesized that modifying the home food environment (or HFE) would be the most effective strategy for losing and maintaining weight loss. Participants in this group were given homework assignments to identify and make numerous changes to specific foods that were still satisfying but less calorically damaging.

    “Asking people to make healthy decisions, when there are thousands of food choices available, is both emotionally challenging and also complicated,” Lowe said. “HFE treatment is really about mechanically trying to ensure that these changes are made, so the level of chronic temptation generated by foods in their homes is reduced.”

    Most importantly, the research team repeatedly reminded the HFE group about the challenges associated with weight loss and maintenance. In doing this, the researchers aimed to acknowledge the participants’ vulnerability to overconsume favorite foods.

    “We said, ‘It’s impressive and encouraging that you are taking this step to improve your weight and health, but we need to help you understand the daunting challenges you’re facing.’ The reason we did this was not to discourage them, but to give them a more realistic sense of how crucial it is for them to make lasting changes in their parts of the food environment that they could control,” Lowe said.

    People struggling with their weight are likely to hold themselves responsible, even though a number of internal (heredity, for example) and external (fast food restaurants) forces are at play and beyond their control, Lowe said. The researchers suggested that by making multiple changes to their food environment, participants would be reducing the need to perpetually exercise self-control to maintain the weight they lost.

    In addition to measuring the participants’ weights during six assessment sessions over three years, the researchers also assessed conditions such as binge eating, quality of life, cognitive restraint and food cravings by using questionnaires and statistical analysis.

    At the end of the three-year study period, the researchers found that those in the HFE group lost more weight than those in the behavior therapy group. However, the differential in weight loss was modest, and all participants showed the familiar trend toward weight regain.

    “We failed to get them to translate our warnings into the kind of actions we were trying to get them to take,” Lowe said.

    The warnings did, however, have a positive — though unanticipated — effect. Cognitive restraint — defined by a participant’s ability to actively make healthy choices and measured with mediation analysis — showed the longest, most prolonged increase in the HFE participants, when compared to the other two treatment groups.

    This suggests that the researchers’ rhetoric about the difficulties of sustaining weight loss may have actually caused the participants in the HFE group to “push back” against this message and increase their vigilance over their eating, Lowe said.

    “That is, by questioning the usefulness of building self-control skills, the HFE treatment may have bolstered the very capacity it was meant to downplay — stronger self-control with regard to food,” the study authors write.

    Though surprising, these results have potentially clinically-useful implications. By emphasizing the many factors that make lasting weight loss so difficult, it may help motivate individuals to mentally and behaviorally cope with these factors, according to Lowe.

    “Rather than acting as cheerleaders giving facile encouragement, leaders of weight loss groups might serve their clients better by providing a more sobering description of the challenges participants face,” Lowe explained.

    However, since the participants in the HFE condition did not make greater changes to their home food environment, future studies should examine how to better improve and monitor this weight loss intervention, such as sending dieticians or other practitioners directly to clients’ homes for periodic visits.

    For Lowe, the study reinforces the challenging reality for those seeking to maintain weight loss — and makes a strong case for policies (such as Philadelphia’s beverage tax) that focus on preventing, rather than treating, the problem of obesity in the United States.

    “Once these conditions develop and you are continuing to live in the same obesogenic environment, it is unrealistic to expect that many people will be able to sustain a large weight loss,” he said. “Society ultimately needs to prevent these unhealthy weight gains before they occur.”


  2. Study suggests teenagers are sophisticated users of social media

    February 8, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Taylor & Francis Group press release:

    Teenagers are far more critical users of social media than we give them credit for, and need to be better supported in reaping the benefits social media can have.

    A new study published today in Sport, Education and Society sheds light upon teens’ online habits, finding that young people are not simply passive recipients of all the content available online, as commonly thought.

    Analyzing 1,300 responses from teenagers aged 13 to 18 from ten UK schools, researchers set out to discover how young people engaged with health-related social media, and understand the influence this had on their behaviors and knowledge about health.

    They discovered that most teenagers would ‘swipe past’ health-related content that was not relevant to them, such as ‘suggested’ or ‘recommended’ content, deeming it inappropriate for their age group.

    Many were also highly critical of celebrity-endorsed content, with one participant referring to the celebrity lifestyle as ‘a certain lifestyle that we are not living’, because they were more likely to be ‘having surgery’ than working out in the gym.

    However, many participants still found it difficult to distinguish between celebrity-endorsed content and that posted by sportsmen and women, leaving them vulnerable to celebrity influence.

    The pressure of peers’ ‘selfies’, which often strived for perfection, and the complex social implications of ‘liking’ each other’s posts, were recurring themes in the young people’s responses. Both of these activities had the potential to alter teenagers’ health-related behaviors.

    Lead author Dr Victoria Goodyear, of the University of Birmingham, emphasized the need to be more aware of both the positive and negative impacts social media can have upon young people. She said: “We know that many schools, teachers and parents/guardians are concerned about the health-related risks of social media on young people.

    “But, contrary to popular opinion, the data from our study show that not all young people are at risk from harmful health-related impacts. Many young people are critical of the potentially damaging information that is available.”

    Despite teenagers’ ability to assess content, the study emphasizes that adults still have a crucial role to play in supporting young people, and helping them to understand how harmful health-related information might reach them.

    Professor Kathleen Armour, the University of Birmingham’s Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, adds: “It is important to be aware that teenagers can tip quickly from being able to deal competently with the pressures of social media to being overwhelmed.

    “If they are vulnerable for any reason, the sheer scale and intensity of social media can exacerbate the ‘normal’ challenges of adolescence. Adult vigilance and understanding are, therefore, vital.”

    Dr Goodyear suggests that adults should not ban or prevent young people’s uses of social media, given that it provides significant learning opportunities. Instead, schools and parents/guardians should focus on young people’s experiences with social media, helping them to think critically about the relevance of what they encounter, and understand both the positive and harmful effects this information could have.

    Crucially, these discussions must be introduced into the classroom to help address the current gap which exists between the ways in which young people and adults understand social media.


  3. How your brain remembers what you had for dinner last night

    February 6, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of California – San Diego press release:

    Confirming earlier computational models, researchers at University of California San Diego and UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues in Arizona and Louisiana, report that episodic memories are encoded in the hippocampus of the human brain by distinct, sparse sets of neurons.

    The findings are published in the January 15 issue of PNAS Online Early Edition.

    Episodic memories are recollections of past events that occurred at a particular time and place, a sort of mental time travel to recall, for example, a past birthday party or conversation with a friend. Encoding of episodic memories occurs in the hippocampus — a pair of small, seahorse-shaped regions located deep within the central portion of the brain — but the precise mechanism and numbers of neurons involved has been unclear.

    “Scientists are interested in these issues not only because of their implications for models of memory, but also for health-related reasons,” said first author John Wixted, PhD, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychology at UC San Diego. “For example, degeneration in this region of the brain is responsible for memory loss in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.”

    Wixted, with Larry Squire, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry, Neurosciences and Psychology in UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues studied brain function in 20 epileptic patients undergoing intracranial monitoring for clinical purposes.

    Specifically, they recorded single-neuron activity as study participants read a continuous stream of words, some of which were repeated. Participants were asked to indicate whether the words were “new” or “old” if they recalled seeing the word earlier. Strong neural activity in the hippocampus associated with repeated words, but not novel words, was deemed evidence of activity related to episodic memory.

    The scientists found that individual episodic memories are encoded and represented by the strong activity of small (fewer than 2.5 percent) and usually non-overlapping sets of hippocampal neurons, a finding that perhaps helps explain why past research efforts have struggled to detect the process. At the same time, they noted that the firing rates or activity of remaining hippocampal neurons (approximately 97.5 percent) were suppressed — a phenomenon called neural sharpening. These findings are significant because they confirm what scientists have long believed to be true but for which direct evidence had been lacking.

    The researchers also looked for related activity in the amygdala, a nearby brain region associated with emotion and emotional memory. Models do not predict episodic memories are encoded in the amygdala by sparse sets of neurons as they are in the hippocampus, and, indeed, the scientists found no such activity there.

    “If treatments and preventions are to be developed for memory problems, and for diseases that affect memory,” said Squire, “it will be important to know how the brain accomplishes learning and memory: What brain structures are important for memory and what jobs do they do? In our study, we found what would have been easily missed were it not for theoretical models of memory that had been developed earlier.”

    Co-authors include: Stephen D. Goldinger, Arizona State University; Joel R. Kuhn, UC San Diego; Megan H. Papesh, Louisiana State University; Kris A. Smith, David M. Treiman and Peter N. Steinmetz, Barrow Neurological Institute.


  4. Study suggests key to willpower lies in believing you have it in abundance

    February 5, 2018 by Ashley

    From the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign press release:

    Americans believe they have less stamina for strenuous mental activity than their European counterparts — an indication that people in the U.S. perceive their willpower or self-control as being in limited supply, a new study suggests.

    More than 1,100 Americans and 1,600 Europeans — including 775 Swiss and 871 German-speaking adults — participated in the study, which tested the validity of a widely used psychological assessment tool called the Implicit Theory of Willpower for Strenuous Mental Activities Scale.

    People taking the assessment are asked to rate their level of agreement with statements such as, “After a strenuous mental activity, your energy is depleted, and you must rest to get it refueled again.”

    Americans in the study were more likely to indicate that they needed breaks to rest and recover after performing mentally taxing activities, while their European counterparts reported feeling more invigorated and ready to jump into the next challenging task immediately.

    What matters most is what we think about our willpower,” said the study’s lead author, University of Illinois educational psychology professor Christopher Napolitano. “When we view our willpower as limited, it’s similar to a muscle that gets tired and needs rest. If we believe it is a finite resource, we act that way, feeling exhausted and needing breaks between demanding mental tasks, while people who view their willpower as a limitless resource get energized instead.”

    Napolitano and co-author Veronika Job of the University of Zurich sought to test whether the ITW-M measured the concept of willpower consistently across sexes and different cultures. Participants’ scores on the ITW-M questionnaire were compared with their scores on similar assessments that explored their beliefs about intelligence, life satisfaction and trait self-control, which relates to their ability to rein in their impulses.

    The data indicated that the ITW-M had strong invariance between men and women. The instrument was slightly less consistent across cultures, demonstrating some variance in one of the seven U.S. samples and in one of the five samples of Europeans, the researchers found.

    However, the researchers hypothesized that an imprecise translation of the word “energized” may have skewed some of the Swiss and German participants’ interpretation of one question.

    Why do some people seem locked in a lifelong battle for self-control while others are so self-disciplined — impervious to overeating, overspending or binge-watching TV shows when they feel pressured?

    The secret to having ironclad willpower lies in believing that you have an unlimited supply of it, Napolitano said.

    Your feelings about your willpower affect the way you behave — but these feelings are changeable,” Napolitano said. “Changing your beliefs about the nature of your self-control can have positive effects on development, leading to healthier behaviors and perceptions of others.”

    The study was supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


  5. Study looks at how infants process their mothers’ responses

    February 4, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Cornell University press release:

    Babies are adept at getting what they need — including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers’ verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

    It’s long been known that babies modify their sounds to become more speech-like in response to feedback from their caregivers, and that they learn things have names by caregivers naming objects. But how do specific types of babbling elicit particular parental behavior?

    To answer this, the research team — Rachel Albert, assistant professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College; Jennifer Schwade, senior lecturer in psychology at Cornell University; and Michael Goldstein, associate professor of psychology at Cornell University — recorded and recombined the vocalizations of 40 nine-month-olds and their mothers, using a “playback paradigm,” widely used in animal studies, to assess how specific forms of sounds and actions by infants influenced parental behavior.

    The research sessions were conducted in a playroom with toys. Infants were outfitted with denim overalls in which a wireless microphone was concealed. Sessions took place in Goldstein’s B.A.B.Y. Lab, which is outfitted with video cameras to record responses during live play.

    “We expected that mothers would respond more often when babbling was more mature, and they did,” said Goldstein. “The increased rate of response meant more language-learning opportunities for the baby. The mothers’ speech was also more likely to contain simplified, learnable information about linguistic structure and the objects around the baby. Thus, by varying the form and context of their vocalizations, infants influence maternal behavior and create social interactions that facilitate learning.”

    The researchers also found that mothers responded more often and more informatively to vocalizations directed at objects than those that were undirected.

    “We suspected this would be the case,” Albert said, “because the object the baby is looking at creates an opportunity for the mother to label it, so she’s more likely to respond with specific information than when a baby is babbling at nothing.”

    In this way, write the researchers, “the infant’s own vocalizations serve to structure social interactions in ways that facilitate learning. … These results contribute to a growing understanding of the role of social feedback in infant vocal learning, which stands in contrast to the historical view of prelinguistic vocalizations in which babbling was assumed to be motor practice, with no function in the development of communication and language.”

    The study sheds light on correlations between early babbling and later language and studies finding that babies with more advanced syllables in their babbling have more advanced speech and vocabulary when they’re older.

    “We think there may be a kind of feedback loop, where for example parents’ labeling objects and rewarding more advanced vocalizations by responding more frequently promotes word learning,” said Schwade.

    These results may help in understanding delayed vocal development in at-risk populations and those with hearing delays, Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder. Fewer vocal interactions between children and caregivers, write the researchers, could “cascade into long-term differences in response expectancies, impacting language development over time as opportunities for learning from contingent parental responses are reduced.


  6. Study looks at why we keep difficult people in our lives

    February 3, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Bar-Ilan University press release:

    Chances are, you have someone in your life who causes a lot of tension and stress. Difficult relationships are common. They are also commonly difficult to evade. Who are these people and why can’t we just cut the cord?

    New research explores these questions and sheds light on the answers. Plain and simple: They are people you are stuck with, either because you need them or because you can’t ignore them.

    “The results suggest that difficult people are likely to be found in contexts where people have less freedom to pick and choose their associates,” says Dr. Shira Offer, of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Bar-Ilan University, who co-authored the article with Prof. Claude Fischer, of the University of California at Berkeley.

    Yes, that often means family and coworkers.

    Offer and Fischer published their findings in a recent issue of American Sociological Review. Their research is based on data from the University of California Network Study, which collected data about the social ties of over 1,100 adults in the greater San Francisco Bay Area.

    Respondents in the survey were asked to provide the names of people to whom they were connected in different ways, for example those with whom they socialized, in whom they confided, and from whom they would ask for help in emergency situations. They were also asked to name and describe the people in their lives they found demanding or difficult. The “difficult” comprised about 15 percent of all the people respondents named.

    Close kin, especially female relatives and aging parents, were most likely to be listed as “difficult.”

    “These are people with whom our lives are so complexly intertwined,” says Dr. Offer. “Many are close family whom we need and even love; others we just can’t escape. Social norms do not allow us to simply walk away from them, however much this might be tempting to do sometimes.”

    The disproportionate presence of women on the “difficult” list is best understood as reflecting women’s more intensive role in the family, providing more fodder for tension and conflict. Non-kin described as friends were less likely and those described as co-workers more likely to be named as difficult.

    Finally, the study examined what kinds of interactions seemed to characterize a “difficult” relationship. Providing support to other people, but not receiving support from them — say, caring for a failing parent-was a major source of difficulty in these relationships.

    Overall, this study highlights how normative and institutional constraints may force people to retain difficult and demanding connections in their networks.


  7. Study finds lingering effects of long-ended obligations

    February 2, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Ohio State University press release:

    You can quit work commitments if you want — but some of them never really leave you, new research suggests.

    In a study of 420 employees representing a wide variety of occupations and work settings at three organizations, researchers found that commitments that workers no longer had were still lingering in their minds.

    “It was clear to us that past commitments were still affecting employees,” said Howard Klein, lead author of the study and professor of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

    While these effects could be positive or negative, the study revealed that many employees harbor negative feelings about long-gone obligations that their supervisors may not realize.

    “We need to find out what managers can do to mitigate the negative effects of these prior commitments that may be holding people back in their jobs,” Klein said.

    The study appears online in the journal Academy of Management Discoveries.

    While there has been a lot of research on commitment in the workplace, Klein said he believes this is the first to examine the impact of past commitments.

    The researchers called these “quondam commitments.” Quondam means “that which once was.” Workplace commitments examined in the study included those to organizations, supervisors, workplace teams, projects, goals or occupations, among others.

    The research involved surveys of employees at a health care facility, a financial institution and a large, unionized manufacturing plant. As this was an exploratory study, the researchers asked employees just two questions: The first asked participants to describe in a few words a specific thing that they were committed to at work but were not anymore. The second asked them to say why they no longer had that commitment.

    After reading the responses, the researchers sorted them into 11 broad reasons for why commitments ended. The most common was changes in work circumstances, which included about 30 percent of all responses. This could involve changed jobs or positions or shifted responsibilities.

    “The fact that changes in work circumstances was the No. 1 reason was surprising to me,” Klein said. “We all talk about the rapidly changing workplace, but I still didn’t expect it to be the most cited reason for commitments ending.”

    The second most common reason, cited 16 percent of the time, was over-commitment. This included conflicting responsibilities or there simply not being enough time or capacity to fulfill all of one’s obligations.

    “Over-commitment at work hasn’t been given the attention it deserves. Our findings suggest we need to look at this a lot more closely,” he said.

    “There is evidence that having commitments facilitates well-being because it gives you a sense of purpose. But commitments become a problem when employees feel they have too many to keep up.”

    Indeed, “negative effects on well-being” was another category of identified reasons for no longer being committed.

    Several of the other reasons cited for quondam commitments also had troubling implications for companies, including “negative perceptions of other personnel,” “negative perception of leadership/management,” and a “significant negative work event.”

    A strong negative quondam commitment could make employees reluctant to fully commit to new projects, supervisors or goals in their jobs, Klein said.

    “The closest thing to this that has been studied is romantic relationships. Workplace commitments are not the same, of course, but there are parallels,” he said.

    “People talk about how they have been burned in the past and don’t want to make the same mistake again. Something similar could happen to employees whose past work commitments didn’t end when, or the way, they wanted.”

    Klein said that, as an exploratory study, this research asks a lot more questions than it answers. But it points out the need to take quondam commitments seriously in the workplace.

    “We need to figure out when a quondam commitment is going to be positive or negative for both employee and/or the organization, and when its effects are going to linger or dissipate quickly,” he said.

    Companies today often need to pivot quickly and they need employees to change commitments just as fast. How managers deal with these changes for their employees, and the effects of prior commitments, is crucial.”


  8. Study suggests children view people’s behavior, psychological characteristics as shaped by environments

    by Ashley

    From the Society for Research in Child Development press release:

    A new study has found that 5- to 6-year-olds view people’s environments, not their skin color, as the most important determinant of their behavior and psychological characteristics. These findings contradict the idea that views of race that are known to lead to prejudice — such as believing that race naturally divides the world into distinct kinds of people — inevitably develop early in childhood. The study also found that the extent to which children endorsed such beliefs varied by the environments in which they were raised, especially exposure to people of different racial-ethnic backgrounds in their neighborhoods.

    The study, by researchers at New York University (NYU) and the University of Amsterdam, is published in the journal Child Development.

    “Our findings suggest that beliefs about race develop over time and in response to particular environments,” explains Tara M. Mandalaywala, a postdoctoral fellow at NYU who led the study. “And that these beliefs vary for children of different backgrounds.”

    Researchers looked at 203 Black and White 5- and 6-year-olds living in New York City and 430 Black and White adults from across the United States. They asked respondents about whether they saw skin color as something that could be inherited, and whether they believed that race determines what people will grow up to be like (e.g., how smart, nice, or athletic they will be). Previous research has not assessed young children’s beliefs about the extent to which race determines a person’s behavioral and psychological characteristics. The study also measured the demographic composition of children’s neighborhoods.

    The researchers found that children viewed skin color as something that could be inherited, but did not endorse the types of beliefs that contribute to stereotyping and prejudice in adults: They expected that a person’s behavioral and psychological properties would be determined by the environment in which he or she was raised, not by inherited race.

    Children’s beliefs about race depended on their exposure to diversity. In particular, children who lived in racially homogeneous neighborhoods held stronger beliefs that race determined behavior than children in more diverse neighborhoods, suggesting that such beliefs are shaped by the environment.

    “Our research suggests that beliefs about race that contribute to prejudice take a long time to develop — when they do — and that their development depends to some extent on the neighborhoods in which children grow up,” says Marjorie Rhodes, professor of psychology at NYU, who coauthored the study. “An important question our study raises is whether such attitudes in children are responsive to exposure to diversity in child care and school settings as well as to diversity in neighborhood environments.”

    The National Institutes of Health funded the study.


  9. Study suggests employees who work in open-plan offices feel worse and are more dissatisfied with their work

    February 1, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Karlstad University press release:

    It is becoming increasingly common for employees to share the workplace with their colleagues in large open-plan office areas. In this way, companies and organizations want to save money, but also facilitate the interaction between the employees. However, a new study from CTF, Service Research Center at Karlstad University, Sweden, shows the opposite. The more co-workers that share the workplace, the less satisfied the employees are, and the more difficult they think it is to have a good dialogue with their colleagues.

    Numerous private and public organizations have already adopted the concept of open-plan offices and many other companies are currently considering a switch from traditional cellular offices to such open layouts. Common arguments for investing in such open spaces are their claimed cost efficiency and flexible layout; their assumed ability to facilitate interaction among employees; and, ultimately, their presumed potential to improve work performance and productivity.

    In a new study researchers have investigated the associations between office type (cellular office, shared-room office, small open-plan office, and medium-sized open-plan office) and employees’ job satisfaction, well-being, and ease of interaction with co-workers.

    “The results show a negative relationship between the number of co-workers sharing an office and employees’ job satisfaction. This association was mediated by ease of interaction with co-workers and subjective wellbeing, with employees working in small and medium-sized open-plan offices reporting lower levels of both these aspects than employees who work either alone in cellular offices or together with up to two colleagues in shared-room offices,” says Ph D Tobias Otterbring and continues:

    “The open-plan offices may have short-term financial benefits, but these benefits may be substantially lower than the costs associated with decreased job satisfaction and wellbeing. Therefore, decision-makers should consider the impact of a given office type on employees rather than focusing solely on cost-effective office layout, flexibility, and productivity.”

    They study was recently published in Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health. The article “The relationship between office type and job satisfaction: Testing a multiple mediation model though ease of interaction and well-being” is written by Tobias Otterbring, Jörg Pareigis and Erik Wästlund at CTF, Service Research Center at Karlstad University, Sweden, and Alexander Makrygiannis and Anton Lindström at Aarhus University, Denmark.


  10. Study suggests parental sensitivity strong predictor of healthy infant-parent attachment

    January 31, 2018 by Ashley

    From the Universiteit van Amsterdam (UVA) press release:

    Researchers at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) are one step closer to understanding how infants become securely attached to their parents. In a new study published last month, the researchers show how parents’ level of sensitivity is an important predictor of infant-parent attachment, but also the degree to which they are attuned to their baby’s thoughts and feelings. This ability, known as mentalization, plays a crucial role in predicting infant-parent attachment.

    From an evolutionary perspective, babies attach to their parents for survival. A baby who is securely attached, experiences her parent as a safe haven and secure base. When a baby experiences stress, pain or other negative emotions, she will seek the support of a parent and will allow herself to be soothed. Moreover, a baby who is securely attached will feel free to observe and explore an environment in the vicinity of a parent. ‘There are strong differences in the quality of attachment between children, and these differences have in turn shown to be extremely important for understanding differences in the development and mental health of people’, says Moniek Zeegers, a PhD researcher at the UvA’s department of Child Development and Education. ‘Children who feel securely attached are, among other things, better at regulating their emotions, have higher self-esteem and exhibit less emotional and behavioural problems.”

    The researchers used a meta-analysis to test whether a link exists between parents’ tendency to read the thoughts and feelings of their baby and secure infant-parent attachment. The researchers also examined whether there is a connection between parents’ tendency to read the feelings of their baby and sensitive parenting behaviour.

    Previous studies have shown noticeable differences in the degree to which parents mentalize. Parents who do so consistently think about the autonomous emotions, thoughts, needs and preferences that could explain their baby’s behaviour. Zeegers: ‘For instance, a mentalizing parent sees which toy the baby prefers or whether a baby becomes overstimulated because of a game like hide and seek, or when a baby is inquisitive about a cat walking past. A parent who struggles to mentalize, shows an inability to correctly interpret the baby’s signals. The parent, for example, frequently projects her own anxieties or frustrations on the baby, or does not sufficiently take into account the child’s needs and preferences. Every parent sometimes misreads his or her baby’s signals, but when this overshadows interactions it can negatively impact the child’s development.’

    There are various reasons for misinterpreting a baby’s signals, such as a general difficulty in accepting that a baby has negative feelings, parental stress, or overestimating a baby’s skills. Moreover, the ability to mentalize also reveals the extent to which a parent is attached to his or her own parent. A parent who is insecurely attached has an increased risk of having difficulties with reading other people’s minds.

    On the basis of the meta-analysis, the researchers conclude that parents who frequently and adequately mentalize are better placed to appropriately react to a baby’s behaviour, which in turn predicts a higher chance for secure attachment. A parent’s ability to be attuned to the baby’s mind thus proves to be a strong predictor for a positive start to a child’s development.

    At the moment, the number of available interventions aimed at stimulating and/or changing parents’ ability to mentalize are limited, but nonetheless show promising results. The researchers therefore recommend that family therapy aimed at facilitating a secure attachment relationship between parent and infant should focus on behavioural change but also on strengthening parents’ ability to mentalize. Also, the current information material for new parents is strongly geared towards parental behaviour, but could have a greater focus on developing a parent’s general awareness of what their baby is thinking and feeling and how they can better perceive it.