1. Study suggests celebrity and status may not always help companies

    November 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Notre Dame press release:

    Businesses that have attracted lots of positive media coverage and are also affiliated with high-status venture capitalists or underwriters may seem like poster children for corporate success. But new research from the University of Notre Dame shows this kind of attention may be too much of a good thing.

    The study “Safe Bets or Hot Hands? How Status and Celebrity Influence Strategic Alliance Formations by Newly Public Firms” defines the media attention aspect as “celebrity” and the venture capitalist and underwriter affiliations as “status.” Together, they serve as lenses that influence how people process other information about a firm, according to researcher Tim Hubbard, assistant professor of management in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. But possessing both assets–celebrity and status together–is actually more of a disadvantage than possessing one or the other.

    “We show that possessing multiple social approval assets might not always be beneficial,” says Hubbard. “The relative predictability of high-status firms conflicts with the rebel nature of celebrities. It’s like looking through two different–and incompatible–lenses at the same time.”

    This challenges the assumption that accumulating such assets is always beneficial. The study– co-authored by Timothy Pollock, Michael Pfarrer and Violina Rindova and forthcoming in The Academy of Management Journal–shows that managers need to think about these assets in context.

    The researchers studied 347 internet tech startups that went public in the late 1990s and early 2000s, looking at whether they had celebrity and/or high status. They examined how many strategic alliances each firm had one year after going public, based on how potential alliances viewed the firm’s underpricing (change in stock price on the first day of trading).

    While celebrities were plentiful during this period, not all had high status. For example, MapQuest, Peapod, Salon and VerticalNet were all darlings, but were not backed by the highest status actors. Some–such as Pets.com, E-loan and Infoseek–were able to attain both celebrity and high status. All of these firms had varying degrees of success in attracting strategic alliance partners.

    “Celebrity played a big part in alliance formation when the firm had high underpricing, where the stock price experienced a ‘pop’ on the first day of trading,” Hubbard says, pointing to software and consulting services company Ariba as an example. The stock price almost tripled on its first day of trading in January 2002. By the end of its first year, it had 23 strategic alliances, compared to the average number of 2.4 alliances for sample firms in the study.

    “We also discovered that firms with both celebrity and high status had fewer partners one year after their initial public offering,” says Hubbard. High status firms had 1.65 fewer alliances if they had celebrity, compared to if they didn’t.

    “It changes our perspective on how these two intangible resources influence stakeholders,” he says. “Instead of only considering the baseline benefits of status or celebrity, we need to look at how these assets color stakeholders’ perceptions of other information.”

    Hubbard hopes the research can help managers better understand the nuances of intangible assets.

    “Viewing a firm through two different lenses can be difficult,” he says. “Rather than trying to gather every intangible asset, managers should consider which ones complement their organization. Not every firm needs to be a celebrity, and not every celebrity needs to have high status.”


  2. Researchers design social mobile gaming that boosts rehabilitation for physically impaired patients

    November 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Imperial College London press release:

    The researchers from Imperial have designed a video game called Balloon Buddies, which is a tool that enables those recovering from conditions such as a stroke to engage and play together with healthy volunteers such as therapists and family members as a form of rehabilitation.

    Balloon Buddies is designed to level the playing field by allowing healthy participants to support the less abled player. The researchers have shown that this type of collaboration makes it more rewarding for the less-abled partner, more challenging for the better partner, and overall more fun for both, as they have to continuously work together to score points.

    The team have trialled Balloon Buddies by getting patients to play it on their own in single player mode and then partnered with healthy volunteers during dual player gameplay. They found that the performance of the patient was boosted when they played with a healthy volunteer, compared to if they were playing the game on their own. In addition, they found that the poorer a patient’s single player performance was, the greater the improvement seen when they played with another during dual-player mode.

    These findings published today in the Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation (JNER), suggest that by increasing engagement with healthy volunteers, compared to playing alone, patients may be more likely to increase the effort they put into training, which could ultimately lead to greater gains in physical performance.

    While the pilot study was limited to 16 patients and 32 healthy participants playing in 16 pairs, the researchers believe this form of rehabilitation through gaming may be beneficial to patients recovering from other illnesses such as musculoskeletal injuries, arthritis, and cerebral palsy. The researchers are aiming to further develop the game alongside new multiplayer concepts and show that it can be used in different settings including patients training with their therapist or with other patients, in community centres or even remotely at home.

    Dr Michael Mace, lead author from the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London, said: “Video games are a great way of providing repetitive exercise to help patients recover from debilitating illnesses. However, most games are designed for users to play on their own, which can actually discourage and isolate many patients. We developed the Balloon Buddy game to enable patients to train with their friends, family or caregivers in a collaborative and playful manner. The technology is still being developed, but we have shown that playing jointly with another individual may lead to increased engagement and better outcomes for patients.”

    Balloon Buddies uses animation, sounds, and vibration-feedback, similar to conventional video games. It requires users to balance a ball on a beam, which is lifted at each of its ends by balloons controlled by the players. The main aim of the game is for the players to vary the height of the beam so that the ball collides with moving targets in order to collect points. Players are also required to work together to keep the beam horizontal so that the ball doesn’t roll off the platform. It is played with a wireless handgrip called GripAble, enabling people with arm weakness to control video games on any standard tablet device.

    In the study, the researchers tested the game on 16 patients who had arm weakness following a stroke with a healthy volunteer over three months at Charing Cross Hospital, which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, in 2016. Previously, the game was also tested on 16 healthy pairs with different baseline abilities.

    The team will now carry out a larger study to examine whether the game leads to more efficient learning and to examine if patients are more motivated to train for longer periods. They will also explore social implications of interaction such as the effect of patients playing with a relative versus a stranger.


  3. Study suggests willingness to support corporate social responsibility initiatives contingent on perception of boss’ ethics

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Vermont press release:

    A new study shows that people who perceive their employer as committed to environmental and community-based causes will, in turn, engage in green behavior and local volunteerism, with one caveat: their boss must display similarly ethical behavior.

    The forthcoming study in the Journal of Business Ethics by Kenneth De Roeck, assistant professor at the University of Vermont, and Omer Farooq of UAE University, shows that people who work for socially and environmentally responsible companies tend to identify more strongly with their employer, and as a result, increase their engagement in green and socially responsible behaviors like community volunteerism.

    “When you identify with a group, you tend to adopt its values and goals as your own,” says De Roeck. “For example, if you are a fan who identifies with the New England Patriots, their objective to win the Super Bowl becomes your objective too. If they win it, you will say ‘we,’ rather than ‘they,’ won the Super Bowl, because being a fan of the New England Patriots became part of your own identity.”

    That loyalty goes out the window, however, if employees don’t perceive their immediate supervisor as ethical, defined as conduct that shows concern for how their decisions affect others’ well-being. Results show that the propensity for the company’s environmental initiatives to foster employees’ green behaviors disappears if they think their boss has poor ethics. Employees’ engagement in volunteer efforts in support of their company’s community-based initiatives also declines if they believe their boss is not ethical, though not as dramatically.

    “When morally loaded cues stemming from the organization and its leaders are inconsistent, employees become skeptical about the organization’s ethical stance, integrity, and overall character,” says De Roeck. “Consequently, employees refrain from identifying with their employers, and as a result, significantly diminish their engagement in creating social and environmental good.”

    Companies as engines for positive social change

    Findings of the study, based on surveys of 359 employees at 35 companies in the manufacturing industry (consumer goods, automobile, and textile), could provide insight for companies failing to reap the substantial societal benefits of CSR.

    “This isn’t another story about how I can get my employees to work better to increase the bottom line, it’s more about how I can get employees to create social good,” says De Roeck, whose research focuses on the psychological mechanisms explaining employees’ reactions to, and engagement in, CSR. “Moreover, our measure of employees’ volunteer efforts consists of actions that extend well beyond the work environment, showing that organizations can be a strong engine for positive social change by fostering, through the mechanism of identification, a new and more sustainable way of life to their employees.”

    De Roeck says organizations wanting to boost their social performance by encouraging employee engagement in socially responsible behaviors need to ensure that employees perceive their ethical stance and societal engagement as authentic. To do so, and avoid any perception of greenwashing – the promotion of green-based initiatives despite not practicing them fully – organizations should strive to ensure consistency between CSR engagement and leaders’ ethical stance by training supervisors about social and ethical responsibility. Organizations should also be cautious in hiring and promoting individuals to leadership positions who fit with the company CSR strategy and ethical culture.

    “Organizations should not treat CSR as an add-on activity to their traditional business models, but rather as something that should be carefully planned and integrated into the company strategy, culture, and DNA,” says De Roeck. “Only then will employees positively perceive CSR as a strong identity cue that will trigger their identification with the organization and, as a result, foster their engagement in such activities through socially responsible behaviors.”


  4. Study suggests maintaining strong social networks linked to slower cognitive decline

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    Maintaining positive, warm and trusting friendships might be the key to a slower decline in memory and cognitive functioning, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

    SuperAgers — who are 80 years of age and older who have cognitive ability at least as good as people in their 50s or 60s — reported having more satisfying, high-quality relationships compared to their cognitively average, same-age peers, the study reports.

    Previous SuperAger research at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has focused on the biological differences in SuperAgers, such as discovering that the cortex in their brain is actually larger than their cognitively average, same-age peers. This study, published Oct. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE, was the first to examine the social side of SuperAgers.

    “You don’t have the be the life of the party, but this study supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive decline,” said senior author Emily Rogalski, associate professor at Northwestern’s CNADC.

    Participants answered a 42-item questionnaire called the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, which is a widely used measure of psychological well-being. The scale examines six aspects of psychological well-being: autonomy, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance. SuperAgers scored a median overall score of 40 in positive relations with others while the control group scored 36 — a significant difference, Rogalski said.

    “This finding is particularly exciting as a step toward understanding what factors underlie the preservation of cognitive ability in advanced age, particularly those that may be modifiable,” said first author Amanda Cook, a clinical neuropsychology doctoral student in the laboratory of Rogalski and Sandra Weintraub.

    Other research studies have reported a decline in social networks in people with Alzheimer’s disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and previous literature has shown psychological well-being in older age to be associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.

    “It’s not as simple as saying if you have a strong social network, you’ll never get Alzheimer’s disease,” Rogalski said. “But if there is a list of healthy choices one can make, such as eating a certain diet and not smoking, maintaining strong social networks may be an important one on that list. None of these things by themself guarantees you don’t get the disease, but they may still have health benefits.


  5. Mini-microscopes reveal brain circuitry behind social behavior

    November 10, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Howard Hughes Medical Institute press release:

    Tiny microscopes mounted on mice’s heads have given researchers a peek into the neural circuitry of social behavior.

    Instincts such as mating or fighting are innate behaviors generally thought to be hardwired into an animal’s brain. But now, two studies that map brain activity in living mice reveal that social experiences can influence brain responses to other mice. The results, recently reported in the journals Nature and Cell, show how and where in the brain some instincts are shaped by learning, says Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) Investigator David Anderson of California Institute of Technology.

    “We’re starting to get a sense of what happens between the part of the brain that takes in sensory information and the part that produces behavior,” Anderson says.

    Neuroscientists want to understand how the brain converts sights, sounds, and smells into pictures of the outside world. For animals, smell also provides clues about the age and sex of others nearby; this information can trigger instinctive behaviors. Male and female mice sharing a cage will mate, for example, while two males will often fight for territory.

    Anderson and HHMI Investigator Catherine Dulac of Harvard University have previously identified brain regions controlling social behaviors in mice. Anderson has used genetic and optogenetic approaches to identify brain regions responsible for the control of aggressive and mating behaviors. And Dulac has used similar approaches to study the neural pathways involved in smell-related social behaviors in male and female mice.

    Now, the researchers have visualized brain activity in awake mice as they interacted normally with mice and other stimuli. Working independently, Dulac and Anderson mapped patterns of brain activity in different brain regions while mice sniffed, ignored, fought, or mated with other mice. Dulac also tracked brain activity triggered by predator and infant odors.

    Lasting brain changes

    Dulac and her colleagues tracked brain activity in the medial amygdala, an almond-shaped structure that transmits smell signals to the hypothalamus. First, the researchers used a genetic trick to introduce a protein that lights up in active brain cells. Then, the team mounted lightweight microscopes on the heads of individual mice and looked at which brain cells were active when each camera-wearing mouse met another mouse. A thin glass rod implanted in the amygdala collected light from active brain cells and served as the microscope’s lens. The researchers recorded neural activity while videotaping the mice’s behavior in different social situations.

    Dulac’s team saw that different clusters of neurons lit up when mice met a member of the opposite sex. In males and females, these sex-specific neural patterns were quite different, Dulac says. And, surprisingly, the act of mating actually transformed the brain’s activity patterns. After housing virgin mice in a cage with a mouse of the opposite sex for 15 days, the mice had long-lasting changes in the brain, Dulac and colleagues discovered.

    The key to this discovery was an ambitious experiment that had researchers tracking mouse behavior and neural activity (via the head-mounted mini-microscopes) regularly for more than three months straight — a technical feat that scientists had not attempted before.

    Sexual experience strengthens the brain’s responses to the opposite sex’s odors, and improves an animal’s ability to tell males and females apart, the researchers found. That’s a sign that experience — learning — can help shape an animal’s instincts, Dulac says.

    “It was surprising to see patterns of brain activity thought to be instinctively activated by odor actually change with experience — and stay changed for over a month,” Dulac says.

    In male mice, the hormone oxytocin — known for its role in maternal and social bonding — is likely involved in regulating these long-term changes to the brain, Dulac’s team found. In female mice, pregnancy also changed brain activity patterns. During and after pregnancy, a whiff of predator odor (soiled rat bedding) didn’t trigger as big of a neural response as it did in mice before pregnancy. That finding stood out, Dulac says, because pregnant females and new mothers have been shown to have reduced responses to stressors. Her team, which collaborated with HHMI Investigator Mark Schnitzer at Stanford University and Venkatesh Murthy at Harvard, reported their results October 26, 2017, in Cell.

    Probing the hypothalamus

    At Caltech, Anderson and his colleagues also wanted to visualize the neural circuitry involved with social behavior in male mice. The researchers, including Stanford’s Schnitzer, used the same microscopic technique as Dulac’s team but implanted the lens in the ventromedial hypothalamus, an evolutionarily ancient structure involved in social behavior. Anderson’s team imaged the activity of a specific population of neurons that produce the estrogen receptor, which is well known for its influence on social behaviors.

    Anderson’s team placed the microscopes on virgin, socially isolated male mice and let them interact in an alternating manner with five different females and five different males, each for two minutes, for several consecutive days. The researchers imaged the same neurons across multiple trials and multiple days, and correlated changes in neural activity with changes in social behaviors, such as sniffing, mounting, and attacking.

    During the males’ initial encounters with male or female visitors, researchers observed little mating or fighting, and the same neurons lit up in response to both sexes. But with continued social experience, the males gradually began to mate with female visitors, and then to attack male visitors. At the same time, more neurons began to respond specifically to one or the other sex, and fewer to both.

    “We watched these activity patterns change in real time as a mouse’s brain learned to tell the difference between males and females,” Anderson says.

    In a different set of experiments, Anderson’s team showed that just a brief experience with a female mouse could make a big difference in a virgin male’s brain, as well as in his aggressive behavior. As little as 30 minutes of sexual experience was enough to promote female- and male-specific neural activation patterns when tested 24 hours later. The short tryst also caused males to exhibit aggression the next day, whereas males without this experience were non-aggressive. Thirty minutes of experience with a male had no such effect.

    The results suggest that although mating and fighting are innate behaviors, mice’s brains have to learn to tell the difference between males and females before they can properly exhibit both of these behaviors, Anderson says. “There’s a learned component to these instinctive behaviors.”

    His team’s findings also reveal that neural activity in the hypothalamus is dynamic, and can be shaped by experience, Anderson adds. Those properties indicate that this evolutionarily ancient region of the brain may be more similar to newer brain regions than previously thought, he says. He and colleagues reported their work October 18, 2017, in Nature.

    Although Dulac’s and Anderson’s teams examined different brain regions, both researchers observed a similar relationship between sex-specific neural activity and social behavior.

    But it’s not yet possible to say whether the activation patterns observed by the two groups in different brain regions are influencing each other, Anderson says. The connections between the hypothalamus and the amygdala are complicated, and experiments to follow information flow between the two are on the edge of what’s technically possible, he adds.

    But altogether, the current work has given researchers a detailed look into the neural circuitry underlying mouse social behavior, Dulac says. “It’s wonderful to have a flurry of information about what the brain of an animal says as it meets another animal and how that changes with different social experiences. For me, this is a bit of a dream come true,” she says.


  6. Study suggests neighborhood’s quality influences children’s behaviors through teens

    November 8, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health press release:

    The quality of the neighborhood where a child grows up has a significant impact on the number of problem behaviors they display during elementary and teenage years, a study led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers suggests.

    The findings, published in the November issue of Social Science & Medicine, indicate that neighborhood quality has significant and long-term effects on child and adolescent problem behaviors, findings that can help inform national, state, and local housing policy and community investment decisions.

    Using survey data collected between 1997 and 2007 on 3,563 children, the researchers found that children seven- to 12-years- old had significantly more serious behavior problems if they lived in neighborhoods that their parent rated as “poor” for raising children, compared to those living in the “excellent” neighborhoods. For the study, parents rated their neighborhoods as either ‘excellent,’ ‘very good,’ ‘good,’ ‘fair,’ or ‘poor’ for raising children, with 20 being the highest score, for excellent, and zero, for poor. Externalizing problem behavior scores were 1.7 points lower for those in ‘excellent’ neighborhoods; the average problem behavior score was 4, with possible values ranging from 0-20.

    Past studies have shown that externalizing behaviors — or problem behaviors that are directed toward the external environment, such as fighting, stealing, destroying property, or refusing to follow rules — affect 6 to 7 percent of children in industrialized western societies, a rate that increases with age. Many children with these problems continue to be disruptive and exhibit problems into adolescence.

    Over the decade of follow-up for the study, parents completed questionnaires about their child’s behavior. Youth living in neighborhoods rated “excellent” had additional decreases in externalizing behaviors compared to those living in “poor” quality neighborhoods. The lower levels of behavior problems among adolescents in better neighborhoods was primarily explained by lower levels of parental distress and family conflict. Parents’ ratings of neighborhood quality were not associated with externalizing behaviors among children six-years-old and younger.

    These behaviors predict more serious adverse outcomes later in life, such as substance abuse, delinquency, and violence, explains study leader Anne Riley, PhD, professor in the Department of Population, Family, and Reproductive Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health. Previous studies have linked poor neighborhood quality to a higher risk of these behaviors, she adds. However, the timing of these neighborhood effects and how neighborhoods affect children’s behavior through their effect on parents’ stress and family conflict has not been previously shown.

    To develop a better understanding of neighborhood effects on externalizing behaviors, the researchers used data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a longitudinal study that has surveyed thousands of families over multiple generations since 1968 about the economic, social, and health factors that affect them. As part of this survey, primary caregivers of children aged three years and older completed a 10-item Behavioral Problem Index (such as whether the child was “disobedient” or “mean to others”) was “often,” “sometimes” or “not” true.

    Neighborhood quality was also rated by independent observers based on five conditions, including deterioration of housing units, neglect of the street, garbage on the street or sidewalk, signs of drug use on the street, and noise outside the home. Their rating scores were essentially the same as those of parents.

    Additionally, the survey assessed family resources, including income and education, and other measures that impact children’s psychological functioning and behavior, such as parental distress, family conflict, non-corporal discipline, parental monitoring, and deviant peer affiliation.

    Riley notes that the connection between neighborhood effects and a child’s age might be simply a function of time — the longer a child is exposed to their environment, the stronger that environment’s influence is likely to be. Additionally, having better family conditions might buffer the effects of a poor quality neighborhood, or strengthen the effects of a good neighborhood.

    A striking result for the study, she adds, is that most caregivers were well aware that they lived in a neighborhood that wasn’t the best environment for raising children. Other research has shown that many are unable to leave due to circumstances such as cost of quality housing, proximity to jobs, or, for minority families, the difficulty of living in unfamiliar communities. As income inequality has grown over the past several decades, Riley explains, many parents are forced to raise their children in places that feel chaotic or unsafe, circumstances that are far from ideal for development. Future studies will be necessary to assess whether housing programs currently in place mitigate these factors and lead to fewer externalizing behaviors in at-risk children.

    “I think this is a wakeup call for understanding the power of neighborhoods to contribute to the crime and behavior problems that we see in our society,” she says. “Our results suggest that neighborhood effects are something that we need to tune into in a much more explicit and purposeful way.”


  7. Study suggests teens don’t just think about themselves

    November 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Leiden press release:

    Parents often see that when their sweet, socially-minded children become adolescents they change into selfish ‘hotel guests’ who think only of themselves. But adolescents become increasingly better at weighing up one another’s interests. This discovery has been made by development psychologist Rosa Meuwese. PhD defence 31 October.

    ‘Adolescents don’t have a great reputation in terms of their social behaviour,’ Meuwese says. ‘You often hear parents say that their sweet, socially-minded children turn into selfish, lazy hotel guests who only think of me, myself & I. But out of sight of their parents, adolescents learn a lot about social behaviour from their peers.’ That may not be much of a consolation for their parents, but if they have a better understanding of the purpose of these social experiences in the development of the adolescent brain, it can help them to trust in the social journey of discovery that their adolescent children are undergoing.

    Carefully weighing up

    Meuwese looked at how the social brain of adolescents develops in their relations with their peers. She used four different methods to study the development of prosocial — socially desirable — behaviour in adolescents: she studied their behaviour, brain structure, brain function and the quality of their friendships. She had around a thousand school pupils in the Leiden area play a betting game on the computer. The participants could choose: one euro for yourself and one euro for someone else, or a distribution that was in some cases more social and in others less social. The experiment showed that young people’s choices are governed less by a set norm but that they weigh up the situation increasingly carefully. ‘Unlike what many parents see in their children, adolescents do consider the interests of others,’ Meuwese concludes.

    Winning for your friend

    Another thirty pupils played a betting game while being monitored in an MRI scanner. The participants could choose heads or tails and win or lose for themselves and a friend. ‘We first asked all the children who in their class they liked, and who they didn’t like. We also asked them who their best friend was.’ Meuwese expected to see more brain activity in the reward area of the brains of children who were popular with their classmates when they win money for a friend. ‘That appears to be a sign of being prosocial.’ Instead, she found a different connection: children who were not liked by so many of their classmates and who were sensitive to reward, showed greater activity in the reward centre when they won for themselves. ‘That’s a logical outcome, but we hadn’t expected it to be so strong.’

    Social brain development

    During their social development, adolescents become better at weighing up their own interests against those of someone else. Their social skills don’t decline, but are rather refined through interaction with their peers. Meuwese saw in adolescents with a lot of friends, or very good friends — she refers to that as a high friendship quality — that the social brain develops more rapidly. The social brain develops with increasing age. ‘But a favourable social environment, such as a good friendship, may have a positive effect.’ Meuwese believes that children and young people should receive much more training in social skills. ‘It would be useful to teach psychology at secondary school. It would give adolescents a better insight into the impact of their decisions on other people, which would have a positive effect on their friendships and consequently on their social development.’


  8. Study suggests poor social skills may be harmful to health

    November 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Arizona press release:

    Those who struggle in social situations may be at greater risk for mental and physical health problems, according to a new study from the University of Arizona.

    That’s because people with poor social skills tend to experience more stress and loneliness, both of which can negatively impact health, said study author Chris Segrin, head of the UA Department of Communication.

    The study, published in the journal Health Communication, is among the first to link social skills to physical, not just mental, health.

    “We’ve known for a long time that social skills are associated with mental health problems like depression and anxiety,” Segrin said. “But we’ve not known definitively that social skills were also predictive of poorer physical health. Two variables — loneliness and stress — appear to be the glue that bind poor social skills to health. People with poor social skills have high levels of stress and loneliness in their lives.”

    The study is based on a survey of a nationally representative sample of 775 people, age 18 to 91, who were asked to respond online to questions designed to measure social skills, stress, loneliness, and mental and physical health.

    Social skills refer to the communication skills that allow people to interact effectively and appropriately with others. Segrin focused on four specific indicators of social skills: the ability to provide emotional support to others; self-disclosure, or the ability to share personal information with others; negative assertion skills, or the ability to stand up to unreasonable requests from others; and relationship initiation skills, or the ability to introduce yourself to others and get to know them.

    Study participants who had deficits in those skills reported more stress, more loneliness, and poorer overall mental and physical health, Segrin said.

    While the negative effects of stress on the body have been known for a long time, loneliness is a more recently recognized health risk factor.

    “We started realizing about 15 years ago that loneliness is actually a pretty serious risk for health problems. It’s as serious of a risk as smoking, obesity or eating a high-fat diet with lack of exercise,” Segrin said.

    Segrin likens the experience of loneliness to the way people feel when they’re in a hurry to get out the door and can’t find their keys — except the feeling never truly goes away.

    “When we lose our keys, 99 percent of the time we find them, the stress goes away, we get in the car and it’s over,” he said. “Lonely people experience that same sort of frantic search — in this case, not for car keys but for meaningful relationships — and they don’t have the ability to escape from that stress. They’re not finding what they’re looking for, and that stress of frantically searching takes a toll on them.”

    The good news, Segrin says, is that social skills have proved to be amenable to intervention.

    “For people who really want to improve their social skills and work on them, there’s therapy, there’s counseling and there is social skills training,” he said.

    Unfortunately, however, many people who have poor social skills don’t realize it, Segrin said.

    “One of the problems with possessing poor social skills is lack of social awareness, so even if they’re not getting the date, they’re not getting the job, they’re getting in arguments with co-workers or their spouse, they don’t see themselves as a problem,” Segrin said. “They’re walking around with this health risk factor and they’re not even aware of it.”

    Where Do Social Skills Come From?

    Social skills are mostly learned over time, beginning in your family of origin and continuing throughout life. Yet, some scientific evidence suggests that certain traits, such as sociability or social anxiousness, may be at least partly hereditary, said Segrin, who has studied social skills for 31 years.

    While Segrin doesn’t address it in his current study, he says that technology, for all its benefits, may be taking a serious toll on social skills, especially in young people.

    “The use of technology — texting, in particular — is probably one of the biggest impediments for developing social skills in young people today,” he said. “Everything is so condensed and parsed out in sound bites, and that’s not the way that human beings for thousands of years have communicated. It makes young people more timid when they’re face-to-face with others, and they’re not sure what to say what to do. There’s no social interaction, and I fear that’s really hurting young people.”

    Parents can help with their children’s social skills — and, in turn, their health — not only by limiting screen time but also by making sure children are regularly exposed to situations that require in-person social interaction, Segrin said.

    “It could be a summer camp, a sporting program, a church group — something where they can hang out with peers and just talk and do things together,” he said.

    Future research, Segrin said, should explore how other aspects of social skills might impact health. He also is interested in looking at how social skills impact those struggling with chronic illness.

    “I want to get the word out about how valuable good communication skills are,” Segrin said. “They will not just benefit you in your social life but they’ll benefit your physical health.”


  9. Study suggests group exercise improves quality of life, reduces stress far more than individual workouts

    November 1, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Osteopathic Association press release:

    Researchers found working out in a group lowers stress by 26 percent and significantly improves quality of life, while those who exercise individually put in more effort but experienced no significant changes in their stress level and a limited improvement to quality of life, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

    “The communal benefits of coming together with friends and colleagues, and doing something difficult, while encouraging one another, pays dividends beyond exercising alone,” said Dayna Yorks, DO, lead researcher on this study. “The findings support the concept of a mental, physical and emotional approach to health that is necessary for student doctors and physicians.”

    Dr. Yorks and her fellow researchers at the University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine recruited 69 medical students — a group known for high levels of stress and self-reported low quality of life — and allowed them to self-select into a twelve-week exercise program, either within a group setting or as individuals. A control group abstained from exercise other than walking or biking as a means of transportation.

    Every four weeks, participants completed a survey asking them to rate their levels of perceived stress and quality of life in three categories: mental, physical and emotional.

    Those participating in group exercise spent 30 minutes at least once a week in CXWORX, a core strengthening and functional fitness training program. At the end of the twelve weeks, their mean monthly survey scores showed significant improvements in all three quality of life measures: mental (12.6 percent), physical (24.8 percent) and emotional (26 percent). They also reported a 26.2 percent reduction in perceived stress levels.

    By comparison, individual fitness participants were allowed to maintain any exercise regimen they preferred, which could include activities like running and weight lifting, but they had to work out alone or with no more than two partners. On average the solitary exercisers worked out twice as long, and saw no significant changes in any measure, except in mental quality of life (11 percent increase). Similarly, the control group saw no significant changes in quality of life or perceived stress.

    “Medical schools understand their programs are demanding and stressful. Given this data on the positive impact group fitness can have, schools should consider offering group fitness opportunities,” said Dr. Yorks. “Giving students an outlet to help them manage stress and feel better mentally and physically can potentially alleviate some of the burnout and anxiety in the profession.”


  10. Study suggests effectiveness of online social networks designed to help smokers quit

    by Ashley

    From the University of Iowa press release:

    Online social networks designed to help smokers kick the tobacco habit are effective, especially if users are active participants, according to a new study from the University of Iowa and the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit anti-tobacco organization.

    The study examined the tobacco use of more than 2,600 smokers who participated in BecomeAnEX.org, Truth Initiative’s online smoking cessation community designed in collaboration with the Mayo Clinic. The study found that 21 percent of those classified as active users after their first week in the community reported that they quit smoking three months later. Those who were less active in the community were less likely to quit.

    Kang Zhao, assistant professor of management sciences in the UI Tippie College of Business and the study’s co-author, says the results show that online interactions can predict offline behavior.

    How central you become in the online social network after the first week is a good indicator of whether you will quit smoking,” says Zhao. “This is the first study to look at smokers’ behaviors in an online community over time and to report a prospective relationship between social network involvement and quitting smoking.”

    The BecomeAnEX website enables members to share information and support through blogs, forums, and messages. Although the site is focused on smoking cessation, users can post on any topic. More than 800,000 users have registered since the site launched in 2008, resulting in a large, active community of current and former tobacco users supporting each other.

    Funded by the National Cancer Institute, the study constructed a large-scale social network based on users’ posting habits. Zhao says a key finding was that increasing integration into the social network was a significant predictor of subsequent abstinence. Three months after joining the BecomeAnEX social network, users who stayed involved on the site were more likely to have quit smoking when researchers contacted them to assess their smoking status.

    After three months, 21 percent of active users — or those who actively contributed content in the community — quit smoking; 11 percent of passive users — those who only read others’ posts — quit smoking; and only 8 percent of study participants that never visited quit smoking.

    The study did not examine why greater community involvement had such a positive effect on smoking cessation. Researchers speculate it may be because of powerful social network influences.

    “Spending time with others who are actively engaged in quitting smoking in a place where being a nonsmoker is supported and encouraged gives smokers the practical advice and support they need to stay with a difficult behavior change,” says Amanda Graham, senior vice president, Innovations, of Truth Initiative and lead author. “We know that quitting tobacco can be extremely difficult. These results demonstrate what we hear from tobacco users, which is that online social connections and relationships can make a real difference.”