1. Study examines gap between feelings and content on Twitter

    September 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Warwick press release:

    Twitter is an unreliable witness to the world’s emotions, according to University of Warwick sociology expert Dr Eric Jensen.

    In a new paper, Dr Jensen, Associate Professor in the University of Warwick’s Department of Sociology, highlights the risks of assuming that Twitter accurately reflects real life.

    With over 300 million monthly active users around the globe sharing their thoughts in 140 characters or less, Dr Jensen acknowledges that studies based on Twitter data are “particularly alluring” to researchers and the media. However, he cautions against this “big data gold rush,” pointing out that there is no evidence that social media content shared on Twitter is a truthful reflection of how its users feel.

    Twitter users have developed their own unique cultural behaviour, conversations and identities, which shape the ways in which they present their views online. Social convention, power relationships and identity influence online conversation just as much as off-line interactions, but in ways that are not yet fully understood.

    Dr Jensen also highlights the problems of drawing broader conclusions from a sample of Twitter users. It has been proven in several studies that Twitter users are not representative of the general population. In just one example, men are much more likely to use Twitter than women. Prolific users who tweet many times a day may be over-represented in any sample dataset.

    Commenting on his findings, Dr Jensen said: “Twitter users present only one side of themselves on social media, shielding their true feelings for good reasons, such as professional reputation. There is clearly a large gap between what people post on social media and how they really feel, but how exactly people manage the relationship between their offline and social media identities is still being uncovered.

    He continued: “When researchers find themselves with easily accessible data, there is a temptation to apply those data to interesting research questions and populations — even when there are limitations in the representativeness of the sample.

    Dr Jensen added: “Enthusiasm for accessing digital data should not outpace sound research methodology.”

    The paper, Putting the methodological brakes on claims to measure national happiness through Twitter: methodological limitations in social media analytics, is published in PLOS ONE today.


  2. Study suggests sportspeople can face retirement identity crisis

    September 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Portsmouth press release:

    New research shows how top-level sportspeople can struggle to adjust to life after retirement, with their identities continuing to be defined by their former careers.

    The research, published in the journal Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health, illustrates how some athletes struggle to adjust socially and psychologically following retirement. Previous studies have shown that in the most extreme cases it can lead to depression, eating disorders and substance abuse.

    The study was led by Dr Francesca Cavallerio of Anglia Ruskin University, who worked alongside Dr Chris Wagstaff of the University of Portsmouth and Dr Ross Wadey of St Mary’s University.

    Dr Wagstaff said: “Adapting to retirement is difficult for many people in society and this is particularly the case in elite sport. Such environments are characterised by very clear social and cultural expectations. In order to be successful, athletes typically conform to and associate success with these cultural norms.

    “This study showed that, unfortunately, when athletes retire many struggle to identify with anything other than their sport, which for many, has been the principal focus of their life for many years. Therefore, sport organisations must do more to support the non-sport lives of their athletes.”

    Dr Cavallerio, a Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Sciences at Anglia Ruskin University, interviewed female gymnasts who had retired from elite-level competition and found that their stories followed one of three narratives or storylines: Entangled, Going forward and Making sense.

    For instance, some former gymnasts who were identified as entangled had their identities completely defined by their former athletic self and the values instilled in them when they competed. They struggled to adapt to life after gymnastics and suffered from low confidence, low self-esteem, and a lack of drive towards new goals and experiences.

    The going forward former athletes were able to develop different identities to that of a gymnast at the same time as they were competing at a high level. Once their gymnastics careers were over, they were able to make the most of what they had learnt in sport to help their future development.

    Those in the making sense group fell somewhere in between, not confident enough to be going forward but struggling not to remain entangled in their former life. Future experiences were likely to decide whether they would more closely follow the going forward or entangled narratives.

    Dr Cavallerio said: “Sport continues to embrace the early identification and development of talented athletes. In many sports, the age at which people begin training at a professional level is getting younger.

    “Our study shows that how athletes are treated and influenced at a young age can have an effect on how they deal with retirement.

    “The issues we observed should be of interest to clubs and governing bodies across a range of sports. On a practical level they should be encouraging young athletes to develop a non-sporting identity at the same time as a sporting identity, and have a range of interests and friendships outside of their sport.”


  3. Scientists pinpoint 27 states of emotion

    September 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of California – Berkeley press release:

    The Emoji Movie, in which the protagonist can’t help but express a wide variety of emotions instead of the one assigned to him, may have gotten something right.

    A new study from the University of California, Berkeley, challenges a long-held assumption in psychology that most human emotions fall within the universal categories of happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear and disgust.

    Using novel statistical models to analyze the responses of more than 800 men and women to over 2,000 emotionally evocative video clips, UC Berkeley researchers identified 27 distinct categories of emotion and created a multidimensional, interactive map to show how they’re connected.

    Their findings are published this week in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

    “We found that 27 distinct dimensions, not six, were necessary to account for the way hundreds of people reliably reported feeling in response to each video,” said study senior author Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychology professor and expert on the science of emotions.

    Moreover, in contrast to the notion that each emotional state is an island, the study found that “there are smooth gradients of emotion between, say, awe and peacefulness, horror and sadness, and amusement and adoration,” Keltner said.

    “We don’t get finite clusters of emotions in the map because everything is interconnected,” said study lead author Alan Cowen, a doctoral student in neuroscience at UC Berkeley. “Emotional experiences are so much richer and more nuanced than previously thought.”

    “Our hope is that our findings will help other scientists and engineers more precisely capture the emotional states that underlie moods, brain activity and expressive signals, leading to improved psychiatric treatments, an understanding of the brain basis of emotion and technology responsive to our emotional needs,” he added.

    For the study, a demographically diverse group of 853 men and women went online to view a random sampling of silent 5- to-10-second videos intended to evoke a broad range of emotions.

    Themes from the 2,185 video clips — collected from various online sources for the study — included births and babies, weddings and proposals, death and suffering, spiders and snakes, physical pratfalls and risky stunts, sexual acts, natural disasters, wondrous nature and awkward handshakes.

    Three separate groups of study participants watched sequences of videos, and, after viewing each clip, completed a reporting task. The first group freely reported their emotional responses to each of 30 video clips.

    “Their responses reflected a rich and nuanced array of emotional states, ranging from nostalgia to feeling ‘grossed out,'” Cowen said.

    The second group ranked each video according to how strongly it made them feel admiration, adoration, aesthetic appreciation, amusement, anger, anxiety, awe, awkwardness, boredom, calmness, confusion, contempt, craving, disappointment, disgust, empathic pain, entrancement, envy, excitement, fear, guilt, horror, interest, joy, nostalgia, pride, relief, romance, sadness, satisfaction, sexual desire, surprise, sympathy and triumph.

    Here, the experimenters found that participants converged on similar responses, with more than half of the viewers reporting the same category of emotion for each video.

    The final cohort rated their emotional responses on a scale of 1 to 9 to each of a dozen videos based on such dichotomies as positive versus negative, excitement versus calmness, and dominance versus submissiveness. Researchers were able to predict how participants would score the videos based on how previous participants had assessed the emotions the videos elicited.

    Overall, the results showed that study participants generally shared the same or similar emotional responses to each of the videos, providing a wealth of data that allowed researchers to identify 27 distinct categories of emotion.

    Through statistical modeling and visualization techniques, the researchers organized the emotional responses to each video into a semantic atlas of human emotions. On the map, each of the 27 distinct categories of emotion corresponds to a particular color.

    “We wanted to shed light on the full palette of emotions that color our inner world,” Cowen said.


  4. Study suggests apologising for socially rejecting someone may make them feel worse

    September 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    Imagine you find out that your friend meets with mutual co-workers for lunch every Friday. You ask to join, but your friend declines your request. Could the way they phrased this rejection make you feel more or less hurt about being snubbed?

    A new study published in the open-access journal, Frontiers in Psychology, reveals that saying sorry when making a social rejection can have the opposite effect of its intention.

    “Contrary to popular belief, apologies don’t soften the blow of rejections,” says Dr. Gili Freedman, lead author of this study, currently based at Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, USA.

    “Most people have had the experience of wanting to minimize the hurt of the person they are rejecting. But how exactly do you do that? Our research finds that despite their good intentions, people are going about it the wrong way. They often apologize, but that makes people feel worse and that they have to forgive the rejector before they are ready.”

    Previous research has focused on the target of the rejection, rather than those who carry it out and how they do it. There can be times when people cannot accept all invitations or wish to avoid a social encounter, but little is known about how they can protect the feelings of those being rejected.

    Social norms dictate that we should forgive someone if they apologize, which puts the targets of social rejection in a difficult position if they aren’t ready to do this or think the apology is insincere. With that in mind, Dr. Freedman performed several different tests to assess how often apologies were included in a social rejection and how the recipients felt and responded to them.

    “We approached over a thousand people who were in town for various festivals so we could get a wide range of participants by capitalizing on the free time that people had while waiting in queues.”

    They found 39% of people included an apology when asked to write a ‘good way of saying no’ to a social request, such as being able to meet up or to be roommates again. When asked how they would feel when put in this position themselves, those people shown a rejection containing an apology reported higher feelings of hurt.

    Dr. Freedman then carried out specially designed face-to-face rejection experiments to account for the fact that people don’t like to admit negative feelings, such as the pain of rejection.

    “We know that people often don’t want to admit that they have hurt feelings, so in some of the studies, we looked at how much people wanted to seek revenge,” explains Dr. Freedman. “Specifically, we looked at the degree to which rejectees imposed an unpleasant taste test of hot sauce on their rejectors.”

    It showed that those offered an apology when rejected from a set of group tasks, which included a taste test of hot sauce, exacted revenge by allocating more sauce to the person who had rejected them. This was despite being told they had a strong aversion spicy food!

    Lastly, the researchers asked participants to view a video of a rejection in action, to assess if feelings of forgiveness can be affected. Those who saw the recipient receiving an apology thought they would feel more obliged to express forgiveness, despite not feeling it.

    Dr. Freedman hopes to further this research by examining if the rejector is actually protecting their own feelings when apologizing.

    “It is possible that rejectors may feel better about themselves if they apologize. We intend to examine when rejectors are motivated to feel better about themselves and when they would rather put the rejectee’s needs ahead of their own.”


  5. Study looks at effect of testosterone fluctuations in fathers after baby arrives

    by Ashley

    From the University of Southern California press release:

    Postpartum depression is often associated with mothers, but a new study shows that fathers face a higher risk of experiencing it themselves if their testosterone levels drop nine months after their children are born.

    The same study revealed that a father’s low testosterone may also affect his partner — but in an unexpectedly positive way. Women whose partners had lower levels of testosterone postpartum reported fewer symptoms of depression themselves nine and 15 months after birth.

    High testosterone levels had the opposite effect. Fathers whose levels spiked faced a greater risk of experiencing stress due to parenting and a greater risk of acting hostile- such as showing emotional, verbal or physical aggression — toward their partners.

    The study was published in the journal Hormones and Behavior on Sept. 1. The findings support prior studies that show men have biological responses to fatherhood, said Darby Saxbe, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor of psychology at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

    “We often think of motherhood as biologically driven because many mothers have biological connections to their babies through breastfeeding and pregnancy.” Saxbe said. “We don’t usually think of fatherhood in the same biological terms. We are still figuring out the biology of what makes dads tick.

    “We know that fathers contribute a lot to child-rearing and that on the whole, kids do better if they are raised in households with a father present,” she added. “So, it is important to figure out how to support fathers and what factors explain why some fathers are very involved in raising their children while some are absent.”

    Saxbe worked with a team of researchers from USC, University of California at Los Angeles and Northwestern University.

    A snapshot of paternal postpartum depression

    For the study, the researchers examined data from 149 couples in the Community Child Health Research Network. The study by the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development involves sites across the country, but the data for this study came from Lake County, Illinois, north of Chicago.

    Mothers in the study were 18 to 40 years old; African-American, white or Latina; and low-income. They were recruited when they gave birth to their first, second or third child. Mothers could invite the baby’s father to participate in the study as well. Of the fathers who participated and provided testosterone data, 95 percent were living with the mothers.

    Interviewers visited couples three times in the first two years after birth: around two months after the child was born, about nine months after birth and about 15 months after birth.

    At the nine-month visit, researchers gave the fathers saliva sample kits. Dads took samples three times a day — morning, midday and evening — to monitor their testosterone levels.

    Participants responded to questions about depressive symptoms based on a widely-used measure, the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression. They also reported on their relationship satisfaction, parenting stress and whether they were experiencing any intimate partner aggression. Higher scores on those measures signaled greater depression, more stress, more dissatisfaction and greater aggression.

    Relatively few participants — fathers and mothers — were identified as clinically depressed, which is typical of a community sample that reflects the general population. Instead of using clinical diagnoses, the researchers looked at the number of depressive symptoms endorsed by each participant.

    Men’s testosterone levels were linked with both their own and their partners’ depressive symptoms — but in opposing directions for men and for women.

    For example, lower testosterone was associated with more symptoms in dads, but fewer symptoms in moms. The link between their partners’ testosterone levels and their own depression was mediated by relationship satisfaction. If they were paired with lower-testosterone partners, women reported greater satisfaction with their relationship, which in turn helped reduce their depressive symptoms.

    “It may be that the fathers with lower testosterone were spending more time caring for the baby or that they had hormone profiles that were more synced up with mothers,” she said. “For mothers, we know that social support buffers the risk of postpartum depression.”

    Fathers with higher testosterone levels reported more parenting stress, and their partners reported more relationship aggression.

    To measure parenting stress, parents were asked how strongly they related to a set of 36 items from the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form. They responded to statements such as “I feel trapped by my responsibilities as a parent” and “My child makes more demands on me than most children.” A high number of “yes” responses signaled stress.

    Relationship satisfaction questions were based on another widely-used tool, the Dyadic Adjustment Scale. Parents responded to 32 items inquiring about their relationship satisfaction, including areas of disagreement or their degree of closeness and affection. Higher scores signaled greater dissatisfaction.

    Mothers also answered questions from another scientific questionnaire, the HITS (Hurts, Insults, and Threats Scale), reporting whether they had experienced any physical hurt, insult, threats and screaming over the past year. They also were asked if their partners restricted activities such as spending money, visiting family or friends or going places that they needed to go.

    “Those are risk factors that can contribute to depression over the long term,” Saxbe said.

    Treating fathers with postpartum depression

    Although doctors may try to address postpartum depression in fathers by providing testosterone supplements, Saxbe said that the study’s findings indicate a boost could worsen the family’s stress.

    “One take-away from this study is that supplementing is not a good idea for treating fathers with postpartum depression,” she said. “Low testosterone during the postpartum period may be a normal and natural adaptation to parenthood.”

    She said studies have shown that physical fitness and adequate sleep can improve both mood and help balance hormone levels.

    In addition, both mothers and fathers should be aware of the signs of postpartum depression and be willing to seek support and care, Saxbe said. Talk therapy can help dads — or moms — gain insight into their emotions and find better strategies for managing their moods.

    “We tend to think of postpartum depression as a mom thing,” Saxbe said. “It’s not. It’s a real condition that might be linked to hormones and biology.”


  6. Study suggests coping skills affect women’s anxiety levels

    September 18, 2017 by Ashley

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

    Research shows that having a strong sense of coherence and good coping skills can help women facing adversity to overcome anxiety. The work found that women encountering difficult circumstances, such as living in a deprived community, who reported good coping skills did not have anxiety. However, women living in deprived communities but without these coping skills were at high risk of suffering from anxiety. This work, presented at the ECNP Conference, is the largest study ever conducted on coping and the anxiety that arises from facing adverse circumstances, such as living in deprivation. This study opens the possibility that teaching women coping strategies may be a way of overcoming the anxiety that stems from facing adverse circumstances, such as living in deprivation.

    Lead researcher, Olivia Remes (University of Cambridge), explained, “Individuals with this sense of coherence, with good coping skills, view life as comprehensible and meaningful. In other words, they feel they can manage their life, and that they are in control of their life, they believe challenges encountered in life are worthy of investment and effort; and they believe that life has meaning and purpose. These are skills which can be taught.”

    The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, surveyed 10,000 women over the age of 40 who were taking part in a major cancer study in Norfolk, UK. They used health and lifestyle questionnaires to record information on living conditions, history of physical health and mental health problems, and linked that to 1991 census data to determine if the women were living in a deprived community. They also checked on each person’s sense of coherence using a questionnaire developed from Aaron Antonovsky’s groundbreaking work on how people find meaning and purpose in life. They found that 261 (2.6%) of the 10,000 women had Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Among women without coping skills, those living in a deprived area were about twice (98%) more likely to have anxiety than those living in more affluent communities. On the other hand, living in a deprived or affluent community made very little difference to the levels of anxiety experienced by women if they had good coping skills.

    Olivia Remes commented, “In general, people with good coping skills tend to have a higher quality of life and lower mortality rates than people without such coping skills. Good coping can be an important life resource for preserving health. For the first time, we show that good coping skills can buffer the negative impact of deprivation on mental health, such as having generalized anxiety disorder. And importantly, these skills, such as feeling like you’re in control of your life and finding purpose in life, can be taught.

    There is a huge number of people living in deprivation, and significant numbers have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. For the first time, we have been able to show that how you cope in life can impact the level of anxiety you are experiencing. Of course, more work needs to be done on this, but this points us in an important direction.

    Many people with anxiety are prescribed medication-and while it is useful in the short-term-it is less effective in the long run, is costly and can come with side effects. Researchers are therefore now turning to coping mechanisms as a way to lower anxiety. This is particularly important for those people who do not experience any improvement in their anxiety symptoms following commonly-prescribed therapies.”

    Commenting, Professor David Nutt (Ex-Chair of the ECNP, Imperial College, London) said, “These data suggest a trial of training in coping skills could be valuable for women lacking in them — such training needs to developed and then a study of its efficacy needs to be carried out.”


  7. Study suggests cultural context may affect link between positive emotions and health

    September 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Positive emotions are often seen as critical aspects of healthy living, but new research suggests that the link between emotion and health outcomes may vary by cultural context. The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, show that experiencing positive emotions is linked with better cardiovascular health in the US but not in Japan.

    “Our key finding is that positive emotions predict blood-lipid profiles differently across cultures,” says psychological scientist Jiah Yoo of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “American adults who experience high levels of positive emotions, such as feeling ‘cheerful’ and ‘extremely happy’, are more likely to have healthy blood-lipid profiles, even after accounting for other factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status, and chronic conditions. However, this was not true for Japanese adults.”

    “Our findings underscore the importance of cultural context for understanding links between emotion and health, something that has been largely ignored in the literature,” Yoo adds. “Although some studies have examined cultural differences in links between positive emotions and healthy functioning, this work is novel in that it includes biological measures of health and large representative samples from both countries.”

    The fact that positive emotions are conceived of and valued differently across cultures led Yoo and colleagues to wonder whether the health benefits observed in tandem with positive emotions might be specific to Western populations.

    In American cultures, experiencing positive emotions is seen as desirable and is even encouraged via socialization. But in East Asian cultures, people commonly view positive emotions as having dark sides — they are fleeting, may attract unnecessary attention from others, and can be a distraction from focusing on important tasks,” says Yoo.

    The researchers designed a cross-cultural comparison, examining data from two large representative studies of adults: Midlife in the United States and Midlife in Japan, both funded by the National Institute on Aging. Data included participants’ ratings of how frequently they felt 10 different positive emotions in the previous 30 days and measures of blood lipids, which provided objective data on participants’ heart health.

    “Because of the global prevalence of coronary artery disease, blood lipids are considered important indices of biological health in many Western and East Asian countries,” Yoo explains.

    As expected, the data indicated that experiencing frequent positive emotions was associated with healthy lipid profiles for American participants. But there was no evidence of such a link for Japanese participants.

    The differences may be due, in part, to the relationships between positive emotions and BMI in each culture. Higher positive emotions were linked with lower BMI and, in turn, healthier lipid profiles among American participants, but not among Japanese participants.

    “By demonstrating that the cultural variation in the connection between emotional well-being and physical well-being, our research has wide-ranging relevance among those who seek to promote well-being in the communities and the workplace, including clinicians, executives, and policy makers,” Yoo concludes.

    In future work, the researchers will examine longitudinal data to determine whether the evidence suggests a direct causal link between emotions and health. They also hope to identify emotional profiles that may be more relevant or important to health outcomes in East Asian cultures.


  8. Study suggests placebo effectiveness may hinge on ability to control emotions

    September 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Luxembourg press release:

    In a pioneering study, researchers at the University of Luxembourg used fMRI technology to show that a person’s ability to reinterpret negative events and to control feelings influences how strongly a placebo will work to reduce pain. Dr Marian van der Meulen gave us additional input.

    “Brain scans showed researchers that specific regions in the brain react when a person receives a placebo and as a result experiences less pain,” explains Dr Marian van der Meulen, neuropsychologist at the University of Luxembourg. “The regions in the brain that process pain become less active, which demonstrates that the placebo effect is real. But the psychological mechanism is still very little understood, and it is unclear why some people show a much stronger placebo response than others. We suspected that the way we can regulate our emotions plays a role and set out to investigate this.”

    Why is it important to better understand the placebo effect?

    “It’s important to understand that the placebo effect is not only an imagined improvement when we believe we receive a medication.

    The placebo effect had traditionally a negative reputation. During the last decade however, researchers have investigated the placebo effect itself. They have shown that placebos can trigger real biological changes in the body, including the brain, and that the placebo effect plays a role every time we receive a medical treatment. The placebo effect not only happens when administering a bogus treatment, but is a part of every medical procedure. It is triggered by the presence of a white coat and other signs of medical authority, verbal suggestions of improvement and previous experiences with a treatment. Clinicians or psychiatrists may be able to improve the outcome of a medical intervention by optimising the contribution of the placebo effect.”

    How was the study carried out, and key findings

    “The study was conducted in collaboration with the ZithaKlinik and uses fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) of the brain to show a relationship between the regions in the brain that respond to a placebo and the ability to regulate emotions.

    First, we assessed participants’ ability for ‘cognitive reappraisal‘, which means how well they can reinterpret negative emotions. Participants looked at images that create negative emotions. Their task was to come up with ideas or interpretations that made them feel more positive about an image and we measured how well they managed to do this. At the ZithaKlinik, participants were then put in the MRI scanner and they received painful heat stimuli on their arms. They were then told that they received a powerful pain-relieving cream, which in reality was just a simple skin moisturiser.

    All participants reported less pain: the placebo effect was working. Interestingly, those with a higher capacity to control their negative feelings showed the largest responses to the placebo cream in the brain. Their activity in those brain regions that process pain was most reduced. This suggests that your ability to regulate emotions affects how strong your response to a placebo will be.”

    Which role does brain imaging play?

    “When a brain area is more active, it consumes more oxygen and more blood will flow to this area. fMRI measures this change in blood flow and detects which areas of the brain are involved in a certain mental process. In our research we were able to detect decreases in activation in pain-processing regions but also increases in an area involved in emotion regulation.

    This is the first study using functional brain imaging that was conducted in Luxembourg. Our next research project will use fMRI to assess, amongst others, the placebo effect in elderly people. We know that older people perceive and report pain differently than young people, yet why this is the case remains poorly understood. With improved understanding, clinicians and caretakers may be able to better diagnose and treat pain conditions in elderly people.”


  9. Study links mental health to retirement savings

    by Ashley

    From the Medica Research Institute press release:

    The question of how mental health status affects decisions regarding retirement savings is becoming a pressing issue in the United States. Key factors contributing to this issue include the tenuous state of the Social Security system, greater use of defined-contribution pension plans by employers, longer lifespans, and the rise of depression and other mental health issues in older Americans.

    In the latest edition of the journal Health Economics, researchers Vicki Bogan of Cornell University and Angela Fertig, research investigator at Medica Research Institute, find that mental health problems have a large and significant negative effect on retirement savings.

    “A growing number of households are dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety,” says Fertig. “Our project studies the effect that mental health issues have on retirement savings because we need to understand how health problems may affect the economic security of this growing population.”

    The researchers found that psychological distress is associated with:

    • up to a 62 percent lower probability of holding retirement accounts
    • $15,000 less held in retirement savings accounts by single households and $42,000 less held by married couples
    • up to a 47 percent higher probability that married couples withdraw from their retirement accounts

    The results are generally consistent across single and married households. However, the study found some evidence to indicate that singles with psychological distress may divert funds away from retirement accounts, while married individuals with psychological distress may withdraw more from their retirement accounts. The study did not find evidence indicating that psychological distress affects retirement savings behavior through financial literacy or cognitive limitations.

    The effect sizes found are large, suggesting that more employer management and government regulation of defined-contribution pension plans, IRAs, and Keogh retirement accounts may be warranted.

    “The magnitude of these effects underscores the importance of employer management policy and government regulation of these accounts to help ensure households have adequate retirement savings,” says Fertig. “Better understanding the link between mental health and retirement savings decisions could inform policy interventions that may encourage households to save sufficient funds for retirement through defined contribution plans and shape national changes to the defined contribution plan withdrawal penalties.”


  10. Study suggests dog walkers motivated by happiness, not health

    September 11, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    It appears to be a case of ‘do what makes you happy’ for people who regularly walk their dogs.

    According to new University of Liverpool research, owners are motivated to go dog walking because it makes them feel happy, not because of other health and social benefits.

    In the most in-depth study of dog owner’s perceptions of dog walking to date, 26 interviews were combined with personal written reflections of dog walking experiences.

    The researchers found that while owners may say the reason they go walking is to benefit the dog, the importance of their own improved happiness and wellbeing is clear.

    These feelings of happiness, however, are contingent on the owner believing that their dog is enjoying the walk too. Anything that threatens this, such as behaviour problems, a perception that they have a ‘lazy’ dog, or their dog is too old, reduces their motivation to walk.

    Increased physical activity and social interactions with other dog owners were found to be secondary bonuses but were rarely motivating.

    Study lead Dr Carri Westgarth, a research fellow at the University of Liverpool, said: “The factors that motivate dog walking are extremely complex, yet we know they can strongly motivate human health behaviour.”

    “It is crucial to understand why owners walk their dogs if we are to be able to effectively promote owners to walk their dogs more.”

    With more than eight million dogs in households across the UK, dog walking is a popular everyday activity. Dog owners are generally more physically active than non-owners, yet some rarely walk with their dog at all.

    An owner briskly walking their dog for at least 30 minutes each day easily exceeds the 150 minutes recommended minimum physical activity per week. If all dog owners did this it would dramatically boost population levels of physical activity.

    Dr Westgarth added: “It’s clear from our findings that dog walking is used to meet the emotional needs of the owner as well as the needs of the dog. This may explain why pilot dog walking interventions with messages focused on health or social benefits have not been particularly successful.

    Possible key points for future interventions to increase dog walking are to promote how it may increase the dogs, and thus the owner’s, happiness.”