|Stress undermines empathic abilities in men but increases them in women
||Stressed males tend to become more self-centered and less able to distinguish their own emotions and intentions from those of other people. For women the exact opposite is true. Stress, this problem that haunts us every day, could be undermining not only our health but also our relationships with other people, especially for men. Stressed women, however, become more "prosocial" according to new research.
|How Much Do Parents Determine Their Children's Success?
||Should you have a kid? More than one kid? How much can you influence them? "Parents picture kids as clay they mold for life, when they're actually more like flexible plastic that responds to pressure, but pops back into its original shape when the pressure is released." - Bryan Caplanread more
|If you don't think multiculturalism is working, look at your street corner | Madeleine Bunting
||Living in a mixed area makes us more tolerant, not less, studies show. That fact must be part of the immigration debatePassive tolerance is probably not a concept many people have yet heard of. Let's hope that changes, because "passive tolerance" is the most hopeful bit of academic social psychology research to emerge in a long time. It is the idea that simply living in an area of high diversity rubs off on you, making you more tolerant of ethnic diversity.Think of all those tiny interactions between different ethnic groups on an average British city street: the newsagent, the corner shop, the delivery driver, the postman, friends laughing, children playing, a pair of lovers. This is what generates passive tolerance. You don't have to be part of the interaction yourself; just witnessing it is enough to have a significant impact – comparable to the effect passive smoking has on your health, hence the term passive tolerance.This is the finding of seven studies carried out over 10 years in the United States, Europe and South Africa, led by a team of social psychologists at the University of Oxford and published in the journal of the United States National Academy of Sciences. They were careful to rule out the most obvious explanation for their finding, social psychologists Miles Hewstone and Katharina Schmid explain – namely, that the higher levels of tolerance in more diverse neighbourhoods are a result of more tolerant people choosing to live there. Two of the studies were conducted over several years and tracked the same individuals, showing how attitudes changed. Even prejudiced people showed a greater degree of tolerance over time if they lived in a mixed neighbourhood.The study's positive message is reinforced by the finding of a separate study led by the same Oxford team – the biggest to date in England on diversity and trust. White British people were asked whether they felt ethnic minorities threatened their way of life, increased crime levels, or took their jobs; ethnic minority participants were asked the same questions. Both groups were then asked about how they interact with other groups in everyday situations, such as corner shops, and then about how much they trusted people from their own and other ethnic groups in their neighbourhood. What the study found was that distrust does rise in diverse communities, but day to day, direct contact cancels it out.The two studies together point to a more optimistic reading of how diversity impacts on urban neighbourhoods.The reason passive tolerance is politically so important is not hard to see. Sociology and social psychology have frequently been drafted in to the highly charged political debate about community, integration and multiculturalism. Key concepts and ideas take hold in the political sphere and become a rationale for policy. The danger is that oft-quoted ideas can become self-fulfilling. Perhaps the most influential in this area has been US sociologist Professor Robert Putnam, who said diversity has a negative impact on social capital, leading to people "hunkering down", and trust in strangers and neighbourhoods dropping significantly. "Hunkering down" has become a widely quoted phrase as a respectable way for liberals to articulate their growing concern in an increasingly toxic political debate on immigration.The problematic issue for the left is that lower levels of trust have been linked to declining support for the welfare state. The theory is that if you are less likely to trust the people around you, you are less willing to have a sense of solidarity and so less likely to stump up the taxes to pay for other people's benefits.The author David Goodhart, for instance, has seized upon Putnam's "hunkering down thesis as vindication of the controversial position he holds has long advanced. He routinely invokes Putnam to argue that the pace and scale of increasing diversity in the UK has been too great and, as he said in a recent interview, people "become less willing to share resources and do the things we require of people in a modern welfare state". The left faces a nasty conundrum as two of its most sacred shibboleths come into conflict: ethnic diversity and the solidarity necessary for a strong welfare state.This new research throws these conclusions into question. Putnam's work may, after all, have been misleading. In fact, rather than hunkering down, living in a mixed neighbourhood helps you open up. In some ways this vindicates many people's anecdotal experience of their own enjoyment of diversity in their neighbourhoods, and the sense that the most pronounced fear and prejudice is found in exclusively white areas.The research also vindicates the case for local initiatives to foster social exchange and build community relationships. From carnivals to coffee mornings, jumble sales to fun days in the park – all these are opportunities to generate passive tolerance. Sadly, however, many of these initiatives have fallen victim to local authority funding cuts. The impact of austerity has been compounded by a loss of confidence – in which Putnam's research played its part – about fostering strong diverse communities. Multiculturalism has fallen from favour, misunderstood and maligned as the set of ideas that guided community relations for a generation.No one was more acutely aware of this danger than Putnam himself when he talked to me on the publication of his research in 2007, the timing made the danger all the more acute in the aftermath of 7/7 bombings. Since then the theme of integration has come to dominate – with its coercive and conformist overtones. The result has been a yawning gap with no positive narrative for the fast-changing diversity of Britain's urban life.The hope is that this academic research will percolate into policy and public life, inspiring confidence again that strong diverse communities are not only possible, but can also work as beacons, converting residents and visitors alike to a possibility of rich exchange.CommunitiesImmigration and asylumPsychologyMadeleine Buntingtheguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
|Intelligent people are more likely to trust others
||Intelligent people are more likely to trust others, while those who score lower on measures of intelligence are less likely to do so, says a new study. Researchers based their finding on an analysis of the General Social Survey, a nationally representative public opinion survey carried out in the United States every one to two years. The authors say one explanation could be that more intelligent individuals are better at judging character and so they tend to form relationships with people who are less likely to betray them.
|Copper Pinpointed as Main Environmental Cause of Alzheimer's Disease
||Two pivotal processes affected by copper may hasten the onset and progression of Alzheimer's.â†’ Dr Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is
"Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
Related articles:The Peanut Butter Test for Alzheimer's Disease
Hidden Caves in the Brain Open Up During Sleep to Wash Away Toxins
Genetic Trigger Discoverd For Most Common Form of Mental Disability and Autism
How New Ideas Change Your Brain Cells
The Psychology of Nostalgia (in under 300 words)
|How to win wars by influencing people's behaviour
||When terrorism is staged for YouTube and all sides are media-savvy, the military is turning to the behavioural sciences for helpIn 1955 Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who led the project that developed the first atomic bomb, addressed the American Psychological Society. He warned that both physics and psychology could endanger humanity but that psychology "opens up the most terrifying prospects of controlling what people do and how they think". Despite Oppenheimer's warning, the idea that you could change human behaviour to win a war, rather than winning a war to change human behaviour, languished as an also-ran in the cold war arms race. But as information technology has begun to globalise and behavioural science has entered the mainstream, there is an increasing move to put psychology at the centre of military operations.Techniques such as deception and propaganda have been the mainstay of warfare for thousands of years, but there is a growing belief that the modern world has changed so fundamentally that war itself needs to be refigured. Confrontations between standing armies of large nation states are becoming rare while conflicts with guerrilla or terrorist groups, barely distinguishable from the local population, are increasingly common. In other words, overwhelming firepower no longer guarantees victory.As a result, dissuading people from taking up arms is as much of a military objective as killing the people who actually engage your troops. To the insurgent, influence is crucial, owing to the impossibility of winning the conflict through the force of arms. Violence, then, becomes not an act of war, but an illustration of resistance. For both sides, showing successful attacks on the opposition or highlighting the abuses of occupying forces is essential to forcing a withdrawal through undermining domestic support or fomenting international unpopularity.The latest report on global strategic trends from the Ministry of Defence calls this "armed propaganda", highlighting the fact that attacks may be staged as much for their value on YouTube as their physical effect in weakening the enemy. From this point of view, all wars are media wars and, with this in mind, the MoD predicts that "kinetic" force will become less important as social influence becomes increasingly significant in defending British interests.Social influence has traditionally been conceptualised as winning hearts and minds, but many military thinkers are now focused on a new approach informed by the behavioural sciences. A milestone in this approach has been the book Behavioural Conflict by Major General Andrew Mackay and Commander Steve Tatham, who co-ordinated influence-informed British military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The book has become a core text for a new generation of officers and argues that changing behaviour – not beliefs or perceptions – is the key to military influence. This is an alternative to the propaganda or public relations model that says that getting the target audience to share your beliefs and understand key information is central, despite well-established research showing that beliefs and attitudes are relatively poor predictors of behaviour.Mackay and Tatham argue that researching what motivates people within specific groups and deploying informed, testable interventions on the ground will be central to managing modern conflict. The incorporation of behavioural economics, anthropology, psychology and "boots on the ground" research methods to test for genuine behavioural change mark it out from previous approaches which are largely taken from advertising.To take the example of the war in Afghanistan, a great deal of effort has been spent on encouraging the population to support the introduction of democracy, when the extent to which ideology affects co-operation either with the occupiers or insurgents varies greatly depending on local context. The need to put food on the table, fear of armed groups, resentment of foreign imposition and the solidarity of social ties may all be more important in motivating behaviour than a belief in a certain political order. With this in mind, "target audience analysis" to understand the local population's motivations for collaboration, say, could lead to a tested programme of financial support. This could target reasons for supporting the insurgents, perhaps poverty, with a reduction in insurgent attacks being a measurable outcome. In this view of conflict, the military are, in part, social engineers prepared to work in the most dangerous places on Earth.But attempts at influence are not just focused on the theatre of war. In a 2011 article, psychologist Sarah King tracked the extent of the US military's work in the "global information environment" and noted how "information-operations" thinking is becoming pervasive across military campaigning. Defined as attempts to "influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decision making" that can stretch into the civilian world, information operations includes behavioural change programmes, cyber warfare, essentially hostile computer hacking, and "strategic communications", a form of impression management that involves attempts to steer the global news agenda to favour the military's objectives. This could range from providing new organisations with vetted video footage to having a cadre of clandestine internet users who push key talking points in the comment sections of the internet.The fact that a behavioural change programme, a public relations campaign, computer hacking and an air strike to take out an enemy radio station would all be considered legitimate information operations is perhaps the best reflection of how warfare has changed in the 21st century. Critics argue that the whole process is anti-democratic, but it could also be argued that it is simply a reflection of how belligerent forces are having to adapt to an age where, for the first time in history, information is sent across the globe in seconds and public opinion is the final arbiter of success.PsychologyMilitaryConflict and developmentIraqAfghanistanUS militaryMinistry of DefenceBritish ArmyVaughan Belltheguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
|"The times are a changing," How Art Therapy Can Help Children And Families With Transition Difficulties
||"The times are a changing" is a Bob Dylan anthem about change and going through change is an important part of everyone-s development.Do we choose to reject it and build walls around us or do we embrace and use the wind of change such as in the Chinese proverb above.Going through Transition means a time for change for us all. For a child this can mean starting nursery school and then school. For adults this can be marriage, divorce, having children as well as taking on a new job in a new place. Relocating and moving to a new place can be exciting but leaving behind families and friends can be stressful for children and adults.
|11 Ways to Tell if Your Lover Loves You
||Your lover may talk the talk, but does he or she walk the walk? These 11 behavioral signs of a healthy relationship will help you test your own partner's true feelings.
|All by myself: is loneliness bad for you?
||If you're happily married but want to be alone all the time, is it healthy? Or does solitude start a vicious circle?Perhaps I should feel more concerned about my wife's habit of apologising for me before I meet anyone she knows. The truth is, I'm not even sure what she's apologising for, except that I'm occasionally not that chatty. And I fidget. And my eyes stray about the place when people are talking to me. And I sometimes ask questions that can come off as a bit direct. There was that time, too, at the engagement picnic in Hyde Park, when I excused myself from all the socialising and went and stood by a bush. She was cross about that. I was sorry, but I didn't think anyone would notice. All that chitter-chatter felt like having my head squeezed.So although I should feel worse, I don't, because it means the occasions on which my wife invites me out are becoming ever rarer. Over the last few years, I've come not really to like out. I work alone, hike alone, go to the cinema alone, eat at restaurants alone. Once a year, I even holiday alone. As soon as possible, I intend to move even deeper into the countryside. The reason is people. I used to like them. Then something happened. And now I don't.I am solitary by nature, and solitude isn't a vice. It isn't binge-eating junk food or abusing drugs and alcohol, so I've always felt able to indulge myself freely in the soft joys of nobody. But then I started hearing that, health-wise, it might be dangerous; that you can overdose on alone.I'm reading a book about why this might be when my dog starts barking. I peer out of the window. A man is stealing my sandbags. The village in which I live has flooded and those sandbags were hard won. I grumbled to the council, then complained to a man in a lorry filled with sandbags who told me he wasn't authorised to give me any. It was only when my wife asked him that, for some reason, he changed his mind. And just in time. As I step out in my slippers to shout at the man, the water is only two feet from our door."Oi!" I cry."You don't need them just yet," he says, "but around the corner it's urgent.""You could've bloody asked," I say."I didn't think anyone was in," he says."You didn't even knock!""I didn't," he agrees."Are you going to bring those back?"He shakes his head in anger, says "Yes!" and disappears around the corner.People! You see what they're like? Anyway, where was I? Loneliness, by John Cacioppo and William Patrick (WW Norton, £12.99), page 14,"which makes each of us, to some extent, the architect of our own social world. When loneliness takes hold, the ways we see ourselves and others, along with the kinds of responses we expect from others, are heavily influenced by both our feelings of unhappiness and threat." I wonder, can it be true? That the unhappily friendless create their own state of isolation? But surely you can't be described as "lonely" if, like me, you're alone by choice?According to the book, our particular level of need for social inclusion is inherited. Some of us don't need so many friends. The pathologically lonely, though, sound as if they can be difficult. They tend to imagine people are "more critical, competitive, denigrating or otherwise unwelcoming" than they really are. "Fear of attack fosters a greater tendency to pre-emptively blame others." This fear can also make them lash out, become desperate to please or cause them to play the victim. Those poor people.The dog's barking again. I'm hoping it's the thief returning my sandbags, but it's an annoying, smiling man with some leaflets about flooding. "I'm from the Environment Agency," he says. "We're just going round checking everyone's OK."I squint at him suspiciously. "OK. Well, I'm fine.""Great," he beams. "There's such a wonderful atmosphere in the village, isn't there? Everyone's out, helping each other.""Huh!" I say. "Someone's stolen my sandbags."His face falls. I have an unexpected onrush of something that feels like shame. After I close the door, I recognise the moment as the kind my wife sometimes complains about. She'll tell me I've been rude, and I'll be mystified and panicked. Was I? Why? I was just... "It's like you live in another world," she'll reply.I call Professor Cacioppo, co-author of the loneliness book. He's a neuroscientist who, 20 years ago, felt his colleagues were making a mistake by viewing the brain as a standalone organ. Because humans are a highly social species (one famous psychologist, Professor Jonathan Haidt, describes us as "part bee"), he theorised that our brains must be designed to function correctly only when they're connected to other brains. To test this idea, he studied brains that lack sufficient social connections. "That condition, of course, has a name," he tells me. "And it's loneliness."Cacioppo's breakthrough came when he found that, when they sleep, the lonely suffer more "micro-awakenings" in the night. His point isn't merely that they typically feel more fatigued (which, incidentally, they do). For Cacioppo, this was evidence that they experience the world in an entirely different way. "Take any social species, such as fish," he says. "If you're on the perimeter, you're more likely to be predated. Your brain goes into self-preservation mode. You become more aggressive, more anxious, more depressed, there are changes in sleep. Why? Because it's dangerous. You show micro-awakenings because your brain remains partially alert for the presence of an attacker."Not all scientists agree with Cacioppo. Appeals to evolutionary principles for explanations of behaviour – we show micro-awakenings because of a primal fear of being eaten – are sometimes rejected as speculative Just So Stories, because they're untestable. Also disputed is his conviction that it's not the number of friends that counts but how we feel about them. "It isn't objective isolation," he insists. "It's whether you feel isolated. The brain's not sitting there counting people."I ask him to define "friend"."It's to do with synergism," he says. "Let's say I have to move some furniture. If I'm doing it alone, I'm likely to injure my back. If two of us are doing it and we act as individuals, we'll both be likely to hurt our backs. But if we each take a side of the table, it's transformative. It's synergistic. We change the nature of the challenge."I have two relationships that sound like that. The first is with my wife, who's mostly not here, because of work. The other is my friend Craig, who lives in Sydney. Cacioppo's book features a questionnaire, the UCLA loneliness test, which I took before we spoke. "How often do you feel outgoing and friendly? How often do you feel 'in tune' with people around you? How often do you feel that your relationships with others are not meaningful?" I scored 63."That's really high," Cacioppo says."It is?" I say."Yes," he says. "It is."My journey into the quiet took perhaps 20 years. As a teenager, I'd constantly agitate my friends to meet outside Woolworths on a Saturday afternoon or go drinking stolen amaretto in the woods. When they'd sometimes say no, I'd be mystified. How could you possibly not want to go out? It was fun! It was drama! It was life! I had friends, but also plenty of enemies. On at least two occasions, I somehow managed to turn almost everyone I knew against me. I was loud, back then. Disruptive. When I left school, I found an older set of associates, all my classmates having fled for university. One of them once told me, "When everyone slags you off, I always stick up for you." I tried to get on with people, but seemed mostly to alienate them. It was confusing. How do you make friends? What do you do? It didn't help when I drank, and behaved as I behaved. And I drank a lot.I got sober at 26. I started socialising alone and found it wonderful. Friday nights would be spent in my rented room with a DVD and some Doritos. I no longer struggled to get on with other people, because there weren't any under my quilt. As a writer, I came to appreciate the interview as conversation in its ideal form: I'd ask questions that would ordinarily be considered rude, while my subjects invariably asked nothing. When people say to my wife, "How can Will work alone all day in that dark room?" she tells them, "He loves it." And I do. It's safe in here, with the blinds pulled down. By writing, I get to talk, without the pressure of the listening face. My deepest intimacies are shared with the blank page on my computer screen. I confide in it things I keep from my own family. In a way, you're my closest friend.But having almost no social connections triggers strange symptoms. Like, I'm drawn to public transport. The top deck of the bus is the perfect party: enveloped in the comfort of the crowd, yet safe in the knowledge that no one will speak to me (and I'll not be sorely judged for preferring not to speak to them). After days of not talking to anyone except my wife, I'll sometimes find myself unable to stop. An editor will phone and I'll pour words down the receiver, fast and burbling, only to be left with a hot combination of embarrassment and exhilaration when it's over. On the occasions I do socialise, and it goes OK, I'll feel so high that I struggle to sleep. I'm obsessed with reality TV. Contestants on Big Brother come to feel like friends. I care more about Imran on the Fried Chicken Shop than I do my own neighbour. Two decades after I left the drama of its corridors, I still dream about school."Over the years," I tell Cacioppo, "I've thought the problem is maybe that I'm just grumpy, or antisocial or depressed. I never considered loneliness.""It's not that you aren't depressed or anti-social," he says. "Those are consequences of loneliness. You can feel very comforted by the fact you're normal."This is loneliness's predatory irony. The more alone you are, the more others want to leave you alone. The more others want to leave you alone, the more alone you want to be. And so it goes, until you're there, with the blinds down, scowling at anyone who comes to the door. When your only contact with the human world is news reports of scandal and murder and the narcissists and witch-finders on Twitter, your sense of what people are actually like becomes distorted. You begin to fear them. When I'm not otherwise occupied, the individuals in my life rear out from the corners of my imagination, each a potential enemy. I have fantasy arguments in my head, compulsively rehearsing every possible fight I might have in the future. I even make the faces: angry, insulted, outraged. I'll be walking to the shops, clenching and re-clenching my fists, not realising what I'm doing until a passerby looks at me, alarmed.The social world becomes a place of war, and everyone in it a villain. But it's a trap, this way of mind, it's a trick, a terrible illusion. When storytellers create characters that display the traits of the lonely, it's us who are the villains. In life, we're the tutters, the eye-rollers, the complainers; we're the ones who turn the comments sections toxic; the ones whose doorbells children dare each other to ring. I can guess what the sandbag thief and the leaflet man think of me – and, for that matter, all the others who live around here. I make a confession to Cacioppo. "Sometimes," I tell him, "I think the real problem is I'm just an arsehole.""It's not a character thing," he says. "When something negative happens, and you're concerned about yourself, that's not because you're not a nice person. Your brain is in self-preservation mode. You're thinking about what that negative event means for your own survival. All brains do this, but it's bad to stay in that state."Quite how bad comes as a shock. Trying to understand how our ideas about the world can affect our physical bodies is genomics researcher Steve Cole. He often describes the human body as "permeable", as if it somehow absorbs the events of our days. "People don't like this idea," he says, acknowledging that this is early science, and disputed by some. "But the more we look at it, this permeability thing is kind of inescapable."In one small pilot study, Cole found loneliness can trigger inflammation, which is the body's way of helping immune cells reach infections and encouraging the healing of wounds. "Inflammation is the first line of defence against injury," he says. "It's as if the brain perceives the world as threatening and activates this defensive response before there are actually any microbes or injuries there. But this bubbling background inflammation is fertiliser for everything that kills us. It helps the development of atherosclerotic plaque, so you're going to have a heart attack; it helps disable brain cells, so you've got a neurodegenerative disease now; it helps a nascent cancer cell grow and metastasise." Cole's study also found a decline in the systems that defend against viruses. "Loneliness basically rivals cigarette smoking for its total association with mortality risk. So it's pretty big."That evening, the man fails to return my sandbags. I wonder if he might have done had I responded to him differently. Worried about the flood, which is now just steps from my door, I walk around the corner to find them being used to corral a stream of water into a bubbling drain. Under the irritated gaze of the affected homeowner, I lug them back, one by one. Then I stop and return. With a smile and an apology, I explain who I am and why I need them. We have a chat. As it turns out, he's quite nice.This is the paragraph in which I'm supposed to write how I'm going to change. After all, excess solitude has curdled my personality and my long-term health might be at risk. But it's not so easy. Loneliness is a passive compulsion; to binge, I need only do nothing. I have, however, recently made two social arrangements with new people. I don't know if they'll be a success. There's a good chance the occasions might end up being awkward or weird, and my wife might have to say sorry. All you need to do – my perfect, wordless friend – is be thankful you don't have to be there. "¢ Will Storr's latest book, The Heretics: Adventures With The Enemies Of Science, is published by Picador at £8.99. To order a copy for £7.19, including free UK mainland p&p, call 0330 333 6846 or go to theguardian.com/bookshop.RelationshipsHealth & wellbeingPsychologyFamilyWill Storrtheguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
|Ask a grown-up: why do we cry when we are sad?
||Dr Ad Vingerhoets, psychologist and author of Why Only Humans Weep, answers nine-year-old Mimi's questionTears signal helplessness, especially during childhood when humans are at their most vulnerable. Quite simply, they show a need of support from others.While other mammals show signs of distress by noisy crying, the sound of which helps keep mothers nearby, humans are the only species to produce emotional tears. We are also one of the few species who carry on crying into adulthood.Scientists have been researching why this is for decades. Humans are unique in that we have very long, relatively independent childhoods. As we age, we move away from noisy crying to showing tears, so only those close to us can see that something is wrong. While making noise, as other animals do, does attract a mother, it can also draw the attention of predators. I believe humans show their distress by shedding tears rather than emitting sounds, because it helps protect us. Tears mean there is less chance of us attracting danger."¢ If you're 10 or under and have a question that needs answering, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll find an expert to look into it for you.PsychologyGuardian readerstheguardian.com © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
|Autism disorders greatly linked with environmental factors, study claims
||Many health experts believe that genetics, environmental factors or a combination of the two are to blame.
|Older age at onset of Type 1 diabetes associated with lower brain connectivity
||Children and adolescents older than age 8 at the onset of type 1 diabetes had weaker brain connectivity when tested later in life relative to those who had earlier ages of diagnosis, researchers have discovered. The findings were made by analyzing the brain scans of 44 middle-age adults diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as children.
|The Ironic Effects of Weight Stigma
||America is fighting a "war on obesity""”or is it a war against obese people? Media campaigns targeting obesity depict fat people in dehumanizing and stigmatizing images. Do these messages help people lose weight?read more
|The Danger with "Boys Will Be Boys"
||This blog is my attempt to organize my thoughts and gather some relevant research in order to help other parents and teachers who may find themselves perplexed by the same situation. So why is "boys will be boys" dangerous?read more
|The Danger of "Boys Will Be Boys"
||The expression "boys will be boys" is dangerous. This blog is my attempt to organize my thoughts and gather some relevant research in order to help other parents and teachers who may find themselves perplexed when this expression is used to explain violent behavior in children.read more
|Money and Mental Health
||Money is neutral but it-s a proven drug that can destroy lives.This therapy insight has not come easily for me. I too am exposed to a pervading culture where we are all in. A culture that puts so much stock on the temporary. To find security in money. To fall in love with possessions, the latest fads.
|Critical role of one gene to our brain development
||A gene linked to intellectual disability is critical to the earliest stages of the development of human brains, new research has confirmed. An international research team explains in a new paper how mutations in USP9X are associated with intellectual disability. These mutations, which can be inherited from one generation to the next, have been shown to cause disruptions to normal brain cell functioning.
|Patients with schizophrenia have impaired ability to imitate, brain mapping confirms
||A brain-mapping study of patients with schizophrenia has found that areas associated with the ability to imitate are impaired, providing new support for the theory that deficits in this basic cognitive skill may underlie the profound difficulty with social interactions that characterize the disorder. According to psychologists, imitation is something that we all do whenever we learn a new skill, whether it is dancing or how to behave in specific social situations.
|How Social Connections Keep Seniors Healthy
||Vonda is an energetic 73-year-old woman with a friendly smile and a sharp wit. For the last two decades she’s been living in an intentional farming community called “Potluck Farm” with other individuals and families on 170 acres in rural North Carolina.
But recently, she realized something: She’s getting older. Though she loves the farm, living far apart on separate 6-acre parcels means that neighbors don’t see each other that often and can’t easily help each other in a pinch. Caring for the large piece of property is getting tougher, too.
So she and some friends have begun building a new community—smaller and adjacent to the old—where houses will be built closer together, more activities will be shared, and neighbors will grow food and maintain their lifestyle, while caring for one another.
“The most important thing in a community like this is having people around to support and engage you,” says Vonda. “Taking care of each other keeps you alive and healthy.”
It turns out that Vonda and her friends are on to something. Researchers have long known about the health benefits of “social capital”—the ties that build trust, connection, and participation. But this link may be particularly important for seniors, precisely because both our health and our social capital tend to decline as we age. We retire from jobs, lose friends and spouses to death and illness, and see family members move out of the area—all of which can sharply reduce daily social contacts and stimulation, which in turn has a direct impact on mental and physical health.
Fortunately, there are solutions: More and more studies are discovering how senior communities can be designed to maximize sharing, friendship, health, and happiness in our later years.
Social capital for seniors
Yvonne Michael, an epidemiologist from the Drexel University School of Public Health, studies the effects of social capital on seniors. To measure community social capital, thousands of individuals living in different neighborhood are asked to respond to questions like, “Are your neighbors willing to help each other with routine maintenance?” or, “Can you trust your neighbors?” From these answers, Michael can gauge the connections between health, behavior, and social capital.
In one study, Michael analyzed data from a large health survey of nearly 14,000 adults in Southeastern Pennsylvania. After measuring the levels of mobility among the seniors living in those neighborhoods, Michael found that those living in areas with greater social capital had significantly higher physical mobility scores than those living in lower social capital neighborhoods.
“These results are not too surprising,” says Michael. “Living in a place with greater social capital—where there is more trust and more helpful neighbors—you will feel more comfortable walking around to get to places you need to go, which helps you stay mobile.”
In another study, Michael looked at how social capital related to positive health-seeking behavior—specifically getting recommended cancer screenings. Although this study was not focused only on the elderly, she found that in neighborhoods with higher levels of social capital, adults were 10-22 percent more likely to get screened at the recommended ages, suggesting earlier diagnoses and treatment for serious diseases.
“People who live in neighborhoods high in social capital have better health information diffusion and enforcement of norms,” says Michael. “When the norms are healthy—like getting health screenings, not smoking, or walking around the neighborhood—they will be enforced throughout the population.”
A community with higher social capital may also be able to offer more assistance to seniors who need help with routine maintenance tasks, she says. For example, if you are elderly and you need to replace shingles on your roof or you need to shovel snow off your walk, it’s more likely you’ll find a helpful hand in a neighborhood high in social capital.
“In that kind of place, there’s a level of connection that allows older people to age in place,” she adds.
How social connections save lives
Higher levels of social interaction—even peripheral interactions—can have a high payoff for elderly folks, says Bryan James, an epidemiologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in Chicago. Although he doesn’t study social capital the way Michael does—as an overall community trait—James does study the impact of greater social activity levels in individuals and its impact on health.
In one study, James looked at how social activity affected cognitive decline. Over 1100 seniors without dementia at baseline were measured on their social activity levels and then tested periodically on their cognitive functioning over a 12-year period. The rate of cognitive decline was 70 percent less in people with frequent social contact than those with low social activity.
“When you use your brain and body the way it was intended—as it evolved—you age better,” says James. “We just aren’t meant to be disengaged from one another.”
In another study, James looked at a community-based cohort of older people free of dementia and measured social activity levels and their disability levels—in terms of their ability to care for themselves. Findings showed that those with more frequent social activity maintained lower levels of disability in several areas, suggesting that they would be able to live independently longer than their less social counterparts.
“The predominant theory is use it or lose it, “ says James. “Social activity is related to motor function, just like physical exercise is related. We can’t determine which is most important—they each contribute a piece of the puzzle.”
His results are truly dramatic. Even when he and his colleagues statistically control for risk factors like smoking or a history of disease, they still find that someone with high levels of social activity has 43 percent less disability than someone who has low levels of social activity, and about half the rate of cognitive decline.
Communities high in social capital offer a lot to seniors, because they can augment opportunities for seniors to have those kinds of social connections. “If you are in a more cohesive neighborhood, you will more likely engage with others in your neighborhood,” says Michael, and that can bring great benefits socially and otherwise.
Designing neighborhoods for social capital
But not all people benefit from social capital in the same way, says researcher Spencer Moore at Queen’s University in Ontario.
According to Moore, some seniors don’t benefit as much from having high social capital in their communities, in part because they have strong social networks outside of their neighborhoods and ready access to them, which make neighborhood support less central. Also, low-income seniors tend to live in communities that are more homogenous and don’t provide as many opportunities for stimulation or for diverse social ties, which are both important for health.
“We really need to foster public policies that will support programs that create opportunities for low-income elderly to get outside of their neighborhoods, to have more diverse connections,” says Moore.
Despite the proposed benefits of social capital, though, many communities lack those things that foster better connection, like public places to gather or opportunities to engage in meaningful work. Or worse, they suffer from high crime rates. A senior who finds no welcoming place in the community may end up alone at home watching TV most days. And that can spell disaster for their physical and emotional health.
So what can one do to increase social capital? Creating a community like Vonda’s is ideal; but many elderly can’t afford to move, nor would they necessarily want to. Still, some are taking notice of the findings from social capital research to do what they can to make their communities cater more to seniors.
For example, one organization, Vital Aging Network (VAN), located in Minnesota, is helping seniors to become social change agents in their communities. VAN trains seniors in community organizing, giving them the skills to assess what their neighborhood needs, gather resources, and start new programs. Projects initiated through VAN training have included things like creating walking paths for seniors, bringing a “balance exercise program” to a community to decrease falls among seniors, and initiating a program to befriend isolated seniors, among many others.
“Often seniors are seen as people who need services instead of people who have a lot to offer,” says Julie Roles, a program director at VAN. “We focus on community-based development, where seniors have the freedom to determine what they need and how to get it.”
Helping seniors to stay engaged with their community and to continue to make positive contributions, according to James, is invaluable. The health benefits of volunteerism are well documented, including its impact on increasing longevity, he says—but it’s even more powerful when your efforts give you a sense of purpose in life.
“People who have the strongest sense of purpose are much less likely to become depressed, have neuroticism, or get Alzheimer’s,” says James.
Vonda feels the same way. Her community has plans to keep themselves connected socially and actively involved with each other’s welfare, while still maintaining ties to their surrounding community. They will have a central community space open to other groups to use, and will be inviting seniors to teach each other new skills—like gardening or blacksmithing—that are useful to farm living.
“We plan to have people doing real work, instead of being taken to the mall or asking them to engage in invented, frivolous time-occupiers,” says Vonda.
She believes that physical exercise, coupled with deep social connections and a commitment to taking care of one another, will keep members of her community healthier and prevent their needing to move into some other, less interactive environment, like a nursing home. She and her friends are adamant about doing all they can to age not just gracefully, but with vitality.
“I kind of refuse to grow old,” she says.
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