Category: Health

Stigmatisation of yawning could be a strategy to avoid disease, study argues

By Matthew Warren

It’s really common to start yawning after seeing someone else do it.  You might even be yawning right now, just reading about it. But we also instinctively know that there’s something a bit rude about yawning: we’re less likely to show this “yawn contagion” when we’re being watched, for instance. And even when we do yawn in the presence of others, we’ll often cover our mouth.

Why does yawning carry this stigma? The obvious explanation is that yawning indicates that we are tired or bored, and we might not want to make others feel like they are the source of that boredom (even if they are!). But the authors of a new study in Personality and Individual Differences have another intriguing theory: we dislike yawning because it can be a sign of disease.

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Our partner’s level of education can have a positive impact on our own health

By Emily Reynolds

There are many factors that impact our health, from our finances to our emotions to the way we work. Education is one such factor, with research suggesting that higher levels of education can lead to better health and even a longer life. But what about the education of your partner?

This is the subject of a new study from an Indiana University team, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. The researchers find that people’s own health is positively associated with their spouse’s level of education, suggesting that education and other factors such as knowledge, skills and finances can be seen as shared resources.

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Conflicting health information can compromise our attention

By Emily Reynolds

We get our information about health from many sources. Sometimes we seek advice from doctors or other medical professionals; sometimes we talk to friends or family; we read newspapers and watch TV; and we diagnose ourselves with rare and alarming afflictions with the help of the internet.

In some ways, this variety offers a democratisation of knowledge, a way for more of us to understand what’s going on with our health. But what happens when this information contradicts itself? This is the subject of a new study from a team at Rutgers University, published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.

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Patients Occasionally Experience Sexual Hallucinations While Under Conscious Sedation

By Emma L. Barratt

Since anaesthetics were first used in 1846 there have been reports of sexual hallucinations during medical procedures. And, though there’s been much discussion about the relationship between anaesthesia and these hallucinations, awareness of this side effect amongst both clinicians and academics remains somewhat low. The consequences of clinicians being accused of sexual misconduct that was in actuality a hallucination can extremely be serious; some have lost their licenses to practice, despite being acquitted.

But even with the high-stakes consequences of sexual hallucinations, there has been relatively little published on the matter, making it difficult to understand the phenomenon as a whole. However, Alex Orchard and Ellie Heidari at Guy’s and St Thoman’s NHS Trust and King College London have synthesised the scattered existing literature on sexual hallucinations while under conscious sedation in their recent review. The resulting paper not only theorises as to risk factors which may prompt such hallucinations, but also suggests practical ways that may help clinicians avoid and manage their occurrence.

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Episode 26: How Has The Covid-19 Pandemic Affected Our Mental Health?

This is Episode 26 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

What impact has the pandemic had on people’s mental health? In this episode, our presenter Ginny Smith talks to researchers who have been conducting work throughout the pandemic to understand the toll that it has taken on our wellbeing. Ginny learns about the different factors that can make us more or less vulnerable to these effects, finds out how pregnant women have fared during this stressful time, and also hears about emerging data that finds links between the virus itself and mental health conditions.

Our guests, in order of appearance, are Dr Susanne Schweizer, Sir Henry Wellcome Fellow at the University of Cambridge, and Professor Paul Harrison from the University of Oxford.

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Financial Stress In Early Adulthood Is Related To Physical Pain Decades Later

By Emily Reynolds

Pain is not a purely biological phenomenon: discrimination, anxiety around work, and general mental strain have all been shown to contribute to the experience of chronic pain. Many researchers therefore take a biopsychosocial approach, exploring the multifarious factors that impact on and are impacted by pain.

A new study in Stress & Health explores the long term consequences of social factors on pain. The team, from the universities of Georgia and South California, Los Angeles, specifically focus on families involved in the 1980s “farm crisis” in the US Midwest, a period where many lost their jobs, land value crashed, and businesses failed — and finds that this financial stress is related to the experience of pain nearly 30 years later.

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People Who Identify With Humanity As A Whole Are More Likely To Say They’d Follow Pandemic Guidelines And Help Others

By Emily Reynolds

The ever-changing public health measures rolled out during the coronavirus pandemic haven’t always been crystal clear. But several instructions have remained the same throughout: wear a mask, wash your hands, and stay two metres apart.

Despite the strength and frequency of this messaging, however, the public hasn’t always complied. Though the exact reason for this non-compliance is clearly complex, researchers from the University of Washington have proposed one factor that could influence people’s behaviour: the extent to which they identify with other human beings. Writing in PLOS One, they suggest that a connection with and moral commitment to other humans may be linked to greater willingness to follow COVID-related guidelines.

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Having Hope For the Future Could Protect Against Risky Behaviours

By Emily Reynolds

At the start of a new year it’s customary to look forward, imagining what we might want to achieve in the months to come. It’s what lies at the heart of New Year’s resolutions: they may be maligned for their persistent failure to stick, but do at least represent a great degree of hope for the future — a hope to become fitter or more productive, or to learn something new. 

In the current circumstances hope is certainly in short supply. But if you can manage to stay hopeful you might be able to avoid risk-taking behaviours like drinking, taking drugs, gambling or overeating, argues a new study in the Journal of Gambling Studies from Shahriar Keshavarz and team at the University of East Anglia.

The study focuses specifically on “relative deprivation” — the belief that your lot in life is somehow worse than other people’s. Previous research has suggested that those who score highly on feelings of relative deprivation are more likely to engage in “maladaptive escape behaviours” including risk-taking. But hope could ameliorate such behaviour, the team argues, protecting people from potential harm.

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People From Japan May Be Less Prone Than Americans To Some Of The Harmful Health-Related Effects Of Negative Emotions

By Emma Young

What’s your view on feelings of sadness, nervousness or hopelessness? Are they harmful emotions that we should strive to avoid feeling — an opinion that is widely held in the West? Or is natural, even helpful, to feel them from time to time — a perspective commonly found in Japan?

Previous studies have found that cultural attitudes to our emotions affect our health. In Japan, for example, greater reported happiness isn’t associated with better health, in contrast to findings from the US. Also, regular experience of high-energy, high-arousal states is associated with better health in the US, but not Japan, where calm, quiet states are highly valued. 

Now a study published in the journal Emotion reveals that our attitudes to negative emotions, such as sadness and hopelessness, matter, too. Previous studies have linked experience of these emotions to increased inflammation and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and even death among Americans, but not Japanese people. So Jiyoung Park at the University of Texas at Dallas and her colleagues set out to explore whether differences in stress might explain this. If, in contrast to Japanese people, Americans view the experience of negative emotions as a failure of self-control, and feel stress as a result, this could explain the links between these kinds of emotions and poorer health. 

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The Shape Of A Glass Can Influence How Much We Drink

By Matthew Warren

Recent years have seen the government take measures to try and limit people’s consumption of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods. Take the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks, for instance, or the proposal to ban adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed.

Some psychologists hope that small changes in design can also help “nudge” people into healthier behaviours. For example, a study from last year found that the order in which drinks are presented on the McDonald’s menu could encourage people to choose the sugar-free options more often.

Now a new paper in Scientific Reports suggests that the shape of a glass could also subtly influence people’s drinking behaviours.

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