The world is currently in an unprecedented state of upheaval and uncertainty. As countries fight to minimise the spread of COVID-19, everyone is adjusting to the “new normal”, remaining at home and practising social distancing. And the same is true of the psychologists whose work we report on every day at Research Digest: labs have been shut and experiments have suddenly been put on hold in the wake of the pandemic.
This is Episode 20 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.
What can psychology teach us about dealing with pain? Our presenter Ginny Smith learns that swearing can have a pain-reducing effect, and puts the theory to the test with an experiment on editor Matthew Warren. Ginny also hears about how virtual reality could provide a welcome distraction to patients suffering from chronic pain. Continue reading “Episode 20: How To Cope With Pain”→
Whether we like it or not, our parents play a big part in who we become as adults. From our taste in music to our social values, their imprint often stays with us, good or bad, well past childhood.
Now new research suggests that we still rely on them well into mid-life — at least when it comes to our health, that is. Alexandra Kissling and Corinne Reczek, a team from the Ohio State University, found that while we look to our mothers in much the same way we do when we’re children — asking them for advice and hoping they’ll be there to help us through periods of bad health, for instance — fathers act more like “cautionary tales”, examples of what not to do.
If you ever daydream about retirement, what do you picture? Lie-ins, instead of being woken by an alarm? Walks on a beach, in place of the morning commute? More time for beloved hobbies? Or perhaps endless open, solitary days, with nothing much to do…?
Retirement is what psychologists term a “major life transition”. As such, it’s regarded as a stressor that carries risks as well as potential rewards. Now that the number of retirees in many countries is soaring, so too is the number of studies into whether retirement is good for your mental and physical health — or not. This work certainly suggests that it can be, but there are a few warnings lurking in the results, too.
Fast food chains are not exactly renowned for encouraging healthy eating. But in a new study a team of psychologists, eager to turn that assumption on its head, chose McDonald’s as their target for a somewhat unconventional, psychologically-informed health intervention. Writing in Psychology & Marketing, the researchers report successfully “nudging” a group of Coca-Cola-guzzling customers into opting for its sugar-free counterpart, Coke Zero — simply by changing the order of options on the menu.
When responding to science denialism (or, for that matter, any sort of false or harmful information), such as claims that vaccines are ineffective and harmful, it can be difficult to establish the right strategy. Because of the fast-paced way in which information spreads these days, there is a risk that responding to a given inaccurate claim can give it further oxygen, leading the falsehood to reach more people who are vulnerable to being misled, and so forth. There’s also the possibility of the “backfire effect” – people who already endorse the false claims reacting to the debunking information by digging into their beliefs further (though there’s now evidence such fears were overhyped, and that the backfire effect may not be a regular occurrence overall).
To better understand when science-denialism debunking does and doesn’t work, Philipp Schmid and Cornelia Betsch, both of the University of Erfurt in Germany, ran a series of studies that involved online respondents being exposed to various sorts of science debates. The results, published in Nature Human Behavior, offer some useful insights about how to best stem the tide of science denialism.
The UK population continues to grow, while nursing numbers have remained static for several decades. Compounding matters, The King’s Fund and Nuffield Trust have reported a 25 per cent increase in nurses and midwives leaving the NHS from 2012 to 2018, from 27,300 to 34,100. In short, in the UK, we now have far fewer nurses relative to the general population than we used to.
What does this mean for patients’ care experience? The situation sounds bad, but how bad? Common sense would suggest that patients will experience poorer care when nurses are overstretched, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support that interpretation. But there are also positive stories, and claims about greater efficiency compensating for fewer staff.
Now a study in BMJ Quality & Safety provides direct observational evidence suggesting that lower nurse-patient ratios really do result in poorer health-care interactions.
There is increasing recognition that while our personality traits are stable enough to shape our lives profoundly, they are also partly malleable, so that our choices and experiences can feedback and influence the kind of people we become. A new study in the Journal of Research in Personality shines a light on a highly consequential behaviour that captures this dynamic – smoking cigarettes.
The results add “… to existing knowledge on the implications of smoking by showing that this behaviour is also likely to alter individuals’ characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving over time,” the researchers said.
Looking at the latest epidemiological data, it could be argued that we are in the midst of a pandemic of mental illness, of dimensions never before seen in human history. The WHO estimates that over 350 million people around the world are presently suffering from depression, which constitutes almost 5-6 per cent of the population. At its extreme, depression may lead to suicide, by which it is estimated that around 1 million people die every year. And the numbers continue growing. Faced with this rising tide of illness, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of hard facts and data indicating the paths researchers and clinicians may follow in search of ways to help. Sometimes, as suggested by a meta-analysis of 50 years of studies on indicators that help predict suicide attempts, we are entirely helpless. In other cases, like with the recent meta-analysis of the neural correlates of the changes brought about by psychotherapy in depressed brains, study results do bring us hope.
The results of the first systematic review and meta-analysis of biological markers evaluated in randomized trials of psychological treatments for depression in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews are another attempt at understanding methods of treating this terrifying illness. The authors – Ioana A. Cristea, Eirini Karyotaki, Steven D. Hollon, Pim Cuijpers and Claudio Gentili – quite rightly point out that understanding how psychological interventions impact or are impacted by biological variables has important implications. For many people, their depression co-occurs with a bodily illness, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and immune system and neurological disorders, and at times is a consequence of that illness. Although we still know little about the reciprocal cause-and-effect mechanisms between psychic and somatic symptoms, some studies have suggested that psychological interventions not only change mood, but also normalise the functioning of the autonomic nervous system, with a therapeutic effect on physical conditions, such as heart disease. But is this really true?
Your personality traits play an important part in how long you are likely to live, as much as, or even more than, other personal factors like your intelligence and your family’s economic background. Now a study in the Journal of Research in Personality has identified a key factor that mediates the personality-mortality link – sleep. Simply put, people with certain personality characteristics are more likely to sleep too little, or too much, or to experience greater sleepiness during the day, and in turn this raises their year-on-year risk of dying (too little or excess sleep, and poor quality sleep, have known links with various health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, depression and chronic inflammation).
“Sleep has been associated with both personality and longevity, yet [before now] no study has investigated whether sleep is a pathway linking personality to objective health outcomes,” say the researchers, led by Shantel Spears at West Virginia University.