Category: Health

Where do women look when sizing each other up?

Friends enjoying a party in nightclubBy Christian Jarrett

Studies show that when heterosexual women look at other women’s bodies, they, just like men, tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time looking at their waists, hips and breasts, as if estimating how much they will appeal to men. This is consistent with “mate selection theory” which argues, among other things, that women have evolved strategies to monitor potential love rivals. However, psychologists are interested in this topic, not only from an evolutionary perspective, but also because women who feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and who are vulnerable to developing eating disorders, may be especially pre-occupied with comparing their body against others, potentially exacerbating their anxieties.

Past research is mixed: some studies suggest women with body dissatisfaction and/or eating disorders pay disproportionate attention to the bodies of thin women, other studies suggest the opposite. A new exploratory paper in Psychological Research says hang on a minute, we don’t actually know much about how healthy, confident women behave when they look at other women, nor whether their attention is influenced by their feelings about their own bodies.

Continue reading “Where do women look when sizing each other up?”

We know what will make us happy, why do we watch TV instead?

Couch Potato Watching TVBy Christian Jarrett

The luxury microwave meal was delicious, the house is warm, work’s going OK, but you’re just not feeling very happy. Some positive psychologists believe this is because many of us in rich, Western countries spend too much of our free time on passive activities, like bingeing on Netflix and browsing Twitter, rather than on active, psychologically demanding activities, like cooking, sports or playing music, that allow the opportunity to experience “flow” – that magic juncture where your abilities only just meet the demands of the challenge. A new paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology examines this dilemma. Do we realise that pursuing more active, challenging activities will make us happier in the long-run? If so, why then do we opt to spend so much more time lazing around engaged in activities that are pleasant in the moment, but unlikely to bring any lasting fulfilment?

Continue reading “We know what will make us happy, why do we watch TV instead?”

An interview with a deep brain stimulation patient: “I’m worried about getting water in the holes in my head”

LiquidLibraryBy Christian Jarrett

Deep brain stimulation is a medical procedure that involves implanting electrodes permanently into the brain and using them to alter the functioning of specific neural networks. A battery inserted subcutaneously in the chest provides the device with power. One application of the technology is as a treatment for Parkinson’s Disease, a neurodegenerative condition that causes tremors and difficulties moving. While the treatment can bring about an impressive alleviation of symptoms, research suggests that Parkinson’s patients often struggle to adjust psychologically. Now a case study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology has provided some of the first insights into what it’s like for a patient to contemplate undergoing surgery for deep brain stimulation, and then to adjust in the immediate aftermath.

Continue reading “An interview with a deep brain stimulation patient: “I’m worried about getting water in the holes in my head””

If you’re fairly young and healthy, moderate exercise will probably be more enjoyable than you think

Silhouette in 2017 on the hill at sunsetBy Christian Jarrett

It’s that time of year when many of us are trying our best to begin a new exercise habit. One psychological factor affecting our chances is how we think we’ll feel during the exercise, and how that compares to the way we actually feel when we get going, and how we feel afterwards. A new study in Health Psychology has explored whether it’s possible to increase people’s adherence to a new exercise regime by making their expectations more positive. While the main intervention was a disappointment, there is an encouraging message in the results: moderate-to-vigorous exercise is likely to be more enjoyable than you think, and simply knowing this will probably help you enjoy your exercise even more.

Continue reading “If you’re fairly young and healthy, moderate exercise will probably be more enjoyable than you think”

Joining a crowd transforms us psychologically, with serious health implications

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Image: AlGraChe/Flickr

By guest blogger Laura Spinney

Glastonbury 1997, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the pilgrimage to Lourdes in 2008: what do they have in common? All three were the backdrop to outbreaks of communicable disease, and so of interest to doctors working in mass gathering medicine. The goal of this relatively young field is to address the specific health problems associated with mass events, but two British psychologists now claim that this can only be done effectively by understanding the psychological transformation that people undergo when they join a crowd.

Continue reading “Joining a crowd transforms us psychologically, with serious health implications”

Teens reject junk food when healthy eating is framed as rebellion

Fit young woman fighting off fast foodBy guest blogger Julia Gottwald

Crisps, coke, and chocolate bars. What might be a special treat for some of us, is now a multi-billion pound industry and a staple of many people’s diets. Advertising campaigns from the snack food companies, often starring sports stars, send the message that we can offset any adverse effects of consuming their products simply by getting more physical exercise. But you can’t really “run off” a burger – recent studies show a lack of exercise is not to blame for rising obesity rates, bad diets are the real driver.

Interventions to help reduce junk food consumption are especially important for children and adolescents – prevention is better than cure in this context because obesity is so difficult to treat. Unfortunately, while health education in the classroom has shown some success among young children, adolescents have been notoriously hard to reach.

But now a large-scale study published in PNAS has tried an innovative approach to change teenagers’ attitudes towards healthy eating, and the results are promising. The researchers, led by Christopher Bryan at the University of Chicago and David Yeager at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that previous interventions have probably been unsuccessful because of a major flaw: they focused on a future, healthier you and assumed that this would be enough motivation for adolescents. In contrast, the new intervention cleverly exploits teenagers’ instinct for rebelliousness and autonomy, and the value they place on social justice. Continue reading “Teens reject junk food when healthy eating is framed as rebellion”

Goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower

By Christian Jarrett

Those people with their gym-toned bodies and high-flying careers. Somehow they always seem to make different choices than the rest of us – fruit over chocolate, work over TV. It’s as if they are capable of super-human willpower, but a new study that’s currently in press at Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests it’s not so. Achieving your work and fitness goals is not about exercising self-control, the findings imply, rather it’s about avoiding temptation in the first place.  Continue reading “Goal attainment seems to be about avoiding temptation, not exercising willpower”

What’s it like to be a child and your sibling is diagnosed with cancer?

By Christian Jarrett

When the dreadful news arrives that a child has cancer, understandably the focus of parents and health professionals turns to supporting the sick child as best they can. But also caught up in the nightmare are the child’s siblings. Not only will they likely be consumed by shock and fear, but they must adapt to the cancer journey the whole family has to embark on.

Official health guidance here in the UK and in the USA states that it’s important to provide support to the siblings of children with cancer. Yet the reality is we know relatively little about their experience. A new study in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry helps address this research gap, based on interviews with two brothers and four sisters – now aged 12 to 18 – of children and teenagers with cancer. The results reveal the shock and fear the siblings experienced, and the challenges they’ve faced, but also uncover a silver lining in the form of “post traumatic growth”. Continue reading “What’s it like to be a child and your sibling is diagnosed with cancer?”

People with high self-control have a cunning approach to healthy eating

If challenged to think of ways to eat more healthily, something like this would probably go through my mind: “Could try to eat more blueberries (but yuk, I don’t like those much), and I suppose I should give up chocolate biscuits (but, erm, never going to happen, they are an essential part of my morning coffee routine)”. According to a new paper in Psychology and Marketing I am showing the typical approach to healthy eating of a person with low self-control and what’s more, my way of thinking is likely to lead me to failure. Continue reading “People with high self-control have a cunning approach to healthy eating”

A preliminary psychology of binge TV watching

A new study in the Journal of Health Psychology is the first to provide a scholarly definition of binge TV watching and to investigate some of the factors that explain how much people indulge in it.

According to Emily Walton-Pattison at Newcastle University and her colleagues, binge TV watching is when you “watch more than two episodes of the same TV show in one sitting” – a habit that’s become more frequent since the popularity of DVD box sets and streaming TV services.

I have fond memories of my own first binge TV session: watching 24 with my wife in a holiday cottage in the Lake District, a crackling fire in the background, snow falling outside. Bliss. But the researchers see things differently: binge TV watching contributes to sedentary behaviour, increases risk of obesity and interferes with healthy sleep habits.

They surveyed 86 people (recruited via social media) about their binge TV watching habits and various psychological constructs, such as whether they expected to experience regret after a binge session. Based on the researchers’ definition, the participants had binge-watched an average of 1.42 times in the past week, taking in an average of 2.94 episodes in 2.51 hours. BBC iPlayer and Netflix were the most popular means of bingeing.

A quarter of the difference in how much people binged was explained by their intentions to binge and expectations that it would be a rewarding, fun thing to do. Other factors that were also relevant included experiences of automaticity (“I did it without thinking”) and anticipated regret and goal conflict (seeing bingeing as interfering with other activities) – both of which were associated with less bingeing.

The researchers said that “further more in-depth and rigorous research into being watching is warranted” but that their preliminary findings already offer hints as to how to curtail people’s binge watching habits. For example, they said that TV streaming services could be adapted to counter the mindless aspect of bingeing. “Some online streaming services include in-built interruptions after a number of consecutive episodes have been reached. There would be opportunities to harness these interruptions,” they said.

‘Just one more episode’: Frequency and theoretical correlates of television binge watching

–further reading–
Psychologists investigate a major, ignored reason for our lack of sleep – bedtime procrastination
Forgive yourself for relaxing in front of the TV and the couch time might actually do you some good

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Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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