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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
The concept of weight bias or “fatphobia”, the social stigma around obesity, has been around for quite a while. Studies have shown that such stigma is present even among medical professionals, which negatively impacts quality of care for patients with obesity. Over the years, there have been several instances of doctors attributing medical symptoms to obesity when the symptoms were actually caused by something more serious, like a tumour.
But what about social stigma towards obese pets? Over 50% of cats and dogs in the USA are obese and, like humans, pets with obesity have a higher risk of metabolic, respiratory and other diseases. A new paper in the International Journal of Obesity examines whether the same weight bias that affects the delivery of healthcare in humans is prevalent among pet doctors as well.
What happens if you grow up with a grandparent living in your home? Does the prolonged contact counter prejudices, biases and stereotypes of the elderly? Or might it instead encourage negative perceptions of older people as being slow, angry or sickly, for example?
These are important questions, partly because in some countries, though not all, an increasing number of elderly people are moving in with family members. In the US, for example, 15% of older adults are now living in someone else’s household, up from 7% in 1995.
As the reality of the coronavirus pandemic set in in March, we looked at the work of psychologists attempting to understand how the crisis is affecting us, and to inform our response to it. A few months later, and hundreds of studies have been conducted or are in progress, examining everything from the spread of conspiracy theories to the characteristics that make people more likely to obey lockdown measures.
However, some researchers have raised alarm. They’re worried that many of these rapid new studies are falling prey to methodological issues which could lead to false results and misleading advice. Of course, these aren’t new problems: the pandemic comes at the end of a decade in which the field’s methodological crises have really been thrust under the spotlight. But is the coronavirus pandemic causing researchers to fall back on bad habits — or could it lead to positive change for the field? Continue reading “Psychology Research In The Coronavirus Era: A “High Stakes Version Of Groundhog Day”?”→
At the moment, most of us are on red alert when it comes to sounds of illness, with sniffling in the supermarket or coughing behind us in a queue the cause of significant alarm.
And while we might like to think we’re able to tell the difference between someone clearing their throat and somebody who is genuinely unwell, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests we’re less good at identifying threats than we think.