Thursday, May 18, 2017

Couples May Miss Cues That Partner Is Hiding Emotions, Study Suggests

Cues for Couples in emotions
Newswise, May 18, 2017-- Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,” said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University.

“They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

Titled “Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships,” Eldesouky’s presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one’s emotions.

It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

Other findings include:

  • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
  • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
  • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
  • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.
Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.

In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

“Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

“How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added.

“This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”

Monday, April 3, 2017

Led by Baby Boomers, divorce rates climb for America’s 50+ population



 Copyright Pew Charitable Trusts
DIvorces climbing among Boomers
At a time when divorce is becoming less common for younger adults, so-called “gray divorce” is on the rise: Among U.S. adults ages 50 and older, the divorce rate has roughly doubled since the 1990s.

In 2015, for every 1,000 married persons ages 50 and older, 10 divorced – up from five in 1990, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics and U.S. Census Bureau. Among those ages 65 and older, the divorce rate has roughly tripled since 1990, reaching six people per 1,000 married persons in 2015.

While the divorce rate for adults 50 and older has risen sharply over the past 25 years, it has remained relatively steady for this age group since 2008, when the Census Bureau began collecting divorce data yearly as part of its American Community Survey.

Still, the divorce rate for those younger than 50 is about twice as high as it is for adults 50 and older. And since 1990 the divorce rate has also climbed slightly for adults ages 40 to 49, though not to the extent of those 50 and older. 
In 2015, 21 adults ages 40 to 49 divorced per 1,000 married persons in that age range – up slightly from 18 in 1990. 

By contrast, the divorce rate for adults ages 25 to 39 has fallen from 30 persons per 1,000 married persons in 1990 to 24 in 2015. This decline is attributed at least in part to younger generations putting off marriage until later ages. The median age at first marriage for men in 2016 was 29.5, and for women it was 27.4 – up from 26.1 and 23.9, respectively, in 1990.

 In addition, those who do end up marrying are more likely to be college-educated, and research shows that college-educated adults have a lower rate of divorce.

The climbing divorce rate for adults ages 50 and older is linked in part to the aging of the Baby Boomers, who now make up the bulk of this age group. (As of 2015, Baby Boomers ranged in age from 51 to 69.)

During their young adulthood, Baby Boomers had unprecedented levels of divorce. Their marital instability earlier in life is contributing to the rising divorce rate among adults ages 50 and older today, since remarriages tend to be less stable than first marriages. 

The divorce rate for adults ages 50 and older in remarriages is double the rate of those who have only been married once (16 vs. eight per 1,000 married persons, respectively). Among all adults 50 and older who divorced in 2015, 48% had been in their second or higher marriage.

The risk of divorce for adults ages 50 and older is also higher among those who have been married for a shorter time. 

For example, among adults 50 and older who had been married for less than 10 years, the divorce rate was 21 people per 1,000 married persons in 2015. By contrast, the divorce rate is 13 people per 1,000 married persons for adults ages 50 and older who had been married for 20 to 29 years. 

This is largely connected to remarriages being less stable than first marriages. In fact, most adults in this group who have been married less than 20 years were in their second or higher marriage.

While the rate of divorce is lower among adults ages 50 and older who have been in longer-term marriages, a significant share of gray divorces do occur among couples who have been married for 30 years or more. 

Among all adults 50 and older who divorced in the past year, about a third (34%) had been in their prior marriage for at least 30 years, including about one-in-ten (12%) who had been married for 40 years or more. 

Research indicates that many later-life divorcees have grown unsatisfied with their marriages over the years and are seeking opportunities to pursue their own interests and independence for the remaining years of their lives.

But divorce at this stage of life can also have some downsides. Gray divorcees tend to be less financially secure than married and widowed adults, particularly among women. And living alone at older ages can be detrimental to one’s financial comfort and, for men, their satisfaction with their social lives.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Antidepressants: A Treatment for Bad Marriages?


Newswise, July 29, 2016 — Psychiatrists nearly always responded with prescriptions for antidepressants when clients complained of bad marriages, according to a new study spanning 20 years at a Midwestern medical center.

The assumption that people struggling with their marriages or other domestic issues are suffering from depression is not supported by the way depression is defined medically, said Jonathan M. Metzl, Frederick B. Rentschler II Professor of Sociology and Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt and the study’s lead author. 

The study, conducted using a Midwestern medical center’s records from 1980 to 2000, appears in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine.

Notably, Metzl said, the time period of analysis followed a 1974 decision that removed the term “homosexuality” from the Diagnostic andStatistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the standard reference book of psychiatric illnesses.

“As it became less acceptable to overtly diagnose homosexuality, it became increasingly acceptable to diagnose threats to female-male relationships as conditions that required psychiatric intervention,” Metzl said.

“Doctors increasingly responded by prescribing antidepressants when patients came to the office describing problems with heterosexual love and its discontents.”

The researchers argue that this pattern became particularly prominent after the advent of Prozac and other SSRI antidepressants and widespread pharmaceutical advertising in the 1980s and 1990s.

20 years of records

In their review of archived psychiatrist-dictated patient charts from the expansive hospital system, the researchers discovered a pattern.

“In the charts we analyzed, the pressures of attaining or maintaining heterosexual relationships functioned as common modes for describing depressive symptoms,” Metzl said.

But women and men with marriage woes “have little connection to the current DSM criteria for depression and much more to do with ways that society thinks that men and women should behave,” Metzl said.

“And yet these cultural pressures seemed to go a long way in determining whether psychiatrists diagnosed depression or prescribed antidepressants.”

“In many ways, the 1974 decision was a major step forward,” Metzl said. “But as we show, implicit gender still functioned in the exam room, and our analysis suggests that psychiatry still has work to do in that regard.”

Metzl conducted the study with Sara McClelland, assistant professor of women’s studies and psychology at the University of Michigan, and Erin Bergner, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at Vanderbilt.


Thursday, June 30, 2016

Testosterone Therapy Improves Sexual Interest, Function in Older Men

Testosterone Therapy Improves Sexual Interest and Function
Largest placebo-controlled study to date finds testosterone can address low libido, erectile dysfunction

Newswise, June 30, 2016Older men with low libido and low testosterone levels showed more interest in sex and engaged in more sexual activity when they underwent testosterone therapy, according to a new study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The study is the largest placebo-controlled trial in older men conducted on the subject to date. The sexual function study is part of the Testosterone Trials, a series of seven studies examining the effectiveness of hormone therapy in men who are 65 or older, who have low testosterone levels and are experiencing symptoms of testosterone deficiency. The research is supported primarily by the National Institutes of Health.

Testosterone is a key male sex hormone involved in maintaining sex drive, erectile function and sperm production. The Endocrine Society’s Clinical Practice Guidelinerecommends using testosterone therapy to treat men with symptoms of androgen deficiency and low levels of testosterone. Androgen deficiency occurs when a man has consistently low levels of testosterone and resulting symptoms such as sexual dysfunction.

In the past 15 years, use of testosterone therapy has rapidly expanded among men.

Testosterone levels decline as men age, and some men develop low testosterone levels and symptoms. Since 2000, the number of men beginning testosterone therapy has almost quadrupled in the United States, according to a 2014 study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

“Our findings indicate low testosterone is one cause contributing to reduced libido and erectile dysfunction in older men,” said the study’s first author, Glenn R. Cunningham, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine and Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, TX. “Men experiencing these symptoms should be evaluated for testosterone deficiency.”

The study was designed to investigate the effectiveness of testosterone therapy. It was not large enough or long enough to address issues related to cardiovascular events or clinical prostate cancer.

The placebo-controlled, double-blinded trial examined the effect of testosterone therapy on sexual function in a group of 470 men. The men were enrolled in the study through 12 academic medical centers.

The participants were at least 65 years old and had low testosterone levels, based on the average results of multiple tests. All of the men had a heterosexual partner.

During the year-long study, the men were assigned to receive either testosterone gel or a placebo applied to the skin. The participants answered questionnaires about sexual function at the outset and every three months during the 12-month study.

The men treated with testosterone therapy displayed consistent improvement in libido and in 10 of the 12 sexual activity measurements, including frequency of intercourse, masturbation and nighttime erections.

 In comparison, men who received the placebo did not change their questionnaire responses significantly over the course of the year-long study.

“For symptomatic older men with low testosterone levels, testosterone therapy led to consistent improvement in most types of sexual activity,” Cunningham said.

The research was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging, with additional support from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Centers, the Department of Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System; and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Pharmaceutical manufacturer AbbVie, the maker of a testosterone gel called AndroGel, provided funding as well as the testosterone gel and placebo for the study.


The study, “Testosterone Treatment and Sexual Function in Older Men with Low Testosterone Levels,” will be published online at http://press.endocrine.org/doi/10.1210/jc.2016-1645, ahead of print.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

When You Take Acetaminophen, You Don’t Feel Others’ Pain as Much

The popular painkiller reduces empathy, study finds

Newswise, May 12, 2016 – When you take acetaminophen to reduce your pain, you may also be decreasing your empathy for both the physical and social aches that other people experience, a new study suggests.

Researchers at The Ohio State University found, for example, that when participants who took acetaminophen learned about the misfortunes of others, they thought these individuals experienced less pain and suffering,when compared to those who took no painkiller.

“These findings suggest other people’s pain doesn’t seem as big of a deal to you when you’ve taken acetaminophen,” said Dominik Mischkowski, co-author of the study and a former Ph.D. student at Ohio State, now at the National Institutes of Health.
“Acetaminophen can reduce empathy as well as serve as a painkiller.”
Mischkowski conducted the study with Baldwin Way, who is an assistant professor of psychology and member of the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center’s Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research; and Jennifer Crocker, Ohio Eminent Scholar in Social Psychology and professor of psychology at Ohio State. 

Their results were published online in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

Acetaminophen – the main ingredient in the painkiller Tylenol – is the most common drug ingredient in the United States, found in more than 600 medicines, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, a trade group.

Each week about 23 percent of American adults (about 52 million people) use a medicine containing acetaminophen, the CHPA reports.

In an earlier study, Way and other colleagues found that acetaminophen also blunts positive emotions like joy.

Taken together, the two studies suggest there’s a lot we need to learn about one of the most popular over-the-counter drugs in the United States.

“We don’t know why acetaminophen is having these effects, but it is concerning,” said Way, the senior author of the study.

“Empathy is important. If you are having an argument with your spouse and you just took acetaminophen, this research suggests you might be less understanding of what you did to hurt your spouse’s feelings.”

The researchers conducted two experiments, the first involving 80 college students. At the beginning, half the students drank a liquid containing 1,000 mg of acetaminophen, while the other half drank a placebo solution that contained no drug. 

The students didn’t know which group they were in.

After waiting one hour for the drug to take effect, the participants read eight short scenarios in which someone suffered some sort of pain. 

For example, one scenario was about a person who suffered a knife cut that went down to the bone and another was about a person experiencing the death of his father.

Participants rated the pain each person in the scenarios experienced from 1 (no pain at all) to 5 (worst possible pain). They also rated how much the protagonists in the scenarios felt hurt, wounded and pained.

Overall, the participants who took acetaminophen rated the pain of the people in the scenarios to be less severe than did those who took the placebo.
A second experiment involved 114 college students. As in the first experiment, half took acetaminophen and half took the placebo.

In one part of the experiment, the participants received four two-second blasts of white noise that ranged from 75 to 105 decibels. They then rated the noise blasts on a scale of 1 (not unpleasant at all) to 10 (extremely unpleasant).
They were then asked to imagine how much pain the same noise blasts would cause in another anonymous study participant.

Results showed that, when compared to those who took the placebo, participants who took acetaminophen rated the noise blasts as less unpleasant for themselves – and also thought they would be less unpleasant for others.
“Acetaminophen reduced the pain they felt, but it also reduced their empathy for others who were experiencing the same noise blasts,” Mischkowski said.
In another part of the experiment, participants met and socialized with each other briefly. 

Each participant then watched, alone, an online game that purportedly involved three of the people they just met. (The other participants weren’t actually involved).


In the “game,” two of the people the participants had met excluded the third person from the activity.

Participants were then asked to rate how much pain and hurt feelings the students in the game felt, including the one who was excluded.
Results showed that people who took acetaminophen rated the pain and hurt feelings of the excluded student as being not as severe as did the participants who took the placebo.

“In this case, the participants had the chance to empathize with the suffering of someone who they thought was going through a socially painful experience,” Way said.

“Still, those who took acetaminophen showed a reduction in empathy. They weren’t as concerned about the rejected person’s hurt feelings.”
While these results had not been seen before, they make sense in the light of previous research, Way said.

A 2004 study scanned the brains of people as they were experiencing pain and while they were imagining other people feeling the same pain. Those results showed that the same part of the brain was activated in both cases.

“In light of those results, it is understandable why using Tylenol to reduce your pain may also reduce your ability to feel other people’s pain as well,” he said.

The researchers are continuing to study how acetaminophen may affect people’s emotions and behavior, Way said. They are also beginning to study another common pain reliever – ibuprofen – to see if it has similar results.

The study was supported in part by a grant from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

The 6 Elements of an Effective Apology, According to Science


“Acknowledgment of responsibility” is most important

Newswise. April 21, 2016– There are six components to an apology – and the more of them you include when you say you’re sorry, the more effective your apology will be, according to new research.

But if you’re pressed for time or space, there are two elements that are the most critical to having your apology accepted.

“Apologies really do work, but you should make sure you hit as many of the six key components as possible,” said Roy Lewicki, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of management and human resources at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business.

In two separate experiments, Lewicki and his co-authors tested how 755 people reacted to apologies containing anywhere from one to all six of these elements:

1.     Expression of regret
2. Explanation of what went wrong
3. Acknowledgment of responsibility
4. Declaration of repentance
5. Offer of repair
6. Request for forgiveness
2.     
The research is published in the May 2016 issue of the journal Negotiation and Conflict Management Research. Lewicki’s co-authors were Robert Lount, associate professor of management and human resources at Ohio State, and Beth Polin of Eastern Kentucky University.

While the best apologies contained all six elements, not all of these components are equal, the study found.

“Our findings showed that the most important component is an acknowledgement of responsibility. Say it is your fault, that you made a mistake,” Lewicki said.

The second most important element was an offer of repair.

“One concern about apologies is that talk is cheap. But by saying, ‘I’ll fix what is wrong,’ you’re committing to take action to undo the damage,” he said.

The next three elements were essentially tied for third in effectiveness: expression of regret, explanation of what went wrong and declaration of repentance.

The least effective element of an apology is a request for forgiveness. “That’s the one you can leave out if you have to,” Lewicki said.

The first study involved 333 adults recruited online through Amazon’s MTURK program. All the participants read a scenario in which they were the manager of an accounting department that was hiring a new employee.

At a previous job, the potential employee had filed an incorrect tax return that understated a client’s capital gains income. When confronted about the issue, the job candidate apologized.

The participants were told that the apology contained one, three or all six of the apology components. They were then asked to rate on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very) how effective, credible and adequate the apology statement would be.

The second study included 422 undergraduate students. The students read the same scenario as in the first study, but instead of being told which components the apology contained, they read an actual apology that included anywhere from one to six statements based on the six elements.

For example, for acknowledgment of responsibility, the apology statement read “I was wrong in what I did, and I accepted responsibility for my actions.”

They again rated how effective, credible and adequate the apology statement would be.

The results of the two studies were not identical, but they were very similar, Lewicki said. For both studies, the more elements that the apology contained, the more effective it was rated.

When the elements were evaluated one at a time, there was general consistency in the importance of the components across the two studies, with slight variations. But in both studies, the request for forgiveness was seen as least important.

In both studies, half the respondents were told the job applicant’s incorrect tax return was related to competence: He was not knowledgeable in all relevant tax codes. The other half were told it was related to integrity: He knowingly filed the tax return incorrectly.

The value of each of the six components was the same whether the apology was related to failures of competence or integrity. But overall, participants were less likely to accept apologies when the job applicant showed a lack of integrity versus a lack of competence.


Lewicki noted that, in this work, participants simply read apology statements. But the emotion and voice inflection of a spoken apology may have powerful effects, as well.


“Clearly, things like eye contact and appropriate expression of sincerity are important when you give a face-to-face apology,” he said.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Thinking and Feeling'


UC Santa Barbara researchers studying empathy in relationships find that in the absence of caring, understanding alone doesn't cut it when stressful situations arise

Newswise, March 9, 2016 — So you had a terrible day at work. Or the bills are piling up and cash is in short supply. Impending visit from the in-laws, perhaps?

When stress sets in, many of us turn to a partner to help us manage by being a sounding board or shoulder to cry on. Your odds of actually feeling better are much improved if they're both those things.

New research by psychologists at UC Santa Barbara reveals that simply understanding your partner's suffering isn't sufficient to be helpful in a stressful situation; you've got to actually care that they're suffering in the first place.

The findings, published in the journal Psychological Science, provide the first evidence that cognitive and affective forms of empathy work together to facilitate responsive behavior.

"When people were empathically accurate -- when they had an accurate understanding of their partner's thoughts and feelings -- they were more responsive only when they also felt more empathic concern, more compassion and motivation to attend to their partner's needs," explained lead author Lauren Winczewski, a graduate student in UCSB's Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences.

"People might assume that accurate understanding is all it takes to be responsive, but understanding a partner's thoughts and feelings was helpful only when listeners were also feeling more compassionate and sympathetic toward their partner.

When listeners had accurate knowledge but did not feel compassionate, they tended to be less supportive and responsive."

Responsiveness has become an important line of study in social and health psychology because research evidence increasingly suggests that feeling understood, validated and cared for by other people is crucial to relationships and personal well-being. But exactly what enables one to be responsive to others?

In the study, Winczewski and fellow graduate researcher Jeff Bowen, working with UCSB psychology professor Nancy Collins, argued that responsiveness requires not only accurate understanding but also compassionate motivation.

Specifically, they hypothesized that understanding another person's thoughts and feelings -- a cognitive skill known as empathic accuracy -- would foster responsive behavior only when paired with benevolent motivation, or empathic concern.

They tested their theory by asking couples to discuss a previously identified personal or relationship stressor -- jealousy, say, or, as in one case, one partner's extreme fear of flying.

By videotaping the conversations,­ the researchers were able to gauge empathic accuracy and empathic concern, as well as responsiveness, both in real time and after the interaction had concluded.

And as it turned out, they were right. When a listener's concern for their partner was high, their accuracy bolstered responsiveness; but when compassion was scant, understanding did little to aid responsiveness.

According to Winczewski, the findings suggest that empathic accuracy facilitates responsive behavior only when one is motivated to use that insight for benevolent goals.

"You can know very well what your partner is thinking and feeling -- maybe you've heard this story 17 times, the fight with the boss and so on -- but if you don't care?" said Winczewski.

"Having accurate knowledge in the absence of compassionate feelings may even undermine responsiveness."

The researchers speculate that everyday support conversations, like the ones they observed in their lab, inform people's more enduring perceptions of their partners' responsiveness over time.

"People use these kinds of interactions as diagnostic of their partner's motivation and ability to respond to their needs," she continued.

"'If that's how you're responding to me now, is that how you'll respond to me again in the future?' Over time, you may build trust in your partner's responsiveness or you may start to wonder if your partner is even willing, let alone able, to respond to your needs."

Said Collins, who leads UCSB's Close Relationships Lab: "Having an accurate understanding of our partner's inner world, combined with compassionate feelings, enables us to provide the kind of support that is wanted and needed by our loved ones. But in the absence of compassionate feelings, cognitive empathy alone is not enough.

"In this way," Collins added, "our study shows that 'thinking and feeling' work together to help us be as supportive as possible to those we love."