Category Archives: Health

Run for the hills?

Many non-affiliated runners this year may be considering joining one of the many local running clubs in order to gain valuable support and knowledge for races later in the year. So what can social and sports psychologists tell us about the benefits/costs of joining a running club (or any other sports club or group)?

One of the main areas of interest for both sport (Widmeyer et al., 1992) and social psychologists (Forsyth, 1999) is group/team dynamics and cohesion. Research has identified a number of important factors that can influence the level or type of cohesion (e.g. task or social) and its effect on performance. These include: group size, propinquity (physical proximity between members), joining costs, leadership style(s) of the group, in-group competition and group success and similarity (Bray and Whaley, 2001). However what it is still unclear from the research, is to what extent these determinants encourage cohesiveness or indeed inhibit group development and performance. For example, research by Janis (1982) found that group similarity had a negative effect on performance.

For those who are contemplating joining a running or sports club it may prove more beneficial to shop around by attending a few (normally free) taster sessions to gain an insight into the club/group structure and dynamics and how that may effect their future running performance.

Joining a running club

Group cohesiveness

Group structure

Want to keep those New Year’s resolutions?

In just a few days we’ll have a resolution double-whammy. Not just a new year, but a new decade. Seems like a perfect time to be jotting down those resolutions (or publishing them online), right? Making resolutions is one thing…but what about keeping them? What can social psychology tell us that will help increase the odds that this time next year we’ll be proud of ourselves for the changes we’ve made?

In a recent study Lally et al. found that it can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days for a new habit to become automatic. While 254 days of gym trips and healthier eating may seem daunting, there’s small comfort in their finding that missing one day did not seem to influence the habit formation process. Weidemann et al. found that action-planning and coping-planning also affect behavior change, particularly in behaviors related to health. Additionally, developing an action plan early on and preparing mentally for the obstacles you may confront as you try to keep your goal (coping-planning, further explained here) can also help you keep your goal.

So,

  • stick with your resolution for the long haul
  • don’t beat yourself up too much if you miss a day
  • develop a plan to help you reach your goal or keep your resolution
  • mentally imagine yourself overcoming any obstacles
  • and, while you’re at it, tell your friends, since that seems to help too!

(2009) Lally et al. How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world

(2009) Wiedemann et al. How planning facilitates behaviour change: Additive and interactive effects of a randomized controlled trial

(2005) Sniehotta et al. Action planning and coping planning for long-term lifestyle change: theory and assessment

(2009) Burkeman. This column will change your life, The Guardian

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Hating your ex is not the only break-up rule.

Reese ended her eight-year marriage, but managed to maintain a friendship with her ex.

For many people, including many relationship scientists, the last stage of relationship dissolution is termination of contact. It seems much easier to hate your ex rather than being friend with her/him. However, more and more studies revealed that the phenomenon of post-dating friendships is common. So why are some former romantic relationships redefined into friendships? And how is it possible?

Foley and Fraser (1998) suggest that romantic relationships that no longer fulfill the romantic needs of partners may undergo a transformation to friendship. To the extent that the resources exchanged continue to be of value to the former partners, the relationship is likely to be maintained in the form of a friendship. Hill, Rubin, and Peplau (1976) found that premarital partners were more likely to stay friends when the breakup was male initiated or mutual. Metts, Cupach, and Bejlovec (1989) found that being friends prior to initiation of a romantic relationship was a significant predictor of maintaining a friendship post breakup. In addition, people whose partners used a positive tone in expressing their desire to end the relationship were more likely to remain friends than those who used such withdrawal strategies as avoidance. Also, those who perceived their former partner as more desirable were more likely to remain friends post breakup (Banks et al., 1987).

Recently, Busboom and colleagues (2002) used social exchange theory framework to examine whether resources and barriers influence the quality of friendship with a former romantic partner. The findings of their study suggested that the more resources people receive from their former partners, the more likely they will be to experience a high quality friendship after breakup. In addition, one’s level of satisfaction with the resources received may also contribute to friendship quality. Lastly, there are several obstacles that can get in the way of a postdating friendship, such as lack of support from family and friends for a post-dating friendship, the participant’s involvement in a new romantic relationship, and the use of neglect as a strategy to end the relationship were all significant predictors of lower friendship quality.

Friends after divorce: one couple trades drama for decency

 

Busboom, A.L., Collins, D.M., Givertz, M.D., & Levin, L.A. (2002).Can we still be friends? Resources and barriers to friendship quality after romantic relationship dissolution. Personal Relationship, 9, 215-223.

Is Santa Claus ‘retrosexual’?

The British columnist Mark Simpson first identified and named a ‘new, narcissistic, media-saturated, self-conscious kind of masculinity’ – the ‘metrosexual’ – in an influential article entitled ‘Here Come the Mirror Men’ in the national newspaper The Independent in 1994. Apparently the ‘metrosexual’, is ‘a young man with money to spend, living in or within easy reach of a metropolis—because that’s where all the best shops, clubs, gyms and hairdressers are’ (Simpson, 2002). The point Simpson was making, was that men are becoming more involved in historically feminised practices, which centre on consumption and self-presentation. Since Simpson first coined the term, ‘metrosexual’ practices have grown exponentially and even seem to have reached more mature men (Mintel, 2006).

It seems then, that ‘metrosexuality’ is here to stay. However in contrast, many men still continue to follow more conventional masculine and gender distinct scripts and these men have been termed ‘retrosexual’ (Simpson, 2003). Retrosexuality aligns itself with more classical or ‘hegemonic’ masculinity (Connell, 1995) and includes typical characteristics such as heroics, strength, drive, ambition and risk-taking, along with a disinterest in health-related practices, body image and grooming.

Given this identity criterion then, Santa is clearly ‘retrosexual’. For example, his beard is long and unkempt and he doesn’t wear the latest fashions. He clearly has a disinterest in health-related practices and body image, evidenced by his large paunch and he is well known to eat numerous mince pies and drink copious amounts of alcohol (at least on Xmas Eve). I should probably not mention too loudly the risk-taking involved in controlling his sleigh under the influence of alcohol or not following HSE lifting guidelines when hauling his sack. And of course we all think of him as heroic since he manages to delivery on time (unlike the Royal Mail) all our presents in just a few short hours, even whilst it’s snowing.

Merry Christmas to all readers!

Analysing Discursive Constructions of ‘Metrosexual’ Masculinity Online: ‘What does it matter, anyway?’

Men’s Grooming Habits – UK – March 2007

The Journal of Popular Culture

Consider Peoples Eating Behaviors

A quick count of the Social Psychology Eye blog reveals at least 8 posts related to weight, health, and eating behaviors. A quick diet search on the Internet will leave the individual with a plethora of websites to sort through. Eating and related topics have become so important because of the implications of food on our lives. Whether investigating the issue of overeating, not eating, perceived food restraint from food, or perhaps consuming a “manly” meal it is important to consider the contributing factors to understand eating behaviors. One phenomenon to consider for instance is the disinhibition effect where people are purportedly more likely to overeat after violating their diet. Diet violations are commonplace especially when considering all the possible places where food or snacks are sold and people’s disposition to eating junk food (refer to the November 7th post).

Recently researchers assessed the generalizability of the disinhibition effect (Tomiyama et al., 2009). The researchers selected female participants, who are more likely to practice restraint eating. Participants reported food consumption on an hourly basis. No evidence was found for the disinhibition effect. The experiment was repeated using female participants who reported restraint eating. In addition to regular reports of eating behavior participants were asked to stop by the laboratory and drink a milkshake. A manipulation designed as a diet violation. Again participants reported their eating behavior but no effect was found related to overeating. To the surprise of the researchers the participants compensated for over consumption by reducing calorie consumption. Researchers explain that participants who violated their diets perhaps succeeded in not overeating because they avoided additional foods whereas in the classic experiments participants would have been able to indulge by having access to the tempting food. While the findings highlight the importance of investigating eating behaviors the findings cannot be generalized to other age groups or to males. Some questions left unanswered are, outside of the lab, when might the disinhibition effect be most likely to occur, and with what population? Is it more likely to occur when participants are overweight? Lastly when does diet violation, which is ubiquitous, become a problem?

Read more: Internet diet search

Tomiyama, A, J., Moskovich, A., Byrne Haltom, K., Ju, T., Mann, T. (2009). Consumption after a diet violation; Disinhibition or       compensation?

Secret Sharers: When Listening Takes Its Toll

The recent events at Fort Hood, Texas — multiple killings on an army base at the hands of a soldier — have people asking many questions. How could this happen in a protected space, such as an army base? How could it happen at the hands of a soldier? And how could it happen at the hands of a soldier whose job it was to help others with their own psychological distress?

The experiences of war are traumatic for the soldiers and those living in war torn areas. The cumulative effects of combat stress can lead to such disorders as PTSD. But is there a similar cumulative effect of listening, repeatedly, to soldier’s most traumatic experiences? Researchers have found that listening to traumatic stories from clients can cause psychological distress for the clinician. This phenomenon has been termed “vicarious traumatization” and, over time, it can lead to “compassion fatigue” in the therapist.

One study has shown that personal characteristics of the therapist, such as the extent to which they “practice what they preach” in terms of working through their own stress, is directly related to burnout and compassion fatigue. But as a recent NY Times article points out, in addition to the stress of listening to soldiers’ harrowing tales of war, the military psychologists are also dealing with the prospect of their own deployment. Although there is a built in “checks and balances” system to monitor those providing care, the authors point out that for an officer at his rank, Maj. Hasan would have been expected to seek help on his own if he felt he needed it. However, this philosophy does not align with previous findings which show that therapists often feel expected to shoulder the burden of traumatic stories and that there is a sense of pride in maintaining client confidentiality and personal composure.

These findings, coupled with another study that shows the social function of “collective remembering” — in which the “social sharing” of emotions related to a traumatic event have long-term benefits in terms of post-traumatic growth and social integration — make salient the differences between sharing trauma at a collective vs. individual level. Collective sharing and processing of emotions can help a society and its citizens work through traumatic events. Therapists clearly have a role in sharing the experiences and facilitating positive coping processes, but their own experiences and stresses cannot be neglected in the process.

Does the war end when the shooting stops? The psychological toll of war. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, July 2006

Factors affecting burnout and compassion fatigue in psychotherapists treating torture survivors: Is the therapist’s attitude to working through trauma relevant? Journal of Traumatic Stress, March 2007

Compassion fatigue: When listening Hurts. APA Monitor, September 1995

Painful stories take a toll on military therapists. NY Times, 11/7/09

Social sharing of emotion, post-traumatic growth, and emotional climate: Follow-up of Spanish citizen’s response to the collective trauma of the March 11th terrorist attacks in Madrid

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Rising waistlines, falling grades?

By Erica Zaiser

The BBC reported on a recent survey by the British Heart Foundation which found that most parents in the UK vastly overestimate the amount of exercise their children are getting. While 72% of parents believe that their children are getting enough exercise, according to the survey, only one in ten children actually get the recommended amount of exercise per day.  As more children begin to suffer the ill effects of not exercising and because obesity in children is on the rise, there is added urgency to understand how weight impacts the lives of children.

A recent study by Clark, Slate, and Viglietti (2009), found that children who were severely overweight had significantly worse marks in all subjects than students who were not obese.  The same was seen with standardized test scores and was found even when controlling for economic status or student conduct. However, the results were only found among white students; weight was not significantly correlated with grades for students in other ethnic categories. The authors caution that much more research should be done as their sample was somewhat limited and that people should be careful of studies looking at weight categories because many children go through growth-spurts at different times. Furthermore, it is important to remember that their research only showed that weight and academic performance were correlated. It is impossible to say that obesity causes low grades when it could very well be the other way around or other factors may influence both grades and weight.

Regardless, the study is interesting because it highlights that the issue of obesity may be worrisome not just because of its ill effects on physical health. Children who are overweight might suffer from low self-esteem or become victims of bullying or social exclusion, all of which could impact their physical and mental health. There are still a number of questions that social psychologists could help answer: Why does obesity negatively correlate with academic success? Do teachers treat obese children differently than non-obese children? Or, are children who are suffering academically less likely to exercise and eat a proper diet?

Read more: David Clark, D., Slate, J. R., & Vigliett, G. C. (2009). Children’s Weight and Academic Performance in Elementary School: Cause for Concern?. Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy. 9, 1, 185-204.

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