Tag Archives: Health

Help yourself by helping others: Lessons from the Fargo flood fight

Image created by contributors to the Fargo Forum

By Kevin R. Betts

Around this time of year almost annually, residents of Fargo, ND and surrounding cities get together to do something most people couldn’t imagine doing even once. They self-mobilize to fight a flood that threatens to destroy the livelihoods of thousands of citizens. Residents voluntarily take time off from work or school, show up at various locations specified by city officials, and fill and place millions of sandbags. In 2009, residents witnessed a 43 foot river crest that likely would have overtaken the city without these efforts. With record precipitation levels this year, city officials are again asking residents to volunteer their time to flood protection efforts. This year’s goal: three million sandbags.

If you imagine yourself faced with fighting a flood year after year to save your own city, you might direct your attention to the psychological or financial costs of such a fight. And certainly these costs are real. Yet, as a current resident of Fargo, I can tell you that volunteers in this effort accrue social and psychological benefits as well. I’ve listened to friends and neighbors describe these benefits, as well as experienced them myself. For example, the yearly flood fight brings the region’s citizens together in unique ways. Ensuring that the region is protected from the flood is a common goal that all the volunteers share. Thus, volunteers can often be seen working collaboratively with individuals they might not normally associate with. It is clear that volunteers derive a sense of self-worth from having contributed to these common goals as well. Working together and helping one another feels good. It is with an immense sense of pride that volunteers can say that they themselves prevented an environmental catastrophe.

My observations and experiences in Fargo suggest that volunteer work has social and psychological benefits. Research by Piliavin (2008) supports this notion empirically and takes it one step further. She provides evidence that volunteer work over one’s lifetime contributes not only to positive psychological health outcomes, but also to positive physical health outcomes. She draws these conclusions based on longitudinal data from 10,317 women and men who varied in the extent to which they volunteered throughout their lives. Although the manner in which lifelong volunteer work impacts psychological and physical health is complex, it is not difficult to understand because it follows a relatively straightforward path. First, volunteering enhances social integration. Second, social integration attained through volunteering promotes volunteer motives and identity. Third, this volunteer identity promotes a sense of personal worth from having contributed to helping others. Finally, this sense of personal worth enhances psychological well-being which can impact physical health. This is important. People who volunteer consistently throughout their lives are healthier psychologically and physically as a result.

Although the costs of fighting a flood almost annually are enormous, my observations along with research by Piliavin (2008) suggest that volunteers may accrue some benefits. If you are looking for another reason to volunteer your time to cause that matters to you, remember that you may be doing more than helping others. You may be helping yourself!

Read more

Lines of defense: Fargo planning sandbag distribution around city (Fargo Forum)

Piliavin, J.A. (2008). Long-term benefits of habitual helping: Doing well by doing good. In B.A. Sullivan, M. Snyder, & J.L. Sullivan (Eds.), Cooperation: The political psychology of effective human interaction (pp. 241-258). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

See other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Are you aware of your partner’s secret STD?

By Kevin R. Betts

“Don’t wait until you’re naked in bed with someone to tell them you have an STD.” This is legitimate advice from therapist and relationship expert Rachel A. Sussman, as quoted in a recent CNN health article. But as an uninfected individual, is this unfortunate scenario something that you need to be concerned about? Certainly an individual that you willingly become intimate with wouldn’t put you at risk without at least informing you. Right? Not necessarily.

Take HIV infection as an example. Fisher, Kohut, and Fisher (2009) point out that most research in the social sciences aimed at preventing the spread of HIV targets uninfected individuals. Meanwhile, research aimed at preventing high risk behaviors among infected individuals remains scarce. Yet it is infected individuals that are the greatest threat to the spread of this disease. Fisher et al. (2009) argue that this inappropriate focus on the behaviors of uninfected individuals resulted from the well-intentioned efforts of researchers to avoid strengthening existing patterns of prejudice, fear of contagion, and blaming the victim. Although these intentions are admirable, they nonetheless have neglected to consider an important link in the chain of infection. Many infected individuals remain willing to hide information about HIV and other contagious diseases from their partner(s). Fisher et al. (2009) urge social scientists to refocus their efforts on preventing high risk behaviors among infected individuals.

What should uninfected individuals take from this example? It is important that you speak with your partner(s) about sexually transmitted diseases. Although this discussion may be uncomfortable, it may also save you extensive physical and psychological distress down the line.

Read more:

8 tips for telling your partner a health secret (CNN)

Fisher, W.A., Kohut, T., & Fisher, J. (2009). AIDS exceptionalism: On the social psychology of HIV prevention research. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3, 45-77.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

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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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?

Being bony is being attractive?

3mirrorsFindings from the field of evolutionary psychology, and mate selection more specifically, would lead one to believe that what the opposite sex finds attractive should be most important in determining how one is affected by appearance-related comparison information. While attractiveness has become more important to both males and females, it seems that today women and men should be especially sensitive to what the opposite sex finds attractive. However, research on body image demonstrated that perceptions of what the opposite sex finds attractive differ from what the opposite sex actually finds attractive. Moreover, this misperception was present especially among women. That is, women think that men want women to be thinner than men actually want. This thin ideal is conveyed and reinforced by many social influences, including family, peers, schools, athletics, and health care professionals. Nevertheless, the loudest and most aggressive purveyors of images and narratives of ideal slender beauty are the mass media. Young people are bombarded with stick-thin models images that can distort how they feel about themselves. In sum, this “perfect” female body image promoted by magazines, television and films forces women to strive to be thin for the sake of being “ideal” among other women rather than being attractive to men .

square-eyeGirls’ self-esteem coming under fire

 

square-eyeJ. Kevin Thompson & Leslie J. Heinberg (2002). The Media’s Influence on Body Image Disturbance and Eating Disorders: We’ve Reviled Them, Now Can We Rehabilitate Them?

 

square-eyeLisa M. Groesz, Michael P. Levine, Sarah K. Murnen (2001). The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: A meta-analytic review

The Restraint Bias: Another reason why a diet won’t work

Chocolate_chip_cookiesAs it happens people underestimate control over situations. Take the classic example of a student who waits until the last minute to study for a final exam because “they have it all under control”. This example is a type of bias that surprisingly is more common than expected. Another example of bias is a person who walks into a café to only get a coffee and is temped to get a tasty pastry. The phenomenon referred to is the restraint bias, or the perceived ability to have control over an impulse. Apply this concept to any vice when someone feels or is biased into perceived control and a similar conclusion is likely to occur.

Take the new fad: the cookie diet. People are purportedly allowed to eat cookies in addition to one meal. And it is precisely because of the name that people underestimate their ability to control the impulse, according to the New York Times report. However because people see the feasibility they are likely to try the diet and nevertheless fall for the impulse of eating that extra cookie.

As an example, Nordgren, van Harreveld & van der Pligt (2009), asked satiated and hungry participants to select a snack which was to be returned a week later in exchange for money. The authors reported that the more restraint bias experienced by satiated participants the greater the likelihood of not returning the snack. More importantly is the fact that the satiated participants chose their first or second favorite snacks while the hungry participants reportedly accounted for the bias by selecting a second or third favorite snack. The cookie diet then is an important example because it sounds harmless and increases the likelihood of bias. However based on the experiment by Nordgren et al., (2009) it can be concluded that because a cookie seems harmless people are more likely to be biased for that extra snack.

square-eye Read more: The Cookie diet

square-eye Nordgren, van Harreveld & van der Pligt (2009) The restraint bias-How the illusion of self-restraint  promotes impulsive behavior.

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Alternative Pain Medicine: A Loved One’s Picture

Pain_PillsBeen to the doctor for a painful medical procedure lately? How about overexerted yourself over the weekend during a ballgame with your buddies? In either case, over the counter pain medication, or analgesics if you prefer, will do. An overwhelming number of pharmaceutical companies have some sort of chemical concoction waiting to be picked up at the local pharmacy.

Recent findings however may change the way people think about mitigating pain. Evidently the mere mental representation of a partner is enough to mitigate experienced pain (Master et al., 2009). Not surprisingly holding the hand of one’s partner during a painful procedure is better than holding a strangers if both were to stand behind a curtain. Would you guess that the picture of one’s partner is better than holding the partners hand while behind a curtain?  Masters et al., found that indeed the mental representation or picture reduced more pain. A question left unanswered is what to do if you’re single? Alternatively can a different source (i.e. grandma’s picture) replace the partner’s picture?

square-eye Read more: Pain medication

square-eye Master, S.L., Eisenberger, N.I., Taylor, S.E., Naliboff, B.D., Shirinyan, D., Lieberman, M.D. (2009). A picture’s worth: Partner photographs reduce experimentally induced pain.

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Working out for health, not for beauty

female-bodybuilding

People exercise more for health than for anything else including beauty, according to the results of a poll which was conducted by EveryDay Health and American Council on Fitness. It’s really a good news that more and more people realize that the motivation for exercise could significantly influent the exercise results.

 Exercise could not only benefit your physical health by lowering your blood pressure, maintaining your healthy joints, and reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, it also benefits your mental health. With respect to psychological wellbeing, participation in regular physical activity has already been shown to confer considerable benefit such as the reduction of anxiety, stress, and depression in individuals. However, research has also shown that not all individual benefit positively from physical exercise. The motivation for exercise has been found to be an important factor which influences the exercise results.

In particular, exercises sometimes could lead female exercisers to poorer body image and greater eating disturbance, if they overly focus on their physical appearances. Studies found that young women who exercise primarily to lose weight, to improve body tone, and to improve attractiveness were more likely to become more dissatisfied with their physical selves the more they exercise, regardless of the associated health and fitness benefits (McDonald & Thompson, 1992). It is because exercise is a slow and challenging means of appearance improvement that does not instantly change a woman’s shape. The long and frustrated processes often lead these women to feeling disappointed rather than a sense of achievement. Thus, it seems that the motivations women hold for exercise may play a significant role in the development and maintenance of body image concerns. Although research indicated that women’s motivation for exercise was more often related to weight and tone reasons than men, in general, for both genders, exercising for weight, tone, and attractiveness reasons was highly correlated with eating disturbance and body dissatisfaction. In contrast, exercising because of health was positively associated with self-esteem for both female and male.

square-eyeWhy Exercise? Health Trumps Beauty, Study Finds (Fox News)

 

square-eyeKaren McDonald, & J. Kevin Thompson (1992). Eating disturbance, body image dissatisfaction, and reasons for exercising: Gender differences and correlational findings.

Pink Ribbon: Charity or hitting in the face?

Pink_Ribbon_Ducks_16_836Every October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a sea of pink ribbons washes over products. This cute and soothing pink ribbon which represents companies’ promise to donate into cancer research, however, leaves some breast cancer survivors feeling suffering rather than appreciating.  “I think that the pink ribbon, as symbol, tends to pretty up what is a pretty crappy disease. But a pink ribbon is easier to look at than the disease itself.” Like Zielinski, many breast cancer survivors feel overwhelmed by the constant pink reminder of a disease that has forever altered their lives.  

The diagnosis of breast cancer, the most common type of cancer among American women, elicits greater distress than any other diagnosis, regardless of prognosis. Medical and psychological research suggests that patients’ reporting of somatic symptoms is more closely related to emotional variables (particularly negative affect) than to their actual health as determined by external criteria (Koller et al, 1996 ). A supportive social environment (broad social network, presence of a significant other, availability and reception of social support) has beneficial effects on patient’s health whereas negative emotions, most of which are evoked by stigma, could be very harmful to patients’ health (Eccleston , 2008).

Stigma means that the individual possesses an undesired anomaly and is therefore disqualified from full social acceptance. People may think breast cancer is less stigmatized than mental diseases or other physical diseases such as HIV because the most significant risk factors for breast cancer (such as genetics and age) can’t be altered by women, which is why it’s often regarded as a “blameless” disease. However, besides negative responses (anxiety, disgust, sadness, anger, or helplessness), the effects of stigma may also contain positive emotions such as empathy or overconcern. Both emotional responses, however, reflect the attitude that the stigmatized person is unfavorably different from “normal” individuals (Koller et al, 1996).Imagine a breast cancer woman who is constantly reminded by this pink ribbon and thus is forced to be aware of the disease so often. Is it a charity or a torture?

square-eyeEccleston, C.P. (2008). The Psychological and Physical Health Effects of Stigma: The Role of Self-threats. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 10,1345–1361.

square-eyeMichael Koller, M., et al. (1996). Symptom reporting in cancer patients: The role of negative affect and experienced social stigma. Cancer, 77, 983-995.

square-eyeSick of pink.