Daily Archives: August 25, 2009

Should we put our mind to it, go for it, get down and break a sweat?

treadmillA recent story in Time Magazine made a bold statement by proclaiming that while exercise and physical activity may improve physical and mental health, it may not help you lose weight. As the author acknowledges, there are a number of reasons this might occur. Physiologically, exercise can prompt the release of hormones that stimulate hunger, causing people to eat more. Additionally, as the article discusses, some dieters often reward themselves after workouts by consuming high-calorie foods that merely replace the calories burned during the workout.

Another possible explanation addressed in the article looks to social psychological research performed by Roy Baumeister and colleagues. In their pivotal studies about self-regulation, they found that when people are depleted of the energy to exercise self-control, they often engage in disinhibited behaviors, such as eating more. These studies have interesting implications for weight loss and exercise. For instance, people who are exercising frequently might also be dieting to lose weight. Dieters often employ substantial self-restraint throughout the day to resist tempting food. Thus, it might not be exercise that is leading to increased eating; rather, the frequent self-monitoring process of dieters may deplete them of the energy needed to resist fattening foods. On the other hand, exercise lowers blood sugar levels, including that of glucose, which has been intimately linked to self-regulatory abilities (Gailliot et al., 2007). Is it the case then that post-exercise hunger, which often leads to the consumption of high-sugar food, is simply the body’s way of returning to homeostasis?

It seems that social psychological research will have much more to say about this topic in the future, as it remains unclear whether it is dieting or exercise that is directly leading to the consumption of fattening foods. And if the booming weight-loss market tells us anything, it’s that people want to know the best way to get fit and look good.

square-eye Time Magazine: Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.

square-eye Baumeister, R. F., Vohs, K. D., & Tice, D. M. (2007). The Strength Model of Self-Control.

$1.99 Baumeister, R. F., & Vohs, K. D. (2007). Self-Regulation, Ego Depletion, and Motivation.

Gender bias in track and chess

090825Caster_SemenyaLast week an emerging track star became the focus of an international scandal. After 18-year-old Caster Semenya won the 800 meter world championships final by more than two seconds, the International Association of Athletics Federations announced the South African athlete was being required to undergo a gender determination test.

Apparently the South African improved her personal best time by seven seconds this year. After being cleared of doping, gender testing was the next “sensible” step, said I.A.A.F. spokesman Nick Davies. 

Two finalists shared the suspicion. The New York Times reported the Italian Elisa Cusma as saying, “These kind of people should not run with us.” Mariya Savinova, the fifth place finisher from Russia, agreed: “Just look at her.”

A recent study on gender reported an odd, but related, stereotype among women chess players. In on-line games, women who are aware their opponents are male play worse than if they believe their opponents are female, notwithstanding ability levels. 

Of course, gender tests are highly problematic: “Humans like categories neat,” said Alice Dreger to the New York Times, “but nature is a slob.” This didn’t stop Cusma from saying, as if to illegitimatize the track win, “For me, she’s not a woman. She’s a man.”

Perhaps Cusma would have finished higher than sixth if she had not suspected she was racing a man.

If we could talk to the animals…


Recent US headlines regarding the reinstatement of NFL player Michael Vick, convicted of participating in a dog-fighting ring, raise a number of questions about animal rights and how we attempt to understand and treat animal abusers.

As the introduction for the most recent Journal of Social Issues (JSI) states, “virtually all societies” make use of and have relationships with nonhuman animals — as companions, for work, as a source of food, etc. But these relationships are complex and raise a number of ethical and psychological issues.

For example, research has shown that we often benefit — both psychologically and physiologically — from companionship with animals. Perhaps it is this presumption, and the idea that we should care for and protect our companions that elicits such emotional responses from deviant (i.e. abusive) behavior. Ascione & Shapiro (2009, JSI) report on interventions, such as AniCare, that build on these ideas and “intimate justice theory” to work with those convicted of animal abuse. Researchers are also considering how our understanding of animal abuse can inform work on domestic abuse, and vice versa. Such questions have even resulted in the establishment of a new field — anthrozoology — to formally investigate human-animal interactions.

In what ways has animal use changed in our societies as technology has developed? Do you think findings from animal abuse studies can be generalized to other areas of abuse and abuse interventions?

square-eye New Perspectives on Human-Animal Interactions: Theory, Policy, and Research, Journal of Social Issues.

square-eye Read more on the rise of dogfighting subculture (warning: images of recovering dogs)