Our Blog

Our Blog

This Year, Consider Giving Presence Instead Of Presents

Uncategorized
featured image

During the holiday season, many of us feel pressure to find our loved ones the “perfect” gift. Why? Because gift-giving has long been considered a prime way to express love. However, recent research suggests that gestures don’t need to be large or have a hefty price tag to feel meaningful.

The study, published this summer in The Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, suggests that small acts of kindness, not grand overtures, make people feel most loved and supported.

“Our research found that micro-moments of positivity, like a kind word, cuddling with a child, or receiving compassion make people feel most loved,” says Dr. Zita Oravecz, a professor in human development and family studies at Pennsylvania State University and one of the study’s researchers.

In the study, 495 men and women between the ages of 18 and 93 completed a questionnaire evaluating 60 possible ways that people can feel love. Each question began with, “Most people feel loved when…” The scenarios included situations like spending time with friends, receiving gifts, and spending time in nature. The survey also included negative interactions, like being controlled and criticized by others. To read more from JULI FRAGA, click here.

The Neuroscience of Changing Your Mind

Uncategorized
featured image

Every day our brains grapple with various last-minute decisions. We adjust our gait to avoid a patch of ice; we exit to hit the rest stop; we switch to our backhand before thwacking a tennis ball.

Scientists have long accepted that our ability to abruptly stop or modify a planned behavior is controlled via a single region within the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area involved in planning and other higher mental functions. By studying other parts of the brain in both humans and monkeys, however, a team from Johns Hopkins University has now concluded that last-minute decision-making is a lot more complicated than previously known, involving complex neural coordination among multiple brain areas. The revelations may help scientists unravel certain aspects of addictive behaviors and understand why accidents like falls grow increasingly common as we age, according to the Johns Hopkins team.
The findings, published Thursday in Neuron, reveal reneging on an intended behavior involves coordinated cross talk between several brain regions. As a result, changing our minds even mere milliseconds after making a decision is often too late to alter a movement or behavior. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging—a technique that monitors brain activity in real time—the Johns Hopkins group found reversing a decision requires ultrafast communication between two specific zones within the prefrontal cortex and another nearby structure called the frontal eye field, an area involved in controlling eye movements and visual awareness. To read more from Bret Stetka, click here.

Apps Can Cut Blue Light From Devices, But Do They Help You Sleep?

Uncategorized
featured image

If you’re losing sleep over the blue light coming from your phone, there’s an app for that.

In fact, there are now lots of apps that promise to improve sleep by filtering out the blue light produced by phones, tablets, computers and even televisions.

But how well do these apps work?

There haven’t been any big studies to answer that question. So I phoned a couple of scientists who study the link between blue light exposure and sleep.

My first call is to Lisa Ostrin, an assistant professor at the University of Houston College of Optometry.

Ostrin owns an iPhone. And every iPhone comes with an app called Night Shift that lets you filter out blue light. So does Ostrin use Night Shift?

“Yes I do,” she tells me.

Without a filtering app, cellphones and tablets expose users to an alarming amount of blue light, she says, “Especially as people are lying in bed and have their screens just a few inches from their face.” To read more from JON HAMILTON, click here.

Why Your Brain Needs to Dream

Uncategorized
featured image

Research shows that dreaming is not just a byproduct of sleep, but serves its own important functions in our well-being.

We often hear stories of people who’ve learned from their dreams or been inspired by them. Think of Paul McCartney’s story of how his hit song “Yesterday” came to him in a dream or of Mendeleev’s dream-inspired construction of the periodic table of elements.

But, while many of us may feel that our dreams have special meaning or a useful purpose, science has been more skeptical of that claim. Instead of being harbingers of creativity or some kind of message from our unconscious, some scientists have considered dreaming to be an unintended consequence of sleep—a byproduct of evolution without benefit.

Sleep itself is a different story. Scientists have known for a while now that shorter sleep is tied to dangerous diseases, like heart disease and stroke. There is mounting evidence that sleep deprivation leads to a higher risk of obesity and Alzheimer’s disease. Large population studies reflect a saddening truth—the shorter your sleep, the shorter your life. Not only that, sleep helps us to hold onto our memories and to learn facts and skills faster, making it important for everyone including infants, students, athletes, pilots, and doctors. To read more from MATTHEW WALKER, click here.

Four Ways Social Support Makes You More Resilient

Uncategorized
featured image

When my mother died, the first thing I did was call my two best friends. Like good friends will, they dropped everything and came to my rescue. Having them there made all the difference in getting through a very difficult period of my life.

Researchers haven’t always emphasized this kind of social support as a factor in individual resilience—that is, the ability to recover from hardship and move forward in a positive, adaptive way. Instead, they have placed a high premium on studying personal qualities, often relegating social context to a lesser role.

For example, studies have found that people who are happier, have a strong purpose in life, or higher levels of self-efficacy—the belief that they have control over their situation—seem to have an easier time recovering after disaster. Some of these personality factors have been shown to be protective, even for those who suffer from economic hardship, and can lead to better health outcomes, a reduced risk of suicide, and a better recovery after the loss of a spouse or loved one. To read more from JILL SUTTIE, click here.

What We Can Learn from the Best Marriages

Uncategorized
featured image

If we want to succeed in the self-expressive marriage, we’ll have to grapple with a paradox: Just as our expectations of our spouses are increasing, we’re also spending less time with them, and less time with other social connections who could help meet our needs. Finkel offers three strategies that can make the difference between marital crisis and marital flourishing.

If your relationship needs a booster shot but you don’t have much time or energy to devote to it at the moment, “lovehacking” may be the way to go.

Lovehacks are quick, simple practices that change the way you think about your partner. Like other forms of hacking, they won’t fix deep, underlying problems—but they are a helpful patch to tide you over into the future. To read more from KIRA M. NEWMAN, click here.

Thinking on Your Feet

Uncategorized
featured image

Health experts widely agree that most of us should sit less, especially at work. Prolonged sitting has been linked with higher risks for diabetes and heart disease, among other conditions. While treadmill and standing desks have grown in popularity, they provide a clear impact on our health but perhaps not on our work itself. We know that most people type better when they sit still than when they stand up or move about. But do they also think better?

Most studies of prolonged sitting have looked at the benefits from breaking up sitting time on blood sugar and blood pressure. For an innovative new study published recently in The Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, researchers at Arizona State University in Phoenix recruited nine sedentary, overweight men and women and asked them to show up at a simulated office space at the university.

During one visit, the volunteers sat continuously for eight hours (apart from bathroom breaks), while using a computer and talking on the phone, as if it were any workday. Twice during the day, they also completed computerized measures of many thinking skills, including working memory and decision making. To read more from Gretchen Reynolds, click here.

How To Fix The Person You Love

Uncategorized
featured image

At the heart of the American ideal of marriage lurks a potential conflict. We expect our spouse to make us feel loved and valued, while also expecting him or her to help us discover and actualize our best self — to spur us to become, as Tom Cruise’s titular character in “Jerry Maguire” puts it, “the me I’d always wanted to be.”

The problem is that what helps us achieve one of these goals is often incompatible with what helps us achieve the other. To make us feel loved and valued, our spouse must convey appreciation for the person we currently are. To help us grow, he or she must emphasize the discrepancy between that person and the person we can ideally become, typically by casting a sober, critical eye on our faults.

Americans didn’t always ask so much of their spouse. Until around 1850, the primary consideration for a successful marriage was practical: running a household that kept its residents fed and safe. Love was a luxury. After 1850, as urbanization afforded young people the freedom to make their own decisions, love increasingly became a necessity for a successful marriage. Today, we expect our spouse not only to make us feel loved, but also to be a kind of life coach. To read more from ELI J. FINKEL, click here.

Mindfulness Apps Aim To Help People Disconnect From Stress

Uncategorized
featured image

From fires and hurricanes, to confrontational politics — with all that’s been going on, it’s no wonder the American Psychological Association found an increase in Americans’ stress levels over the last year.

Our constant checking of smartphones — with the bombardment of news and social media — can amp up our anxiety. So, why not use your device to help you disconnect?

Mindfulness apps, such as Simply Being, are an increasingly popular way to help manage stress. Using this app, you can tap into a soundtrack of soothing sounds to help clear your mind. (Cue babbling brook, singing birds, meditation gongs!)

The idea behind mindfulness is simple to explain, but hard to execute. The goal is to focus on the present moment, and to let go of regrets of the past or worries about the future. And some researchers say apps can be a useful tool to assist this practice.

“I think they can be helpful,” says Dr. Stuart Eisendrath, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco who researches Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. To read more from ALLISON AUBREY, click here.

New research suggests ways to improve your romantic relationships

Uncategorized
featured image

When people are uncomfortable with developing intimacy and closeness in their relationships, can they work to overcome this?

The tendency to distance yourself from others is characteristic of an “avoidant attachment style,” which research traces back to childhood. When caregivers are available to respond to children’s needs, attachment theory says, children develop a secure attachment style: They trust others and feel comfortable relying on the people they are close to. However, when caregivers fail to meet children’s needs, they can develop insecure attachment: either attachment avoidance or attachment anxiety (the worry that others will fail to be there for them).

Unfortunately for some, attachment style seems to be relatively stable over time. Indeed, research has found that people with secure attachment styles tend to have more stable and long-lasting romantic relationships as adults, whereas people with more avoidant attachment styles tend to experience more negative emotions in social situations and often behave in less constructive ways during conflicts. To read more from Elizabeth Hopper, click here.