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Updated: 2 hours 29 min ago

MDs’ Own Experience May Impact Cancer Screening Recommendations

Sun, 08/19/2018 - 7:00am

Humans are highly prone to overestimating the likelihood of rare events, such as shark attacks or winning the lottery. This tendency is known as “availability bias,” the inclination to judge the frequency of an event by how easy it is to recall examples from memory.

For example, if you’ve watched the movie “Jaws” or daydreamed what you would do with the Powerball jackpot, it will be quite easy for you to pull up vivid, emotional images of these events, making these rare events seem much more likely to happen.

The availability of these events in your mind overpowers the much more mundane reality that you actually have only 1 in 292,201,338 chance of winning Powerball. And even among beachgoers, the chance of being attacked by a shark is only about 1 in 11.5 million.

Now a new study, published in the Journal of Women’s Health, reveals that availability bias may also influence how often a doctor recommends cancer screenings for patients.

Overall, screening guidelines are designed to do the most good while causing the least harm. In the case of cancer, this means screening the patients who have the greatest chance of hiding a dangerous cancer at a treatable stage.

Screening routinely saves the lives of high-risk patients. But for low-risk patients, the cost and chance that false-positive results will lead to anxiety and even unnecessary treatments outweigh the very small chance of detecting a dangerous, treatable cancer.

In other words, for a population of low-risk patients, the harm outweighs the good.

Survey results from 497 primary care physicians show that doctors who have had cancer themselves, or experienced cancer with a family member, close friend, or coworker, are 17 percent more likely than those without personal cancer experience to act against established guidelines to recommend that low-risk women receive ovarian cancer screening.

“Most doctors are pretty comfortable with the idea that our personal experience can make a positive impact on our practice — we’ve known someone and so it gives us insight into how to take care of patients in similar circumstances,” said Margaret Ragland, M.D., pulmonary critical care specialist at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital (UCH).

“This study helps us realize that sometimes it can go beyond that. Personal experiences can impact our practice in a variety of ways,” she said.

“Some people may think, what’s the harm in doing testing that’s not indicated? I’m going to get a negative test and it’ll make my patient feel better. But if you find something, it can lead to further follow up, causing complications, cost, and anxiety.”

This is why screening for ovarian cancer is not recommended for women of average risk. And yet when presented with an account describing a woman of average risk, 31.8 percent of primary care doctors who had personal experience of cancer chose to offer this screening. In comparison, only 14 percent of doctors without personal experience of cancer opted for patient screening.

The survey collected responses from 3,200 randomly sampled physicians who provide primary care to women. The primary goal of the study was to discover the characteristics of providers who might be at the greatest risk of recommending care that conflicts with guidelines. The researchers hope to identify and educate these potentially non-compliant doctors to help ensure that patients more uniformly receive the best possible care.

“The reasons that doctors with personal cancer experience may be more likely to not follow screening guidelines are complicated and we don’t know all the answers,” Ragland said. “But my hypothesis is that a doctor’s personal experience may influence their assessment of risk. You see a patient in front of you and you may assess the risk to be higher than it actually is.”

“We’re physicians, but we also have life experiences,” she said. “What this study tells us is that in ways we may not be aware, for better and for worse, our personal experience may affect our practice.”

The survey was funded by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and managed by study senior author Laura-Mae Baldwin, M.D., University of Washington professor of Family Medicine.

Source: University of Colorado Anshutz Medical Campus

 

DDT Metabolite in Pregnant Women Linked to Autism in Kids

Sun, 08/19/2018 - 6:00am

Elevated levels of a metabolite of the banned insecticide DDT in the blood of pregnant women have been linked to an increased risk for autism in children, according to new research.

The study of more than 1 million pregnancies in Finland is the first to connect an insecticide with risk for autism using maternal biomarkers of exposure, according to an international research team led by scientists at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the Department of Psychiatry.

Researchers identified 778 cases of childhood autism among children born from 1987 to 2005 to women enrolled in the Finnish Maternity Cohort, which represents 98 percent of pregnant women in Finland.

The researchers matched these mother-child pairs with mothers and children who did not have autism.

Maternal blood taken during early pregnancy was analyzed for DDE, a metabolite of DDT, and PCBs, another class of environmental pollutants, the researchers explained.

The researchers discovered that the odds of autism with intellectual disability in children were increased by greater than twofold for mothers whose DDE levels were in the top quartile. For the overall sample of autism cases, the odds were nearly one-third higher among children exposed to elevated maternal DDE levels.

The findings persisted after adjusting for several confounding factors, such as maternal age and psychiatric history, the researchers noted.

The researchers also discovered that there was no association between maternal PCBs and autism.

While DDT and PCBs were widely banned in many nations over 30 years ago, including the U.S. and Finland, they persist in the food chain because their breakdown occurs very slowly — as long as several decades — resulting in continuing exposure to populations, the researchers explain.

These chemicals are transferred across the placenta in concentrations greater than those seen in the mother’s blood, the scientists add.

“We think of these chemicals in the past tense, relegated to a long-gone era of dangerous 20th Century toxins,” said lead author Alan S. Brown, M.D., M.P.H., a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and of Psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center.

“Unfortunately, they are still present in the environment and are in our blood and tissues. In pregnant women, they are passed along to the developing fetus. Along with genetic and other environmental factors, our findings suggest that prenatal exposure to the DDT toxin may be a trigger for autism.”

The researchers offer two reasons for their observation that maternal exposure to DDE was related to autism while maternal PCB exposure was not.

First, maternal DDE is associated with low birth weight, a well-replicated risk factor for autism. In contrast, maternal PCB exposure has not been related to low birth weight.

Second, they point to androgen receptor binding, a process key to neurodevelopment. A study in rats found DDE inhibits androgen receptor binding, an outcome also seen in a rat model of autism. In contrast, PCBs increase androgen receptor transcription, the researchers note.

The study was published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. 

Source: Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health

Why Some Who Have Alzheimer’s Brain Markers Don’t Have Dementia

Sat, 08/18/2018 - 7:00am

A new study has uncovered why some people who have brain markers of Alzheimer’s never develop dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, affects more than 5 million Americans. People suffering from Alzheimer’s develop a buildup of two proteins that impair communications between nerve cells in the brain — plaques made of amyloid beta proteins and neurofibrillary tangles made of tau proteins.

However, not all people with those signs of Alzheimer’s show any cognitive decline during their lifetime.

The question for researchers became what sets these people apart from those with the same plaques and tangles that develop dementia?

“In previous studies, we found that while the non-demented people with Alzheimer’s neuropathology had amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles just like the demented people did, the toxic amyloid beta and tau proteins did not accumulate at synapses, the point of communication between nerve cells,” said Dr. Giulio Taglialatela, director of the Mitchell Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

“When nerve cells can’t communicate because of the buildup of these toxic proteins that disrupt synapses, thought and memory become impaired. The next key question was then what makes the synapse of these resilient individuals capable of rejecting the dysfunctional binding of amyloid beta and tau?”

To answer this question, the researchers analyzed the protein composition of synapses isolated from frozen brain tissue donated by people who had participated in brain aging studies and received annual neurological and neuropsychological evaluations during their lifetime. The participants were divided into three groups: Those with Alzheimer’s dementia, those with Alzheimer’s brain features but no signs of dementia, and those without any evidence of Alzheimer’s.

The results showed that resilient individuals had a unique synaptic protein signature that set them apart from both demented Alzheimer’s patients and normal subjects with no Alzheimer’s pathology.

According to Taglialatela, this unique protein make-up may underscore the synaptic resistance to amyloid beta and tau, enabling these fortunate people to remain cognitively intact despite having Alzheimer’s-like pathologies.

“We don’t yet fully understand the exact mechanisms responsible for this protection,” said Taglialatela. “Understanding such protective biological processes could reveal new targets for developing effective Alzheimer’s treatments.”

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Source: The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

Dominant Men Tend to Make Faster Decisions

Sat, 08/18/2018 - 6:30am

Behavioral scientists have known that social dominance depends at least partly on one’s ability to make decisions faster than other people.

This skill would allow the individual to act first in social situations, which might confer an evolutionary advantage. Dominant individuals, for example, tend to climb higher up the hierarchy ladder of their particular society, earning priority access to resources.

But do dominant individuals exhibit this fast decision-making ability outside of social contexts? Researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have conducted a large behavioral study on men to examine this question.

Their findings show a clear correlation between higher social dominance and faster decision-making outside of a social competition context.

The study involved 240 male students at EPFL and the University of Lausanne (UNIL). The men were divided into high or low dominance groups by a standard “dominance scoring” questionnaire that has been validated in many previous studies.

Decision-making speed was measured with five experiments testing the participants’ memory, recognition, ability to distinguish emotions, route-learning and responsiveness.

The first task involved discriminating between people’s emotional expressions. Next the participants completed a memory and recognition task in which they were asked to remember and recognize a series of faces.

In the third task, participants worked on learning and remembering a route, and in the fourth controlled experiment, the participants were asked to hit the spacebar on a keyboard as soon as they saw a grey square appear on a screen. In this part of the study, neither group appeared to be faster than the other.

The researchers then conducted a fifth experiment designed to identify neural signals that might show differences between high- and low- dominance participants. To do this, the researchers measured brain signals with a high-density electroencephalogram (EEG).

The participants were asked to distinguish between happy and sad faces and then angry and neutral faces, while the EEG measured how their brains’ electrical signal changed in relation to how fast or slow they performed each task.

The findings show that, in high-dominance men, promptness to respond was accompanied by a strikingly amplified brain signal around 240 milliseconds after seeing the faces, compared to low-dominance men.

In addition, when the researchers analyzed the EEG images of the high-dominance men, they found higher activity in areas of the brain associated with emotion and behavior, compared to low-dominance participants.

The study suggests that high-dominant men respond faster in situations where a choice is needed, regardless of social context. This promptness in decision-making can act as a “biomarker” for social disposition.

“In the future, it will be important to find out whether even stronger brain signals are observed in particularly dominant individuals, such as CEOs,” said researcher Dr. Carmen Sandi.

“It will also be relevant to understand whether these differences in promptness to respond and brain signals are also observed in women that differ in dominance and whether they are already present in children. Our findings may open a new research approach using EEG signatures as a measure for social dominance.”

Source: Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

How Much Do Personalities Change in 50 Years?

Sat, 08/18/2018 - 6:00am

Social scientists have long debated whether personality is stable throughout an entire lifetime or if it is more malleable. Previous research suggests it could be both, but longitudinal studies covering very long time-spans and relying on the same data source at both time points are rare.

In a new long-term study, researchers from the University of Houston found that personality is influenced by both genetics and environment. And while our broad patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors (essentials of our personalities) remain fairly consistent, they do mature or develop over time.

“Our findings suggest that personality has a stable component across the lifespan, both at the trait level and at the profile level, and that personality is also malleable and people mature as they age,” the researchers wrote in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Personality is described as patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviors, consisting of five major traits: conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness to experiences, extraversion and emotional stability. These “Big Five” traits are found to be consistent across all ages and cultures. The combination of those traits — how dominant each trait is in relation to the other traits — creates one’s personality profile.

For the study, the researchers used a dataset of American high school students who answered a series of questions to assess personality in 1960 and again 50 years later. Data from the Project Talent Personality Inventory allowed the researchers to answer several questions, including the following:

  • To what extent do people maintain their relative standing on personality traits compared with other people. For example, do people who are more impulsive than most of their peers at age 16 remain more impulsive than their peers at age 60?
  • To what extent do average levels of personality traits change? Are people, on average, more conscientious at 66 than at 16?
  • Does everyone change in the same way?
  • Are there gender differences in patterns of personality stability and change across time?

“The rankings (of personality traits) remain fairly consistent. People who are more conscientious than others their age at 16 are likely to be more conscientious than others at 66,” said Dr. Rodica Damian, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston and lead author of the study. “But, on average, everyone becomes more conscientious, more emotionally stable, and more agreeable.”

The researchers found individual differences in change across time, with some people changing more than others and some changing in more maladaptive or harmful ways. Overall, men and women changed at the same rates across the lifespan.

The study is the first to investigate how one’s personality might change over 50 years and to rely on the same data source at both time points.

Source: University of Houston

New Theory Links Early-Onset Alzheimer’s to How Cells Store Iron

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 7:00am

A team of scientists has proposed a new theory suggesting that the way our cells handle iron could be linked to the development of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Their findings are published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide in Australia led a new study investigating the potential link between iron in our cells and the rare gene mutations that cause Alzheimer’s disease. If proven, the theory could assist in finding new ways to prevent the debilitating disease.

The scientists caution against making choices about diet or supplements based on this idea, however, as the theory only relates to how our cells handle iron, not how much iron is in our diet.

“For 20 years, most scientists have believed that a small protein fragment, amyloid beta, causes Alzheimer’s disease,” said Associate Professor Michael Lardelli from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Adelaide.

“Clearing out amyloid beta from the brains of people who are developing Alzheimer’s disease can slow their rate of cognitive decline. But, so far, nothing has been able to stop the relentless progression of the disease,” he said.

A chance conversation between Lardelli, Dr. Amanda Lumsden from South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and Flinders University, and Dr. Morgan Newman from the University of Adelaide was the inspiration for the new theory of how mutations might cause Alzheimer’s disease.

Lumsden has a background in the biology of how cells use iron, while the Adelaide researchers study the genes that cause Alzheimer’s disease when mutated.

They ran their ideas past additional experts, such as Associate Professor Jack Rogers at Harvard Medical School and Dr. Shohreh Majd of Flinders University in Australia. Now, the research team has published a paper suggesting their new theory for how mutations might cause the rare but devastating early-onset form of Alzheimer’s disease that afflicts some families.

The researchers say that the abnormalities seen in inherited Alzheimer’s disease could result from problems in how neurons handle iron.

“Cells need iron to survive. In particular, iron is essential for the tiny powerhouses of all cells, the mitochondria, to generate most of the energy that keeps cells functioning,” Lardelli says.

“The genes mutated in inherited Alzheimer’s disease seem likely to affect how iron enters neurons, how it is recycled within neurons, and how it is exported from neurons. Since neurons have such huge energy needs, disturbing the way they handle iron can have serious, long-term consequences.

“Furthermore, iron is a key player in inflammation and in the production of damaging molecules named ‘reactive oxygen species,’ and both occur at high levels in brains with Alzheimer’s disease.”

Although the researchers observe compelling links between iron and Alzheimer’s disease, more investigation is required to understand how mutations that cause the disease impact cellular iron.

Source: University of Adelaide

 

Thinning of Retina May Signal Parkinson’s Disease

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 6:15am

A new South Korean study finds that a thinning retina appears to correspond with a known sign of Parkinson’s disease — the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells.

Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder. Nerve cell damage in the brain leads to a drop in dopamine levels, which can lead to symptoms such as tremors, stiffness and a loss of balance.

“Our study is the first to show a link between the thinning of the retina and a known sign of the progression of the disease — the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine,” said study author Jee-Young Lee, M.D., Ph.D., of the Seoul Metropolitan Government – Seoul National University Boramae Medical Center in South Korea.

“We also found the thinner the retina, the greater the severity of disease. These discoveries may mean that neurologists may eventually be able to use a simple eye scan to detect Parkinson’s disease in its earliest stages, before problems with movement begin.”

The study involved 49 individuals (average age of 69) who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease an average of two years earlier but had not yet started medication. They were compared to 54 age-matched people without the disease.

Researchers gave each participant a complete eye exam as well as high-resolution eye scans that use light waves to take pictures of each layer of the retina, the layer of light-sensitive nerve cells at the back of the eyeball. A total of 28 participants with Parkinson’s disease also had dopamine transporter positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to measure the density of dopamine-producing cells in the brain.

The results reveal that the Parkinson’s patients exhibited thinning of the retina, most notably within the two inner layers of the five layers of the retina. In those with the disease, the innermost layer of the retina in one section of the eye had an average thickness of 35 micrometers (μm) compared to an average thickness of 37 μm for those without the disease.

Importantly, this thinning of the retina corresponded with the loss of brain cells that produce dopamine. It also corresponded with the severity of disease. When disease disability is measured on a scale of one to five, the people with the most thinning of the retina, or thickness of less than 30 μm, had average scores of slightly over two, while those with the least thinning, or thickness of about 47 μm, had average scores of about 1.5.

“Larger studies are needed to confirm our findings and to determine just why retina thinning and the loss of dopamine-producing cells are linked,” said Lee. “If confirmed, retina scans may not only allow earlier treatment of Parkinson’s disease but more precise monitoring of treatments that could slow progression of the disease as well.”

There were a couple limitations to the study: The scans focused only on part of the retina, and the study was just a snapshot in time and did not follow participants over a long period.

The findings are published in the journal Neurology.

Source: American Academy of Neurology

Status Symbols May Not Attract New Friends – Just The Opposite

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 6:00am

A new study suggests the desire to appear successful as a means to gain new friends may actually be counterproductive. In fact, lavish accoutrements can actually repel prospective acquaintances.

“Oftentimes we think that status symbols — whether a luxury car like a BMW, a brand name purse like Prada, or an expensive watch like Rolex — will make us look more socially attractive to others,” said researcher Dr. Stephen Garcia of the University of Michigan.

“However, our research suggests that these status signals actually make us look less socially attractive, not more.”

The scientists conducted a series of six studies, where participants either presented themselves as possible friends, or they were the people evaluating who they would want to be their friends.

Throughout the studies, people presenting themselves to a new group chose higher status items. Yet for the people asked about who they would want to be friends with, they preferred people with lower or neutral status symbols.

The study appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The researchers used a novel method to control for the possibility that a luxury good might play a role in people’s reactions. They did this by asking people which of two plain T-shirts participants would wear to a picnic in their efforts to make new friends.

One t-shirt had “Walmart” written on it in plain script, and the other t-shirt had “Saks Fifth Avenue” written on it in plain script.

While the shirts were not luxury items, 76 percent of the participants who presented themselves as new friends chose to wear the T-shirt that said, “Saks Fifth Avenue,” whereas 64 percent of the would-be friends chose the person wearing the “Walmart” T-shirt.

The results appear to be consistent across socioeconomic groups. The only difference is that what is considered high status depends on one’s socioeconomic status.

“At a societal level, we may be wasting billions of dollars on expensive status symbols that ultimately keep others from wanting to associate with us,” said co-author Dr. Kimberlee Weaver Livnat, now of the University of Haifa in Israel.

“And to the extent that close friendships are important to well-being, we may be inadvertently hurting ourselves.”

The researchers will now investigate the mechanism of why presenters are making this error. Is it that people often fail to take the perspective of others who are evaluating them as potential friends?

Or do they accurately understand the perspective of the potential friends, but for some reason, chose status symbols when presenting themselves anyway?

Does this mean that status symbols are always bad? “No, not necessarily,” said Dr.  Patricia Chen of the National University of Singapore.

“Our findings right now only apply to the formation of new friendships. Status symbols may very well be beneficial at other times and in other settings, such as when trying to establish new business contacts.”

Indeed, in a final study included in the paper, the researchers discovered that signaling high status symbols can, in fact, be helpful in attracting potential contacts, although not much more than neutral status symbols.

Source: Society for Personality and Friendship

High Maternal Cortisol in Pregnancy Linked to Mood Symptoms in Daughters

Fri, 08/17/2018 - 5:30am

Female toddlers whose mothers had high levels of cortisol during pregnancy are more likely to display anxious and depressive-like behaviors, according to a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.

Often called the “stress hormone,” cortisol is a steroid produced in the adrenal glands. Not only does it help manage stress, but it also helps regulate blood sugar levels, metabolism, inflammation and memory formulation.

Based on brain scans taken first as newborns and again at two years old, high levels of maternal cortisol and resulting mood symptoms in the toddlers were linked to altered activity in the amygdala, a brain region associated with sensory and emotion processing.

The findings reveal a potential pathway through which the prenatal environment may predispose females to developing mood disorders.

“Higher maternal cortisol during pregnancy was linked to alterations in the newborns’ functional brain connectivity, affecting how different brain regions can communicate with each other,” said senior author Claudia Buss, Ph.D., of Charité University Medicine Berlin and University of California, Irvine.

Interestingly, male toddlers of mothers with high cortisol during pregnancy did not demonstrate stronger brain connectivity or a connection between maternal cortisol and mood symptoms.

“Many mood and anxiety disorders are approximately twice as common in females as in males. This paper highlights one unexpected sex-specific risk factor for mood and anxiety disorders in females,” said John Krystal, MD, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “High maternal levels of cortisol during pregnancy appear to contribute to risk in females, but not males.”

The new study measured the mothers’ cortisol levels during pregnancy in a more comprehensive manner than had been done in previous research, according to first author Alice Graham, Ph.D., of Oregon Health & Science University.

The researchers measured the hormone in 70 women over multiple days in early-, mid-, and late-pregnancy. The findings reflected typical variations in maternal cortisol levels.

Next the team used brain imaging to examine brain region connectivity in the babies soon after they were born — before the external environment had begun shaping brain development. Then they measured the children’s anxious and depressive-like behaviors at two years of age.

The researchers discovered altered connectivity in the amygdala, a brain region important for emotion processing. This pattern of brain connectivity predicted anxious and depressive-like symptoms two years later.

The findings support the idea that maternal stress may alter brain connectivity in the developing fetus, which would mean that vulnerability for developing a mood disorder may begin prior to birth. This time period could be an early point at which the risk for common psychiatric disorders begins to differ in males and females.

Source: Elsevier

Women Whose Moms Reach 90 More Likely to Also Have Long, Healthy Life

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 6:45am

Women whose mothers live to at least 90 years old are also more likely to reach 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities, according to a new study published in the journal Age and Ageing.

The researchers discovered that women whose mothers lived into their ninth decade enjoyed 25 percent increased likelihood of also doing so without suffering from serious or chronic illness, including heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, hip fractures or other debilitating disabilities.

“Achieving healthy aging has become a critical public health priority in light of the rapidly growing aging population in the United States. Our results show that, not only did these women live to age 90, but they also aged well by avoiding major diseases and disabilities,” said first author Aladdin Shadyab, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of family medicine and public health at the University of California (UC) San Diego School of Medicine at the time of the study.

“It’s not just about the number of candles on the cake. These women were independent and could do daily activities like bathing, walking, climbing a flight of stairs or participating in hobbies they love, like golf, without limitations.”

Surprisingly, the researchers found that if only the father lived to 90, it did not correlate to a longer life or good health in the daughter. However, if both the mother and father reached 90, the likelihood of the daughter achieving longevity and healthy aging jumped to 38 percent.

The research did not address the effects of parental lifespan on sons. Rather, it analyzed data from approximately 22,000 postmenopausal women participating in the Women’s Health Initiative, a large, national study investigating major risk factors for chronic diseases among women.

Limitations of the study included no knowledge of the health or cause of death of the participants’ parents.

The researchers believe a combination of genetics, environment and behaviors passed to subsequent generations may influence aging outcomes among children.

“We now have evidence that how long our parents live may predict our long-term outcomes, including whether we will age well, but we need further studies to explore why. We need to clarify how certain factors and behaviors interact with genes to influence aging outcomes,” Shadyab said.

In addition, the women in the study whose mothers lived to at least 90 were more likely to be college graduates, married with high incomes and incorporated physical activity and a healthy diet into their lives.

“Although we cannot determine our genes, our study shows the importance of passing on healthy behaviors to our children,” said Shadyab. “Certain lifestyle choices can determine healthy aging from generation to generation.”

Source: University of California- San Diego

Poor Sleep Can Set Off Viral Loneliness & Social Rejection

Thu, 08/16/2018 - 6:00am
A new study finds that sleep-deprived people feel lonelier and less inclined to engage with others, avoiding close contact much like those with social anxiety.

Worse still, that alienating vibe makes the sleep-deprived more socially unattractive to others, according to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. And well-rested people feel lonely after just a brief encounter with a sleep-deprived person, potentially triggering a viral contagion of social isolation.

The study appears in the journal Nature Communications.

“We humans are a social species. Yet sleep deprivation can turn us into social lepers,” said study senior author Matthew Walker, Ph.D., a UC Berkeley professor of psychology and neuroscience.

Notably, researchers found that brain scans of sleep-deprived people as they viewed video clips of strangers walking toward them showed powerful social repulsion activity in neural networks that are typically activated when humans feel their personal space is being invaded.

Sleep loss also blunted activity in brain regions that normally encourage social engagement.

Walker explains that sleep loss triggers a vicious cycle. “The less sleep you get, the less you want to socially interact. In turn, other people perceive you as more socially repulsive, further increasing the grave social-isolation impact of sleep loss.”

Walker believes this sequence may be a significant contributing factor to the public health crisis that is loneliness.

National surveys suggest that nearly half of Americans report feeling lonely or left out. Furthermore, loneliness has been found to increase one’s risk of mortality by more than 45 percent — double the mortality risk associated with obesity.

“It’s perhaps no coincidence that the past few decades have seen a marked increase in loneliness and an equally dramatic decrease in sleep duration,” said study lead author Eti Ben Simon, Ph.D. “Without sufficient sleep we become a social turn-off, and loneliness soon kicks in.”

From an evolutionary standpoint, the study challenges the assumption that humans are programmed to nurture socially vulnerable members of their tribe for the survival of the species.

Walker has a theory for why that protective instinct may be lacking in the case of sleep deprivation.

“There’s no biological or social safety net for sleep deprivation as there is for, say, starvation. That’s why our physical and mental health implode so quickly even after the loss of just one or two hours of sleep,” Walker said.

The investigators created a novel study methodology. To gauge the social effects of poor sleep, Walker and Ben Simon conducted a series of intricate experiments using such tools as fMRI brain imaging, standardized loneliness measures, videotaped simulations and surveys via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk online marketplace.

First, researchers tested the social and neural responses of 18 healthy young adults following a normal night’s sleep and a sleepless night. The participants viewed video clips of individuals with neutral expressions walking toward them. When the person on the video got too close, they pushed a button to stop the video, which recorded how close they allowed the person to get.

As predicted, sleep-deprived participants kept the approaching person at a significantly greater distance away — between 18 and 60 percent further back — than when they had been well-rested.

Participants also had their brains scanned as they watched the videos of individuals approaching them. In sleep-deprived brains, researchers found heightened activity in a neural circuit known as the “near space network,” which is activated when the brain perceives potential incoming human threats.

In contrast, another circuit of the brain that encourages social interaction, called the “theory of mind” network, was shut down by sleep deprivation, worsening the problem.

For the online section of the study, more than 1,000 observers recruited via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk marketplace viewed videotapes of study participants discussing commonplace opinions and activities.

The observers were unaware that the subjects had been deprived of sleep and rated each of them based on how lonely they appeared, and whether they would want to interact socially with them. Time and again, they rated study participants in the sleep-deprived state as lonelier and less socially desirable.

To test whether sleep-loss-induced alienation is contagious, researchers asked observers to rate their own levels of loneliness after watching videos of study participants. They were surprised to find that otherwise healthy observers felt alienated after viewing just a 60-second clip of a lonely person.

Finally, researchers looked at whether just one night of good or bad sleep could influence one’s sense of loneliness the next day. Each person’s state of loneliness was tracked via a standardized survey that asked such questions as, “How often do you feel isolated from others” and “Do you feel you don’t have anyone to talk to?”

Notably, researchers found that the amount of sleep a person got from one night to the next accurately predicted how lonely and unsociable they would feel from one day to the next.

“This all bodes well if you sleep the necessary seven to nine hours a night, but not so well if you continue to short-change your sleep,” Walker said.

“On a positive note, just one night of good sleep makes you feel more outgoing and socially confident, and furthermore, will attract others to you.” Walker said.

Source: UC Berkeley

For Obese People, Health Risks Drop With Weight

Wed, 08/15/2018 - 10:37am

Overweight individuals who lose more than a fifth of their body weight more than double their chances of achieving good metabolic health, compared to those who only lose a relatively small amount, according to a new study published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

“If you’re overweight or obese, even losing just a little is better than none. But the rewards appear to be greater for those who manage to lose more,” said Greg Knell, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth).

“The evidence to date suggests that a 5 to 10 percent weight loss for those with excess weight is beneficial to one’s health. A higher level could potentially lead to lower cardiometabolic risk.”

The study is representative of people in the United States who are trying to lose weight, where more than two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese.

Using data of 7,670 adult participants of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the researchers looked at weight history and physical examination scores, including waist size, blood sugar and cholesterol levels to determine metabolic health.

Participants who lost between five and 10 percent were 22 percent less likely to have metabolic syndrome, a combination of conditions which increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, three of the country’s most lethal health problems. But those who lost more than 20 percent were able to decrease their odds of metabolic syndrome by 53 percent.

However, the study also revealed how hard Americans find it to lose any weight at all. Despite trying, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of participants, with an average age of 44, were unable to lose between 5 and 10 percent — the recommended target for adults with excess weight, according to the American Heart Association.

While almost one in five (19 percent) achieved this, only 1 in 20 (5 percent) succeeded in losing greater than or equal to 20 percent.

“Since weight loss is so difficult, a 5 to 10 percent weight loss for those with excess weight should be the target. This should be done gradually through following a healthy lifestyle with guidance from experts, such as your primary care provider,” said Knell.

Since the researchers analyzed data at a specific point in time, more studies would be required to monitor the same individuals at multiple points to see if these findings still hold true.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the American Cancer Society.

“Future research should continue exploring effective strategies to help individuals achieve and maintain a healthy weight which includes individual strategies and social support,” said study co-author Qing Li, M.A., M.Ed., senior analyst at the American Cancer Society.

Source: University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

Mentors Can Help Young Female Athletes Deal with Sexism, Bullying

Mon, 08/13/2018 - 4:10pm

When young female athletes have a strong relationship with a mentor, they are better able to handle discrimination, sexism and other problematic behaviors they may encounter in the sport, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Kansas (KU).

“Mentorship and the feeling of mattering is really important to female athletes in dealing with issues of discrimination or bullying that can impede women’s full participation in sports, such as playing on a mostly male team or confronting sexual harassment,” said Kathryn Vaggalis, the study’s co-author and a KU doctoral candidate in American Studies.

The study shows that when mentors instill self-esteem and a feeling of mattering in female student athletes, it can boost athletic ability, provide opportunities for leadership, and leave a positive effect on women’s continued involvement in sports.

For the study, Vaggalis and co-author Dr. Margaret Kelley, KU associate professor of American Studies, conducted 42 interviews with college undergraduates who were former high school athletes and who had identified having a teacher or coach as a natural mentor. Natural mentors were considered non-kin adults from the school environment, such as a teacher or coach, rather than one assigned through a formal mentoring program.

The findings show that mentors gave students a safe space to receive advice and guidance from a trusted non-family adult. Mentorship provided multiple benefits such as emotional support, reducing delinquency and instilling a positive work ethic.

Yet despite the positive findings that female athletes expressed about how mentors helped empower them socially and athletically, the researchers found mixed results in other areas, including that mentors could reinforce problematic gendered aspects of sport socialization.

Young male athletes, for example, reported less emotional support and open communication with their mentors than their female counterparts. And male-to-male mentors of young men tended to reinforce ideas of sports education through rhetoric of traditional masculinity, they found, though the participants expressed that this education improved self-esteem and work ethic, and also enhanced athletic ability and performance.

However, the findings show that mentors, in reinforcing traditional masculinity, can exacerbate the problematic perception of sports being inherently male or masculine.

“Not all sports mentors are positive mentors. They can be problematic, too,” Kelley said. “And the gender role socialization differences really spoke to us from the data in this regard.”

Still, the study finds that natural mentorship and the idea of mattering are crucial in providing a positive influence on young athletes that can help reduce problem behavior and improve life chances.

“Sometimes kids are almost being discouraged from these relationships because there are so many boundaries in place between possible mentors,” Kelley said. “Then they are losing out on these mentorships that can be deeply instructive.”

The gender differences in the study can provide a caution for coaches and teachers who are in a position to mentor younger athletes, the researchers said.

“We need to be careful about recognizing sometimes we’re continuing differences in inequalities in the way we treat boys and girls,” Kelley said. ” Looking at this allows us to be critical of the mentoring context and critically self-aware of how help young people learn about gender and the world.”

Ultimately, the findings suggest that mentorship is still positive for several reasons including curbing sexism that can impede women’s participation in sports and serving as a positive influence for male students. The relationship between mentorship and mattering can be important in conversations surrounding how to prevent violence in schools and among youth, the researchers added.

“As adults we can make commitments to young people,” Kelley said, “to reach out and to nurture them, make them feel like they are important, especially as natural mentors outside their families.”

The researchers recently presented their findings at the American Sociological Association’s Annual Meeting in Philadelphia.

Source: University of Kansas

Female Veterans with Fibromyalgia Show High Rates of Childhood Abuse

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 10:57am

Female veterans being treated for fibromyalgia exhibit high rates of childhood abuse, according to a new study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The findings suggest that screening all female veterans with fibromyalgia for childhood abuse can yield important information that may improve treatment success.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain with associated fatigue, sleep and mood issues. Although it can occur in anyone, the disorder is most prevalent in females with 75 to 90 percent of fibromyalgia patients being women. The condition has also been linked to exposure to interpersonal trauma.

As females now represent an increasing number of American veterans, the standardized screenings for military sexual trauma (MST) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are helpful in providing complete care to patients diagnosed with fibromyalgia. However, there is currently no standard screening practice for childhood abuse history in these patients.

For the study, researchers from the VA (Veterans Affairs) Boston Healthcare System and Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) looked at a subset of women from a larger study focused on women veterans’ fibromyalgia care experiences at the VA to evaluate the link between child abuse history and MST in this patient population.

The findings show that among all female veterans with fibromyalgia, 90.9 percent reported experience of MST (of which 68.2 percent reported history of sexual assault). In addition, the average Child Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) score for these patients indicated moderate to high exposure to abuse in childhood, with many experiencing sexual abuse and emotional neglect.

Female veterans with greater MST exposure reported higher degrees of both childhood abuse and PTSD severity. The researchers conclude that screening for childhood trauma in women veterans being treated for fibromyalgia would yield important information that may enhance treatment.

“Our fibromyalgia patients have often told us that their disease feels ‘invisible’ at times,” said corresponding author Megan Gerber, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of women’s health at VA Boston Healthcare System (VABHS) and associate professor of medicine at BUSM.

“We believe these preliminary study results may help female veterans with fibromyalgia seek treatment for both their physical symptoms and trauma histories.”

“The VA is uniquely positioned to treat a complex condition like fibromyalgia and additional research is underway here to better understand interventions for this disabling chronic pain syndrome.”

Source: Boston University School of Medicine

Expecting Work Email After Hours Can Stress Employees & Families

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 10:50am

Monitoring work email during non-work hours is detrimental to the health and well-being of not only employees, but their family members as well, according to new research.

“The competing demands of work and non-work lives present a dilemma for employees, which triggers feelings of anxiety and endangers work and personal lives,” said William Becker, Ph.D., a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business, who co-authored the new study.

Other studies have shown that the stress of increased job demands leads to strain and conflict in family relationships when the employee is unable to fulfill non-work roles at home because they brought work home.

However, the new study demonstrates that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects, according to the researcher.

The mere expectations of availability increases the strain for employees and their significant others, even when employees do not engage in actual work during non-work time, he explained.

“The insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit — increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” Becker said.

“Our research exposes the reality: ‘Flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”

As negative health outcomes are costly, what can employers do to mitigate the adverse effects identified by the study? Becker said policies that reduce expectations to monitor electronic communication outside of work would be ideal.

When that is not an option, the solution may be to establish boundaries on when electronic communication is acceptable during off-hours by setting up off-hour email windows or schedules when employees are available to respond.

Additionally, organizational expectations should be communicated clearly, he said.

“If the nature of a job requires email availability, such expectations should be stated formally as a part of job responsibilities,” he said.

Knowing these expectations upfront may reduce anxiety in employees and increase understanding from their family members, he said.

Employees also should try practicing mindfulness, which has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety, according to Becker.

Mindfulness may help employees “be present” in family interactions, which could help reduce conflict and improve relationship satisfaction, he explained. Additionally, mindfulness is within the employee’s control when email expectations are not, he said.

“Employees today must navigate more complex boundaries between work and family than ever before,” said Becker.

“Employer expectations during non-work hours appear to increase this burden, as employees feel an obligation to shift roles throughout their non-work time. Efforts to manage these expectations are more important than ever, given our findings that employees’ families are also affected by these expectations.”

Source: Virginia Tech

Photo: A new study demonstrates that employees do not need to spend actual time on work in their off-hours to experience the harmful effects. The mere expectations of availability increase strain for employees and their significant others — even when employees do not engage in actual work during nonwork time. Credit: Virginia Tech.

Palliative Care May Reduce Suicide Risk in Veterans with Lung Cancer

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 7:17am

Veterans with advanced lung cancer face a significantly higher risk of suicide compared to the already high rate among veterans. But this suicide risk is greatly reduced when they receive at least one palliative care visit, according to a new study published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.

Palliative care is specialized medical care for patients with severe illness. It aims to relieve physical pain and discomfort and to address psychological issues like anxiety that diminish quality of life for those with life-threatening illnesses.

The new study is based on the data of thousands of veterans with advanced lung cancer enrolled in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Central Cancer Registry. Of the 20,900 veterans with advanced lung cancer enrolled in the registry, 30 patients committed suicide, a rate more than five times greater than the average among all veterans of a similar age and gender who use VA health care.

However, the data showed that those with lung cancer who had at least one palliative care visit after their diagnosis were 81 percent less likely to die by suicide.

Lead author Donald Sullivan, M.D., M.A, M.C.R., said the psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis — particularly a lung cancer diagnosis — is underappreciated and largely overlooked in the medical community.

“Suicide is a significant national public health problem, especially among lung cancer patients and among veterans,” said Sullivan, an assistant professor of medicine (pulmonary and critical care medicine) in the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) School of Medicine.

“As a result, manifestations of this impact like social isolation, depression, anxiety, can go undiagnosed and untreated.”

Sullivan believes this study is the first to investigate the link between palliative care and suicide risk in cancer patients. He said that while several medical societies recommend palliative care for all patients with advanced stage lung cancer, there is often a gap between recommendations and practice.

“There are many barriers to palliative care, and unfortunately, some are related to clinician referrals,” he said. “Not all doctors are aware of the benefits of palliative care.”

Sullivan believes that palliative care should be offered to all patients shortly after receiving a diagnosis of advanced stage lung cancer. The best scenario would be an integrated approach in which patients with serious illness receive palliative care at the same time they receive other treatment therapies like chemotherapy, he said.

He emphasized that clinicians need to be vigilant for additional conditions or disorders, such as comorbid psychological illness, in their patients and to become familiar with local resources.

“For patients and families, it’s important to understand these risks exist and not to be afraid to reach out to your providers for help,” Sullivan said.

“We really can’t afford to wait for more data,” he said.

“I would like to see more efforts to screen and treat comorbid psychological illness among patients with lung cancer for which there is good evidence. I also believe more efforts are needed to integrate palliative care earlier in the lung cancer treatment paradigm.”

Source: Oregon Health & Science University

 

Digital Distraction Can Leave You Feeling Distant and Drained

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 6:30am

Our digital lives make us more distracted, distant, and drained, according to several new studies presented at the 2018 convention of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco.

For instance, even minor phone use during a meal with friends was enough to make the diners feel distracted and reduced their enjoyment of the experience, one study found.

“People who were allowed to use their phones during dinner had more trouble staying present in the moment,” said Ryan Dwyer, M.A., of the University of British Columbia, lead author of a study that was presented during a symposium on how digital technology is affecting relationships.

“Decades of research on happiness tell us that engaging positively with others is critical for our well-being. Modern technology may be wonderful, but it can easily sidetrack us and take away from the special moments we have with friends and family in person.”

Dwyer and his research team conducted two studies, a field experiment in a restaurant and a survey.

The restaurant experiment included more than 300 adults and university students in Vancouver, British Columbia. Participants were either asked to keep their phones on the table with the ringer or vibration on or to put their phones on silent and place them in a container on the table during the meal.

After eating, the participants filled out a questionnaire detailing their feelings of social connectedness, enjoyment, distraction, and boredom, as well as the amount of phone use and what they did on their phones during the meal.

The study’s findings show that people who had their phones easily accessible during the experiment not only used them more than those with their phones put away, but they also reported feeling more distracted and enjoyed the experience less.

The survey portion of the research included more than 120 participants from the University of Virginia. Participants were surveyed five times a day for one week. They were asked to report on how they were feeling and what they had been doing in the 15 minutes before completing the survey.

The results showed that people reported feeling more distracted during face-to-face interactions if they had used their smartphone compared with face-to-face interactions where they had not used their smartphone. The students also said they felt less enjoyment and interest in their interaction if they had been on their phone, the researchers report.

“The survey findings were especially notable because of the negative effects of phone use among university students, who are commonly known as digital natives,” said Elizabeth Dunn, Ph.D., of the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study. “We assumed that this generation would be more adept at multi-tasking between using their phones and interacting with others, but we found out even moderate levels of phone use undermined the benefits of engaging with others.”

Another study presented in the session found that compassionate people spend less time on social media than people who are more self-centered and narcissistic.

That study also found that people with lower emotional intelligence, or those who have difficulty identifying, describing and processing their emotions, used social media more often than those who are more in touch with their feelings.

“People who are uncomfortable with their own and others’ emotions may be more comfortable online,” said Sara Konrath, Ph.D., of Indiana University. “We think that they may prefer text-based interactions that allow them more time to process social and emotional information.”

This study built upon previous research that has shown that more narcissistic people use social media more often than less narcissistic people. Virtually no research has been done on how emotional intelligence relates to social media use, according to Konrath.

She and her colleagues analyzed data from four studies of more than 1,200 adult participants and used existing scales that assessed narcissism, empathy, emotional intelligence, and emotion recognition. The studies also asked questions about how frequently participants checked and posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

More empathic people used Twitter less frequently than those who were not as caring and compassionate toward others, the researchers found.

Also, people who were more likely to be able to see the world from another’s perspective did not spend as much time on Facebook and Instagram, according to the study’s findings.

The study also discovered that people who scored high on a test of reading others’ emotions used Twitter and Facebook less often.

Conversely, more narcissistic people and those who feel overwhelmed by the emotional experiences of others spent more time on all three social media sites.

“Does being more emotionally intelligent and empathic cause people to avoid social media, or are lower empathy people more drawn to it? It could also be the opposite: Perhaps frequently using social media can impair empathy and emotional intelligence,” said Konrath.

“We cannot determine causality with this study. We need more research to better understand how online digital technology affects people, for better or for worse.”

Other research presented found that pre-teens became better at reading non-verbal cues from their peers after five days with no screen time, and college-age participants bonded better with their friends during in-person interactions versus video chat, audio chat, or instant messaging.

Source: The American Psychological Association

Feeling in Control of Life May Be Key to Staying Young

Sun, 08/12/2018 - 6:00am

New research shows that having a greater sense of control over their lives may help older adults feel younger and that, in turn, could help improve their cognitive abilities, longevity and overall quality of life.

“Research suggests that a younger subjective age, or when people feel younger than their chronological age, is associated with a variety of positive outcomes in older individuals, including better memory performance, health and longevity,” said Jennifer Bellingtier, Ph.D., of Friedrich Schiller University in Germany, who presented her research at the 2018 American Psychological Convention.

“Our research suggests that subjective age changes on a daily basis and older adults feel significantly younger on days when they have a greater sense of control.”

For the study, Bellingtier and co-author Shevaun Neupert, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University, recruited 116 older adults between the ages of 60 and 90 and 106 younger adults between the ages of 18 and 36 and asked them to complete surveys each day for nine days.

Participants were asked to respond to a series of statements on the level of control they felt they had each day (for example, “In the past 24 hours, I had quite a bit of influence on the degree to which I could be involved in activities,”) and were asked how old they felt that day.

The researchers found significant day-to-day variability in subjective age in both groups over the course of the study. They also found a significant association between perceived level of control each day and subjective age in the older adult group, but not the younger group.

“Shaping the daily environment in ways that allow older adults to exercise more control could be a helpful strategy for maintaining a youthful spirit and overall well-being,” said Bellingtier.

“For example, some interventions could be formal, such as a regular meeting with a therapist to discuss ways to take control in situations where individuals can directly influence events, and how to respond to situations that they cannot control. Smartphone apps could be developed to deliver daily messages with suggestions for ways to enhance control that day and improve a person’s overall feeling of control.”

An intervention could also be something as simple as giving nursing home residents the opportunity to make more choices in their daily lives so that they can exercise more control, she noted.

Source: The American Psychological Association

When Teen Depression Eases With Treatment, So Does Parent’s

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 11:00am

New research shows that when a teen’s depression improves through treatment, so did depression experienced by the parent.

“More young people today are reporting persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness and suicidal thoughts,” said Kelsey R. Howard, M.S., of Northwestern University, who presented the findings at the 2018 annual convention of the American Psychological Association. “At the same time, suicide rates have climbed in nearly all U.S. states. This research may help health care providers as we grapple as a nation with how to address these alarming trends.”

The long-term study included 325 teens who had been diagnosed with depression and 325 of their parents or caregivers.

The teens were randomly assigned to one of three groups: those who received cognitive behavioral therapy; those who took an antidepressant; or those who used a combination of both.

The first treatment period ran for nearly one year, with an additional year of follow-up visits.

According to Howard, 25 percent of the parents who participated in the study also reported moderate to severe levels of depression before the treatment period.

The treatment process was not family-based, though some portions included the parent. Nonetheless, the results showed a positive ripple effect because when the severity of a teen’s depression lessened, so did similar symptoms in the parent, regardless of what treatment was used, the study found.

“Depression is a massive public health concern that will take a variety of approaches to better manage. We believe our study is among the first to evaluate how the emotional health of a child can impact that of the parent,” said Mark A. Reinecke, Ph.D., a co-author of the study.

The findings could be useful for clinicians, as they may want to assess a parent’s level of depression when treating his or her child, or provide appropriate referrals, according to Howard.

“The concept of emotions being ‘contagious’ and spreading from person to person is well-known by psychologists,” Howard added. “This work opens up a range of possibilities for future research on the family-wide effects of treatment for adolescent depression.”

Source: American Psychological Association

Deficient Social Skills May Hamper Single Men

Sat, 08/11/2018 - 8:00am

New research suggests that in the modern Western world men need appropriate social skills to flirt with and impress prospective marital partners. Investigators note that in the past, forced or arranged marriages meant that socially inept, unattractive men did not have to acquire social skills in order to find a long-term love interest.

Today, men must be able to turn on the charm if they want to find a partner.

In the study, Menelaos Apostolou, Ph.D., of the University of Nicosia in Cyprus analyzed more than 6,700 comments left by men on the popular social news and media aggregation internet site Reddit.

He discovered men who have difficulty flirting, or are unable to impress the opposite sex may remain single because their social skills have not evolved to meet today’s societal demands. The study appears in the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science.

Up to 35 per cent of people in North American and European societies are single or live on their own. To understand why singlehood is so widespread in these Western societies, Apostolou analyzed 6,794 of the 13,429 comments that were received following an anonymous post on Reddit in 2017 that asked: “Guys, why are you single?”

His findings indicate that most of the men commenting on the thread were not willingly single but wanted to be in a relationship.

Apostolou established at least 43 reasons why these men thought they were single. Having poor looks and being short or bald were the most frequent reasons they put forward, followed by lack of confidence.

Not making the effort and simply not being interested in long-term relationships were also high on the list, along with a lack of flirting skills and being too shy. Some said that they had been so badly burnt in previous relationships that they did not dare to get into another.

Others felt that they were too picky, did not have the opportunity to meet available women or had different priorities. Some of the men had experienced mental health issues, sexual problems, or struggled with illness, disability or addiction.

Apostolou believes there are evolutionary reasons why some modern men are unable to successfully approach women. According to the so-called mismatch argument, their social skills do not align with the qualities needed today to make a good impression.

He explains that in a pre-industrial context, marriages were arranged, male-male competition was strong, and wives were sometimes obtained by force. While in one respect this left men with little choice about who would be their wives, it also meant that their looks were irrelevant, and they did not need to know how to attract the opposite sex.

Socially inept and unattractive men may not have been single because their relationships were regulated by their parents.

“Single modern men often lack flirting skills because in an ancestral pre-industrial context, the selection pressures on mechanisms which regulated mating effort and choosiness were weak,” Apostolou said.

“Such skills are needed today, because in post-industrial societies mate choice is not regulated or forced, but people have to instead find mates on their own.”

Source: Springer