Best & Worst in Psychology & Psychiatry – November 2015


November’s worst research findings lean towards sociopsychology perspectives, covering complex topics such as morals, prejudice, tolerance and fairness. Meanwhile the month’s best research findings include actionable advice for the improvement of happiness and wellbeing from childhood through to old age.


Couples who have sex weekly are happiest

More sex equals more happiness, right? Wrong… to an extent. Using a survey of more than 30,000 Americans collected over four decades, they found that more frequent sex is associated with greater happiness, but this link was no longer significant at a frequency of more than once a week. The researchers suggest that it’s important to maintain an intimate connection with your partner, on a weekly basis being optimal, but you don’t need to have sex everyday. Interestingly, findings only held true for romantic relationships, as there was no association between sexual frequency and wellbeing for single people.

Active school commute improves teen happiness and wellbeing

A questionnaire-based study involving 1012 adolescents used statistical analysis methods to find connections between active commuting to school (e.g. walking, skateboarding or cycling) and happiness and wellbeing.

Adolescents who spent more than 15 minutes per day actively commuting to secondary school had higher levels of subjective happiness and psychological wellbeing coupled with lower levels of psychological distress than adolescents who spent 1 5minutes or less per day.

Coping skills explain why future-oriented adolescents have greater wellbeing

Research previously determined that teenagers who endorse greater levels of future orientation report greater wellbeing over time, although the mechanism by which this happens where not determined. Some adolescents competently consider the future rationally and strategically because they need to make decisions about major life choices such as those relating to occupation or education. Unfortunately, other teens are ill-equiped to think constructively about their future, with a negative impact on wellbeing.

The study in question also found that test scores on three measures of wellbeing (i.e. happiness with weight, vitality and sleep) were consistently predicted by the 1,774 young New Zealander’s degree of future orientation. A high degree of future orientation was not only associated with wellbeing, but also predicted lower rates of substance abuse and self-harm. Most importantly, the researchers found that the positive effect that focusing on the future had on all three measures of wellbeing occurs through an increased us of adaptive coping strategies (e.g acceptance, planning, seeking advice) and decreased use of maladaptive coping strategies (e.g. avoidance, angry outbursts and drug use) in dealing with life’s challenges.

Interpersonal communication kyy to daughters’ wellbeing

The goal of the research was to understand how a daughter communicates with her mother will impact her overwell being. In the study, 62 daughters wrote a story about a difficulty they were experiencing and completed a wellbeing survey, and then met with their mothers to tell the story. Two days after story telling completed another survey about the story-writing and measures of wellbeing. The researchers found that by taking turns and sharing each other’s perspectives during the conversation, daughters tended to rewrite their stories more positively over time.

The take home message as described by the lead researcher is that the powers of interpersonal communication, if mothers can foster warmth and affection in their conversations and if daughters listen to their mother’s perspective, can help daughters work through negative emotions associated with stress.

An upward trend in happiness from early adulthood to midlife

Previous cross-sectional research has claimed that we generally experience a peak in happiness in our late teens, which decreased into midlife. In a new Canadian study, the level of high school seniors’ happiness was recorded from ages 18-43 as well as for university seniors from ages 23-37 to overcome previous studies issues of not following the same individuals over the years to produce the results.

The result? The key finding has done a full turnaround: happiness increased after high school into the 30s in both samples, with only a slight downturn by age 43 in the high school sample. This result remained even after controlling for gender, parents’ education, grades, self-esteem, marital status, unemployment and self-rated physical health.


Cocaine impairs recognition of negative emotions

It has long been documented that repeated cocaine use can lead to the dissolving of social skills. A placebo-controlled experiemntal study involving 24 recreational cocaine users were tested their recognition of basic emotions (fear, anger, disgust, sadness, and happiness) a couple of hours after oral treatment with cocaine or placebo.

Interestingly, mildly negative expressions were poorly identified when on cocaine, although high intensity negative expressions were equally identified between the cocaine and placebo groups. This was especially true for cocaine users that had the largest stress-response (measured via cortisol levels), which is thought to aid performance on social cognition tasks. Sadness was the only exception. Those on cocaine found it more difficult to correctly identify sadness when faces showed more intense sadness than mild sadness.

Increased rates of child maltreatment and mental health problems in military families

A review article examined what is known is known about children’s mental health and functioning in relation to parental military deployment during conflicts spanning the last 14 years. Across all age groups (i.e., toddlers and preschoolers, school age children and adolescents), numerous studies document an increase in the number of military-connected children receiving mental health services in relation to parental deployment. There is also evidence for a concerning increase in rates of child maltreatment (i.e., neglect, physical, emotional, and sexual abuse) related to parental deployment.

Mother’s anti-fat prejudice influences toddler’s bias

Anti-fat prejudice, also known as fatphobia, weight bias or obesity stigma is strong and increasing in adults, and is associated with negative outcomes for those with obesity. New research indicates that while older infants (average age of 11 months) prefer to look at obese figures, older toddlers (average age 32 months) preffered looking at average-sized figures.

Importantly, while parental BMI, education, a TV viewing time were not related to this preferential looking, there was a significant correlation with the mother of the child’s own personal anti-fat attitudes. This implies that between during development from an infant to a toddler, parental attitudes towards obesity can be internalized by the child, with a toddlers short looking times at overweight people perhaps being a signal of the early development of anti-fat prejudice.

New scale explores intentional motivations to express prejudice

There has been much research on people’s motivations to respond without prejudice, and how people who do not believe in acting with prejudice often do so unintentionally nonetheless. However, the research in question touched on a poorly understood area of prejudice research, when people intentionally want to express prejudice towards an out-group.

The researchers developed and scientifically approved a new scale to measure a person’s level of motivation to intentionally express prejudice. Among seven studies involving over 6000 participants one key finding was that people high in motivation to intentionally express prejudice are relatively likely to resist pressure to support programs promoting intergroup contact or to vote for political candidates who support oppressive policies. This research opens the door to better understanding intentional prejudice such as hate speech and hate crimes.

Children around the world have a different understanding of fairness

Researchers examined how fairness behavior develops in over 1,500 children aged between 4 and 15 from seven diverse societies (United States, Canada, India, Peru, Mexico, Senegal and Uganda) using a standardized resource decision task. In all seven populations, younger children would sacrifice a food reward to prevent their peer from receiving a greater amount.

Interestingly, the number of rejections of advantageous inequity – when a child would refuse to accept a reward scenario that was unfair towards their peer – increased with age among the children from Canada, the U.S. and Uganda only. Researchers considered that this may be due to Western societies emphasis on equality, and that their may be an emphasis on fairness in Ugandan society, although the Ugandan sample may have been influenced being taught at a school that includes Western teachers.

This research is setting the foundations for a better understanding of the societal and cultural forces that influence how children and adults approach fairness and justice.


Alfano, C., Lau, S., Balderas, J., Bunnell, B., & Beidel, D. (2016). The impact of military deployment on children: Placing developmental risk in context Clinical Psychology Review, 43, 17-29 DOI: 10.1016/j.cpr.2015.11.003

Blake, P., McAuliffe, K., Corbit, J., Callaghan, T., Barry, O., Bowie, A., Kleutsch, L., Kramer, K., Ross, E., Vongsachang, H., Wrangham, R., & Warneken, F. (2015). The ontogeny of fairness in seven societies Nature, 528 (7581), 258-261 DOI: 10.1038/nature15703

Chua LW, Milfont TL, & Jose PE (2015). Coping Skills Help Explain How Future-Oriented Adolescents Accrue Greater Well-Being Over Time. Journal of youth and adolescence, 44 (11), 2028-41 PMID: 25427783

Forscher, P., Cox, W., Graetz, N., & Devine, P. (2015). The motivation to express prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109 (5), 791-812 DOI: 10.1037/pspi0000030

Galambos NL, Fang S, Krahn HJ, Johnson MD, & Lachman ME (2015). Up, not down: The age curve in happiness from early adulthood to midlife in two longitudinal studies. Developmental psychology, 51 (11), 1664-71 PMID: 26347986

Horstman, H., Maliski, R., Hays, A., Cox, J., Enderle, A., & Nelson, L. (2015). Unfolding narrative meaning over time: The contributions of mother–daughter conversations of difficulty on daughter narrative sense-making and well-being Communication Monographs, 1-23 DOI: 10.1080/03637751.2015.1068945

Kuypers, K., Steenbergen, L., Theunissen, E., Toennes, S., & Ramaekers, J. (2015). Emotion recognition during cocaine intoxication European Neuropsychopharmacology, 25 (11), 1914-1921 DOI: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2015.08.012

Muise, A., Schimmack, U., & Impett, E. (2015). Sexual Frequency Predicts Greater Well-Being, But More is Not Always Better Social Psychological and Personality Science DOI: 10.1177/1948550615616462

Ruffman T, O’Brien KS, Taumoepeau M, Latner JD, & Hunter JA (2016). Toddlers’ bias to look at average versus obese figures relates to maternal anti-fat prejudice. Journal of experimental child psychology, 142, 195-202 PMID: 26560674

Ruiz-Ariza A, de la Torre-Cruz MJ, Redecillas-Peiró MT, & Martínez-López EJ (2015). [Influence of active commuting on happiness, well-being, psychological distress and body shape in adolescents]. Gaceta sanitaria / S.E.S.P.A.S, 29 (6), 454-7 PMID: 26193829

Image via Ursula Ferrara / Shutterstock.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor and a scientific consultant, writer and researcher in fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology and biophysical chemistry. She is also our newly appointed Digital and Social Media Manager. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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