BioPsychoSocial Health – Brain Blogger Health and Science Blog Covering Brain Topics Sat, 30 Dec 2017 16:30:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Why is Forgetting Good for Your Brain and Health? Wed, 20 Sep 2017 15:25:01 +0000 The idea that forgetting is important for the proper functioning of the brain and memory may sound counterintuitive. However, forgetting is part of the process of memorizing, and it does not make us any less smart. Research shows that our brain has active mechanisms for forgetting. Both storing and losing memories are important for selecting and holding the most relevant information. Forgetting helps to get rid of outdated information. Forgetting the details also helps to generalize past experiences into specific categories and thus create appropriate responses to similar situations in the future.

Forgetting details helps us to remember what needs to be remembered. You cannot craft a good text without deleting and proofreading its parts. As the saying goes, it is the empty space between the notes that makes the music.

When we talk about forgetting in this article, we are not discussing forgetting related to dementia or any other neurodegenerative disease. We are talking about forgetting processes that take place in a healthy individual and are essential for the healthy working of the brain.

On a daily basis, our brain is bombarded with too much information. Most of this information is more like noise that interferes with our decision-making and reduces the clarity of thoughts. Something needs to be done with this unneeded information. Forgetting improves the flexibility of the brain by removing such outdated and unnecessary information. It also helps to streamline our memory by eliminating useless details and generalizing the concepts involved. The function of memory is not to simply pass information through time, but also to optimize future decision-making.

Forgetting has a special function in the memorizing process. Remembering things has a cost for memory, thus forgetting irrelevant things is a cost-saving process. Our memory change is bi-directional. Some memories are made stronger, while others are either repressed or completely deleted. This makes the process of retrieving important information more efficient, as the brain uses fewer resources. Although forgetting may be frustrating, it has some fundamental benefits that aid our ability to remember.

Forgetting is also essential for our mental health. If this sound like an exaggeration, think about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Forgetting is essential for post-traumatic recovery. People with difficulties forgetting things are more prone to depression and psychological trauma. This is the reason why one of the key components of treating PTSD is memory repression or forgetting. Thus, the ability to forget can be used as a protective mechanism that helps to improve mental health.

Some researchers even believe that forgetting is related to ethics. If unjust thoughts continue to linger in your mind, they may finally result in unethical actions. Forgetting helps us to get rid of the wrong kind of thoughts and actions. Forgetting is important for leaving behind previously experienced humiliations and continuing on with pride. Forgetting helps us to move towards the future, leaving the past behind. Both memory and forgetting contribute to the continuation of life, allowing us to forget the anger and pains of the past.

Forgetting helps us to construct our life’s plot as we want. Without forgetting unnecessary things, we cannot create a design of our liking. We cannot tell a beautiful story without omitting some secondary details.

For proper balance in life, both conservation of memory and forgetting are important. Yoni Van Den Eede aptly wrote that:

In this doubled Faustian bargain, we must ask ourselves towards which of the two sides we have been biased, and how we can reach a balance that combines enforcement with—consciously sought-after—limitations.


Kearney, R., Dooley, M., 1999. Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy. Psychology Press.

Richards, B.A., Frankland, P.W., 2017. The Persistence and Transience of Memory. Neuron 94, 1071–1084. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2017.04.037.

Rossouw, P., 2013. PTSD & Voluntary Forgetting of Unwanted Memories. The Neuropsychotherapist 2, 122-124.

Schlesinger, H.J., 1970. The Place of Forgetting in Memory Functioning. J. Am. Psychoanal. Assoc. 18, 358–371. doi: 10.1177/000306517001800206.

Image via Pezibear/Pixabay.

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Trans — From the Moment of Birth Mon, 11 Sep 2017 15:25:31 +0000 The moment I was born, the doctor looked at my nether regions, saw a penis, and announced to my parents, “It’s a boy”. Along with that announcement came a long list of expectations about how a boy’s life should unfold in rural Nebraska in the 1940s and ’50s. No ambiguity. No nuance. Boys will be boys—or else!

Gender reveal parties are a hot trend among today’s expectant parents.1 At about twenty weeks of gestation, an ultrasound is completed, and family and friends are called together for “the reveal,” a celebration of the newly identified biologic sex of the child. Sometimes a baby-carriage-piñata filled with candy is struck until the candy, wrapped in either pink or blue, comes rolling out—along with all the expectations about gender roles that will be established even prior to birth.

Although it could be confusing to guests, I think those parties might better be called “sex reveal parties,” but I understand that guests might come with a different set of expectations. You see, what is being revealed isn’t gender at all but the biological sex of the child. Sex and gender are not the same, although they are often confused and the terms used interchangeably.

Humans have a natural tendency to categorize, sometimes out of respect, sometimes based on stereotypes. At birth, infants are assigned a sex by a third party. It’s a binary choice based on their external genitalia or, in some cases, by chromosomes. Sex is binary: boy or girl. Gender is more of a psychological and societal concept. Gender is not binary; it may not even be linear. Enter the world of the transgender. (A discussion of intersex children who may have incomplete physical characteristics is beyond the scope of this article.)

Transgender individuals are those who identify with a gender that differs from the biological sex they were assigned at birth. They are born biologically male or female but express their gender in ways more consistent with the opposite sex.

Although it may seem like we have a wave of newly identified transgender people, the percent of trans people remains consistent at about 0.3%, and rather than a change in incidence, we are likely experiencing more visibility. While interviewing me, MJ Schwader said that he first came out as a lesbian at age nineteen and only many years later came out as a transgender man. He said:

Something wasn’t right; even without language around it, I knew from a very early age that I wasn’t going to be able to stay there. When I came to a realization that I was trans, there was this complete peace inside.2

Whether speaking of sexual orientation or gender orientation, many people live in a kind of purgatory of sexual confusion until they acquire the words to describe their individual identity.

Another layer of confusion is added when considering “drag,” that is practiced by people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The term “drag” is used when someone wears clothing that is more conventionally worn by a person of the opposite sex, especially when a man wears women’s clothes. Drag is a performance; it does not refer to people who wish to assume a gender different from their assigned sex. Transgender women want to dress as women because they are women, transgender men are men.

One morning I heard a television pundit who opposes transgender rights say that if men can gain an advantage by saying they are women, many will do so. He was wrong on so many levels. In our patriarchal society, most would agree that not many advantages accrue to women over men. He also implied that all a man had to do was put on a dress and a wig and suddenly he is transformed into a woman. His statement ignores the complexities and pain of a trans person’s decision to transition to a different gender. Some trans people work hard to leave no doubt as to the gender they believe they are.

When a conflict exists between one’s biological sex and the gender with which one identifies, it creates gender dysphoria, a clinically significant form of distress. A report titled “Suicide Attempts among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults” states that over 40% of trans men and women have attempted suicide, with the prevalence being highest among the young, economically disadvantaged, less educated, and ethnic minorities.3

Until a recent change in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, this condition was labeled “gender dysphoria disorder.” Although trans men and women experience dysphoria (anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts) at a higher rate than the general population, it is no longer considered a “disorder.” For many, their psychiatric symptoms disappear or markedly diminish once they have decided to transition to the gender with which they identify.

Why would anyone, then, choose to assume a gender different from the biological sex with which they were born? Many studies on the causes of transsexuality have been widely discredited, particularly psychological studies. A recent review of literature on the causes of gender identity concluded that a fixed, biologic basis exists for gender identity and that the best clinical outcomes are associated with hormone therapy and surgical sexual transition.4

One classic way for scientists to test whether a trait is influenced by genetics is twin studies. Identical twins have the same chromosomes; fraternal twins are raised in the same environment but share only half their genes. Several studies have shown that among twins, both identical twins are transgender more often than both fraternal twins. Studies of the brain structure have also shown that the brains of transgender males or females are more similar to the brains of the sex with which these people identify than the brains of the sex they were assigned at birth.5

Transgender identity is complex. It is not binary; it may not be linear. It is also most certainly not a capricious choice made to seek a particular advantage. It may also be more fluid than once thought. Sex and gender are most likely a matrix of identities without one precise set of causes. The most promising choices for understanding transsexualism is in epigenomics, a study that combines the effects of the environment on genetic expression.

More than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color.6 Although more than half of Americans oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their birth sex, the current political environment is a very difficult one for transgender men and women. “Bathroom bills” have become the focal point of anti-LGBT measures across the country. In most cases, bathroom bills have been proposed by politicians up for re-election. The bills are being used to energize these politicians’ conservative base now that the issue of same-sex marriage has been resolved, and the arguments that they are using are the same that were used against same-sex marriage—for example, to protect children.

President Trump, indebted to conservative Christians, has reversed his pre-election position and has rescinded President Obama’s rule that trans people must be allowed to use the bathroom consistent with the sex with which they identify. In an administration that so easily dismisses science, the evidence that transsexualism is biologically determined will have little impact.

We have a great deal to learn about transsexualism. For example, we know that the earlier hormonal treatment is given, the more apparent the physical transformation will be, but what are the long-term consequences of putting children on hormones with irreversible effects?

One thing we can be certain of is this: issues of sexual orientation and gender identification are complex and will not be resolved at a gender reveal party during the twentieth week of gestation.

1. Sirois M. (2017) A Word of Caution on Gender Reveal Parties. HuffPost. Available here.

2. Olson L. (2017) Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight with Loren Olson, MD. OMTimes Radio. Available here.

3. Haas A, Rodgers P, Herman J. (2017) Suicide Attempts Among Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Adults – Williams Institute. Williams Institute. Available here.

4. Saraswat A, Weinland J, Shafer J. (2015) Evidence Supporting the Biologic Nature of Gender Identity, Endocrine Practice, 21(2), 199-204. doi: 10.4158/EP14351.RA.

5. Wu K. Between the (Gender) Lines: the Science of Transgender Identity – Science in the News. Harvard University – The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. 2017. Available here.

6. (2017) Anti-Violence. National Center for Transgender Equality. Available here.

Image via congerdesign/Pixabay.

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One In Four US Children Exposed To Weapon Violence: Helping Kids Cope with Trauma Wed, 06 Sep 2017 15:25:22 +0000 An important study published in Pediatrics1 indicated that over 17.5 million (or 1 in 4) school-aged children in the United States have been exposed to weapon violence in their lifetime, as either witnesses or victims. The results also suggest that more than 2 million (1 in 33) children have been directly assaulted with lethal weapons, including guns and knives.

The data was collected as part of the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. The sample (N = 4114) was a nationally represented survey conducted in 2011 of children (51% boys, 56.7% Caucasian, 18.8% Latino, 15.1% Black, and 9.4 Another Non-Latino Race) between the ages of two and seventeen years.

According to the authors, children’s exposure to violence is a primary national healthcare crisis, even greater than pediatric diabetes or cancer. The American Academy of Pediatrics2 suggests an even higher concern, stating that gun violence is the second leading cause of death for children in the United States. Data from the National Center for Health Statistics3 supports these concerns, indicating that firearms are in the top 10 leading causes of injury deaths for children as young as 1 year old.

The Brady Campaign4 also reports staggering statistics, including a daily average of 40 children and teens being shot and surviving, American children being killed by gun violence 11 times more often than children in other high-income countries, and the incidence of over 160 school shootings since the Sandy Hook mass shooting in 2012.

The medical, psychological, and economic cost of these statistics are profound, but frequently neglected or unknown. It is estimated that homicide- and assault-related injuries cost the US $16 million annually.1 Being a victim, a victim of multiple incidents (poly-victim), or even a witness of violence results in significant levels of symptoms of trauma, depression, anxiety, anger, and aggression in youth.1,5 The authors report that children exposed to lethal weapon violence, such as a knife or gun crime, were significantly more likely to report these symptoms than children who had not been exposed to such weapon violence, even after taking into consideration and removing the variables of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect that are also associated with trauma symptoms.

It is important to note that research indicates that witnessing violence is also a significant risk factor, and is often more frightening to children.6 Moreover, high lethality risk weapon violence is a greater contributing factor to trauma symptoms, even more than that of multiple victimization incidents.1

The incidence, prevalence, and research indicate that weapon violence is frighteningly high in the United States, and a substantial number of children may be at risk for significant mental health issues. Yet, program development and implementation focused on intervention and prevention related to the consequences of weapon violence are sparse and often unavailable to communities who need it most. It is imperative that we focus our resources on what is being defined by experts as a “national youth crisis” in delivering cost-effective, immediate, and community-based mental health programs to children exposed to weapon violence.

Although it may take years to diminish the prevalence of weapon violence in the US, simple therapeutic tools may be the first step for immediate intervention. One such resource is a new book, Where Did My Friend Go? Helping Children Cope With A Traumatic Death that can serve as an excellent first step in the journey of healing. Where Did My Friend Go? is a children’s picture book for therapeutic coping that is to be read by an adult to a young child (3–8 years) who has witnessed or survived a traumatic death.

The purpose of the book is to facilitate the child’s processing and coping with the fear, loss, and confusion associated with the trauma in developmentally appropriate and safe ways. Thorough guides for adults and child-based interventions are provided at the beginning and end of the book. The book is versatile and can be utilized for incidents of gun violence, other-weapon violence, terrorist attacks, car accidents, and plane crashes.

Parents, teachers, pediatricians, ER doctors, counselors, and social workers in schools, shelters, community clinics, and hospitals, who are the first to observe socio-emotional and physical symptoms in children, can use Where Did My Friend Go? as a first step assessment and intervention tool. The professionals on the front lines working with affected children need to be proactive in asking children about their exposure to weapon violence, and this book can serve as a helpful resource in the process. The play-based interventions at the end of the book are also an effective guide for parents and professionals on how to explore, shift, and reassure young children’s trauma, anxiety, and loss to more adaptive functioning.

Mental health professionals need to begin to develop and deliver intervention and prevention programs in schools, clinics, and shelters for the staggering number of children and teenagers exposed to lethal weapon violence. Teachers and healthcare professionals can play a critical role in identifying victims of violence and making appropriate referrals. Establishing and implementing standardized screenings for exposure to lethal weapon violence for children and teenagers as part of a general well-visit exam at the pediatrician’s, as well as in all schools, Head Starts, ERs, and shelters may further allow us to intervene at the early stages of symptom presentation.

As we well know, violence begets violence. Early intervention is prevention, and if one in four American children are being directly exposed to weapon violence, we need to step in now to break the intergenerational cycle of violence and the emerging mental health crisis related to trauma and weapon violence.


Mitchell, K., Hamby S., Turner, H., Shattuck, A., and Jones, M. (2015). Weapons involvement in the victimization of children. Pediatrics, 136 (1), 10-17. doi: 10.1542/peds.2014-3966.

American Academy of Pediatrics (2013). Retrieved from

National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics System. 10 Leading causes of injury deaths by age group highlighting violent-related injury deaths. PDF.

Brady Campaign. Retrieved from

Turner, H.A., Shattuck, A., Hamby S, and Finkelhor, D. (2013). Community disorder, victimization exposure, and mental health in a national sample of youth. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 54 (2), 258-275. doi: 10.1177/0022146513479384.

Hamby S., Finkelhor D., and Turner H. (2013). Perpetrator and victim gender patterns for 21 forms of youth victimization in the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence. Violence and Victims, 28 (6), 915–939. doi: 10.1891/0886-6708.VV-D-12-00067.

Image via kellepics/Pixabay.

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The Laws of Attraction: A Neurology and Psychology Expert Explains Mon, 04 Sep 2017 15:25:10 +0000 Have you ever wondered why you could be crazy attracted to some people but not to others even if they are objectively very attractive?

Attraction is a multifaceted part of life that is both simple and complex. Certain aspects, such as becoming instantly attracted to a good-looking person are simple, while other aspects, such as sharing a stimulating conversation or enjoying the same types of interests, are much more complex. Interestingly, taking a closer look at biology provides several answers that can help us better understand the laws of attraction. There are a number of studies that explain how science is strongly related to attraction.

What does science have to say about the laws of attraction?

Clinical research shows that factors such as physical features, natural body scent, and sharing similar traits all help promote attraction. Research specifically shows that people tend to view more attractive (e.g., physically handsome or beautiful) individuals as more sociable, interesting, sensitive, kind, outgoing, and modest [Dion, Wang]. Therefore, physical appearance promotes attraction to a new partner in a lot of cases. However, body language also plays a role in attraction and approachability. One particular study showed that moderately attractive women who displayed bodily gestures such as smiling, flicking the hair, and quick glances to gain attention, were approached more often by potential partners than more attractive women who did not display any of these types of gestures [Moore].

In regards to natural body scent, research shows that women who breathe in a testosterone-like substance in male sweat, called androstadienone, feel more attracted to men they may not have otherwise been attracted to [Saxton]. After breathing in this substance for at least 15 minutes, a woman may feel more aroused, happy, and attentive to the man she is interacting with. This initial level of attraction can help facilitate a deeper conversation and connection that may lead to a new relationship.

In both men and women, pheromones create the body’s natural scent and also stimulate attraction. More specifically, there are genes that produce pheromones that give each individual a special scent. These particular genes also generally encourage individuals who are distinctly different to become attracted to each other’s scent in order to strengthen the DNA of future generations for partners who have children together [Chaix].

Partners who share similar interests experience positive and rewarding interactions that further encourage individuals to want to stay in a relationship [Byrne]. This means that even though factors such as attractiveness, body scent, and body language may stimulate the initial attraction between two people, persistent attraction also involves discovering that you share common interests with your new partner.

How should this come into play when looking for a partner?

Overall, the laws of attraction are a complex science that facilitates a wonderful and often lasting bond between two compatible individuals. For individuals who are ready to start a new relationship, it is important to remember to keep an open mind and try not to focus solely on a person’s physical appearance. There is nothing wrong with wanting a beautiful or handsome partner, but if that is the main factor you focus on when you are trying to meet someone new you may miss an opportunity to build a strong relationship with an extraordinary individual. In addition, presenting a kind, warm, amiable, and easy-going personality to people that you meet, helps potential partners find you more attractive. Research actually shows that having a positive, pleasant personality increases perceived facial attractiveness [Zhang].

Furthermore, if your first impression of someone is not exactly what you expected, consider giving yourself a little more time to get to know the person before you make a relationship decision. Sometimes nervousness can prevent individuals from being themselves, especially during first dates. Lastly, make sure that finding a new partner does not take up all of your private time. Focus on enjoying your favorite activities and spending time with your friends or loved ones. This will help you remain happy, healthy, and ready to meet that special someone.


Byrne, D., & Nelson, D. (1965). Attraction as a linear function of proportion of positive reinforcements. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1(6), 659-663. doi: 10.1037/h0022073.

Chaix R, Cao C, Donnelly P. (2008). Is mate choice in humans MHC-dependent? PLoS Genet, 12;4(9):e1000184. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1000184.

Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24(3), 285-290. doi: 10.1037/h0033731.

Moore MM. Nonverbal courtship patterns in women: Context and consequences. Ethology and Sociobiology. 1985;6(4):237-247. doi: 10.1016/0162-3095(85)90016-0.

Saxton TK, Lyndon A, Little AC, Roberts SC. (2008). Evidence that androstadienone, a putative human chemosignal, modulates women’s attributions of men’s attractiveness. Horm Behav, 54(5):597-601. doi: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2008.06.001.

Wang J, Xia T, Xu L, Ru T, Mo C, Wang TT, Mo L. (2015). What is beautiful brings out what is good in you: The effect of facial attractiveness on individuals’ honesty. Int J Psychol. doi: 10.1002/ijop.12218.

Zhang Y, Kong F, Zhong Y, Kou H. (2014). Personality manipulations: Do they modulate facial attractiveness ratings? Personality and Individual Differences, 70:80-84. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.06.033.

Image via StockSnap/Pixabay.

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What’s Your Drunk Personality Type – Nutty, Naughty or Nice? Thu, 24 Nov 2016 16:00:12 +0000 There are certainly different types of drunks. “Sober Dave is boring, you should hang out with Drunk Dave, he’s wild!” or “She is usually a sweetheart, but watch out, she’s a mean drunk”. Having documented the transition to our drunk alter-egos for 100s of years, we are no strangalers to the concept of drunk personality types. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that alcohol can change our personalities from a sober type to a drunk type.

Today, research pioneered by University of Missouri graduate student, Rachel Winograd, supports the existence of at least 4 categories of drunk personalities. Importantly, she reveals if one’s type of drunk personality puts them at greater risk of alcohol-related harms (e.g. regrettable sexual encounters or drunken injuries), as well as alcohol addiction.

187 pairs of undergraduate drinking buddies answered questions linking their drunk personality to the “big five” personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism). Cluster analysis of these answers led to the description of four main drunk personality types as outlined below.

Not only is it a bit of fun to ask, “What kind of drunk are you?”, the drunk personality research field holds promise for the development of novel interventions to help problem drinkers.

Drunk Personality Type 1: The Ernest Hemingway

Drunk Personality Type Ernest Hemmingway

As Ernest Hemingway wrote, he ‘‘can drink hells any amount of whiskey without getting drunk.” Thankfully, this is the most common drunk personality type shared by 42% of the undergrads, who reported behaving roughly the same and only slightly changing when intoxicated.

Compared to the other personality types, the personality factors that tend to change the most when drunk — i.e. conscientiousness (being prepared, organized, prompt) and intellect ( understanding abstract ideas, being imaginative) — do not change drastically. It is no surprise then that this drunk personality type was not linked with experiencing more negative consequences or alcoholism symptoms.

Drunk Personality Type 2: The Mr Hyde

Drunk Personality Type Mr Hyde

Unfortunately, the second most common drunk personality type (23% of the sample) is the monster of a drunk named after the twisted alter-ego of Dr. Jeckyll, Mr. Hyde. They are characterized by being less conscientious, less intellectual and less agreeable than their sober selves or other drunk personality types.

Their drunk personality being the perfect recipe for increased hostility when under the influence, they are statistically more likely to have alcohol use disorder symptoms (i.e. have a higher risk of alcohol addiction). They also suffer a whole range of negative consequences from drinking, from blacking out to being arrested for drunken behavior.

Drunk Personality Type 3: The Nutty Professor

Drunk Personality Type Nutty Professor

This type of drunk, comprising 20% of the study participants, does a personality 360 when they get drunk. They are particularly quiet and introverted when sober, but their drunken persona has a large increase in extraversion and decrease in conscientiousness (compared to the other drunk types and their sober self). This is likened to the the Disney character, Shermen Clump, when he transforms from taking his secret chemical formula in The Nutty Professor.

Despite having the most drastic personality change, Nutty Professors were not associated with experiencing more negative alcohol-related consequences from drinking.

Drunk Personality Type 4: The Mary Poppins

Drunk Personality Type Mary Poppins

The least common drunk personality type in the study, found in 15% of the participants, was ‘The Mary Poppins. They are not only particularly agreeable (i.e. embodying traits of friendliness) when sober, they are also agreeable and friendly when drunk. Like Hemmingways, they also decrease less than average in conscientiousness and intellect when getting drunk.

Their drunken sweetness sets them apart from less agreeable Hemmingways. They are essentially the opposite of the Mr Hyde drunk type of drunk, resulting in significantly less negative consequences from getting drunk.


Hemingway, E., & Baker, C. (1981). Ernest Hemingway, selected letters, 1917-1961. New York: Macmillan Pub Co.

Winograd, R. P., Littlefield, A. K., Martinez, J., & Sher, K. J. (2012). The drunken self: The Five-Factor model as an organizational framework for characterizing perceptions of One’s own drunkenness. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 36(10), 1787–1793. doi:10.1111/j.1530-0277.2012.01796.x

Winograd, R. P., Steinley, D., & Sher, K. (2015). Searching for Mr. Hyde: A five-factor approach to characterizing “types of drunks.” Addiction Research & Theory, 24(1), 1–8. doi:10.3109/16066359.2015.1029920

Images via accsalgueiro0, skeeze, Alexas_Fotos and RyanMcGuire / Pixabay.

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Can Our Immune System Drive Social Behavior? Mon, 24 Oct 2016 15:00:31 +0000 The immune system is our main defense mechanism against disease. Dysfunctions in the immune system are therefore associated with a myriad of complications, including several neurological and mental disorders.

Yet, for a long time the brain and the immune system were considered to be isolated from each other – it was believed that the brain was not supplied by the lymphatic system (which carries white blood cells and other immune cells through a network of vessels and tissues) because no evidence of lymphatic supply to the brain had ever been found.

But recently, a research team from the University of Virginia School of Medicine was able to find lymphatic vessels in the meninges that cover the brain. This was a huge discovery that shattered the long-standing belief that the brain was “immune privileged,” lacking a direct connection to the immune system.

After discovering the direct link between the brain and the lymphatic system, the same group has demonstrated that immune cells can influence learning behavior, exerting their effects apparently from the meninges, the membranes that cover the central nervous system. Now, the same group has shown that the immune system has another surprising effect on the brain – it can directly affect, and even control social behavior, such as the desire to interact with others.

Using mice with impaired immunity, the authors showed that partial elimination of immune cells from the meninges was sufficient to induce deficits in social behavior. These social deficits were reversed when the mice were repopulated with immune cells. These immune impaired mice also exhibited hyper-connectivity in specific brain regions associated with social behavior. Again, repopulating mice with immune cells reversed the abnormal hyper-connectivity observed. Other functionally connected regions not directly implicated in social function were not affected by a deficiency in adaptive immunity.

Despite their proximity to the brain, immune cells in the meninges don’t enter the brain. Their effects therefore have to be exerted by releasing molecules that can cross into the brain. The authors were able to identify which molecule acts as a messenger between the immune system and the brain in regulating social behavior.

The molecule is called interferon gamma (IFN-gamma) and it can be produced by a substantial number of meningeal immune cells. Blocking the production of this molecule caused similar social deficits and abnormal hyper-connectivity in the same brain regions as in immune impaired mice. Restoring the levels of the molecule restored the brain activity and behavioral patterns, through the action of IFN-gamma in GABAergic inhibitory neurons. Importantly, the authors also demonstrated that rodents living in a social context (group-housing) had natural increases in the production of IFN-gamma, whereas rodents in social isolation had a marked loss of IFN-gamma. Zebrafish and flies showed a similar pattern.

These striking results thereby show how that a molecule produced by the immune system can have a determining influence on social behavior. But such as the immune system can drive sociability, it is possible that immune dysfunctions may contribute to an inability to have normal social interactions and play a role in neurological and mental disorders characterized by social impairments, such as autism spectrum disorder, frontotemporal dementia, and schizophrenia, for example.

Social behavior is crucial for the survival of a species through foraging, protection, breeding, and even, in higher-order species, mental health. On the other hand, social interaction also brought about an increased exposure to different pathogens; as a consequence, our immune system had to develop new ways to protect us from the diseases to which social interaction exposed us. And social behavior is obviously beneficial to pathogens, since it allows them to spread.The authors of the study therefore hypothesized that the relationship between humans and pathogens may have driven the development of our social behavior. There may have been a co-evolutionary pressure to increase an anti-pathogen response as sociability increased, and it is possible that IFN-gamma may have acted as an evolutionary mechanism to simultaneously enhance social behavior while also enhancing our anti-pathogen responses.

The implications and the questions that arise from these findings are tremendous. Is it possible that our immune system modulates our everyday behaviors or even our personality? Can new pathogens influence human behavior? Can we target the immune system while treating neurological or psychiatric disorders? New research avenues are wide open.


Derecki NC, et al (2010). Regulation of learning and memory by meningeal immunity: a key role for IL-4. J Exp Med, 207(5):1067-80. doi: 10.1084/jem.20091419

Filiano AJ, et al (2016). Unexpected role of interferon-? in regulating neuronal connectivity and social behaviour. Nature, 535(7612):425-9. doi: 10.1038/nature18626

Kennedy DP, Adolphs R (2012). The social brain in psychiatric and neurological disorders. Trends Cogn. Sci. 16, 559–572. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2012.09.006

Kipnis J (2016). Multifaceted interactions between adaptive immunity and the central nervous system. Science, 353(6301):766-71. doi: 10.1126/science.aag2638

Louveau A, et al (2015). Structural and functional features of central nervous system lymphatic vessels. Nature, 523(7560):337-41. doi: 10.1038/nature14432

Image via allinonemovie / Pixabay.

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9/11 Survivors – Prolonged Mental and Physical Health Problems Tue, 13 Sep 2016 15:30:25 +0000 Emerging research discovers significant health problems continue to affect people exposed to hazards 15 years after the terror attacks of 9/11 and the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.

Dr. Steven Stellman, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health is co-author of four new studies through the World Trade Center Health Registry. The articles report on outcomes, including cancer, PTSD, acid reflux, asthma, as well as job loss, and early retirement.

Led by scientists at the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the studies appear in a special 9/11-themed issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, and are put into context by Dr. Stellman:

A decade and a half after the terrorist attacks of September 11, we have the clearest picture yet on the effects of the events on the health and wellbeing of those most affected…

While the full extent of cancer risk to the affected population may not be known for years, the new research reveals that, as of 2011, rescue/recovery workers at the World Trade Center site had an 11 percent greater overall cancer risk compared to New York State norms.

Other survivors experienced an eight percent increase. The increases among both groups were most notable for cancers of the prostate and melanoma of the skin. As described by Stellman:

On the day of the attacks, people in the vicinity of the site were exposed to intense concentrations of fine particulate dust containing hazardous substances, including many known carcinogens including asbestos and silica. Fumes and dust also penetrated people’s homes and workplaces in lower Manhattan, leading to a lengthy and difficult decontamination process.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is one of the most common health conditions reported among persons exposed to the attacks, affecting one in five Registry enrollees in the first two years after 9/11.

In the new research, Stellman and his co-authors find that half of those with early GERD symptoms continued to report persistent symptoms ten years after 9/11, and were more likely to report continuing symptoms if they both had asthma and PTSD during the first three years after 9/11.

Many researchers think that GERD, PTSD, and asthma are all related to to 9/11 exposures and have proposed biological mechanisms by which each of these diseases might exacerbate the others.

However, Stellman said, there is still some uncertainty as to causal relationships since persons with one or two of these conditions are likely to have more medical exams that could lead to increased likelihood of the third diagnosis.

Ten years after the disaster, about seven percent of non-uniformed rescue and recovery workers left their jobs prematurely, about half through early retirement and half due to health-related job loss.

Among non-uniformed rescue/recovery workers age 60 or younger who were still working in 2008, those who endured the most serious 9/11-related health burden were most likely to retire early before reaching the age of 60, and most likely to be unemployed for health reasons.

For the one in five study participants with PTSD, the risk was compounded. Those with a chronic health condition and symptoms of 9/11-related PTSD had double the chances of early retirement, while the odds of health-related job loss increased as much as 10-fold, compared to relatively healthy workers.

The Registry, which opened in 2003, has enrolled 71,000 people who lived, worked, or went to school in the area of the disaster, or were involved in rescue and recovery efforts.

Over the past 14 years, scientists have published nearly 70 papers using Registry data, covering many outcomes including physical and mental health, health care access and utilization, birth outcomes, child and adolescent behavior, quality of life, disaster response, and the added impact of Hurricane Sandy on 9/11 exposed persons.

According to Stellman, the Registry will continue to monitor the population to assess changes in health over time, emphasizing chronic illnesses that may take longer to appear, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as broader questions of health care access and utilization, and quality of life:

We generously respond to disasters by providing immediate humanitarian aid, but disasters can also have a long lasting effect on many people. Fifteen years is not a long time, particularly considering much of the data that we’re reporting ends about three to five years earlier than today. For chronic diseases, much of the story is still to be written.

This guest article originally appeared on Myriad Health & Other Problems Linger 15 Years After 9/11

Source: Columbia Mailman School of Public Health

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The Golden Years – 5 Ways to Ensure a Happy and Healthy Retirement Sun, 11 Sep 2016 15:00:53 +0000 After a lifetime of hard work, thousands of baby boomers are retiring in record numbers across the globe. Like any life transition, embarking on the transition from working life to retirement can be wrought with challenges and stressors, especially for those forced into retirement. Yet, it also opens up a window of opportunity to take a few simple steps to secure a healthy and happy retirement.

After retirement, some people plummet down the slippery slope to physical and mental health decline and premature death, while others are rejuvenated by the positive health effects of retirement and protect themselves from the bad, bolstering health and happiness and prolonging a vivacious and meaningful life into ripe old age.

The good news is that science is gradually unearthing the many secrets to a happy retirement, providing the retirement planning blueprints needed to capitalise on the health benefits of promoting positive lifestyle change on the healthy transition to retirement.

The power of belief in the golden years

Believe the hype; believe the stereotype… well the positive one anyway. Research shows that people that believe in positive and happy retirement stereotypes (e.g. living a hopeful, active, involved, healthy and meaningful life with more time for family, friends and pleasurable activities) have been shown to live up to 7.5 years longer than those who believe in negative retirement stereotypes (e.g. living a hopeless, inactive, uninvolved, lonely and meaningless life).

Some estimates indicate that simply believing in the golden years being golden provides a 41% decreased mortality risk and reinforces a happy retirement being a reality.

Other research indicates that fear of being lumped into an ‘old and unhealthy’ stereotype, known as healthcare-stereotype threat, can lead to healthcare avoidance and is linked with poorer global physical and mental health.

It has been suggested that simply knowing the powerful effects of believing and/or fearing stereotypes is half the battle. Reading this blog article may be enough to help people beat the negative effects of stereotypes down and invite the golden years in.

The power of world views

The hostile world scenario (HWS) is a personal belief system regarding the perceived threat to one’s own physical and mental health and wellbeing, which is more severe among minorities that suffer from stigma, such as members of the LGBT community.

Healthy uses of the HWS system include serving as an internal monitor of both actual and potential threats and adverse circumstances in the individual’s life, allowing vigilance towards dangers and maintenance of a sense of safety and wellbeing.

If this system is over activated however, it can lead to an overwhelming sense of a catastrophic world and is associated with a whole load of negative health outcomes that put both mental and physical health in jeapordy.

These include:

  • having increased difficulties in activities of daily living (e.g. eating, dressing, bathing, preparing a hot meal, shopping in a store, managing money etc.)
  • movement difficulties (e.g. reaching or extending one’s arms above shoulder level, lifting or carrying weights over 5 kilos such as a heavy bag of groeceries)
  • worse physical symptoms (e.g. resistant cough, swollen leg etc.)
  • worse medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, osteoporosis etc.)
  • worse depression symptoms
  • less satisfaction with life
  • less social activities

What makes having an overactive and negative HWS system be strongly predictive of poor mental and physical health in old age is currently unknown. Some suggest that an overactive HWS may amplify stress-related thinking leading to ill health, and/or that the HWS is actually a reflection of future predictions of the self and therefore may be like a self-fulfilling prophecy, a route to self-sabotage and self-defeat.

Conscious aging practices have been shown to help transform negative world views into positive ones that benefit health and wellbeing in retirement years. Conscious aging and world view transformation involves exploration of the pivotal role that our world view plays in how we see, understand and behave by using a multitude of exercises, such as meditation and nature-walks, that encourage self-reflection, self-discovery and reshaping of our world view.

The power of exercise

Research shows that some people get more physically fit after retirement, while others put their physical and mental health and wellbeing at risk, as well as their families, due to further increases in sedentary behaviour after stopping work.

For those that exercise regularly, benefits include: lower blood pressure; improved balance and reductions in mobility difficulties; improved health for those with conditions like diabetes, heart disease or arthritis; stress management and improved mood; an improved memory and prevention of cognitive decline.

However, research cannot yet tell us with any confidence what exactly helps some people get into healthy exercise habits after retirement compared to others. Nonetheless, it is resoundingly clear that adopting daily lifestyle habits, hobbies and activities that promote physical activity and avoid sitting down for long periods of time is a must for those wanting a healthy and happy retirement.

The power of socializing

It has been shown that how long a person expects to live is linked with future mental and physical health. Sadly but fortuitously, for lonely older adults, reminding themselves they have not so many years left protects against their feelings of loneliness fueling depression.

Rather than adopting this otherwise bleak outlook on life to keep one’s sanity, multiple lines of research indicate that working on having a thriving social life doesn’t only prevent the negative impact of loneliness, it can truly do wonders for health and happiness following retirement.

Meta-analytic evidence shows that people’s social relationships can predict how long they will live, and in fact, is a stronger predictor than other health behaviours such as physical exercise, smoking or alcohol consumption. Other studies also link vibrant social lives in older years with reduced depression and enhanced cognitive health.

A brand new study found that social group memberships in retirement, like book and lunch clubs, or arts or exercise groups, are associated with reduced risk of premature death. Specifically, retirees who had two group memberships prior to retirement had a 2% risk of death in the first 6 years of retirement if they maintained membership in the two groups, a 5% risk if they stopped attending one group and a 12% risk if they lost both groups. Furthermore, for every group membership that participants lost in the year following retirement, their experienced quality of life 6 years later was approximately 10% lower.

All in all, joining social groups and engaging in social activities is a smart move to ensure happy retirement. Also, if the social activity also happens to be physical, reinforce positive beliefs in retirement and reinforce positive views of the world it’s a win, win, win, win in support of healthy and happy retirement.

The power of driving

There is no legal age at which you must stop driving, but driving cessation is beginning to be considered an inevitable transition in the years around or following retirement, depending on one’s health. Some people may have decades of retirement years before stopping driving is on the cards, for others it may come hand in hand with retirement.

However, very few plan to stop driving and those that don’t make plans are at higher risk of poorer health, depression, institutionalization, attending less out-of-home activities and reduced productive social engagement, and the kicker, death. In fact, in one study, nondrivers were found to be four to six times more likely to die than drivers during the subsequent 3-year period following driving cessation.

Finding ways to maintain a future nondrivers’ productive roles and out-of-home activities may be key to preventing the negative effects of driving cessation.


Abdou, C., Fingerhut, A., Jackson, J., & Wheaton, F. (2016). Healthcare Stereotype Threat in Older Adults in the Health and Retirement Study American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 50 (2), 191-198 DOI: 10.1016/j.amepre.2015.07.034

Bodner, E., & Bergman, Y. (2016). Loneliness and depressive symptoms among older adults: The moderating role of subjective life expectancy Psychiatry Research, 237, 78-82 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychres.2016.01.074

Cacioppo, J., Hughes, M., Waite, L., Hawkley, L., & Thisted, R. (2006). Loneliness as a specific risk factor for depressive symptoms: Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Psychology and Aging, 21 (1), 140-151 DOI: 10.1037/0882-7974.21.1.140

Curl, A., Stowe, J., Cooney, T., & Proulx, C. (2013). Giving Up the Keys: How Driving Cessation Affects Engagement in Later Life The Gerontologist, 54 (3), 423-433 DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnt037

Edwards, J., Perkins, M., Ross, L., & Reynolds, S. (2009). Driving Status and Three-Year Mortality Among Community-Dwelling Older Adults The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 64A (2), 300-305 DOI: 10.1093/gerona/gln019

Ertel, K., Glymour, M., & Berkman, L. (2008). Effects of Social Integration on Preserving Memory Function in a Nationally Representative US Elderly Population American Journal of Public Health, 98 (7), 1215-1220 DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2007.113654

Feng, X., Croteau, K., Kolt, G., & Astell-Burt, T. (2016). Does retirement mean more physical activity? A longitudinal study BMC Public Health, 16 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12889-016-3253-0

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T., & Layton, J. (2010). Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review PLoS Medicine, 7 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

Mosca I, & Barrett A (2016). The Impact of Voluntary and Involuntary Retirement on Mental Health: Evidence from Older Irish Adults. The journal of mental health policy and economics, 19 (1), 33-44 PMID: 27084792

Ng, R., Allore, H., Monin, J., & Levy, B. (2016). Retirement as Meaningful: Positive Retirement Stereotypes Associated with Longevity Journal of Social Issues, 72 (1), 69-85 DOI: 10.1111/josi.12156

Shenkman, G., & Shmotkin, D. (2013). The hostile-world scenario among Israeli homosexual adolescents and young adults Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 43 (7), 1408-1417 DOI: 10.1111/jasp.12097

Shmotkin, D., Avidor, S., & Shrira, A. (2015). The Role of the Hostile-World Scenario in Predicting Physical and Mental Health Outcomes in Older Adults Journal of Aging and Health, 28 (5), 863-889 DOI: 10.1177/0898264315614005

Steffens, N., Cruwys, T., Haslam, C., Jetten, J., & Haslam, S. (2016). Social group memberships in retirement are associated with reduced risk of premature death: evidence from a longitudinal cohort study BMJ Open, 6 (2) DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2015-010164

Image via PublicDomainPictures / Pixabay.

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Can You Improve Physical Skills While Dreaming? Thu, 08 Sep 2016 15:00:52 +0000 Can we significantly improve physical skills by practicing them while we sleep? Yes, scientists say. New research published in the Journal of Sports Sciences confirms that practicing motor skills while lucid dreaming can lead to real life improvements in skill performance that can be equivalent to practice in waking life.

Lucid dreaming is when the dreamer becomes aware that they are actually dreaming. This awareness typically comes hand in hand with greater control of what one’s dream self is doing, as well as the content of the dream.

A meta-analysis of the past 50 years of research (1966–2016) revealed that 55% of study participants have experienced one lucid dream or more in their lifetime, with 23% experiencing lucid dreams once a month or more.

Despite being a common phenomenon experienced in similar frequencies around the globe, the many challenges that come with investigating and understanding lucid dreaming make it a very mysterious state of consciousness indeed.

To help solve the many mysteries of lucid dreaming, Dr. Tadas Stumbrys, lead author of the study, and co-researchers, Associate Professor Daniel Erlacher and Professor Michael Schredl, analyzed data from 64 adults (average age 31) that completed the online experiment.

The experiment was a simple online version of a well-known sequential finger tapping exercise. Put simply, participants are shown a simple sequence of five numbers (e.g. 4-1-3-2-4) and are asked to type this sequence repeatedly “as quickly and accurately as possible” for 30 seconds.

The participants were split into four groups: frequent lucid dreamers (25%), a mental practice group (23%), a physical practice group (24%) and a control (no practice) group (24%).

In the middle of the night, alarms were set so that either lucid dreaming practice, mental rehearsal practice or real life physical practice of the finger tapping exercise could be completed at approximately the same time. They were then assessed the following day to see if practice in whatever form had improved their finger tapping performance.

Following statistical analysis the researchers found that:

All three types of practice increased performance speed without compromising accuracy – the error rate did not significantly differ between the two tests [i.e. the test during practice, and the follow up test].

Amazingly, no significant differences were found when comparing the improvements in performance gained from lucid dreaming practice whilst asleep (+20%), or physical practice (+17%) or mental rehearsal practice during waking life (+12%), with all three types of practicing having similarly large performance influencing effect sizes.

The only other comparable past research did find a difference in performance-boosting benefits between lucid dreaming (+43%) and physical practice (+88%), when aiming to improve the motor skill of flicking a coin into a plastic cup. However, when correcting the data and refining the analysis, physical practice and lucid dreaming practice actually had similar motor skill improving effect sizes as found for the most recent study.

Authors of the new study suggest that the physical practice group in the coin-flicking experiment had an unfair advantage seeing as they got to practice in the evening with their sleep undisturbed, unlike the lucid dreaming group. In the present study, practice times were matched which presumably evened the playing field, which is reflected in the similar rating of sleep quality between the practice groups and similar effects on motor skill learning.

Currently, research shows that the neural mechanisms that create physical movement are highly similar between waking, imagining and lucid dreaming states of consciousness. In fact, a recent brain imaging study showed that brain activity in the sensorimotor cortex that is responsible for controlling our physical movements is similar during imagined and lucidly dreamed movement, thereby allowing motor learning to occur.

Although not supported by the latest study, lucid dreaming is thought to hold the potential to be better than mental rehearsal.

It looks promising for athletes and those in physical rehabilitation from injury, and perhaps anyone that wants to learn or refine a new motor skill, or practicing something dangerous. Of course, further research with more complex skills is very much needed. First point of call perhaps, should be developing and researching lucid dream induction techniques so that we have reliable and consistent ways to allow for larger numbers of participants and to take lucid dreaming from fringe science into everyday reality.


Dresler M, Koch SP, Wehrle R, Spoormaker VI, Holsboer F, Steiger A, Sämann PG, Obrig H, & Czisch M (2011). Dreamed movement elicits activation in the sensorimotor cortex. Current biology : CB, 21 (21), 1833-7 PMID: 22036177

Saunders DT, Roe CA, Smith G, & Clegg H (2016). Lucid dreaming incidence: A quality effects meta-analysis of 50years of research. Consciousness and cognition, 43, 197-215 PMID: 27337287

Stumbrys T, Erlacher D, & Schredl M (2016). Effectiveness of motor practice in lucid dreams: a comparison with physical and mental practice. Journal of sports sciences, 34 (1), 27-34 PMID: 25846062

Image via Wokandapix / Pixabay.

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Is Being Clever Dangerous For Your Health? Wed, 24 Aug 2016 15:00:05 +0000 The idea that how smart you are might be connected with how healthy you are is not new. Those who studied social sciences have probably seen the published works on the subject dating back to 1980s.

The problem is not so easy to study academically, though. It is hard to separate the influence of various social factors on both intelligence level and health from a pure connection between health and brightness. As a result, many of the existing studies have been inconclusive. Factors such as age, sex, social and economic level, and education of the study cohort may seriously affect the conclusions. However, when these factors are taken into account, or the study groups are designed in a way minimizing their influence, rather interesting findings emerge.

To measure the cleverness, most studies use IQ. With all its disadvantages, IQ testing still remains the most reliable measure of intelligence. This article will briefly outline the results of studies investigating possible effects that different IQ levels might have on the health.

First, it is important to ask how IQ and health could be connected. Social components are relatively obvious: lower IQ might mean lower level of knowledge about healthy living, for instance. Also, the gradual progression of some chronic diseases may affect cognitive functions leading to lower IQ in unhealthy people. A published analysis showed that long-term sick leave and disability pension are often related to low cognitive abilities. Obviously, this effect is secondary and does not confirm the link between the initial IQ before the disease and the risk of developing this particular disease.

Apart from these obvious connections, there are genetic and physiological components. Recent research data suggest (twin studies in particular) that 60% of factors influencing our intelligence level are dictated by our genes.

There are many genes that directly or indirectly can influence our IQ: these are the genes involved in functioning of the brain, efficiency of neurotransmission, production of neuromediators and so on. The proteins produced by these genes work on multiple levels, and not only in neurons. They may, for instance, regulate the blood supply to the brain or other organs, or availability of various nutrients to neurons or other cells. These proteins may work in different cells of our body performing similar functions. If a gene works not particularly well in the brain cells, it is also likely to underperform elsewhere. At least, this is a general scientific assumption. However, the same gene may have different effects in different cell types, and therefore the link is not so obvious and not so easy to investigate.

It is interesting to mention what the published studies do not confirm. The data show no gender differences in correlations between mortality/morbidity and the IQ level. One study published in the British Medical Journal also demonstrated quite clearly that there is no correlations between high IQ in childhood and morbidity/mortality rates later in life. In both cases the social factors such as social class and culture were taken into account.

Links between IQ and specific diseases

One study demonstrated that high IQ in men was correlated with the incidence of coronary heart disease, although when socio-economic variables were taken into account the relation was not very strong.

Another study showed that atherosclerosis and hypertension could be linked to lower IQ. This relationship might, to a certain degree, reflect social phenomena, as those with higher IQ levels tend to be better informed and live healthier life styles.

Studies have also shown that a lower IQ in children can lead to obesity in adulthood.

Many of the diseases mentioned above can be causes of, or lead to, stroke. Therefore, it is not surprising that a low IQ is linked to a higher risk of stroke. The latter conclusion in regards to the stroke risk stands even when socioeconomic variables are rigorously taken into consideration.

Psychiatric disorders have also long been considered to have a very close link with high IQ. Many geniuses were known to have rather strange or unpredictable characters, suffered from mood disorders and depression. Indeed, statistics shows that creative people with higher IQ are more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder and mood swings. Most studies done on this subject were small but all show similar results nonetheless.

One study among the students in Swedish schools found that those with higher grades were more likely to show signs of bipolar disorder. However, the study also demonstrated that students with the lowest grades were twice more likely to show signs of bipolar disorder compared to the average students. Interestingly, a New Zealand study showed similar associations between low IQ and psychiatric disorders.

Another study published in The Archive of General Psychiatry showed that people with higher IQ were less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. This study has considered socioeconomic variables, as discussed earlier.

Interestingly, a recent study published this year found a higher risk of developing glioma, a type of brain tumor, among university-educated people. The risk is 19% higher in educated men and 23% higher in women with a university degree. The reasons for such correlation remain speculative.

The findings discussed above highlight that both low and high IQ levels can be associated with certain risks. Lower IQ might be linked with poorer general health, while high IQ level is associated with higher chances of psychiatric disorders. It is important to emphasize, however, that these correlations are not very strong – having a specific IQ level, whether it is low or high, does not automatically load your body with associated health problems of any kind. Further research are needed to see how the health and intelligence are connected on genetic and physiological levels: I’m sure there are lots of surprising discoveries there!


Batty, G. (2006). Does IQ explain socioeconomic inequalities in health? Evidence from a population based cohort study in the west of Scotland BMJ, 332 (7541), 580-584 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.38723.660637.AE

Dennis, M., Francis, D., Cirino, P., Schachar, R., Barnes, M., & Fletcher, J. (2009). Why IQ is not a covariate in cognitive studies of neurodevelopmental disorders Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, 15 (03) DOI: 10.1017/S1355617709090481

Hauser, R., & Palloni, A. (2011). Adolescent IQ and Survival in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 66B (Supplement 1) DOI: 10.1093/geronb/gbr037

Khanolkar, A., Ljung, R., Talbäck, M., Brooke, H., Carlsson, S., Mathiesen, T., & Feychting, M. (2016). Socioeconomic position and the risk of brain tumour: a Swedish national population-based cohort study Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health DOI: 10.1136/jech-2015-207002

Lager, A., Bremberg, S., & Vagero, D. (2009). The association of early IQ and education with mortality: 65 year longitudinal study in Malmo, Sweden BMJ, 339 (dec11 1) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.b5282

Wraw, C., Deary, I., Gale, C., & Der, G. (2015). Intelligence in youth and health at age 50 Intelligence, 53, 23-32 DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2015.08.001

Image via venturaartist / Pixabay.

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Stress Shortens Life Mon, 08 Aug 2016 15:00:53 +0000 In today’s increasingly high-paced world, stress has become part and parcel of our lives. It is well-known that chronic stress and depression are detrimental to our well-being and we are often able to tell its physical manifestation in a loved one or close friend. Can we take that one step further and claim that stress affects how long we live?

To this end, researchers have demonstrated recently for the first time that higher level of stress and depression is linked to accelerated aging from a genetic perspective.

The findings in the studies described herein came about from extensive investigations of both C. elegans worms and human cohorts. For the first time, scientists were able to identify a number of genes that appeared to be linked to mood and stress disorders as well as lifespan. This suggests that this group of genes could be at the interface between longevity, stress and our mood. In particular, the expression of a gene called ANK3 appeared to be correlated with our lifespan to some extent.

The following downstream analyses of these genes first revealed that their expression changed with age. More intriguingly, for people who had severe mood disorders and/or were subjected to extreme life stressors (including suicide), there was a marked change in the expression patterns of a series of genes that were also associated with reduced lifespans as well as premature ageing.

It is known the rate of aging is dependent on various environmental factors. Here, the foray into identifying “stress/longevity genes” was started in C. elegans, a model organism that is commonly used in biomedical research. It was earlier reported that when C. elegans were exposed to the drug mianserin (an antidepressant used in the treatment of psychiatric disorders), there was a significant increase in the lifespan of the worms.

Using bioinformatics analyses, it was subsequently found that there were alterations in 241 genes after mianserin administration in C. elegans. Furthermore, when compared to humans, 347 similar genes in humans were identified. The 347 human genes were in turn compared with a genome-wide dataset from 3,577 older adults. From this analysis, 134 overlapping genes possibly associated with depression were found. The top gene from these 134 genes was ANK3, a gene discovered in recent years to be linked to mental disorders.

On the basis of these findings, the scientists then went back to the C. elegans worm model. Here, they generated worms with mutated forms of the ANK3 gene that were inactive. This was followed by subjecting the worms to mianserin and oxidative stress. It was found that ANK3 expression was positively correlated with age. At the same time, mianserin was reported to be able to maintain lower (and “younger”) ANK3 expression levels, though some level of ANK3 was still needed for a long lifespan. This suggested that ANK3 levels can neither be too high nor too low for longevity.

In addition to investigating worm models, the scientists also took more than 700 blood samples from patients who had psychiatric disorders as well as samples from people who had committed suicide. In corroboration with the findings from C. elegans, the scientists found that there was also a higher level of ANK3 in older patients and a shift towards increased ANK3 expression in suicide samples. Furthermore, independent studies have also revealed significantly higher ANK3 expression in patients with Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome, a disease which results in an accelerated rate of ageing.

A series of biomarkers were then generated by adding in the other genes that scored almost as high as ANK3, and similar results were obtained, especially in the samples from people who committed suicide. Importantly, mitochondrial dysfunction was found to be significantly linked to the candidate genes for stress and mood-regulated longevity. This is not surprising given increasing evidence over the past few years for a potential link between old age and mitochondrial dysfunction.

Notably, some of the genes identified in the described study were changed in an opposite direction in relation to a long lifespan in contrast to previous findings on Alzheimer’s disease. This implies that the treatment of stress and mood related disorders in early life could affect the onset of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

Another interesting highlight of this study is that many of the top genes from this study were changed in an opposite direction in longevity when the gene expression patterns were compared with samples from people who committed suicide from earlier work. In this regard, it is possible this could be indicative of the evolution of a “life switch”, which is in turn modulated by mood and stress levels.

Additionally, analyses conducted also revealed a number of compounds which could act on the identified genes and hence potentially increase lifespan. These included compounds such as vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, as well as certain drugs that are currently in use, including rapamycin and estrogen-like compounds.

In summary, the studies described herein identify a potential role of ANK3 and other genes in mood, stress and longevity. More importantly, these genes could act as effective biomarkers for age and in so doing possibly become putative drug targets in the treatment and management of related diseases. This could give rise to numerous applications and the hope is that these pioneer studies will one day translate into improved health for people around the world.


Le-Niculescu, H., Kurian, S., Yehyawi, N., Dike, C., Patel, S., Edenberg, H., Tsuang, M., Salomon, D., Nurnberger, J., & Niculescu, A. (2008). Identifying blood biomarkers for mood disorders using convergent functional genomics Molecular Psychiatry, 14 (2), 156-174 DOI: 10.1038/mp.2008.11

Niculescu, A., Levey, D., Phalen, P., Le-Niculescu, H., Dainton, H., Jain, N., Belanger, E., James, A., George, S., Weber, H., Graham, D., Schweitzer, R., Ladd, T., Learman, R., Niculescu, E., Vanipenta, N., Khan, F., Mullen, J., Shankar, G., Cook, S., Humbert, C., Ballew, A., Yard, M., Gelbart, T., Shekhar, A., Schork, N., Kurian, S., Sandusky, G., & Salomon, D. (2015). Understanding and predicting suicidality using a combined genomic and clinical risk assessment approach Molecular Psychiatry, 20 (11), 1266-1285 DOI: 10.1038/mp.2015.112

Rangaraju, S., Solis, G., Thompson, R., Gomez-Amaro, R., Kurian, L., Encalada, S., Niculescu, A., Salomon, D., & Petrascheck, M. (2015). Suppression of transcriptional drift extends lifespan by postponing the onset of mortalityeLife, 4 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.08833

Rangaraju, S., Levey, D., Nho, K., Jain, N., Andrews, K., Le-Niculescu, H., Salomon, D., Saykin, A., Petrascheck, M., & Niculescu, A. (2016). Mood, stress and longevity: convergence on ANK3 Molecular Psychiatry DOI: 10.1038/mp.2016.65

Rueckert, E., Barker, D., Ruderfer, D., Bergen, S., O’Dushlaine, C., Luce, C., Sheridan, S., Theriault, K., Chambert, K., Moran, J., Purcell, S., Madison, J., Haggarty, S., & Sklar, P. (2012). Cis-acting regulation of brain-specific ANK3 gene expression by a genetic variant associated with bipolar disorder Molecular Psychiatry, 18 (8), 922-929 DOI: 10.1038/mp.2012.104

Image via MasimbaTinasheMadondo / Pixabay.

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Education Linked to Brain Tumor Risk Sat, 30 Jul 2016 15:00:11 +0000 Education and socioeconomic status have been linked with cancer outcomes, but a new study now links higher education with the development of certain types of cancer.

The large observational study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, reports that a high level of education is associated with an increased risk of brain tumors. The study is based on data from 4.3 million Swedish adults who were monitored between 1993 and 2010. Overall, 5,735 men and 7,101 women developed a brain tumor during the observation period.

Men with at least three years of university-level education had a 19% greater risk of developing gliomas than men with only a compulsory level of education (nine years). Women with the same level of education had a 23% increased risk of gliomas and a 16% increased risk of meningiomas. Marital status and amount of disposable income only slightly affected the risk among men but not among women. Single men had a lower risk of glioma but a higher risk of meningiomas. Occupation also influenced brain tumor risks among men and women: men in professional and management roles had a 20% increased risk of gliomas and a 50% increased risk of acoustic neuromas; women in these roles had a 26% increased risk of gliomas and a 14% increased risk of meningiomas.

Socioeconomic status has been associated with prognosis and outcomes in many types of cancer, as well as the development of breast cancer, childhood leukemia, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Socioeconomic status and education level also affect attitudes toward cancer screening and treatment and timeliness of disease presentation. Age, military service record, and insurance coverage have also been associated with cancer risks and outcomes. The reasons behind the associations are unclear, but some risk factors have been hypothesized such as rates of atopy and allergies, cell phone use, and body measurements.

While no firm cause-and-effect conclusions can be drawn from an observational study, the authors of the new study claim that the results are consistent and that examining a large population gives strength to the results. More evidence is needed to confirm if education is, in fact, a true risk factor for developing brain tumors.


Borugian MJ, Spinelli JJ, Mezei G, Wilkins R, Abanto Z, & McBride ML (2005). Childhood leukemia and socioeconomic status in Canada. Epidemiology (Cambridge, Mass.), 16 (4), 526-31 PMID: 15951671

Clarke CA, Glaser SL, Keegan TH, & Stroup A (2005). Neighborhood socioeconomic status and Hodgkin’s lymphoma incidence in California. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology, 14 (6), 1441-7 PMID: 15941953

Kasl RA, Brinson PR, & Chambless LB (2016). Socioeconomic status does not affect prognosis in patients with glioblastoma multiforme. Surgical neurology international, 7 (Suppl 11) PMID: 27217966

Lehrer S, Green S, & Rosenzweig KE (2016). Affluence and Breast Cancer. The breast journal PMID: 27296617

Mezei G, Borugian MJ, Spinelli JJ, Wilkins R, Abanto Z, & McBride ML (2006). Socioeconomic status and childhood solid tumor and lymphoma incidence in Canada. American journal of epidemiology, 164 (2), 170-5 PMID: 16524952

Porter AB, Lachance DH, & Johnson DR (2015). Socioeconomic status and glioblastoma risk: a population-based analysis. Cancer causes & control : CCC, 26 (2), 179-85 PMID: 25421378

Quaife SL, Winstanley K, Robb KA, Simon AE, Ramirez AJ, Forbes LJ, Brain KE, Gavin A, & Wardle J (2015). Socioeconomic inequalities in attitudes towards cancer: an international cancer benchmarking partnership study. European journal of cancer prevention : the official journal of the European Cancer Prevention Organisation (ECP), 24 (3), 253-60 PMID: 25734238

Image via kaboompics / Pixabay.

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Being an Adult Virgin – A Modern Day Relationship Curse? Sun, 10 Jul 2016 15:00:14 +0000 Irrespective of the reason for being an adult virgin, new research coming from The Kinsey Institute indicates that it can be tough in the modern day, thanks to a ménage à trois of negative stigma and discrimination coming from more experienced adults, other adult virgins, and themselves.

Being a virgin until married, not so many moons ago, was regarded near enough the world over as a symbol of purity and respectability, and premarital sex was typically shunned. But today in Western societies in particular, premarital sex in adolescence is generally the norm. Yet an approximate minimum of 1.1 million American men and 800,000 women between 25 and 45 years old characterize as heterosexual virgins.

The three studies, published in The Journal of Sex Research, assessed perceptions of, and attitudes toward, heterosexual adult virgins — defined as the absence of experiencing vaginal penetrative intercourse.

Study 1: Virgins and non-virgins perceptions of stigma & discrimination

Study 1 involved a survey of 560 heterosexual American adults revealing that 141 participants were virgins (25.2%; 79 women, 62 men), with an age range of 18 to 52 years old.

Incorporating a stigma assessment scale in the survey also revealed that adult virgins feel more stigmatized for being a virgin than non-virgin’s feel stigmatized for being sexually experienced, irrespective of if they had 8 or 38 previous sexual partners.

This suggests that relative to non-virgins, being a virgin feels less like a social blessing and more like a social curse.

Study 2: Virgin discrimination in the form of limited serious relationship opportunities

A U.S. nationally representative sample of 4,934 single, heterosexual adults (21-76+ years old) were asked: How likely are you to consider getting into a committed relationship with someone who is a virgin?

The response? Chances look slim.

There was a low likelihood of considering getting into a relationship with a virgin across all participants, yet particularly with:

  • younger participants (particularly women)
  • sexually experienced participants (particularly men)
  • virgins themselves (particularly women)

Seeing as participants in the same situation of relative inexperience discriminate against other virgins, the authors suggested that relationship opportunities for sexually inexperienced adults may be pretty limited.

Relatedly, another study found that women experience more sexual guilt compared to men, with levels of guilt increasing the more religious the woman is.

On the flip side, by process of elimination, one could loosely hypothesize that those most likely to enter a long-term heterosexual relationship with an adult virgin may be older virgin males or older sexually experienced females, cougars some might say.

Study 3: Less discrimination observed on online dating websites

To reduce bias, 353 heterosexual young adults aged 18 to 26 were misled into thinking they were helping test a new online dating website. Each participant was presented with a single online dating profile that included the usual demographics and personality profile. Additionally, the only notable varying item viewed from participant to participant was level bars that indicated how romantically or sexually experienced the potential match was.

The participants were then asked what they thought about their potential as a partner with a series of questions. A few findings emerged:

  • Sexually experienced participants found both experienced and inexperienced potential dates equally attractive.
  • Virgins found a sexually inexperienced participant more attractive than those with more experience.
  • Having greater romantic experience did not influence the effects that sexual experience has on datability. Nonetheless romantic experience was an important factor in evaluating partners.

So in relation to the second study, when asked about a virgin’s potential as a partner in a serious committed relationship, virgins were not considered popular by both non-virgins and virgins. But in this study, in the context of rating a potential date on an online dating website, being a virgin doesn’t appear to register on the radar and actually attracts virgins?

It could simply be that generally, online dating websites are more increasingly viewed as a path leading to sexually orientated, yet noncomitant, experiences or a quick route to a one night stand or fling. Indeed, research has shown this is particularly true for the young Tinder-savvy adult generation, like the participants in this experiment.

This may imply that flings with virgins via online dating are considered more likely than a committed relationship is. However, the way responses to the questionnaire were manipulated in the experiment does not allow the assessment of this, and further research is required to get a more detailed understanding.

Although other research indicates it is possible for one to have too much sexual experience, the study in question indicates that adult virginity is linked with social stigma and discrimination, where virgins are considered as less desirable partners in committed intimate relationships.

In conclusion the authors suggest that:

Because intimate relationships are essential to wellbeing, especially across the adult life course, it seems that being a late bloomer with sexual debut could lower chances of healthy intimate relationship development even when one is open to such relationships and thereby have a negative impact on wellbeing.


Abbott, E., & Abbott, E. (2000). A history of Celibacy: From Athena to Elizabeth I, Leonardo DA Vinci, Florence Nightingale, Gandhi, and Cher. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Eisenberg, M., Shindel, A., Smith, J., Lue, T., & Walsh, T. (2009). Who is the 40-Year-Old Virgin and Where Did He/She Come From? Data from the National Survey of Family Growth The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6 (8), 2154-2161 DOI: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2009.01327.x

Gesselman, A., Webster, G., & Garcia, J. (2016). Has Virginity Lost Its Virtue? Relationship Stigma Associated With Being a Sexually Inexperienced Adult The Journal of Sex Research, 1-12 DOI: 10.1080/00224499.2016.1144042

Lipman, C., & Moore, A. (2016). Virginity and Guilt Differences Between Men and Women. Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research.

Regan, P., Durvasula, R., Howell, L., Ureño, O., & Rea, M. (2004). GENDER, ETHNICITY, AND THE DEVELOPMENTAL TIMING OF FIRST SEXUAL AND ROMANTIC EXPERIENCES Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, 32 (7), 667-676 DOI: 10.2224/sbp.2004.32.7.667

Vrangalova, Z., Bukberg, R., & Rieger, G. (2013). Birds of a feather? Not when it comes to sexual permissiveness Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 31 (1), 93-113 DOI: 10.1177/0265407513487638

Wellings, K. (1995). The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States; Sex in America: A Definitive Survey BMJ, 310 (6978), 540-540 DOI: 10.1136/bmj.310.6978.540

Image via seagul / Pixabay.

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New Evidence of Homophobes’ Secret Attraction for Men Fri, 08 Jul 2016 15:00:08 +0000 Previous research indicates that some homophobic men’s views can be explained as an unconscious or forced self-denial about being attracted to the same sex, although results have been inconsistent. New research just published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine overcomes problems with previous research and adds to the evidence that many homophobic men have homosexual desires, whether they know it or not!

Until now, the strongest support for homophobic men being attracted to men was a study where 54% of the homophobic men that were tested, but not non-homophobic men, became physiologically aroused (i.e., had increase in penile tumescence) while watching explicit erotic homosexual videotapes.

However, penile tumescence is not a perfect measure of male sexual interest and may signal anxiety.

Moreover, another homophobia study suggested this to be the case, where defensive homophobic men have a phobic-like aversion to homosexual stimuli. However, the tests they used were not designed in a way that could truly reveal an suppressed sexual attraction towards other men, and certainly wouldn’t see through a secretly gay homophobe’s self-denial.

Thus the present study turned away from penile tumescence tests and instead used well-used measures of sexual interest that does not rely on genital sexual arousal, or on conscious input that could help hide homosexual attraction.

Using eye-tracking technology, men with low and high levels of homophobia had their viewing time of homosexual vs heterosexual photographs compared with their ratings of such images. In addition, a manikin task was used to assess impulsive, unconscious tendencies towards homosexual images.

The manikin task provided an indirect measure of impulsive approach and avoidance behaviors towards homosexual and heterosexual images. During the task participants were asked to move a computerized manikin towards a homosexual image and away from a heterosexual image on the screen, and vice versa. Button pressing reaction times were used to identify a natural impulse toward homosexual images, signifying attraction, or a natural impulse to avoid homosexual images.

As with other studies, men low in homophobia were pretty straightforward: they viewed homosexual images less than heterosexual ones, rated heterosexual images as the most attractive and had low impulsive approach tendencies toward homosexual stimuli.

Men with high levels of homophobia on the other hand, were a mixed bag.

The major finding of this study was that:

Men high in homophobia looked significantly longer at homosexual than at heterosexual photographs, but only when they had a high impulsive tendency toward homosexual stimuli. This result adds to the evidence that some men high in homophobia may indeed have a suppressed or masked sexual interest toward homosexual stimuli, whereas others do not.

In other words, some homophobic men don’t have an impulsive attraction for other men. In the present study, the more homophobic the personal views were for these ‘true’ homophobes, the less time they spent viewing homophobic images in the experiment. However, some homophobic men do have an impulsive attraction for other men. For these ‘pseudo’ homophobe participants, the more homophobic their views were, the more time they spent viewing homophobic images.

Other research has confirmed that some homophobic men get more angry and anxious after viewing homosexual images like those presented in the study in question. Ironically, such stress makes controlling and overriding any latent impulses that could give away one’s hidden sexual orientation more difficult.

The next step forward in research is to start studies with larger numbers of men that combines both genital and non-genital measures of sexual interest, as well as stress responses. It may be that some ‘pseudo’ homophobes were not identified in the present study, simply because they are effective in managing stress and masking their innate attraction towards men.

Nonetheless, the present evidence implies that for some, homophobia may in reality be an external manifestation of repressed same-sex sexual desires.


Adams, H., Wright, L., & Lohr, B. (1996). Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 105 (3), 440-445 DOI: 10.1037/0021-843x.105.3.440

Barlow, D., Sakheim, D., & Beck, J. (1983). Anxiety increases sexual arousal. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 92 (1), 49-54 DOI: 10.1037/0021-843x.92.1.49

Cheval, B., Radel, R., Grob, E., Ghisletta, P., Bianchi-Demicheli, F., & Chanal, J. (2016). Homophobia: An Impulsive Attraction to the Same Sex? Evidence From Eye-Tracking Data in a Picture-Viewing Task The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13 (5), 825-834 DOI: 10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.02.165

Friese, M., & Hofmann, W. (2012). Just a Little Bit Longer: Viewing Time of Erotic Material from a Self-Control Perspective Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26 (3), 489-496 DOI: 10.1002/acp.2831

Laws, D., & Gress, C. (2004). Seeing things differently: The viewing time alternative to penile plethysmography Legal and Criminological Psychology, 9 (2), 183-196 DOI: 10.1348/1355325041719338

Meier, B., Robinson, M., Gaither, G., & Heinert, N. (2006). A secret attraction or defensive loathing? Homophobia, defense, and implicit cognition Journal of Research in Personality, 40 (4), 377-394 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2005.01.007

Weinstein, N., Ryan, W., DeHaan, C., Przybylski, A., Legate, N., & Ryan, R. (2012). Parental autonomy support and discrepancies between implicit and explicit sexual identities: Dynamics of self-acceptance and defense. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 102 (4), 815-832 DOI: 10.1037/a0026854

Image via josemdelaa / Pixabay.

Brooding Buddies – Co-Complaining Linked with Depression and Anxiety Wed, 06 Jul 2016 15:00:08 +0000 Do you have a friend that when you get together you frequently complain and speculate about problems, rehashing them out, egging each other’s complaining on, and dwelling on the negative feelings associated with them? Well, new evidence confirms a link between friendships that involve excessive co-brooding about problems (co-rumination), and depression and anxiety.

Thanks to a large number of studies on co-ruminating, the new meta-analysis, published in Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, coalesced the data from 38 self-report studies meeting inclusion criteria, totaling a large number of experiment participants (12,829).

The main finding was that co-rumination has a small to moderate association with internalizing one’s problems, depression and anxiety. This suggests that engaging in repetitive, unproductive problem-focused discussions within close relationships may promote emotional distress, where attempting to manage stress by engaging in problem-focused discussions actually exacerbates distress rather than improving the situation.

The clinical relevance here is that therapists should ensure that those with anxiety or depression are given tools to not only manage distressing situations but also to be aware of differences between counter-productively or productively discussing these situations with friends, and indeed the therapist themselves.

The study also emphasized two factors that have shown to boost the negative effects (internalizing of problems, depression and anxiety) associated with co-rumination — who the co-complainer is and what type of problems are being complained about — providing promising avenues for future research to explore these moderating factors further.

For example, regarding the type of problem being discussed, findings suggest that higher depressive symptoms are more commonly found when participants co-ruminated about social as opposed to non-social events, or problems that are due to their own responsibility rather than being someone else’s fault.

Same-sex friendships where shown to strengthen the negative effects of co-rumination, with a previous study indicating same-sex BEST friends are even more at risk. The authors suggest that excessive co-complaining with same-sex best friends might be particularly dangerous owing to the closer relationship allowing for a passive focus on more severe or intractable problems leading to higher levels of emotional distress.

Relatedly, previous research found that the depression and negative emotion contagion that comes from such co-rumination with friends isn’t common in children, but appears at sometime during early adolescence. With further research, we may be able to pinpoint a developmental turning point, where co-ruminating as a child begins to become a problem for mental health, highlighting the optimum time for early interventions and mental illness preventing incentives in schools.

It had also previously been suggested that because women tend to have higher rates of co-rumination, simply being female would increase the negative effects of co-rumination. Higher rates of co-rumination are consistently found in women compared with men across studies, which might reflect women’s greater comfort in self-disclosure, creating more opportunities to co-ruminate.

Nonetheless, the meta-analysis reported that despite confirming this higher frequency of co-rumination, being a women did not enhance the negative effects of co-ruminating for women over men. This suggests that the effects of co-rumination on emotional wellbeing might actually be similar for men and women. Although further evidence is needed to confirm this, it indicates that men and women are equally risking their mental health by co-brooding about problems.

Lastly, let’s not forget that both subjective experience and objective research suggests that there are positives outcomes to having a friend to complain with. These positive effects, such as increased intimacy and relationship satisfaction, may help counterbalance negative effects. Ultimately, finding out how to enhance the positive effects and beat down the bad, will be the key to healthy and beneficial rumination with friends.

Both therapists and individuals alike should be aware that how often, who with and what people complain about with friends, partners or even therapists, may have a profound influence on the mental health of both people in the relationship.

Mother was maybe right:

If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all.


Bastin, M., Bijttebier, P., Raes, F., & Vasey, M. (2014). Brooding and reflecting in an interpersonal context Personality and Individual Differences, 63, 100-105 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.01.062

Calmes, C., & Roberts, J. (2008). Rumination in Interpersonal Relationships: Does Co-rumination Explain Gender Differences in Emotional Distress and Relationship Satisfaction Among College Students? Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32 (4), 577-590 DOI: 10.1007/s10608-008-9200-3

Schwartz-Mette, R., & Rose, A. (2012). Co-rumination mediates contagion of internalizing symptoms within youths’ friendships. Developmental Psychology, 48 (5), 1355-1365 DOI: 10.1037/a0027484

Smith-Schrandt, H. (2014). How individual differences in self and other-focused co-rumination relate to internalizing symptoms and friendship quality. Unpublished dissertation. University of South Florida.

Spendelow, J., Simonds, L., & Avery, R. (2016). The Relationship between Co-rumination and Internalizing Problems: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy DOI: 10.1002/cpp.2023

Stone, L., & Gibb, B. (2015). Brief report: Preliminary evidence that co-rumination fosters adolescents’ depression risk by increasing rumination Journal of Adolescence, 38, 1-4 DOI: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2014.10.008

Image via markzfilter / Pixabay.

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