Those Journal Articles Are Not Always Dry

By Prof. Judith Hall of the Northeastern University Psychology Department

You might think articles in psychology journals are pretty deadly, and we admit they can be long and technical.
But, if you read past the details, you will often find timely and fascinating findings that actually bear on real life.

Here is a selection of recent findings:

TYLENOL HELPS HEART ACHE
You thought pain pills are only for your body, right? Well they are also for your soul. Participants took acetaminophen (Tylenol) daily for 3 weeks, or a placebo pill. They recorded their social pain every day. Those on acetaminophen reported less social pain, for example from social rejection. Images of their brains (fMRI) showed that the drug reduced neural responses to social rejection in brain regions previous associated with psychological distress.

FAST FOOD = FAST PEOPLE
“Priming” is what happens when an incidental or unnoticed stimulus actually has an effect on one’s cognition, emotion, or behavior. Researchers at the University of Toronto showed that after subliminally viewing logos of fast food chains (Taco Bell, MacDonald’s, etc.), people actually became impatient, read a passage of text faster, and chose more time-saving products in a hypothetical choice. Even though the viewers did not know they had seen the logos, their psychology was temporarily altered consistent with the messages implicit in the logos.

DUMBO’S MAGIC FEATHER IS REAL
Remember Dumbo’s Magic Feather? He didn’t think he could fly without it.

Well it really happens: German researchers found that participants who had their personal “good luck charm” with them performed better on laboratory tasks than participants whose “good luck charm” was left in an adjacent room.

They also found that hearing a superstitious phrase such as “I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you” actually produced better performance. Because of the power of psychology, superstitions can be real influences on us.
HAPPY MOOD –> BROADER FOCUS ON OTHERS
A person’s mood can be changed by something as simple as reading a happy or a sad story. Then, it turns out, that mood can influence a person in ways you might not expect.

Researchers in the Netherlands put people into a happy or sad mood and then asked them to report on the emotions expressed in facial expressions.

In a sad mood, people focused on only the main person in the picture. But in a happy mood, people took into account the expressions of the other people in the picture and remembered more about them, thus showing a more broad and contextual manner of taking in the social environment when feeling happy.

RELATIONSHIP STYLES PREDICT HEALTH
Canadian researchers found that the nature of one’s tendencies in relationships—called “attachment styles”—predicts one’s health. People with avoidant (distancing, defensive) relationships were most likely to have illnesses with pain, such as severe headaches. People with insecure and anxious feelings in relationships had a range of conditions especially related to the cardiovascular system (e.g., high blood pressure, heart attack).

SEEING DISEASE –> STRONGER IMMUNE SYSTEM
Other Canadian researchers found that merely looking at photos of people with infectious diseases produced a more aggressive immune response in the viewers than looking at control photos.

Importantly, this effect was not due simply to feelings of threat, because the control photos were also threatening (guns pointing at the viewer).
Conclusion: being primed with “sickness” made the viewers’ immune systems respond in an adaptive way. Maybe this is a protective factor among people who work in hospitals and clinics?

*Taken from Psych NUws – the newsletter of the Northeastern University Psychology Department.

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