Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Older Adults with HIV/AIDs Have Unprotected Sex

One out of three sexually active older adults infected with HIV has unprotected sex, according to a study by Ohio University researchers. A survey of 260 HIV-positive older adults found that of those having sex, most were male, took Viagra and were in a relationship.

AIDs cases among the over-50 crowd reached 90,000 in 2003. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they will account for half of all HIV/AIDS cases in the United States by 2015 because medical intervention has extended the lifespan of those infected with HIV. Additionally, drugs such as Viagra have made it possible for older adults to remain sexually active longer.

Past studies have shown that up to 65 percent of older adults ages 60 to 71 have sexual intercourse. Among older adults who are HIV-positive, according to the Ohio University findings, 38 percent are sexually active.

“Those who are more likely to engage in riskier behavior – for example, those who are using drugs – are more likely to have unprotected sex,” said graduate student Travis Lovejoy, who led the study along with Ohio University health psychologist Timothy Heckman. “What we don’t know yet is whether these individuals are in a monogamous relationship with someone else who is HIV positive and believe there is no risk of infection.”

The study also found that sexual activity was more prevalent among HIV-positive older adults who were not cognitively impaired, were younger and who considered their overall health to be good.

Because many older adults with HIV are not sexually active, those who do have unprotected sex account for just 13 percent of the overall number of infected people who are aged 50 or older. However, one-third of those who are sexually active have unprotected sex, which suggests that prevention efforts may need to be more highly targeted toward these individuals.

The behavioral information was pulled from a survey of 260 HIV-positive older adults who were participating in a study examining support groups. The study was funded by a three-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health and the National Institute of Nursing Research.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Men and women look at sexual photographs differently

Research shows men and women look at sexual photographs differently

Results may take societal expectations by surprise

A study funded by the Atlanta-based Center for Behavioral Neuroscience (CBN) analyzed the viewing patterns of men and women looking at sexual photographs, and the result was not what one typically might expect.

Researchers hypothesized women would look at faces and men at genitals, but, surprisingly, they found men are more likely than women to first look at a woman's face before other parts of the body, and women focused longer on photographs of men performing sexual acts with women than did the males. These types of results could play a key role in helping researchers to understand human sexual desires and its ultimate effect on public health.

The finding, reported in Hormones and Behavior, confirmed the hypothesis of a previous study (Stephen Hamann and Kim Wallen, et al., 2004) that reported men and women showed different patterns of brain activity when viewing sexual stimuli. The present study examined sex differences in attention by employing eye-tracking technology that pinpoints individual attention to different elements of each picture such as the face or body parts.

"Men looked at the female face much more than women, and both looked at the genitals comparably," said lead author Heather Rupp, Ph.D., a fellow at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, who conducted the study in partnership with Kim Wallen, Ph.D., a Dobbs Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroendocrinology at Emory University and the Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

"The eye-tracking data suggested what women paid most attention to was dependent upon their hormonal state. Women using hormonal contraceptives looked more at the genitals, while women who were not using hormonal contraceptives paid more attention to contextual elements of the photographs," Rupp said. Although it is commonly assumed males have more interest in visual sexual stimuli, researchers are working to figure out what characteristics are important to men and women in their evaluations of sexual stimuli.

The answer may lie within a small section of the brain called the amygdala, which is important in the processing of emotional information. In Dr. Hamann and Wallen's previous fMRI study, men showed more activation in the amygdala in response to sexual vs. neutral stimuli than did women. From the fMRI study alone, the cause of the increased activity was unclear, but Rupp and Wallen's study suggests the possibility that higher amygdala activation in men may be related to their increased attention to faces in sexual photographs.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Culture is key to interpreting facial emotions

Study examines how Japan and United States vary in deciphering facial cues

Research has uncovered that culture is a determining factor when interpreting facial emotions. The study reveals that in cultures where emotional control is the standard, such as Japan, focus is placed on the eyes to interpret emotions. Whereas in cultures where emotion is openly expressed, such as the United States, the focus is on the mouth to interpret emotion.

Across two studies, using computerized icons and human images, the researchers compared how Japanese and American cultures interpreted images, which conveyed a range of emotions.

"These findings go against the popular theory that the facial expressions of basic emotions can be universally recognized," said University of Alberta researcher Dr. Takahiko Masuda. "A person's culture plays a very strong role in determining how they will perceive emotions and needs to be considered when interpreting facial expression"

These cultural differences are even noticeable in computer emoticons, which are used to convey a writer's emotions over email and text messaging. Consistent with the research findings, the Japanese emoticons for happiness and sadness vary in terms of how the eyes are depicted, while American emoticons vary with the direction of the mouth. In the United States the emoticons : ) and : - ) denote a happy face, whereas the emoticons :( or : - ( denote a sad face. However, Japanese tend to use the symbol (^_^) to indicate a happy face, and (;_;) to indicate a sad face.

When participants were asked to rate the perceived levels of happiness or sadness expressed through the different computer emoticons, the researchers found that the Japanese still looked to the eyes of the emoticons to determine its emotion.

"We think it is quite interesting and appropriate that a culture that tends to masks its emotions, such as Japan, would focus on a person's eyes when determining emotion, as eyes tend to be quite subtle," said Masuda. "In the United States, where overt emotion is quite common, it makes sense to focus on the mouth, which is the most expressive feature on a person's face."

These findings are published in the current issue of The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology and are a result from a collaborative study between Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido University), William Maddux (INSEAD) and Takahiko Masuda (University of Alberta). The results also suggest the interesting possibility that the Japanese may be better than Americans at detecting "false smiles". If the position of the eyes is the key to whether someone's smile is false or true, Japanese may be particularly good at detecting whether someone is lying or being "fake". However, these questions can only be answered with future research.