The use of placebos to alleviate physical pain is well established, but placebo effects on emotional pain are not as well understood. In a new functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study, researchers examined the impact of a placebo on social pain stemming from a recent romantic breakup.
Young adults who were told that the saline nasal spray they received was a powerful analgesic for both physical and emotional pain reported reduced negative feelings while viewing a photograph of their ex compared to those who were told that the same spray was used to improve the quality of fMRI images. Those in the placebo group also had reduced activation of a pattern of brain activity associated with social rejection.
The placebo increased activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in both the social pain test and in a separate physical pain condition in which heat was applied to participants' forearms (however, the placebo effect was more modest in this pain condition). The researchers further identify a pathway between the dlPFC and the periaqueductal gray in the brainstem involved in the regulation of social pain. Overall, the findings suggest that this brain network may underlie the placebo effect across a range of mental health conditions.
Ever wondered what your exes have in common, and how they differ from people you never dated?
The people one dates share many similarities - both physically and personality-wise -- a new University of California study has found.
For observable qualities like attractiveness, similarity emerges because attractive people seduce other attractive people. But, researchers said, for qualities that vary greatly depending on where you live (like education or religion) similarity emerges because educated or religious people tend to meet each other, not because educated or religious people actively select each other.
"Do people have a type? Yes," said the study's primary author, Paul Eastwick, associate professor of psychology. "But sometimes it reflects your personal desirability and sometimes it reflects where you live."
The study was published online this month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology of the American Psychological Association. The article can be found here.
The article, which comprises three slightly different studies, looked at the characteristics of people in more than 1,000 past and present heterosexual relationships. The information was provided voluntarily through social media sites and live interviews in recent years, culminating in 2014.
In one of the studies, researchers found that people's past partners have similar physical qualities. This was true even when the partners were short-term or casual relationships. "...during the partner selection process, people may have difficulty differentiating between partners that prove to be casual and short-term versus committed and long-term," the study said.
While intelligence or educational level also played a role, Eastwick said, it was often related to where the people went to school or the field in which they worked.
"A second study examined the ex-partners of several hundred young adults sampled from schools across the United States. The exes of a particular person tended to be very similar on variables like education, religiosity, and intelligence, but this type of similarity was entirely due to the school that people attended. Within their local school context, people were no more or less likely to select educated, intelligent, or religious partners."
The study differs from most other research on relationships because this study surveys people's relationships over time, not just one committed relationship, Eastwick said.
Sex plays a central role in reproduction, and it can be pleasurable, but new findings suggest that it may serve an additional purpose: bonding partners together. A study of newlywed couples, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicates that partners experience a sexual 'afterglow' that lasts for up to two days, and this afterglow is linked with relationship quality over the long term.
"Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex," says psychological scientist Andrea Meltzer (Florida State University), lead author on the study. "And people with a stronger sexual afterglow -- that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex -- report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later."
Researchers had theorized that sex plays a crucial role in pair bonding, but most adults report having sex with their partners every few days, not every day. Meltzer and colleagues hypothesized that sex might provide a short-term boost to sexual satisfaction, sustaining the pair bond in between sexual experiences and enhancing partners' relationship satisfaction over the long term.
To test their hypothesis, the researchers examined data from two independent, longitudinal studies, one with 96 newlywed couples and another with 118 newlywed couples. All of the couples had completed at least three consecutive days of a 14-day daily diary as part of a larger study.
Every night, before going to bed, the newlyweds were asked to report independently whether they had sex with their partner that day. Regardless of the answer, they were also asked to rate how satisfied they were with their sex life that day and how satisfied they were with their partner, their relationship, and their marriage that day (on a 7-point scale, where 1 = not at all, 7 = extremely).
The partners also completed three measures of marriage quality at the beginning of the study and again at a follow-up session about 4 to 6 months later.
On average, participants reported having sex on 4 of the 14 days of the study, though answers varied considerably across participants.
Importantly, sex on a given day was linked with lingering sexual satisfaction over time. Having sex on a given day was linked with sexual satisfaction that same day, which was linked with sexual satisfaction the next day and even two days later. In other words, participants continued to report elevated sexual satisfaction 48 hours after a single act of sex. Importantly, this association did not differ according to participants' gender or age, and it held even after sexual frequency, personality traits, length of relationship and other factors were taken into account.
Overall, participants' marital satisfaction declined between the beginning of the study and the follow-up session 4 to 6 months later. But participants who reported relatively high levels of sexual afterglow seemed to fare better relative to their peers, reporting higher initial marital satisfaction and less steep declines in satisfaction across the first 4 to 6 months of marriage.
The same pattern of effects emerged in the two independent studies, providing robust evidence for sexual afterglow, Meltzer and colleagues note. Together, the findings suggest that sex is linked with relationship quality over time through the lingering effects of sexual satisfaction.
"This research is important because it joins other research suggesting that sex functions to keep couples pair bonded," Meltzer concludes.
While the topic of sex is less taboo than it was a generation ago, that doesn't necessarily mean people are having more of it.
According to a new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior today, Americans who were married or living together had sex 16 fewer times per year in 2010-2014 compared to 2000-2004.
The survey also found that overall, Americans had sex about nine fewer times per year in 2010-2014 compared to 1995-1999.
The study is based on data collected from the General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample of more than 26,000 American adults asked about their sexual behavior since 1989.
"These data show a major reversal from previous decades in terms of marriage and sex," said Jean M. Twenge, the study's lead author and professor of psychology at San Diego State University. "In the 1990s, married people had sex more times per year than never-married people, but by the mid-2000s that reversed, with the never-married having more sex."
According to Twenge, author of the book "Generation Me," a critical factor appears to be birth cohort, with later-born generations having sex less often than those born earlier in the 20th century.
In an earlier study, Twenge and co-authors Ryne Sherman at Florida Atlantic University and Brooke Wells at the Center for Human Sexuality Studies at Widener University, found that Millennials had fewer sexual partners than their Generation X predecessors.
"Despite their reputation for hooking up, Millennials and the generation after them (known as iGen or Generation Z) are actually having sex less often than their parents and grandparents did when they were young," said Twenge. "That's partially because fewer iGen'ers and Millennials have steady partners."
Age also appears to play a significant role. People in their 20s have sex more than 80 times per year, declining to 60 times per year by age 45, and 20 times per year by age 65. Each year after the peak of sexual frequency at 25, sexual frequency declines 3.2 percent.
"Older and married people are having sex less often -- especially after 2000," Twenge said. "In a previous paper, we found that the happiness of adults over age 30 declined between 2000 and 2014. With less sex and less happiness, it's no wonder that American adults seem deeply dissatisfied these days."
Blame might be placed on the busy lives of more working parents, but the research didn't bear that out, said Twenge.
Instead, those who worked more hours actually had sex more often, as well.
Maintaining a healthy sex life at home boosts employees' job satisfaction and engagement at the office, underscoring the value of a strong work-life balance, an Oregon State University researcher has found.
A study of the work and sex habits of married employees found that those who prioritized sex at home unknowingly gave themselves a next-day advantage at work, where they were more likely to immerse themselves in their tasks and enjoy their work lives, said Keith Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU's College of Business.
"We make jokes about people having a 'spring in their step,' but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it," said Leavitt, an expert in organizational behavior and management. "Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for."
The study also showed that bringing work-related stress home from the office negatively impinges on employees' sex lives. In an era when smart phones are prevalent and after-hours responses to work emails are often expected, the findings highlight the importance of leaving work at the office, Leavitt said. When work carries so far into an employee's personal life that they sacrifice things like sex, their engagement in work can decline.
The researchers' findings were published this month in the Journal of Management. Co-authors are Christopher Barnes and Trevor Watkins of the University of Washington and David Wagner of the University of Oregon.
Sexual intercourse triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward centers in the brain, as well as oxytocin, a neuropeptide associated with social bonding and attachment. That makes sex a natural and relatively automatic mood elevator and the benefits extend well into the next day, Leavitt said.
To understand the impact of sex on work, the researchers followed 159 married employees over the course of two weeks, asking them to complete two brief surveys each day. They found that employees who engaged in sex reported more positive moods the next day, and the elevated mood levels in the morning led to more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday.
The effect, which appears to linger for at least 24 hours, was equally strong for both men and women and was present even after researchers took into account marital satisfaction and sleep quality, which are two common predictors of daily mood.
"This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it's important to make it a priority," Leavitt said. "Just make time for it."
Twenty years ago, monitoring sleep or daily step counts or actively practicing mindful meditation might've seemed odd but now they are all things people practice as part of efforts to lead healthier, more productive lives. It may be time to rethink sex and its benefits as well, he said.
"Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage," he said. U.S. employers probably won't follow the lead of a town councilman in Sweden who recently proposed that local municipal employees be allowed to use an hour of their work week for sex. The councilman's hope is to boost the town's declining population as well as improve employee moods and productivity.
But employers here can steer their employee engagement efforts more broadly toward work-life balance policies that encourage workers to disconnect from the office, Leavitt said. The French recently enacted a law that bars after-hours email and gives employees a "right to disconnect."
"Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it's probably better to unplug if you can," he said. "And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours."
Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.
"Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples," said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University. "They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner's ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions."
Titled "Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships," Eldesouky's presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one's emotions.
It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one's emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one's perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).
Other findings include:
Couples generally are able to judge their partners' emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners' ability to look on the bright side.
If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.
Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.
Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.
In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.
"Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships," English said.
"How well you are able to judge someone else's personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge," English added. "This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic."