Dreamscapes: Our nighttime head trips

May 25, 2018

Scientists think that we sleep so that we can retreat from the outside world and process the information that we have amassed during the day.

But what purposes do our dreams and nightmares serve? Although lucid dreaming is rare, we all can recall some recurring motifs and mental pictures that do not reflect what has happened on a specific day. What’s more, many of us have similar dreams, based on findings of a poll of 1,256 adult Americans conducted by Mattress Advisor earlier this year.

And men and women are likely to have dreams that are much the same as those experienced by others of the same sex. What’s that all about?

The survey was conducted using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, an artificial intelligence application. Of the respondents, 57% were female and 43% male—and most were an average 57 years of age, although the total sample of participants ranged from 18 years of age to 81.

However, by far the most popular dream among both sexes relates to traveling to destinations far and wide. The subconscious of the American man is particularly fond of this dream Fully 37.9% percent of male respondents said they had explored a new place while fast asleep—like a sprawling city bathed in twinkling light or even a new planet.

Respondents described feelings during this dream to be anything from “terrifying” and “pure bliss” to “wonder” and “sadness and anxiety.” Frequent mentions of China and outer space led the visual of male dreams and provide context for the broad range of feelings evoked in participants, Mattress Advisor found.

Predictably enough, the second most popular dreams among males centered on sex; while among females, they were about falling in love.

Research shows “some women can tend to gain their self-esteem from relationships and some men can tend to gain their self-esteem from their performance within the world,” which may explain the reason behind this long-standing divide.

So what do women feel while their dreams of finding true love unfold? Words like “love,” “happiness,” “joy,” and “excitement” were common.

Finally, American men also reported dreaming of acquiring superpowers (8.7%) and money (8.4%); while women also dreamed of being able to fly.

When it came to nightmares, nearly 20% of men reported they had experienced horrible visions of falling—from airplanes, windows, roofs, whatever. Respondents used terms such as “stomach-turning,” “terror,” “helplessness,” and “fear” to describe their memories of taking a deep plunge.

Nightmares about being chased were not far behind, with 17% of American men saying they had seen themselves being hunted by people or animals and 20% of women saying the same.

The uncertainty of being chased is what makes this nightmare one of the most universally terrifying: What if the person pursuing me actually catches me? What would they do to me?

One explanation, Mattress Advisors believes, may be rooted in the way anxieties manifest: According to their data, large amounts of stress drove 49% of women’s dreams and 40% of men’s.

Finally, all three generational groups represented in the poll reported having problems getting a good night’s sleep. Boomers sleep best, with only 10.9% having problems, and Millennials are next at 14.6%. Gen Xers, get the worst sleep of anyone, with 16.9% of respondents reporting issues.

Research contact: @MattressAdvisor

Ask and you shall receive—but don’t expect a thank you

May 24, 2018

Common courtesy is not, well, so common anymore. Research findings released on May 23 by the University of Sydney indicate that, worldwide, people often don’t say “thank you’” when someone does a simple favor for them.

The research—conducted across Australia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Laos, Poland, Russia, and the United Kingdom in the native languages of each country—found that in 1,000 instances of informal conversations among friends and families, the words “thank you” were said “in only one out of fifty occurrences.”

At the farthest end of spectrum, Ecuadorians in the study never said “thank you” when someone did them a favor.

Published in Royal Society Open Science, the findings suggest that there is an unspoken willingness by most people to cooperate with others.

“Our findings indicate a widespread assumption that saying ‘thank you’ is not necessary in the everyday contexts of our lives,” said Professor Nick Enfield of the university’s Department of Linguistics, who led the investigation—which  is part of a larger look at language and social interactions.

“When people think of social norms around gratitude, they naturally think about our interactions in formal settings, where it seems standard to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’,” said Enfield. “But in in our homes and villages – where our interactions would seem to matter most – we find people dispense with these niceties almost entirely.”

He says this does not constitute a lack of manners in most cultures—or that we are polite in public but have no manners in our own homes. “Instead,” Enfield explained, “it demonstrates that humans have an unspoken understanding we will cooperate with each other.”

The researchers found significantly higher rates of gratitude expressed among English and Italian speakers. Those whose first language is English or another Western European language were outliers, not representative of the diversity of the world’s languages and cultures.

“Everyday life works because it’s in our nature to ask for help and pay back in kind, rather than just in words,” said Enfield.

Research contact: nick.enfield@sydney.edu.au

Elder bullies: Bad behavior at the senior center

May 23, 2018

It turns out that bullying is a lifelong skill—learned in daycare, honed in the schoolyard, practiced in the workplace, and played out among peers in senior living communities nationwide.

Indeed, AARP has estimated that between 10% and 20% of older adults who reside in nursing homes, retirement communities and senior living facilities are victims of harassment and persecution—not from the staff (although that is also a concern), but from other older adults who live on the premises.

And that’s not all: While the communal-living nature of senior living communities can open the door for the formation of cliques and similar social behaviors, even seniors living in their own homes independently can be subject to bullying within their social circles, according to the website Senior Homes.

In a 2011 post on KevinMD, a writer describes a nursing home setting where “younger patients” (age 55+) had just begun to be admitted under new rules—creating a situation in which the “newbies” were exposed to bullying by their elders.

“At lunchtime,” the observer wrote,”I watched [the longer-term residents] ‘reserving” tables’ for their older friends and leaving leftover seating for younger members.

“I overheard negative comments about ‘those new young people,’ stated loudly enough for everyone to hear. I even witnessed an attempt to get a younger member in trouble when a bully lied to administrators that the younger member was too young to participate on a field trip.”

When the observer reported these actions to the administrators, they said they were “working on the problem, but change takes time.”

Unfortunately, the writer commented, “many older adults don’t have a lot of time. No one should have to spend their senior years being victimized daily by mean-spirited bullies.”

And such behavior is common among long-term care residents, who have no control over most aspects of their own lives—except for their friendships and behaviors. In addition to saving seats, these mature, practiced bullies are apt to:

  • Ridicule peers who do not meet their acceptance standards for race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, or economic background;
  • Spread rumors or whisper when the victim enters a room;
  • Invade a victim’s personal space;
  • Tease a peer about physical or mental disabilities;
  • Make offensive gestures and facial expressions;
  • Steal and destroy property to flaunt their power and harass victims; and
  • Physically abuse victims by pushing, hitting, punching, or kicking them.

Dr. Linda Rhodes, author of The Essential Guide for Caring for Aging Parents, told Penn Live in 2014, “Elder bullies might have likely exhibited this behavior during a lifetime, but as they age, factors such as loss of independence, relationships, valued roles, and feeling powerless in a controlled setting can exacerbate the need to exert control and ignite a late-life round of bullying behavior.”

In social situations, particularly communal living situations, in which staff are responsible for the health and well-being of all residents, the goal is to create a nurturing, home-like environment in which residents feel welcome and comfortable. Naturally, that’s difficult to achieve if a resident is being outcast and ridiculed by others. And when we, as older adults, enter communal living or social situations, we do bear some responsibility for getting along with others.

Many communities have residents sign a code of conduct agreement, committing them to appropriate treatment of others and outlining the steps taken, should bullying or other inappropriate behavior be identified.

Typically, staff conduct an assessment to determine if there’s an underlying cause for the bullying behavior, such as dementia or side effects from medications, before taking preventive and disciplinary steps.

Research contact: contact@kevinmd.com

Drinking baking soda could safely combat autoimmune diseases

May 22, 2018

A daily drink of baking soda may help reduce the destructive inflammation of autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, and psoriasis, Medical College of Georgia scientists have reported in The Journal of Immunology.

“It’s potentially a really safe way to treat inflammatory disease,” said Dr. Paul O’Connor, a renal physiologist in the MCG Department of Physiology at Augusta University and the study’s corresponding author.

The researchers found evidence that the cheap, over-the-counter antacid can encourage the spleen to promote an anti-inflammatory environment that could be therapeutic in the face of inflammatory diseases.

They have shown that when rats or healthy people drink a solution of baking soda, or sodium bicarbonate, it becomes a trigger for the stomach to make more acid to digest the next meal and for little-studied mesothelial cells sitting on the spleen “to tell” the fist-sized organ that there is no need to mount a protective immune response.

“It’s most likely a hamburger not a bacterial infection [that is activating the immune response],” is basically the message, says Dr. O’Connor.

The conversation, which occurs with the help of the chemical messenger acetylcholine, appears to promote a landscape that shifts against inflammation, they report.

The researchers found that, after drinking water with baking soda for two weeks, the population of immune cells called macrophages in the spleen, as well as in the blood and kidneys, shifted from primarily those that promote inflammation, called M1, to those that reduce it, called M2 Macrophages.

“The shift from inflammatory to an anti-inflammatory profile is happening everywhere,” O’Connor says. “We saw it in the kidneys, we saw it in the spleen, now we see it in the peripheral blood.”

 The scientists also saw a shift in other immune cell types, like more regulatory T cells, which generally drive down the immune response and help keep the immune system from attacking our own tissues. That anti-inflammatory shift was sustained for at least four hours in humans and three days in rats.

Research contact: tbaker@augusta.edu

‘Screenagers’: Personality traits of social media addicts

May 21, 2018

Are you likely to become a social media addict? The odds go up, if you have a combination of specific personality traits, based on research findings by Binghamton University’s School of Management.

“There has been plenty of research on how the interaction of certain personality traits affects addiction to … alcohol and drugs,” says Isaac Vaghefi, assistant professor of Management Information Systems. “We wanted to apply a similar framework to social networking addiction.”

Vaghefi, along with Hamed Qahri-Saremi of DePaul University, collected self-reported data from nearly 300 college-aged students and found that three personality traits in particular—neuroticism, conscientiousness and agreeableness—together, were related to social network addiction.

These three personality traits are part of the five-factor personality model, a well-established framework used to theoretically understand human personality. Researchers found that the two other traits in the model—extraversion and openness to experience—did not play much of a role in the likelihood of developing a social network addiction.

In particular, a hybrid of neuroticism and conscientiousness seems to play a role in addiction, as follows:

Neuroticism (the extent to which people experience negative emotions such as stress and anxiety) seemed to increase the likelihood of developing an addiction to social networking sites.

On the other hand, higher amounts of conscientiousness (having impulse control and the drive to achieve specific goals) seemed to decrease the likelihood of developing a social network addiction.

But when tested together, they found that neuroticism seemed to moderate the effect of conscientiousness as it relates to social network addiction.

Because someone can simultaneously be both highly neurotic and conscientious, researchers found that even if someone is able to practice self-discipline and regularly persist at achieving goals, the fact that they may also be a stressful and anxious person often overrides the perceived control they may have over social network use.

This moderation effect could cause a conscientious person to be more likely to develop an addiction to social networking sites.

In addition, the researchers found, agreeableness alone, (the degree to which someone is friendly, empathetic and helpful), didn’t have a significant effect on social network addiction — but this changes when combined with conscientiousness.

A combination of low levels of both agreeableness and conscientiousness (someone can be both generally unsympathetic and irresponsible) often are related to a higher likelihood of social network addiction. But, oddly enough, so are a combination of high levels of both agreeableness and conscientiousness.

Vaghefi says this unexpected finding could be explained from a “rational addiction” perspective, meaning some users are intentionally using more of a social network to maximize its perceived benefits.

For example, he says a friendly person may decide to use social networks more in order to interact with their friends, as they make it a deliberate goal to cultivate those relationships through the use of social networks.

This is unique because this addiction would not be a result of irrationality or a lack of impulse control, as is often associated with addiction. Rather, a person would be developing their addiction through a rational and well-meaning process.

Vaghefi hopes that, based on this research, people will look at the whole picture when it comes to how personality traits impact social networking addiction.

“It’s more of a holistic approach to discover what kind of people are more likely to develop an addiction,” Vaghefi says. “Rather than just focusing on one personality trait, this allows you to look at an all-inclusive personality profile.”

Research contact: svaghefi@binghamton.edu

Love hurts: Spats with spouse may worsen chronic symptoms

May 18, 2018

Arguing with your husband or wife literally may be—or cause—“a pain in the neck.” Indeed, even if you and your spouse don’t have a knockdown, drag-out fight, you may continue to feel the physical effects long after the apologies and makeup sex, according to a report released on May 15 by the Penn State Center for Healthy Aging.

The researchers have found that, for those with chronic conditions such as arthritis or diabetes, arguments with those who are near and dear may intensify physical symptoms.

After dividing research subjects into two groups of older individuals—one group with arthritis and one with diabetes —the academicians found that the patients who felt more tension in their relationships with their spouses also reported worse symptoms.

“It was exciting that we were able to see this association in two different data sets—two groups of people with two different diseases,” said Lynn Martire,a  professor of Human Development and Family Studies. “The findings gave us insight into how marriage might affect health, which is important for people dealing with chronic conditions.”

Martire said it’s important to learn more about how and why symptoms of chronic disease are exacerbated. People with osteoarthritis in their knees who experience greater pain become disabled more quickly, and people with diabetes that isn’t controlled have a greater risk for developing complications.

The researchers said that—while previous research has shown a connection between satisfying marriages and better health, both physically and psychologically—there has been little research into how day-to-day experiences impact those with chronic illness.

“We study chronic illnesses, which usually involve daily symptoms or fluctuations in symptoms,” Martire said. “Other studies have looked at the quality of someone’s marriage right now. But we wanted to drill down and examine how positive or negative interactions with your spouse affect your health from day-to-day.”

Data from two groups of participants were used for the study. One group comprised 145 patients with osteoarthritis in the knee, as well as their spouses. The other included 129 patients with type 2 diabetes and their husbands or wives.

Participants in both groups kept daily diaries about their moods, how severe their symptoms were, and whether their interactions with their spouse were positive or negative. The participants in the arthritis and diabetes groups kept their diaries for 22 and 24 days, respectively.

The researchers found that within both groups of participants, patients were in a worse mood on days when they felt more tension than usual with their spouse, which in turn led to greater pain or severity of symptoms.

Additionally, the researchers found that within the group with arthritis, the severity of the patient’s pain also had an effect on tensions with their spouse the following day. When they had greater pain, they were in a worse mood and had greater tension with their partner the next day.

“This almost starts to suggest a cycle where your marital interactions [are characterized by increased tension], you feel like your symptoms are more severe, and the next day you have more marital tension again,” Martire said. “We didn’t find this effect in the participants with diabetes, which may just be due to differences in the two diseases.”

Martire said the results — recently published in the journal Annals of Behavioral Medicine — could potentially help create interventions targeted at helping couples with chronic diseases.

This work was supported by the National Institute on Aging.

Research contact: kej5009@psu.edu

This year’s hurricane season: 2-5 major storms likely on East and Gulf coasts

May 17, 2018

Following one of the worst hurricane seasons in U.S. history in 2017—with catastrophic damage caused by 17 named storms that cut a swath through Texas, Florida and the Caribbean—the nation now is looking at a “normal to above normal” hurricane probability for 2018, based on forecasts by the Hurricane Genesis & Outlook (HUGO) Project at Coastal Carolina University released earlier this month.

Indeed, HUGO believes that there is a high probability of landfall on both the U.S. East and Gulf coasts between June 1 and November 30, according to its extended range forecast for the North Atlantic.

Based on climate factors available in April, HUGO predicts that there will be a range of:

  • 11 to 18 named tropical storms (with 15 being the GHurrmost likely),
  • 5 to 9 tropical storms becoming hurricanes (with 7 most likely), and
  • 2 to 5 of those becoming major hurricanes.

The most probable scenario calls for at least one hurricane landfall on the East Coast and at least one hurricane landfall on the Gulf Coast during the 2018 season.

The second most likely scenario is that no hurricanes will make landfall on either coast. The third most likely possibility is that two hurricanes will make landfall on the Atlantic East Coast, as well as two on the Gulf Coast.

Updated outlooks will be released later in the season, as more observational climate data become available. Past HUGO outlook forecasts have proven to be highly accurate.

In addition to the seasonal outlook, the model system predicts the track, intensity, surge and the inundation and flooding potential of an incoming hurricane seven days out. The HUGO model system is updated daily until the hurricane makes landfall, providing specific data on probabilistic storm surge and inundation including time, location and statistical representations of expected water depth along the coastline.

Research contact: lpietraf@coastal.edu

Juice cleanses: Less about health and more about image

May 16, 2018

It’s nearly bikini season in North America—and 58% of U.S. women are convinced that the best way to look like “a tall drink of water” at the beach would be to try a juice cleanse, based on findings of a recent poll by Civic Science.

However, interestingly enough, women also comprise 63% of those who already have done a juice cleanse—but say they will never repeat the experience.

Could juice cleanse expectations and the actual experience be two very different things? That could be a possibility, especially given the fact that only 3% of U.S .adults do juice cleanses regularly. Clearly, this activity appeals to a very specific crowd.

So who are these regular juice cleansers, how are they different from those who haven’t done one, but are interested—and what could be getting in the way of more U.S. adults jumping on the juice cleanse bandwagon?

Given the inflated price tag attached to most cleanses, the Civic Science researchers started with a look at income. Of those who juice regularly, 49% make more than $100,000 a year, confirming the notion that juice cleanses are far from cheap. However, that still leaves 35% who regularly cleanse and make under $50,000 a year.

Next, the pollsters also asked whether “juicers” generally were more interested than others in eating a healthful diet. Not exactly. In fact, fully 34% of those who have never participated in a cleanse (and have no desire to do so) actually think they already are healthy eaters.

And, in an unexpected twist, 44% of regular juice cleansers say they do not eat healthfully because they don’t have time, or it’s too much work.For this group, the ease of reaching into the fridge and grabbing the next bottle of juice is something they can commit to.

But, could toting that bottle of juice during the day be more about carrying the juice to create a certain (high-income level) image, than about drinking the juice to experience health benefits? While Civic Science isn’t judgmental, the data could indicate that this is the case.

What’s more, the pollsters found that there are also some interesting distinctions between juice cleansers and non-juice cleansers when it comes to visiting the doctor. They discovered that 53% who have not yet tried a cleanse, but plan to, see their doctors once or twice annually.

Just out of curiosity, Civic Science compared the juice cleanse question to a question regarding experience with elective cosmetic or weight-loss surgery.

Their instincts were correct: 39% of regular juice cleansers have had elective surgery for aesthetic or weight-loss purposes, while 35% of those interested in juice cleanses have not had a cosmetic or weight loss surgery, but would like to one day.

This aspiration aspect, combined with the fact that Millennials comprise 56% of regular juice cleansers, pointed the researchers toward the conclusion that the juice cleanse might be more about image than health, after all.

While price is one factor that can inhibit interested individuals from trying out a juice cleanse, for those who are committed, the benefits may be less about adopting a healthy lifestyle and more about looking the part.

Research contact: laurnie@civicscience.com

British public is taken with Meghan Markle

May 15, 2018

Do you take this woman? The British public has said a resounding “yes” to the union of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, based on findings of a survey by Opinium Research’s Monarchy Tracker and released by the International Business Times on May 12.

Britain’s Royal Family will welcome an American member on Saturday, May 19, at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, at about noon local time. Kensington Palace confirmed that Thomas Markle, Meghan’s father, will walk her down the aisle. However, the bride will arrive at the venue in a car accompanied by her mother.

After the “I dos,” all 600 guests will attend a lunchtime reception at St George’s Hall, which is being hosted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Later that evening, 200 guests are being invited to the private reception at Frogmore House given by The Prince of Wales, Harry’s father and the next in the line of succession.

Based on survey results, fully 56% of the British people believe that the “Suits” actress is a good addition to the family and 40% have a favorable opinion of the future royal.

“The increase in approval for Meghan Markle this year far outweighs that seen by any Royal Family member, largely through winning over those who were previously unaware of her,” Priya Minhas of Opinium research told The Express.

“And, perhaps more importantly, she has retained this popularity for over six months,” she continued. “And that is not always a given considering the sustained level of press attention that she has garnered.”

Despite the couple’s increasing popularity, 53% of the respondents admitted that they would not watch the royal wedding coverage next week. Only 38% plan to do so.

In the United States, the first footage will be available from CBS This Morning, which airs at 4:00 a.m. on the East Coast. NBC will transport its entire Today show to Windsor for its coverage, beginning at 4:30 a.m.; and ABC News and Good Morning America will begin at 5:00 a.m.

Research contact: @OpiniumResearch

Coming clean: How often should you shower?

May 14, 2018

How often do you get all lathered up? Most Americans “come clean” by showering or bathing almost on a daily basis—which is, according to a Euromonitor International poll, the global average as well.

However, we are not as squeaky clean as we think, compared to some of our compadres worldwide. For example in Mexico, the Middle East, and Australia, eight showers a week have become the norm.

And closer to the Equator—in Colombia and Brazil—that number goes even higher, to 10-12 showers a week, respectively.

Meanwhile, people living in China, Japan and the United Kingdom bathe just a little less frequently, turning the tap on about five times a week.

That’s a pretty good level of hygiene worldwide, we all would agree. But, according to Euromonitor, there still are major discrepancies when you look at how much actual washing actually goes on in the shower.

For example, the researchers say, most people do not wash their hair during every shower. In the United States, we only shampoo an average of four times a week.

And that’s okay, experts agree: Speaking to the site WebMD, Carolyn Goh, MD, assistant clinical professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, advised that only a small group needs to shampoo daily, including those with very fine hair, those who exercises (and sweat) frequently, and those who live in very humid places.

What’s more, surprisingly enough, those in the know are not washing their entire bodies: “I tell patients who shower daily not to lather their whole bodies,” Dr. C. Brandon Mitchell, assistant professor of Dermatology at George Washington University, told Time magazine in 2016. “Hit your pits, butt and groin, which are the areas that produce strong-smelling secretions. The rest of your body doesn’t need much soaping.”

In fact, there such a thing as over-bathing, which can leave you at risk for some health issues, the same story in Time reported.

“Dry, cracked skin opens up gaps that infection-causing germs can slip through. That means frequent bathing when your skin is already dry—and especially as you age, when your skin becomes thinner and less hydrated—may increase the odds of coming down with something,” Dr. Elaine Larson, an infectious disease expert and associate dean for Research at Columbia University School of Nursing, told the weekly magazine.

Finally, you may want to reconsider how long you stay in your shower, if you live in an urban area, according to Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of Dermatology at UC San Diego. He told The New York Times, “If you’re on city water and you don’t have a filter on your shower, showering is a major source of exposure to carcinogenic chlorination byproducts such as trihalomethanes (THMs). THMs are associated with bladder cancer, gestational and developmental problems.”

He points out that studies have shown that showering and bathing are important routes of exposure to these carcinogenics—and may actually represent more of your total exposure than the water you drink.

Research contact: info@euromonitor.com