Museum to Visitors: Please Do Touch, for Scientific Purposes

Photo Credit: The Walters Art Museum, Modest Venus, or Venus Pudica, a 10.5-inch bronze statuette cast around 1500 by an anonymous Italian artist, is one of the pieces replicated for museum goers to caress for science at an exhibition in Baltimore.

Newswise — It’s the first rule at any art museum: Do not touch the artifacts. Except at this museum and at this one time.

At the “Touch and the Enjoyment of Sculpture: Exploring the Appeal of Renaissance Statuettes” exhibition — at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore through April 15 — visitors are invited to disregard that decree and to hold, stroke and even caress the pieces.

In fact, handling the objects d’arts — replicas of famous 16th century statuettes held by the Walters — is one of the reasons for the exhibition, explains neuroscientist Steven Hsiao, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute. The institute is partnering with the Walters on the show, the fourth in a series of projects between the museum and Johns Hopkins.

“We’re challenging people to think about why physical contact with works of art can be so satisfying,” says Hsiao, whose work includes exploring many aspects of humans’ sense of touch. “In fact, as people browse the exhibition, we will be asking them to react to what they are seeing and feeling.”

The installation incorporates 12 works of art from the Walters collection, along with 22 replicas for visitors to touch and rate, providing data for ongoing research.

The project melds the research interests of Hsiao, who specializes in many facets of touch, and those of Joaneath Spicer, the Walters’ curator of Renaissance and Baroque art, who studies the Renaissance penchant for collecting and commissioning small statuettes and other luxury goods that were satisfying to touch and handle.

But the special appeal of this exhibition lies in the opportunity to join in comparative experiments with the statuettes (well, the replicas, actually).

“We’ll be asking visitors to handle them and to tell us what sculptures they prefer and to rate how they like sculptures that have been modified in their shape and texture. This exhibition allows us to dissect why some objects feel better than others” Hsiao says.

Visitors will register these preferences, and other reactions, on Apple iPads, and visitors will be able to see a dynamic display of their responses. The data will be used in Hsaio’s and Spicer’s research on tactile aesthetics. (Visitors will not be handling the original 16th century artwork; they will only be permitted to touch replica art exclusively fashioned for the show.)

The Walters Art Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays and is located at 600 North Charles St. in Baltimore.

Related links:
Steven Hsiao:
http://neuroscience.jhu.edu/StevenHsiao.php

The Johns Hopkins Brain Science Institute:
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/brainscience/

The Walters Art Museum:
http://thewalters.org/eventscalendar/eventdetails.aspx?e=2207

Released: Released: 1/23/20

Source: Johns Hopkins

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/museum-to-visitors-please-do-touch-for-scientific-purposes

Sleep Preserves and Enhances Bad Emotional Memories

Photo Credit: UMass Amherst, Based on a recent study that included polysomnography, neuroscientists at UMass Amherst suggest that emotional memories are protected by the brain during sleep.

Newswise — AMHERST, Mass. – A recent study by sleep researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst is the first to suggest that a person’s emotional response after witnessing an unsettling picture or traumatic event is greatly reduced if the person stays awake afterward, and that sleep strongly “protects” the negative emotional response. Further, if the unsettling picture is viewed again or a flashback memory occurs, it will be just as upsetting as the first time for those who have slept after viewing compared to those who have not.

UMass Amherst neuroscientists Rebecca Spencer, Bengi Baran and colleagues say this response could make sense from an evolutionary point of view, because it would provide survival value to our ancestors by preserving very negative emotions and memories of life-threatening situations and offer a strong incentive to avoid similar occasions in the future.

“Today, our findings have significance for people with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, or those asked to give eye-witness testimony in court cases,” Spencer says.

“We found that if you see something disturbing, let’s say an accident scene, and then you have a flashback or you’re asked to look at a picture of the same scene later, your emotional response is greatly reduced, that is you’ll find the scene far less upsetting, if you stayed awake after the original event than if you slept. It’s interesting to note that it is common to be sleep-deprived after witnessing a traumatic scene, almost as if your brain doesn’t want to sleep on it.” The study is reported in the current issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

In their experiments involving 68 healthy female and 38 male (total 106) young adults between 18 and 30 years old, Spencer and colleagues set out to explore, among other ideas, an assumption that the well-known enhancement of memory that occurs during sleep is tied to a change in emotional response to the memory.

Further, in a subset of subjects the neuroscientists used a polysomnograph with electrodes attached to subjects’ scalps as they slept, to investigate whether dreaming or other brain processes that occur during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep periods may play a role in the processing of emotions.

In the two-phase experiment, participants were shown pictures on a computer screen and asked to rate each one as sad or happy as well as their own response as calm or excited to each, on a scale of 1-9. The researchers counted sad-happy ratings and calm-excited of 1-3 as negative images and 4-6 as neutral, so each participant’s overall “emotional value” score was unique.

Twelve hours later, participants were shown a mix of new and already viewed pictures and asked whether they had ever seen the picture before and to rate each again on the two scales. They all kept a sleep diary and took a sleep quality index test, as well.

Session timing was arranged so that 82 subjects were assigned either to a Sleep group who saw the first set of pictures late in the day and the second group of pictures after they had slept overnight or to a Wake group, who saw the first set of pictures in the morning and the second set later the same day. To rule out a possible circadian effect on attention, 24 different subjects followed the same routine but with only a 45-minute break between the two phases. Polysomnography data were collected from 25 participants in the Sleep group in their own homes overnight.

Spencer and colleagues found that sleep had significant effects on participants’ memories and feelings. Recognition memory for the pictures was better following sleep compared with wake.

Importantly, the researchers found that contrary to previous assumptions that sleep might soften negative emotional effects of a disturbing event, a period of sleep was associated with participants’ maintaining the strength of their initial negative feelings compared to a period of wakefulness. This suggests that sleep’s effect on memory and emotion are independent, the authors state.

The researchers found no significant relationship between REM sleep time and participants’ accuracy in recalling whether they had seen a picture in both the first and second phases of the study. As such, how sleep protects the emotional response and the emotional memory are unanswered questions. “Sleep may, in fact, be protective of the emotional salience of a stimulus just as sleep protects the emotional memory,” the authors point out.

This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the UMass Amherst Commonwealth Honors College.

Released: 1/16/2012

Source:  University of Massachusetts Amherst

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/sleep-preserves-and-enhances-bad-emotional-memories

Time for a Change? Johns Hopkins Scholars Say Calendar Needs Serious Overhaul

Newswise — Researchers at The Johns Hopkins University have discovered a way to make time stand still — at least when it comes to the yearly calendar.

Using computer programs and mathematical formulas, Richard Conn Henry, an astrophysicist in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, and Steve H. Hanke, an applied economist in the Whiting School of Engineering, have created a new calendar in which each new 12-month period is identical to the one which came before, and remains that way from one year to the next in perpetuity.

Under the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar, for instance, if Christmas fell on a Sunday in 2012 (and it would), it would also fall on a Sunday in 2013, 2014 and beyond. In addition, under the new calendar, the rhyme “30 days hath September, April, June and November,” would no longer apply, because September would have 31 days, as would March, June and December. All the rest would have 30. (Try creating a rhyme using that.)

“Our plan offers a stable calendar that is absolutely identical from year to year and which allows the permanent, rational planning of annual activities, from school to work holidays,” says Henry, who is also director of the Maryland Space Grant Consortium. “Think about how much time and effort are expended each year in redesigning the calendar of every single organization in the world and it becomes obvious that our calendar would make life much simpler and would have noteworthy benefits.”

Among the practical advantages would be the convenience afforded by birthdays and holidays (as well as work holidays) falling on the same day of the week every year. But the economic benefits are even more profound, according to Hanke, an expert in international economics, including monetary policy.

“Our calendar would simplify financial calculations and eliminate what we call the ‘rip off’ factor,’” explains Hanke. “Determining how much interest accrues on mortgages, bonds, forward rate agreements, swaps and others, day counts are required. Our current calendar is full of anomalies that have led to the establishment of a wide range of conventions that attempt to simplify interest calculations. Our proposed permanent calendar has a predictable 91-day quarterly pattern of two months of 30 days and a third month of 31 days, which does away with the need for artificial day count conventions.”

According to Hanke and Henry, their calendar is an improvement on the dozens of rival reform calendars proffered by individuals and institutions over the last century.

“Attempts at reform have failed in the past because all of the major ones have involved breaking the seven-day cycle of the week, which is not acceptable to many people because it violates the Fourth Commandment about keeping the Sabbath Day,” Henry explains. “Our version never breaks that cycle.”

Henry posits that his team’s version is far more convenient, sensible and easier to use than the current Gregorian calendar, which has been in place for four centuries – ever since 1582, when Pope Gregory altered a calendar that was instituted in 46 BC by Julius Caesar.

In an effort to bring Caesar’s calendar in synch with the seasons, the pope’s team removed 11 days from the calendar in October, so that Oct. 4 was followed immediately by Oct. 15. This adjustment was necessary in order to deal with the same knotty problem that makes designing an effective and practical new calendar such a challenge: the fact that each Earth year is 365.2422 days long.

Hanke and Henry deal with those extra “pieces” of days by dropping leap years entirely in favor of an extra week added at the end of December every five or six years. This brings the calendar in sync with the seasonal changes as the Earth circles the sun.

In addition to advocating the adoption of this new calendar, Hanke and Henry encourage the abolition of world time zones and the adoption of “Universal Time” (formerly known as Greenwich Mean Time) in order to synchronize dates and times worldwide, streamlining international business.

“One time throughout the world, one date throughout the world,” they write in a January 2012 Global Asia article about their proposals. “Business meetings, sports schedules and school calendars would be identical every year. Today’s cacophony of time zones, daylight savings times and calendar fluctuations, year after year, would be over. The economy — that’s all of us — would receive a permanent ‘harmonization’ dividend.”

View a website about the Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar here:
http://henry.pha.jhu.edu/calendar.html

Read Hanke and Henry’s January 2012 Global Asia article about calendar reform here:
http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=13940

Released: Released: 12/27/2011

Source: Johns Hopkins

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/time-for-a-change-johns-hopkins-scholars-say-calendar-needs-serious-overhaul

Experts Offer 15 Predictions for 2012

Newswise — For the 31st consecutive year, The University of Alabama Office of Media Relations offers predictions from faculty experts for the coming year. So, what’s ahead for 2012? Look for President Barack Obama to face, and defeat, a surprise Republican nominee, online doomsday groups to spike, the Occupy Movement to re-emerge, fuel prices to remain unstable and much more.

Expanded versions of each of these guesses is available atwww.uanews.ua.edu

Obama to Battle, Beat Late-Entry Republican

President Obama is likely to win re-election in 2012, but his Republican opponent will not be one of the current candidates battling one another in the early primaries, a University of Alabama political scientist predicts. “I think there are a lot of Republicans who are not going be satisfied with the best of who’s out there now,” says Dr. Richard C. Fording, chair of the UA political science department. “They don’t have a candidate who can beat Obama,” he says. Although a new candidate – for example, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, businessman Donald Trump or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie — might be behind in organization and fund-raising, she or he would avoid the scathing political battles under way in the debates and in the Iowa caucuses.

Cuba May be State’s Next Big Customer

The Alabama business community needs to practice its Spanish, and that suggestion has nothing to do with the state’s controversial immigration law. Dr. Jase Ramsey, an assistant professor of marketing at The University of Alabama, predicts the United States will continue to ease trade sanctions on Cuba and, as early as this time next year, some U.S. businesses will visit the island nation on state-sponsored trade missions to size up market potential. “Alabama’s proximity to the Communist country makes our businesses especially attractive for potential foreign direct investment into Cuba,” Ramsey says. “A key component that will determine who gets access to Cuba is prior relationships with the Castro regime and with Cuban politicians.

Online Doomsday Groups to Spike

Warnings about apocalyptic cataclysms in 2012 potentially will serve as a catalyst for Internet hysteria, a University of Alabama psychology professor predicts. According to some scholars, the ancient Mayan calendar predicts that the world will end in 2012. Figures in popular culture and the Internet are taking this prediction seriously. The result could be panic on the level of the Y2K scare of 1999, says Dr. Rosanna Guadagno, assistant professor of psychology. “We’re going to see a lot of doomsday groups grow online,” says Guadagno, an Internet scholar. “If one of them gets big enough, we’ll see hysteria spreading over the Internet. Then we’ll see the kind of crazy things some people were doing on New Year’s Eve in 1999.”

New App to Displace Craigslist, Professor Predicts

Application software, also known as an application or an “app,” seems ubiquitous these days. The computer software is designed to help users perform specific tasks. You can play games, learn guitar, set up a workout program, shop and a jillion other things. Dr. Craig E. Armstrong, assistant professor of management at The University of Alabama, says he expects someone to create, within the next year, an “app” that performs “Craigslist” functions for the exchange of goods and services. Need to find someone to paint your house? Check the app. Want to earn some extra money by applying a skill you have? Check the app. The app platform will displace Craigslist because it will enable transactions with less traction and allow buyers and sellers to create reputations, Armstrong says.

Social Media to Serve as New Opinion Polls

One of the biggest changes from the 2008 presidential election to the 2012 election is the increase in social media outlets and usage. Dr. Kristen Heflin, assistant professor of advertising and public relations in The University of Alabama’s College of Communication and Information Sciences, says she expects the public to have more access to candidates than ever before – and that access will include the good, the bad and the ugly. “Social media will continue to serve as an echo chamber for candidate gaffes, as we’ve already seen …” Heflin says. “Social media will be mined for information on public opinion. Social media buzz will serve as the new opinion polls. News organizations will base their stories off of social media buzz.”

Has the ‘Occupy’ Movement Faded? Don’t Bet on It

As Occupy encampments around the country seem to be fading as we move into a new year, some analysts and media personalities are criticizing the movement for lack of focus and mission, and they are voicing the inevitable predictions of doom and failure for the movement. But, not so fast, my friend, says Dr. Gary Hoover, a UA economics professor. He says the movement only appears to have gone dormant in places like New York and Oakland where demonstrators were forced by police to leave their staging grounds. “ … I predict that we have not heard the last of the Occupy Movement. In fact, I think they will be heard again and re-emerge on the political and economic landscape more determined and forceful than ever.”

Female Running Mate May Determine Election

Whereas many eyes were on presidential candidates in the final days of 2011, one University of Alabama professor believes the vice presidential race is the one to watch. Dr. Janis Edwards, associate professor of communication studies, says the VP slot may actually determine the outcome of the 2012 presidential election. “On the Republican side, none of the current candidates is likely to beat Obama, despite his perceived weakness,” Edwards says. “Romney is not popular, nor a good campaigner. Gingrich will produce buyer’s remorse. Therefore, the partner on the ticket could be very meaningful for Republican momentum, especially if there is great appeal to women voters.” Edwards says there is an outside chance that current vice president Joe Biden could assume the role of secretary of state, opening up the vice presidential spot on the Democrat side.

Stressful 2011 Could Make for a Depressed 2012

2011 has been a turbulent one for the people of Alabama, and a professor in The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing thinks many people will feel the effects mentally during 2012. “I predict an increase in the number of patients seeking care for a new-onset of depression, anxiety and mental health conditions,” says Dr. Amy Bigham, assistant professor of nursing. Traumatic events can cause anxiety, stress and depression later, once the initial shock wears down. “The year 2011 was stressful for many Alabamians due to changes in the economy, increases in job losses and natural disasters,” says Bigham.

Year of Natural Disaster to Bring Changes in 2012

The United States was particularly hard hit with a string of natural disasters in the past year: unprecedented summer heat and drought in the Southwest, deadly tornadoes, a massive blizzard in the Northeast, major river floods in the Midwest, an earthquake on the East Coast followed by a hurricane that caused massive flooding. So we can expect municipalities around the nation to look for ways to mitigate losses caused by natural disasters. “The U.S. can no longer afford to ignore the management of catastrophic losses at the state and federal levels,” said Dr. William Rabel, professor of finance and head of the insurance program at The University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. “They will have to identify and evaluate exposures and then select the optimum tools for controlling and financing losses. “Every state and the federal government will need a chief risk officer.”

One of Least Productive Years in Congressional History Ahead

The 2012 congressional elections will see Republicans hold onto the U.S. House of Representatives and Democrats hold onto the Senate, a University of Alabama political scientist predicts. But, new faces may emerge as Republican and Democratic candidates challenge incumbents in primaries. “This will be a status-quo election for Congress in terms of the partisan breakdown,” says Dr. Stephen Borrelli, professor of political science. Borrelli also predicts continued stalemate in Congress as the presidential election approaches, particularly if unemployment continues to fall. “You’re going to see one of the least productive years in the history of Congress,” Borrelli says. “It will be all they can do to keep the government running …”

Tablets, Other Mobile Devices to Become More Evident in Hospitals

iPads aren’t just on little Bobby and Susie’s list – medical workers also have an iPad or other tablet device at the top of their holiday gift-wish list. Dr. Heather D. Carter-Templeton, in The University of Alabama Capstone College of Nursing, says there will be a surge in the use of tablets and mobile devices in the hospital and community health clinical settings in 2012. “Recent studies have found rapid growth in the use of mobile technology among health-care professionals, such as physicians and nurses,” she says. “They’re small, easily portable and can carry a tremendous amount of evidence-based information accessible at the point-of-care.” However, the industry must adjust, she says. “The type of work, the physical space of the nursing unit and who will be using the devices needs to be considered when planning for the use of mobile technology within the clinical setting.”

Middle East Unrest, Sputtering Economies to Keep Fuel Prices Unstable

Fuel prices will remain unstable in 2012 as pressure from all sides influence the cost of crude oil, according to a University of Alabama engineering professor who follows the petroleum markets. A decrease in demand the last month or so of 2011 slightly reversed jumps in gasoline prices in the United States, but there is too much political uncertainty ahead to believe that should continue, says Dr. Peter Clark, professor of chemical engineering. If anything, demand in the U.S. should increase with the slow-recovering economy and the annual price spike from the summer thirst for fuel. “Volatility in the oil market translates to volatility in gasoline prices,” Clark says. Continued unrest in the Middle East and instability among European economies, combined with a recovering economy at home, could mean higher prices at the fuel pump in 2012, he says.

Health Care Will Continue to be a Pain in the Head

If you think the health-care reform debate has been intense and confusing so far, take two aspirins and try to follow it through 2012. “I think that in 2012, Americans will begin to seriously debate the entire health-care question,” says Dr. William Rabel, professor of finance and head of the insurance program at the Culverhouse College of Commerce. “Not just how it is financed, but how it is created and delivered as well. Whether Obamacare is upheld by the Supreme Court or not, it is only a transitional phase as we grope our way to a health-care system that will have substantial differences from the one we know today,” Rabel says.

Occupy Protesters Unlikely to See Increase in Court Victories

Recent events surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement have led to questions regarding the First Amendment rights of citizens. Dr. Matthew D. Bunker, Reese Phifer Professor of Journalism, says protesters could expect mixed results in litigation. “Public places such as parks and streets have traditionally been considered public forums for the expression of ideas, but the government retains the ability to impose reasonable restrictions based on the time, place or manner of the speech,” Bunker says. “That means that courts will often side with local officials who try to regulate tents and 24-hour campsites for reasons of public health and safety.” For media members covering the events, Bunker says results were likely to be similar but that the courts might see an increase in individual actions for false arrest or excessive force.

Low Interest Rates Ain’t Gonna Last

So, if interest rates are at record low levels, it’s pretty safe to predict that they are going to increase, right? “Right,” says Dr. Benton Gup, professor of finance at The University of Alabama, “but let’s not make the same mistakes that led to the failure and consolidation of thousands of financial institutions in the 1980s. Simply stated, when market rates of interest were low in the 1970s, lenders borrowed short-term funds at low rates and made long-term fixed rate mortgage loans at slightly higher rates.” Gup says the important point is that mortgage lenders should not make long-term fixed rate loans unless they can hedge their interest rate risk or match the maturity of their assets and liabilities. So, look for interest rates to go up but in a more constrained lending environment.

Released: 12/20/2011

Source: University of Alabama

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/experts-offer-15-predictions-for-2012

New Website Lets Us Examine Our Automatic or Unconscious Associations About Mental Illness

Newswise — Nearly half of all people in the United States will experience a mental illness at some point during their lives, yet talking about mental illness remains taboo for many. A new website, Project Implicit Mental Health, allows visitors to examine and gain insight into their associations about mental health topics that may exist outside their conscious awareness or conscious control.

Visitors can discover their automatic associations relating to anxiety, depression, alcohol, eating disorders and persons with mental illness, using tasks such as the Implicit Association Test. The website is a collaboration among researchers at the University of Virginia, Harvard University and University of Washington.

The website provides users with opportunities to try one or more measures of automatic associations relevant to mental health. The site then gives feedback on what each measure reveals. The site is free, has no advertising, and each measure can be completed in less than 10 minutes. The measures do not diagnose a mental health difficulty and the site does not offer therapy, but does offer links to many resources for seeking mental health help. Project psychologists use data from the tests, which does not identify participants, for research into mental illness associations.

Automatic associations are evaluations that occur rapidly and are very difficult to consciously control. These associations can differ from our slower, more intentional evaluations either because we do not have access to the automatic associations in memory, so cannot consciously reflect on them, or because we may not be comfortable sharing these associations, which can sometimes feel embarrassing or socially unacceptable.

Substantial research evidence already links change in automatic associations to how much somebody will improve in treatment for anxiety disorders, and automatic associations can even help identify individuals at risk for alcohol problems and suicidal behavior.

Researchers use the Implicit Association Test to assess mental associations that may be different than what people know or say about themselves. Research suggests that people sometimes have implicit belief systems that contradict their declared beliefs. These implicit beliefs can affect actions, such as how they view people with mental illnesses, including themselves.

“People may not always be able to tell us about their mental health difficulties, either because they lack insight into the problem or do not feel comfortable reporting such sensitive information,” said Bethany Teachman, principal investigator of the Project Implicit Mental Health site and an associate professor of psychology in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences. “With this site we may improve our ability to identify and help people who are suffering by including automatic measures of mental illness to complement what people are willing and able to report.”

The site uses the latest psychological science to raise awareness about the role of automatic associations in mental health issues. Many forms of mental illness are characterized by ways of responding that seem to happen very rapidly and can feel uncontrollable. Thus, learning about automatic associations (which capture fast and relatively uncontrollable ways of processing information) may help researchers better understand why mental illnesses develop, what maintains them, and how to best reduce the suffering associated with mental illness.

“We want to share some of the new tools that the science of clinical psychology has to offer, and we are hopeful that this website will help raise awareness about, and reduce, the stigma associated with mental illness and its treatment,” said Matthew Nock, a co-director of Project Implicit Mental Health and professor of psychology at Harvard University. “Learning about one’s own automatic associations may help reduce the tendency for people to hold negative attitudes toward mentally ill individuals – such as exaggerated beliefs that mentally ill people are dangerous or untreatable.”

Project Implicit Mental Health is the newest site for Project Implicit, an international collaboration of researchers investigating thoughts and feelings that occur outside of awareness or control. Visitors to the Project Implicit websites have now completed more than 13 million tests of automatic associations since it was launched in 1998.

“Mental health is the cutting edge for research with automatic measures,” said Brian Nosek, director of Project Implicit and a U.Va. associate professor of psychology. “Many mental health challenges occur despite the person’s intentions and efforts to think, feel or behave otherwise. Automatic measures offer an opportunity to investigate how unintended thought processes contribute to dysfunctional behavior.”

Released: 12/14/2011

Source: University of Virginia

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/website-lets-us-examine-our-automatic-or-unconscious-associations-about-mental-illness

Resolution Solution: How Making a Plan Can Help You Meet New Year’s Goals

When making New Year’s resolutions this year, committing to a specific plan for when and where you are going to accomplish each goal will make you more likely to succeed, says psychologist E.J. Masicampo. In a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, he found that committing to a specific plan to accomplish a goal not only makes it more likely to be done, but also gets it off your mind so you can think about other things.

Newswise — When making New Year’s resolutions this year, committing to a specific plan for when and where you are going to accomplish each goal will make you more likely to succeed, says a Wake Forest University psychology professor.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Assistant Professor E.J. Masicampo found that committing to a specific plan to accomplish a goal not only makes it more likely to be done, but also gets it off your mind so you can think about other things.

“Once a plan is made, we can stop thinking about that one goal,” says Masicampo, who studies goal setting and will power. “This frees our minds to focus on other tasks or simply enjoy the current moment.”

But, not just any plan will work, he says. “The ones that work specify exactly what you are going to do, including when and where you are going to do it.”

He describes four essential elements of a successful plan:

1. Specifies exactly what you’re going to do and in what situation (where and when)
2. Is under your control and not dependent on someone else’s actions
3. Includes specific opportunities to meet the goal in situations likely to occur
4. Focuses on a goal you are motivated to accomplish

Most importantly, he says, “You have to picture yourself carrying out your plan. That’s where the power of the plans lie, in imagining yourself completing the tasks.”

Imagining doing something has a similar effect on the brain as really doing it. Since keeping resolutions is often about creating new habits, this gives you a head start on developing the desired behavior.

“It’s all about making a habit out of the goal. A plan is like creating a habit ahead of time,” says Masicampo, “before you have actually done anything.”

This sort of planning works best for less complex goals. He suggests breaking down New Year’s resolutions into steps, so the overall goal can more likely be attained. Someone with a goal to lose weight, for example, should make “if, then” plans for specific situations that can help them accomplish the overall goal. “An ‘if, then’ plan pre-decides how you will act in a given situation,” Masicampo says. For example, if you visit a particular restaurant, then you will order a salad instead of the cheeseburger and onion rings. The plan gives you a cue to act. If you commit to the plan, all you have to do is wait for the cue. When the situation arises, you just do it because you already know what you’re going to do.

“Making a plan is like setting an alarm because you don’t have to think about it until the alarm sounds and then you’ll act.”

A typical person is juggling as many as 15 different goals at one time. Planning makes it possible to stop thinking about one goal until the planned time and place.

“Every time you make a plan, you tether a goal to a future context, and it can stop floating around in your head and distracting you from your other goals,” Masicampo says.

So, with good planning, this may be the year to check more than one New Year’s resolution off the list.

Released: 12/16/2011

Source: Wake Forest University

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/resolution-solution-how-making-a-plan-can-help-you-meet-new-year-s-goals

‘I Do…or Do I?’ Psychology Researcher Finds That Second-Guessing One’s Decisions Leads to Unhappiness

Newswise — You’re in search of a new coffee maker, and the simple quest becomes, well, an ordeal. After doing copious amounts of research and reading dozens of consumer reviews, you finally make a purchase, only to wonder: “Was this the right choice? Could I do better? What is the return policy?”

Reality check: Is this you?

If so, new research from Florida State University may shed some light on your inability to make a decision that you’ll be happy with.

Joyce Ehrlinger, an assistant professor of psychology, has long been fascinated with individuals identified among psychologists as “maximizers.” Maximizers tend to obsess over decisions — big or small — and then fret about their choices later. “Satisficers,” on the other hand, tend to make a decision and then live with it.

Happily.

Of course, there are shades of gray. In fact, there’s a whole continuum of ways people avoid commitment without really avoiding it.

Ehrlinger’s latest research on decision making was published in the peer-reviewed journal Personality and Individual Differences. The paper, “Failing to Commit: Maximizers Avoid Commitment in a Way That Contributes to Reduced Satisfaction,” was co-authored with her graduate student, doctoral candidate Erin Sparks, and colleague Richard Eibach, a psychology assistant professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. It examines whether “maximizers show less commitment to their choices than satisficers in a way that leaves them less satisfied with their choices.”

The paper, based on two studies of Florida State undergraduate volunteers, finds that the maximizers’ focus on finding the best option ultimately undermines their commitment to their final choices. As a result, the authors argue, “maximizers miss out on the psychological benefits of commitment,” leaving them less satisfied than their more contented counterparts, the satisficers.

Past research into the differences between maximizers and satisficers looked at how the two groups made choices differently and, more importantly, how the process itself varied. Ehrlinger’s research, however, looked at something else entirely: What happened after a choice was made?

“Because maximizers want to be certain they have made the right choice,” the authors contend, “they are less likely to fully commit to a decision.” And most likely, they are less happy in their everyday lives.

Whether being a maximizer is a central and stable part of the personality or simply a frame of mind remains unclear, but Ehrlinger hopes to isolate the cause of the behavior in future research.

“Current research is trying to understand whether they can change,” she said. “High-level maximizers certainly cause themselves a lot of grief.”

Over the years, Ehrlinger’s scholarly research has led her to study self-perception and accuracy and error in self-judgment. Her latest research into the ways maximizers avoid commitment is important for several reasons.

First, the differences between maximizers and satisficers may play a bigger role than previously thought in consumer decision making and purchasing. For example: “Maximizers get nervous when they see an ‘All Sales Are Final’ sign because it forces them to commit,” Ehrlinger said.

Also, a maximizer’s lack of contentment creates a lot of stress, so the trait could potentially have an enormous effect on health, Ehrlinger explained. It’s not just coffee-maker purchases they stress over — and second-guess themselves about — it’s also the big life decisions such as choosing a mate, buying a house or applying for a job.

Even after considerable deliberation before choosing a mate or a house, a high-level maximizer may still feel unhappy, even depressed, with his or her final decision.

“Identifying the ‘right’ choice can be a never-ending task (for a maximizer),” Ehrlinger and her co-authors write. “Feelings about which option is best can always change in the face of new information. Maximizers might be unable to fully embrace a choice because they cannot be absolutely certain they chose the best possible option.”

Released: 12/15/2011

Source: Florida State University

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/i-do-or-do-i-psychology-researcher-finds-that-second-guessing-one-s-decisions-leads-to-unhappiness

Science and Space…NASA’s Kepler Mission Confirms Its First Planet in Habitable Zone of Sun-like Star

This diagram compares our own solar system to Kepler-22, a star system containing the first "habitable zone" planet discovered by NASA's Kepler mission. Image credit: NASA/Ames/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Kepler mission has confirmed its first planet in the “habitable zone,” the region where liquid water could exist on a planet’s surface. Kepler also has discovered more than 1,000 new planet candidates, nearly doubling its previously known count. Ten of these candidates are near-Earth-size and orbit in the habitable zone of their host star. Candidates require follow-up observations to verify they are actual planets.

The newly confirmed planet, Kepler-22b, is the smallest yet found to orbit in the middle of the habitable zone of a star similar to our sun. The planet is about 2.4 times the radius of Earth. Scientists don’t yet know if Kepler-22b has a predominantly rocky, gaseous or liquid composition, but its discovery is a step closer to finding Earth-like planets.

Previous research hinted at the existence of near-Earth-size planets in habitable zones, but clear confirmation proved elusive. Two other small planets orbiting stars smaller and cooler than our sun recently were confirmed on the very edges of the habitable zone, with orbits more closely resembling those of Venus and Mars.

“This is a major milestone on the road to finding Earth’s twin,” said Douglas Hudgins, Kepler program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Kepler’s results continue to demonstrate the importance of NASA’s science missions, which aim to answer some of the biggest questions about our place in the universe.”

Kepler discovers planets and planet candidates by measuring dips in the brightness of more than 150,000 stars to search for planets that cross in front, or “transit,” the stars. Kepler requires at least three transits to verify a signal as a planet.

“Fortune smiled upon us with the detection of this planet,” said William Borucki, Kepler principal investigator at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif., who led the team that discovered Kepler-22b. “The first transit was captured just three days after we declared the spacecraft operationally ready. We witnessed the defining third transit over the 2010 holiday season.”

The Kepler science team uses ground-based telescopes and the Spitzer Space Telescope to review observations on planet candidates the spacecraft finds. The star field that Kepler observes in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra can only be seen from ground-based observatories in spring through early fall. The data from these other observations help determine which candidates can be validated as planets.

Kepler-22b is located 600 light-years away. While the planet is larger than Earth, its orbit of 290 days around a sun-like star resembles that of our world. The planet’s host star belongs to the same class as our sun, called G-type, although it is slightly smaller and cooler.

Of the 54 habitable zone planet candidates reported in February 2011, Kepler-22b is the first to be confirmed. This milestone will be published in The Astrophysical Journal.

The Kepler team is hosting its inaugural science conference at Ames Dec. 5-9, announcing 1,094 new planet candidate discoveries. Since the last catalog was released in February, the number of planet candidates identified by Kepler has increased by 89 percent and now totals 2,326. Of these, 207 are approximately Earth-size, 680 are super Earth-size, 1,181 are Neptune-size, 203 are Jupiter-size and 55 are larger than Jupiter.

The findings, based on observations conducted May 2009 to September 2010, show a dramatic increase in the numbers of smaller-size planet candidates.

Kepler observed many large planets in small orbits early in its mission, which were reflected in the February data release. Having had more time to observe three transits of planets with longer orbital periods, the new data suggest that planets one to four times the size of Earth may be abundant in the galaxy.

The number of Earth-size and super Earth-size candidates has increased by more than 200 and 140 percent since February, respectively.

There are 48 planet candidates in their star’s habitable zone. While this is a decrease from the 54 reported in February, the Kepler team has applied a stricter definition of what constitutes a habitable zone in the new catalog, to account for the warming effect of atmospheres, which would move the zone away from the star, out to longer orbital periods.

“The tremendous growth in the number of Earth-size candidates tells us that we’re honing in on the planets Kepler was designed to detect: those that are not only Earth-size, but also are potentially habitable,” said Natalie Batalha, Kepler deputy science team lead at San Jose State University in San Jose, Calif. “The more data we collect, the keener our eye for finding the smallest planets out at longer orbital periods.”

NASA’s Ames Research Center manages Kepler’s ground system development, mission operations and science data analysis. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., managed Kepler mission development.

Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corp. in Boulder, Colo., developed the Kepler flight system and supports mission operations with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore archives, hosts and distributes the Kepler science data. Kepler is NASA’s 10th Discovery Mission and is funded by NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s headquarters.

Released: December 5, 2011

Source: NASA

Related Link:

http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/kepler/news/kepscicon-briefing.html

Not Getting Enough Sleep? Popping a Pill Not the Best Way to Get Rid of Insomnia in the Long Term Suggests Sleep Experts

Royalty-free stock image, Taking a sleeping pill or drinking alcohol isn't the best way to get rid of insomnia in the long run, say Ryerson University sleep experts.

Newswise — Reaching for that sleeping pill or drinking alcohol may not be the most effective way for people with insomnia to get better sleep at night in the long run, suggests a new study by Ryerson University experts.

“Poor sleepers who engage in what we call ‘safety behaviours’, such as taking sleep medication or drinking alcohol, are actually disrupting their sleep in the long term,” said Heather Hood, a PhD student in clinical psychology and lead author of the study. “These safety behaviors are driven by unhelpful beliefs about sleep, but people suffering from insomnia or poor sleep feel they need to do these things to help them fall asleep.”

Hood, who has been trained in insomnia therapy, had conducted previous research on the connection between anxiety disorders and safety behaviour and was curious to see if there was a connection with insomnia as well. Ten to 15 per cent of Canadians suffer from clinical levels of insomnia.

The PhD student, along with Dr. Colleen Carney, her academic supervisor and director of Ryerson’s Sleep and Depression Laboratory, and Andrea Harris, another graduate psychology student, asked 397undergraduate students to complete an online survey that asked about their safety behaviours (routines they did to avoid being awake at night), how often they completed these nightly rituals and how much they believe they needed to complete these tasks to sleep. The student participants were also asked the degree to which they were afraid of not getting enough sleep and the extent to which they tried to avoid feeling tired.

The researchers found that 40 per cent of the students were poor sleepers and may be using safety behaviours that were not helping them.

“These students not only relied on these safety behaviors to help them, but truly believed that these routines were helping them sleep better at night. But, their strong beliefs in these behaviors were actually leading to more sleeping problems for them,” said Hood. “A poor sleeper or someone with insomnia may have many reasons for needing to do these things to help them sleep, but our study is questioning their beliefs if they are really helpful.”

The researchers also noted that poor sleepers felt they needed to rely on a certain task to help them sleep. With students who had no difficulty falling asleep, they often didn’t think of anything – they just fell asleep.

“People who are poor sleepers exert a ton of energy trying to force sleep,” said Carney. “Sleep is something that has to unfold naturally, so the more you engage in behaviours to try to sleep, the less likely you’re going to fall asleep.”

Carney, who is also a sleep disorder therapist, suggests cognitive behaviour therapy is a more effective, long-term solution for sleep sufferers. “In cognitive behaviour therapy, which is what we are studying at Ryerson, we are teaching patients to give up that fight, and work with their physiology to help them learn how to fall asleep naturally.

“Cognitive behaviour therapy is the front-line recommended therapy for chronic insomnia. It teaches you to adopt the habits of a good sleeper by changing your sleep habits and having a more relaxed attitude towards getting a good night’s rest.”

The study, Rethinking Safety Behaviors in Insomnia: Examining the Perceived Utility of Sleep-Related Safety Behaviors, will be published in the December issue of Behaviour Therapy. It was also supported by the Ontario government’s Early Researchers Award program, an award granted to promising university researchers, which Carney received in 2009.

Released: 11/30/2011

Source: Ryerson University

Related Link:

http://www.newswise.com/articles/not-getting-enough-sleep-popping-a-pill-not-the-best-way-to-get-rid-of-insomnia-in-the-long-term-suggests-ryerson-sleep-experts

Holiday Health Tips.. Staying Festively Flu-Free!

Newswise — The holidays are a time of parties, festive get-togethers, family reunions and catching up with old friends, all of which add up to a lot of personal contact. With the flu season and the holiday season converging, you may be tempted to put your holiday plans on hold. But you can still be a social butterfly and go to all those holiday parties – while taking precautions to stay healthy:

1. Cough in your sleeve
If you feel a cough or sneeze coming on, be sure to cough in your sleeve or the inside of your sweater or jacket to avoid spreading any microbes to people standing near you at a party. A cough or sneeze can contaminate the air and surfaces with virus up to two metres away.

2. Wash your hands
This is easily the most potent way to pick up and spread respiratory virus in the community. A sneeze sprays 2 metres; but caught it the hand it can be spread it to every door knob, handrail and push-button for the rest of the day. Always wash your hands after blowing your nose, using the washroom, and before you start digging into the sandwich tray or the appetizers at a party.

3. Do the air kiss
Greet your family and friends by giving them a hug and kissing the air near their cheek. If there’s mistletoe dangling between you and a friend, eschew the smack on the lips with a fake peck on the cheek instead.

4. Don’t use your fingers
As a party guest, use serving spoons or forks to put food on your plate instead of just reaching for it. As a party host, be sure to put out plenty of serving utensils and provide people with alternatives to reaching into bowls, such as creating individual servings of your offerings.

5. Get creative with your cups
When hosting a party, come up with fun ways of personalizing cups so there aren’t any mix-ups. Avoid serving beverages in their original containers for the same reason, so there aren’t multiple identical cans or bottles floating around.

6. Carry hand sanitizer with you
Remember: the last person to touch that doorknob, faucet, shopping cart handle or handrail may have contaminated it. Viruses can survive hours or even days on surfaces. If there isn’t a place to wash your hands nearby, use alcohol gel to sanitize your hands before you eat any food or touch your face, particularly your nose or mouth. Keep some in your purse or pocket for those holiday shopping excursions.

7. Attending a religious service
Try to keep between one to two metres away from other people and politely refuse to share the communion wine goblet. Instead of shaking hands or hugging, try greeting others with a friendly wave or the new health-inspired elbow greeting.

8. Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep weakens your immune system and makes you more susceptible to illness. Aim for a consistent six to eight hours of sleep every night, even during the busy season of shopping, planning and entertaining.

9. Sick? Stay away
If you feel like you are coming down with a cold or flu, stay at home until you feel better. There is always next year’s round of holiday shindigs to host or attend. Plus there are plenty of holiday specials on the television to give you a boost of merriment.

10. Cold or Flu
A cold can strike anytime but October to March is flu season. If your symptoms include a headache and high temperature, contact your health-care provider.  And get your flu shot!

Released: 11/25/2011

Source: Ryerson University

Related Link:

http://newswise.com/articles/staying-festively-flu-free2

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