Solutions to keeping your New Year’s resolution

December 30, 2009

It’s not exactly breaking news that most people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions; however, the findings of a new study reveal the reasons why most resolutions are unsuccessful.

Richard Wiseman, Ph.D, a psychology professor at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK, surveyed 700 people about their strategies for keeping their New Year’s resolutions. There were a variety of resolutions that included many of the classics, such as losing weight and quitting smoking. 78 percent of those surveyed failed to achieve their goal.

The Guardian reports that those who did not accomplish their goals were more likely to dwell on the negative consequences that would result from not keeping their resolution. They also used such strategies as relying only on will power or fantasizing about being successful.

Wiseman tells The Guardian:

“Many of these ideas are frequently recommended by self-help experts but our results suggest that they simply don’t work…If you are trying to lose weight, it’s not enough to stick a picture of a model on your fridge or fantasize about being slimmer.”

According to The UK Telegraph, the 22 percent who succeeded in accomplishing their New Year’s resolution broke it down into smaller steps and rewarded themselves for each step successfully achieved. They also employed other strategies, such as continually monitoring their progress and telling friends about the resolution.

Wiseman has ten suggestions to help you keep your New Year’s resolution. Here are the top 4:

1) Break your goal into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based.

2) Tell your friends and family about your goals, thus increasing the fear of failure and eliciting support.

3) Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim.

4) Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time. Treat any failure as a temporary set-back rather than a reason to give up altogether.

To see the rest of Wiseman’s list, visit his blog here.

The darker the liquor, the more painful the hangover

December 24, 2009

Here is some useful information for the upcoming holiday festivities. A new study finds that the type of liquor you drink could affect how severe your hangover will be the following morning. In addition to producing alcohol, the fermenting process creates a toxic byproduct called congeners. Typically darker liquors have a higher concentration of congeners and according to researchers, this leads to a more painful hangover. TIME reports this study found that bourbon has 37 times more congeners than vodka.

The study consisted of 95 people between the ages of 21 and 35 – all were heavy drinkers, but had no history of alcohol abuse. The study’s news release reports that the drinkers took part in one acclimatization night, followed by two nights of drinking. On one night, the participants were served either bourbon or vodka and kept drinking until their blood alcohol content reached .11. On the other night, they drank a placebo, randomized for both type of alcohol and order.

Those who drank bourbon reported that their hangover was more severe. However, after waiting until their blood alcohol content returned to zero, all of the drinkers regardless of alcohol type were two percent slower on a series of performance tasks than the non-drinking control group. Read the rest of this entry »

The Science News Cycle

December 18, 2009
Click the image to enlarge it.

A comic by Jorge Cham on PHD Comics.

Link to original image.

Prevalence of Nearsightedness Increases in US

December 16, 2009

A new study from the National Eye Institute finds that a considerably higher amount of Americans suffer from nearsightedness, also known as myopia, today than in the early 1970s.

The study, published in the Archives of Ophthalmology, collected data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to compare the percentage of Americans with myopia between ages 12-54 from 1971-1972, and then during the period of 1999-2004.

Reuters Health reports that from 1971 to 1972, it was found that about 25 percent of Americans had myopia. Between the period of 1999 to 2004, it increased to 42 percent, making the occurrence of myopia 66 percent higher than in the early 70s.

According to ABC News, the study did not examine the reasons for the increase; however, experts say the causes could include genetics, poor lighting, and an increase in the amount of “near work”, such as computer use and texting.  Another reason may be that people are not spending enough time outside where vision is stimulated by focusing on objects further away.

Lead study author, Dr. Susan Vitale, tells ABC News:

“It was really good to be able to confirm this was going on. While myopia is pretty easily treated, when a lot of people — 40 or 50 million people — it ends up costing the U.S. about $2 to $3 billion annually. So it’s an important problem if it’s on the increase.”

Vital Statistics

December 11, 2009

Study Suggests Changes to Exposure Method to Treat Fears and Anxiety

A new study published in the journal Nature, suggests that doctors can take advantage of the brain’s natural updating process in order to treat phobias and anxiety disorders.

Many therapists use an exposure method to treat these types of disorders; however, the findings suggest simple changes in the application of this therapy method such as the timing, could provide better and longer- lasting treatment.

Coffee won’t make you sober

This study, published in the journal Behavioral Neuroscience, finds that caffeine does decrease the sedative effects of alcohol, making you feel more awake and less intoxicated; however, it does not lessen the impaired decision-making caused by alcohol consumption.

The researchers of this study say the findings are especially important for young adults, who are the target audience for high-octane, alcohol-caffeine combination drinks.

50% Rise in Social Network Use Among Female Consumers

A new social media study by SheSpeaks, found that 86 percent of women subscribed to SheSpeaks are now using social networking – a 48 percent increase from last year.

It was also found that social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter have become drivers of purchase intent for women. Half of social media users reported they purchased a product based on information from social media sites, and 40 percent reported they used coupon codes found on these networks.

Online gambling can improve health in elderly

An increasing number of senior citizens are learning to use computers due to their desire to play online casino games. A study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and Penn State University finds that in a survey of approximately 1,000 elderly people, 70 percent have participated in online gambling in the past year. Learning new tasks is extremely beneficial for the brain’s health, especially in the elderly.

Alcohol may increase the risk for breast cancer recurrence

New research from Kaier Permanente, suggests that alcohol might increase the risk for recurrence of breast cancer.

The study followed 1, 897 women who were diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer from 1997 to 2000, and then assessed their alcohol intake over a period of eight years through a questionnaire. It was found that women who had three to four drinks a week were 34 percent more likely to have a recurrence of breast cancer than those who drank less than once a week.

Antidepressants may alter personality

December 9, 2009

New research finds that antidepressants may alter personality, making those who suffer from depression more extraverted and less neurotic. Tony Tang, PhD, lead study author and adjunct psychology professor at Northwestern University, says changes in these personality traits could help prevent future relapses of depression.

According to HealthDay, relapsing after receiving treatment for depression has been found to be a major problem for sufferers. Approximately two-thirds of patients relapse after stopping medication, while almost half of patients suffer a relapse while they are still in the process of being treated.

It has been thought that patient personality changes were the result of antidepressants improving mood. However, Science News reports that this new research suggests that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) have an independent effect on these personality traits which in turn helps to ease depression.

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, consisted of 240 adults with severe depressive disorders. The participants were divided intro three groups – 120 took Paxil (paroxetine), sixty received cognitive therapy, and the other sixty took a placebo. Personalities were assessed before, during and after the treatment had been completed. reports that the level of extraversion reported by the Paxil group was 3.5 times greater than the other two groups, and the reduction in neuroticism was seven times greater.

Lead researcher Tang says:

“People’s personalities actually do change and quite substantially when they go through these antidepressant treatments…In the past, we tended to dismiss the personality changes as a side effect or something not very important. But our study suggests it’s actually very important to treatment outcomes.”

2009 versus 1982 – which year really has the higher unemployment rate?

December 3, 2009

In October, the United States unemployment rate reached 10.2 percent. In November and December of 1982, the unemployment rate peaked at 10.8 percent. So which is worse – our current economy or the recession in the early 1980s? The answer lies in a Wall Street Journal article titled, “When Combined Data Reveal the Flaw of Averages”.

Looking at the percentage, the 1982 unemployment rate is higher; however, these percentages are misleading due to a statistical anomaly called Simpson’s Paradox. Cari Tuna, the author of the article, explains:

“Put simply, Simpson’s Paradox reveals that aggregated data can appear to reverse important trends in the numbers being combined.

The jobless rates for each educational subgroup are higher today, but the overall rate is lower because workers are more educated. There are more college graduates, who have the lowest unemployment rate. And there are fewer high-school dropouts, who have the highest unemployment rate.”

Tuna discusses the research of Princeton University economics professor Henry Farber who analyzed data from the Labor Department:

“The reason the current overall rate looks better: College graduates, who have the lowest unemployment rate, are now more than a third of the work force, compared with roughly 25% in 1983, says the Labor Department. Meanwhile, the share of high-school dropouts has shrunk to roughly 10% of the work force, from nearly 20% in 1983.

That means the paradox will persist until the total current unemployment rate surpasses the high watermark of the early 1980s. Economists don’t expect the November unemployment rate — due out Friday — to reach those heights.”

This anomaly doesn’t just exist in unemployment rates but in a variety of fields – including baseball batting averages, flight-delay data and university admission rates. For more examples of Simpson’s Paradox, check out the article here.


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