The cash diet

October 25, 2010

Have trouble controlling yourself at the grocery store? New research published in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests you should bring cash instead of a credit card. The study showed that paying with cash may lead to healthier food choices and less impulse purchases.

The research team analyzed the grocery shopping habits of 1,000 households over a period of six months, tracking what consumers bought and their method of payment. They found that people who paid with debit or credit cards were more likely to make impulsive food choices. These items also tended to be on the unhealthy side, HealthDay reports.

According to the study’s news release, follow-up studies showed that psychologically, paying in cash is more “painful”; therefore, this pain potentially curbs the purchase of vice items.

Study authors, Manoj Thomas, Kalpesh Kaushik Desai and Satheeshkumar Seenivasan, write:

“The notion that mode of payment can curb impulsive purchase of unhealthy food products is substantially important…The epidemic increase in obesity suggests that regulating impulsive purchases and consumption of unhealthy food products is a steep challenge for many consumers.”

When love hurts a little less

October 18, 2010

According to new research from Stanford University, romantic love may serve as a natural painkiller. The study found that intense feelings of love activate dopamine-oriented centers of the brain, the same areas that also react to drugs such as cocaine.

Dr. Sean Mackey, lead study author and chair of the pain management division at Stanford, studied 15 couples in “new and passionate love”. Here is a rundown of the study thanks to

Each of the volunteers was asked to bring in a picture of their significant other, along with a photo of an “equally attractive” platonic friend. The friend’s picture served as the control in the study, to adjust for any potential effects of attractiveness.

The participants then went through a fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scanner where they were shown the photos one at a time. Serving as an additional control, the students also had to complete a mental skill test. During all three tasks, they had to hold a heated device that got just hot enough to produce mild pain.

The research team then compared how the brain reacted to each of the three tasks. They found that while looking at a photo of their significant other, the volunteers could withstand a greater amount of pain. The scans also showed that the parts of the brain involved in love are different from the typical analgesic pathways, as well as the areas that are involved with distraction.

Dr. Mackey says:

“These pain-relieving systems are linked to reward systems… Love engages these deep brain systems that are involved with reward and craving and similar systems involved in addiction.”

This study is published in the journal PLoS One.

Smart returns on big government

October 6, 2010

Do you live in one of America’s “smartest” cities? Thanks to The Census Bureau, you can find out. According to newly released data, Washington D.C. is the metro area with the highest percentage of residents with college degrees. The city has 47.3 percent of people age 25 and over with a bachelor’s, master’s, professional school or doctorate degree.

This shouldn’t come as much of a shock according to John Schmidt, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He tells CNN Money:

“There’s a very high share of federal government employees here…and people dealing with the federal government, including defense contractors, lobbyists, businesses that want to influence the regulatory process; there’s lots of lawyers.”

Salaries in these cities also tend to be above average. CNN reports that D.C. has the highest median household income of any metro area with over one million residents.

Coming in second place is San Francisco, CA with 43.5 percent, followed by San Jose, CA with 43.2 percent, Raleigh, NC with 42.2 percent, and Boston, MA also with 42.2 percent.

Rounding out the bottom of the list is Memphis, TN with 24.2 percent, just below the national average (25%). Las Vegas, NV follows Memphis with 21.5 percent and coming in at the bottom of the list is Riverside, CA with 19.2 percent.

To see the rest of the top ten and bottom ten, click here.


October 1, 2010

It’s not exactly news that texting while driving is a poor decision; however, new research sheds light on just how deadly it can be. According to the study by the University of North Texas Health Science Center, texting while driving was responsible for 16, 141 deaths between 2002 and 2007.

Lead study authors Fernando A. Wilson, PhD and Jim P. Stimpson, PhD analyzed information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which records data on vehicle accidents that occur within the U.S. Using this system, they examined trends in distracted driving fatalities, including cell phone usage and texting volumes.

Distracted driving fatalities actually decreased from 1999 to 2005, the researchers write. However, between 2005 and 2008, the amount of deaths rose considerably from 4,572 to 5,870 – a 28 percent increase. They estimate that if text messaging had never been invented, the number of distracted driving fatalities would have been down to 1,925 per year, the CS Monitor reports.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the percentage of U.S. drivers observed using a cell phone has held steady at 6 percent since 2005. Therefore, the study suggests the increase might be due to the shift in how handheld devices are used.

The LA Times reports some other facts of the study:

  • The percentage of all traffic deaths caused by distracted driving rose from 11% in 1999 to 16% in 2008.
  • Distracted-driving crashes are more common in urban areas. Overall, 40% of all crashes happened in urban areas in 2008, up from 33% a decade earlier.
  • Only one-third of Americans had a cellphone in 1999. By 2008, 91% of us did.
  • The average monthly volume of text messages was 1 million in 2002. By 2008, it was 110 million.

This study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.


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