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Entries in health (33)

Wednesday
Jul152015

My Body, Your Body, Our Relationship: 5 Links between Our Body Images and Our Romantic Relationships

I began studying body image among romantic partners approximately 15 years ago. Since then, I’ve gotten married, had two children, gotten divorced, and started dating as a nearly 40-year-old. These life experiences have provided me with ample opportunities to consider how our  romantic relationships are related to our body images. I’ve also managed to publish over a dozen scientific articles on the subject. Some of the results from these studies are clear and easy to interpret; some of them aren’t. But, one thing that seems certain is that we all come to view and appreciate our bodies in the context of our intimate relationships. In other words, how we feel about our bodies impacts our relationships and our relationships impact our feelings about our bodies. So what are some of the lessons from science that can contribute to improvements in not only our body image but possibly our relationships?

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Monday
Jul132015

In Health and Illness: Your Partner’s Mood Matters

Ever felt like the moods of the people around you affect your own mood? Psychologists have long been interested in the idea of such emotional “spillover”, especially in relationships. For example, research has shown that happiness is contagious, as are bad moods across a range of stressful situations. It seems intuitive that if we are living with someone who is depressed then our own mood could also be negatively affected. 

Before getting into specific research on this topic, I should note that it is generally hard to disentangle the exact nature of the association between two people’s mental states, especially when they spend a lot of time together. Was Joan’s depression a reaction to being surrounded by John’s depressive, or were they both depressed all along? (Or is there no relationship whatsoever between their mental health statuses?). Bottom line: like many things, the only way to really know whether two individuals’ mental states spill over to one another is to look at both of their mental health status across time.

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Friday
Jul102015

How Do Romantic Relationships Get Under The Skin? Perceived Partner Responsiveness Predicts Cortisol Profiles 10 Years Later

If someone asked me to pick the most influential finding that has come out of relationship science to date, I’d say it’s this: relationships matter for health. In 1988, House and colleagues published their classic research paper showing that social isolation is a powerful predictor of premature death.1 Since then, dozens of studies have tested and consistently replicated this link. Indeed, a recent meta-analysis of 148 studies (over 300,000 participants!) showed that people with stronger social relationships are about 50% more likely to survive over a 7.5 year period compared to those with weak social ties.2 This is a huge effect: it suggests that social isolation is more dangerous than a number of well-established risk factors of mortality, such as obesity and physical inactivity.

In response to these findings, many policy-makers, health practitioners, and members of the general public have started viewing social relationships not just as a nice-to-have, but as a fundamental human need. Humans simply must have close relationships in order to survive and thrive (for a more theoretical discussion about the human need for relationships, see this post). However, the issue of how relationships affect health is not as well-understood. What aspects of social relationships are particularly important (i.e., specificity), and in what way do social relationships influence the body (i.e., mechanism)? These sorts of questions about specificity and mechanism are what many researchers in the field are now grappling with.

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Wednesday
Jun252014

Questioning The Romeo And Juliet Effect: Is Parental Interference Good Or Bad For A Relationship?

(Reposted from The Psychology of Human Sexuality)

 In 1972, a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology announced scientific support for the so-called “Romeo and Juliet effect." The basic idea was that the more parents try to interfere in a couple’s relationship, the stronger that relationship becomes--just like in Shakespeare's classic story. Given both the sexy name and intuitive appeal of this idea, it is perhaps not surprising to learn that this effect has been cited hundreds of times in academic journals and textbooks. In recent years, however, several scientists (myself included) have grown skeptical of this idea because it just doesn’t seem to fit with what the broader literature on social approval and relationships has reported.

For instance, I published a series of three studies over the last decade showing that when one’s family and friends do not accept or approve of one’s relationship, the health of the partners and the quality of the relationship tends to suffer. Specifically, when people perceive that their romantic relationship is marginalized, not only do they report worse physical and psychological health [1] and less commitment to their relationship [2], but they also have an increased likelihood of breaking up in the next year [3] (see here for a more detailed summary of some of this research). In light of these results, one might reasonably predict the opposite of the Romeo and Juliet effect: when parents don’t approve of a relationship and try to interfere, that relationship is more likely to deteriorate rather than flourish.

But if this is the case, how do we explain the findings of the 1972 study?

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Monday
Mar242014

The Nose Knows: Detecting Sickness by Scent

image source: myteespot.com/images/Images_d/DSCF8661.jpgResearchers injected 8 volunteers with lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a molecule found on bacteria that induces a strong “internal” immune response similar to the one that occurs when people are sick (e.g., increases in body temperature and immune cells). The volunteers wore t-shirts to collect their body odor (and also provided t-shirts worn after saline administration, which served as a control condition). A separate group of participants later rated the t-shirts for pleasantness and healthiness. The participants rated the LPS condition t-shirts as more unpleasant and less healthy relative to the ‘normal’ t-shirts. In other words, when we’re sick, we release a funk that tells others to stay away. Follow your nose—it always knows.

Olsson, M. J., Lundström, J. N., Kimball, B. A., Gordon, A. R., et al. (in press). The scent of disease: Human body odor contains an early chemosensory cue of sickness. Psychological Science.

Sunday
Dec082013

Your Relationships May Keep Stress From Killing You

Read more about stress, health, and relationships in our articles here and here.
Monday
Dec022013

The Orchid Effect: How Relationships and Genetics Influence Your Health 

A lot of things undermine physical health, like poor diet, lack of exercise, and not enough sleep. Did you know that dysfunctional relationships — those characterized by lots of conflict and poor communication — also contribute to poor health? For example, when couples are "hostile" toward one another, there’s a good chance that any recent wounds (even everyday cuts and abrasions) will take longer to heal than if partners maintain a more civil and responsive tone with one another during disagreements or other conversations.1 On the other hand, good relationships, and not just those we have with our romantic partners, generally benefit our overall health. But why?

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Wednesday
Nov202013

Warm Relationships: A Key to Men's Happiness and Prosperity

In 1938 Harvard began studying a group of men and followed them as they grew old. A book by George Vaillant, entitled Triumphs of Experience, chronicles the results and provides several interesting insights about the role of alcholism, smoking, and intelligence on aging and life satisfaction.  

Some of the most intersting findings, at least to us, involved "warm relationships." As this article explains, there was a "powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years." To learn more about the other benefits of warm relationships, click here. 

Thursday
Nov142013

“We Don’t Have Anal Sex in Malawi” and Other Tales

Michelle Kaufman is a researcher who focuses on sexual behavior in the developing world. She globetrots regularly, engaging in ethnographic work along the way in order to inform the quantitative and qualitative research she conducts. Recently, Michelle visited Malawi to start a research study on condom use and accessibility.

I recently returned from a research trip to Malawi where I was training a data collection team on the procedures and questionnaires for two small studies, one focused on condom use and accessibility, and the other on male circumcision. The team with which I work—from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, Malawi—is in the midst of conducting a 10-year-long program called BRIDGE, which focuses on HIV prevention through the provision of services such as voluntary male medical circumcision (VMMC), getting pregnant women to enroll in treatment for prevention of mother-to-child-transmission (PMTCT) of HIV, and, most relevant to this article, condom distribution.  

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Monday
Oct212013

“I Need Closure!” Why It Is Not Possible To Get It

“Closure” is a term I have heard bandied about by many of my friends over the years, but I have always wondered what it really means. For example, after my friend Daphne’s long-distance boyfriend broke up with her over the phone, she told me she needed to fly from NYC to London to see him in person to “get closure.” Even after she saw him in person, she still didn’t feel like things were really over. The meaning of closure is something I have grappled with when trying to make sense of one of my own past relationships. I spent the better part of 10 years trying to get closure with The Question Mark so that I could move on, trying everything from writing him long treatises on why our relationship could never work, to hashing things out in person in order to finally say “goodbye.”

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Wednesday
Oct092013

Cups or No Cups, Anna Kendrick was Right, You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone

When faced with a potential break-up, who among us hasn’t uttered the phrase, “You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone?” Whether expressed as a threat or stated matter-of-factly, it is an all-too-familiar anthem for underappreciated dumpers and dumpees alike. Even if you were only bluffing when you said it, you can seek solace in the fact that whether they want to or not, your exs are indeed going to miss you when you’re gone.

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Thursday
Sep262013

Friend and Family Approval for Relationships: Crucial for Your Health?

In my last post, I discussed the research showing that couples who receive social approval of their relationships from their friends and family are more likely to report greater relationship satisfaction and more enduring relationships. One of the key points researchers have made in this area is that it is the perception of support/approval that matters most. This means that, regardless of the actual level of support your relationship receives from your friends and family, it is your own perception of that support that most strongly influences your relationship and health outcomes.1 And yes, I did just say relationship AND health outcomes, because research has shown that not only do people in socially-supported relationships (same-sex AND mixed-sex) report greater relationship satisfaction, love, commitment and duration, they also experience fewer mental and physical health problems. That’s right; if everyone you know disapproves of your relationship and you’ve been suffering from depression, anxiety, increased stress or even more frequent physical ailments, it’s quite possible that these experiences are connected.

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Tuesday
Aug202013

More Reasons to Have Sex: Money and Health

Want to earn more money and lead a healthier life? Have more sex (correlation/causation issues aside). Not that you needed more reasons to have sex on a weekly basis, a recent study of Greek men and women found that those who reported having more sex earned higher salaries and were less likely to suffer from certain health problems. You can read more over at the Huffington Post.

Check out our articles about the psychological and physical benefits of sex here and here, respectively, and more generally about the reasons people give for having sex here.

Wednesday
Aug072013

Taking Your Relationship To Work

It is often easy to see how your job influences your relationship. If you work long hours, you have less time to spend with your partner. If you have a particularly hectic or demanding workweek, your work stress can easily spill over into your relationship.1 However, chances are you pay less attention to how your relationship influences your job. If you do in fact “take your relationship to work” with you by letting your personal life influence your job, this may have important implications for your career success. It’s also possible that your relationship doesn’t directly undermine you at your job, but rather negative relationship experiences could harm you emotionally or undermine your physical health, which then compromise your job.

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Friday
May032013

"Do These Pants Make My Butt Look Big?" and Other Questions You May be Tempted to Ask Your Partner 

Over a decade ago, I promised myself I’d never ask my husband anything that resembles the loaded question, “do these pants make my butt look big?” Although I believe that women are subjected to impossible standards of beauty that could lead any reasonable woman to feel insecure about her appearance, I did not want to reveal myself as insecure about my weight. I knew I was not “fat,” and did not want to find myself behaving like a stereotypical weight-obsessed woman. However, most of all, I made a conscious choice – as a woman who studies body image and eating behaviors – to try my best to be confident about my weight. I believed then, and still believe today, that I don’t have the professional luxury of questioning my body or my weight if I am going to tell other people that they should eat healthy foods and not “worry” about their weight.

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Thursday
Nov082012

For Better or Worse…In Marriage, Men May Get More of the Better 

True confession time: Before we (the authors of this article) got engaged, Charlotte already had a specific date and time reserved for the church where our wedding would be held.1 Although no ultimatum was ever given, it was pretty clear to Patrick that after living together for several years, it was time for him to think about marriage. Needless to say, the ring was bought, the wedding occurred on the given date at the nonnegotiable location, and we have been living happily ever after. Our story is hardly unique. Common wisdom suggests that young women can’t wait to walk down the aisle whereas young men grudgingly make the trek to the altar. Women may start planning their weddings long before their partners have a ring picked out, but perhaps women need to think more carefully about what they are getting into.

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Friday
Oct052012

“Tulizana!”: Taming Sexual Networks in Tanzania

There has been a lot of talk in the American media recently about a perhaps more “evolved” form of love in which people have open or multiple relationships—polyamory. Tanzanians have a history of this practice through polygynous practices (having multiple wives), which is rooted in the Bantu tradition. In fact, polygyny is permitted for up to 4 wives in Tanzania, with the permission of the first wife.

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Tuesday
Aug282012

How Gay and Straight Men and Women Influence Their Partners’ Health

Research has long suggested that saying “I do” to a significant other is similar to saying “I do” to better health.1 Married people – especially married men – report better health and live longer than single people.2,3 But marriage itself is not necessarily the reason for these differences; there are many explanations for the health benefits of marriage including increased social support, improved health behaviors by folks who are married, more positive attitudes about health by the married, as well as the benefits of having a partner to help provide health insurance.4,5 

Why are men more likely to experience health benefits in their relationships than are women?

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Tuesday
Jul312012

Paging Dr. Love

The legendary rockers of the American band KISS may not have been so far off when they belted out, “Baby, I know what your problem is...the first step of the cure is a kiss!” in their hit single, “Calling Dr. Love.” They couldn’t have known it at the time, but current relationship scientists may now agree with Gene Simmons’ medical claims. There might be a little something special to that kiss.

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Tuesday
May012012

Marriage: It’s Good for Your Health

Lately I have observed more and more of my friends aspiring to be like Samantha from Sex and The City – i.e., having strings of casual sex and dating relationships – instead of following the traditional notion of settling down and getting married. Well, for all those non-believers of marriage, here is a reason to change your mind: according to a new study,1 marriage is good for your health.

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