Archive for category Study Investigators

Honesty, Not Forgiveness, May Be Best for Couples


Honesty, Not Forgiveness, May Be Best for CouplesEmerging research suggests a marriage in which partners follow the time-honored tradition of forgive and forget can lead to problems.

The finding opposes the strategy of positive psychology — an approach that offered the promise that with forgiveness, optimism, kindness, and positive thinking, people can turn around their relationships even after a serious transgression.

In the new study, investigators discovered that expressing anger might be necessary to resolve a relationship problem — with the short-term discomfort of an angry but honest conversation benefiting the health of the relationship in the long-term.

Experts say the study is part of a larger effort to better understand the contexts in which some relationships succeed and others fail, and also to understand how close relationships affect our health.

James McNulty, Ph.D., of Florida State University initiated the study when he took a closer look at positive psychology and well-being.

“I continued to find evidence that thoughts and behaviors presumed to be associated with better well-being lead to worse well-being among some people — usually the people who need the most help achieving well-being,” McNulty said.

These findings lead McNulty to examine the potential costs of positive psychology. In a set of recent studies, he found that forgiveness in marriage can have some unintended negative effects.

“We all experience a time in a relationship in which a partner transgresses against us in some way. For example, a partner may be financially irresponsible, unfaithful, or unsupportive,” he said.

“When these events occur, we must decide whether we should be angry and hold onto that anger, or forgive.”

His research shows that a variety of factors can complicate the effectiveness of forgiveness, including a partner’s level of agreeableness and the severity and frequency of the transgression.

“Believing a partner is forgiving leads agreeable people to be less likely to offend that partner and disagreeable people to be more likely to offend that partner,” he said.

Moreover, McNulty believes anger can serve an important role in signaling to a transgressing partner that the offensive behavior is not acceptable.

“If the partner can do something to resolve a problem that is likely to otherwise continue and negatively affect the relationship, people may experience long-term benefits by temporarily withholding forgiveness and expressing anger.”

“This work suggests people need to be flexible in how they address the problems that will inevitably arise over the course of their relationships,” McNulty says.

“There is no ‘magic bullet,’ no single way to think or behave in a relationship. The consequences of each decision we make in our relationships depends on the circumstances that surround that decision.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

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Stress Hormones Impede Healthy Behavioral Change


Stress Hormones Impede Healthy Behavioral ChangeFor many people, stress is the factor that unravels diets, exercise plans and other goal-directed tasks.

European researchers believe they have discovered why stressed persons are more likely to lapse back into old habits rather than follow a goal-directed agenda.

In a study, investigators determined stress hormones shut down the activity of brain regions for goal-directed behavior, yet do not affect the brain regions responsible for habitual behavior.

Researchers from the Ruhr-Universität in Germany, together with colleagues from the University Hospital Bergmannsheil, mimicked a stress situation in the body using drugs. They then examined the brain activity using functional MRI scanning.

The scientists found that the interaction of the stress hormones hydrocortisone and noradrenaline shut down the activity of brain regions for goal-directed behavior. Yet the brain regions responsible for habitual behavior remained unaffected.

During the research on different stress hormones, the cognitive psychologists used three substances: a placebo, the stress hormone hydrocortisone and yohimbine. Yohimbine is a product which ensures that the stress hormone noradrenaline stays active longer.

Some study participants received hydrocortisone alone or just yohimbine, while other participants received both substances. A fourth group was administered a placebo. Altogether, 69 volunteers participated in the study.

During the experiment, all participants, both male and female, learned that they would receive cocoa or orange juice as a reward if they chose certain symbols on the computer.

After this learning phase, volunteers were allowed to eat as many oranges or as much chocolate pudding as they liked. “This procedure weakens the value of the reward,” said Lars Schwabe, Ph.D.

“Whoever eats chocolate pudding will lose the attraction to cocoa. Whoever is satiated with oranges, has less appetite for orange juice.”

In this context, goal-directed behavior means: Whoever has previously eaten the chocolate pudding chooses the symbols leading to cocoa reward less frequently. Whoever is satiated with oranges selects less frequently the symbols associated with orange juice.

The findings show that only the combination of yohimbine and hydrocortisone attenuates or satisfies goal-directed behavior.

As expected, volunteers who took yohimbine and hydrocortisone did not behave in a goal-directed manner but according to habit. In other words, satiation with oranges or chocolate pudding had no effect.

Persons who had taken a placebo or only one medication, on the other hand, behaved goal-directed and showed a satiating effect.

The brain data revealed: The combination of yohimbine and hydrocortisone reduced the activity in the forebrain – in the so-called orbitofrontal and medial prefrontal cortex.

Researchers say that these areas have been previously associated with goal-directed behavior. The brain regions which are important for habitual learning, on the other hand, were similarly active for all volunteers.

Source: Ruhr-University Bochum

Brain abstract photo by shutterstock.

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