Posts Tagged Gender

Young Adults Value Appearance More Than Health


Young Adults Value Appearance More Than HealthFor many young adults, beauty really is little more than skin-deep and has little to do with health.

A new investigation by University of Missouri researchers studied how college-age women view their bodies, and how they feel about media messages aimed at women.

María Len-Ríos, Ph.D., an associate professor of strategic communication, and Suzanne Burgoyne, Ph.D., a professor of theater, used a focus group to develop an interactive play about body image.

The objective of the interactive play was to encourage frank discussions about conflicting societal messages regarding weight, values and healthful choices.

“During our focus group conversations, we learned that young people don’t think about nutrition when it comes to eating,” Len-Ríos said. “They think more about calorie-counting, which isn’t necessarily related to a balanced diet.”

The focus groups included college-age women, college-age men and mothers of college-age women, who discussed how body image is associated with engaging in restrictive diets, irregular sleep patterns and over-exercising.

“We receive so many conflicting media messages from news reports and advertising about how we should eat, how we should live and how we should look,” Len-Ríos said. “Some participants said they realize images of models are digitally enhanced, but it doesn’t necessarily keep them from wanting to achieve these unattainable figures—this is because they see how society rewards women for ‘looking good.’”

During the course of the investigation, researchers completed in-depth interviews with nutritional counselors who said lack of time and unhealthy food environments can keep college-age students from getting good nutrition.

“Eating well takes time, and, according to health professionals, college students are overscheduled and don’t have enough time to cook something properly or might not know how to prepare something healthful,” Len-Ríos said.

Based on the focus group conversations and interviews, Carlia Francis, an MU theater doctoral student and playwright, developed “Nutrition 101,” a play about women’s body images.

During performances, characters divulge their insecurities about their own bodies, disparage other women’s bodies and talk about nutrition choices. After a short, scripted performance, the actors remain in character, and audience members ask the characters questions.

“When you’re developing something for interactive theater, focus groups and in-depth interviews are great at getting at stories,” Len-Ríos said.

“Many of the stories used in the interactive play—like valuing people because of their appearance and not their personal qualities or abilities—came from individuals’ personal experiences.”

Burgoyne said the play helps facilitate dialogues about nutrition, media messages and self-awareness.

“Body image is a sensitive topic, and the play helps open discussions about how individuals view themselves and how media messages influence their self-images,” Burgoyne said.

“An easy way to improve individuals’ body images does not exist, but hopefully, the conversations that arise from the performances will help develop ways to counteract the images that the media promote.”

Source: University of Missouri

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Can Thinking You Are Fat Make You Fat?


Can Thinking You Are Fat Make You Fat?  Researchers have found that normal-weight teens who think they are fat are more likely to grow up to be fat.

“Perceiving themselves as fat even though they are not may actually cause normal-weight children to become overweight as adults,” said Koenraad Cuypers, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

Cuypers and his colleagues at the Department of Public Health and General Practice in NTNU’s Faculty of Medicine examined the obesity problem from a new angle: Their research looked at the relationship between perceived weights and actual weights in a study of teenagers and young adults.

The researchers note there are many reasons why teens who think they are fat — even when they are not — become overweight as adults.

One explanation may be related to psychosocial stress, which can be associated with gaining weight around the waist, the researchers said.

“Another explanation may be that young people who see themselves as fat often change their eating habits by skipping meals, for example. Research has shown that dropping breakfast can lead to obesity,” Cuypers said, adding that following a diet that you cannot maintain over time also is counterproductive, since the body strives to maintain the weight you had before you started the diet.

The researchers used data from the health survey Young-HUNT1, which was conducted from 1995-1997 and included 1,196 normal-weight teenagers of both sexes. Participants were later followed up in the Young-HUNT3 study, from 2006-2008, when they were between 24 and 30 years old.

Half of the participants still had normal weights as adults. But among those who were overweight, the researchers found that 59 percent of the girls who had felt fat as a teen became overweight in adulthood, as measured using body mass index or BMI. If waist circumference was used as the measure of obesity, then the percentage of teens who initially perceived themselves as fat and later became overweight as adults was 78 percent.

In contrast, 31 percent of the girls who did not consider themselves fat during adolescence were found in the follow-upstudy to be overweight as measured using BMI. That number was 55 percent as measured by waist circumference.

Normal-weight teens who rated themselves as fat in the initial HUNT study had a BMI in the followup study that was on average 0.88 higher than those who did not. They were also on average 3.46 centimeters larger as measured around the waist.

The study also shows that normal-weight girls were more likely than boys to rate themselves as overweight: 22 percent of girls and 9 percent of the boys saw themselves as fat in the first HUNT survey.

One explanation for this gender difference may be that the media’s focus on looks increasingly targets girls rather than boys, the researchers claim.

“Girls thus experience more psychosocial stress to achieve the ideal body,” Cuypers said. “Society needs to move away from a focus on weight, and instead needs to emphasize healthy eating habits, such as eating regular and varied meals and eating breakfast. Good sleep habits are also an advantage. And by reducing the amount that teens are transported to and from school and recreational activities, teens might also be able to avoid getting a ‘commuter belly.’”

Cuypers said he believes that the relationship between a perception of being overweight and the development of overweight is something that school systems and society as a whole must address to reverse the trend and reduce problems associated with obesity.

“The weight norms for society must be changed so that young people have a more realistic view of what is normal,” he said. “In school you should talk to kids about what are normal body shapes, and show that all bodies are beautiful as they are. And, last but not least, the media must cease to emphasize the supermodel body as the perfect ideal, because it is not.”

Cuypers’ results were published in the Journal of Obesity.

Source: Norwegian University of Science and Technology

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Low Estrogen Linked to PTSD


Low Estrogen Linked to PTSDHigh levels of estrogen may help protect a woman from mood disorders, while low levels of the hormone can make a woman more susceptible to trauma at certain times in her menstrual cycle, according to new research by Harvard and Emory University neuroscientists.

Depression and anxiety disorders are twice as common in women as in men, but the reason for this gender difference has remained unclear.  The new research, however, suggests that women are most at risk for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when their estrogen is low during the menstrual cycle.

“PTSD is a disorder of recovery,” said author Mohammed Milad, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and director of the Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

Men may be less susceptible to mood disorders since testosterone is regularly converted into estrogen in the male brain, resulting in a more steady flow of estrogen.

In healthy women and female rats, estrogen calms the fear response, according to the Harvard researchers, who were led by Kelimer Lebron-Milad, an HMS instructor of psychiatry.

The Emory researchers, led by postdoctoral researcher Ebony Glover, proved that the same is true for women suffering from PTSD. The higher their blood levels of estrogen were when they completed a fear-extinction task, the less likely women were to act startled.

Both studies used “fear-conditioning” experiments, in which the participant is trained to fear a safe “conditioned stimulus” such as a colored shape, paired with a frightening or painful “unconditioned stimulus” like a shock to the finger or a puff of air to the neck or eye.

Overall, women or female rats showed less fear to the neutral stimulus when their estrogen levels were high rather than low.

PTSD is common in women after a trauma such as rape or sexual assault, which studies say are experienced by 25 to 30 percent of women in their lifetimes, and the symptoms last on average four times as long in women as in men after trauma.

This new research suggests the reason for this vulnerability may be the monthly menstrual change in estrogen.

“People are afraid to look into the influence of sex hormones on ‘fear learning’ and extinction,” said Mohammed Milad, “because it’s such a complex system.”

When Milad studied fear as a Ph.D. student, his lab used only male rats. But when he began to study fear in humans as a postdoctoral researcher, he saw that female data were much more variable.

“The data led me there,” to sex differences, Milad said. “Since females add variance, scientists have tended to avoid studying them” in rodent research, he said. Studies of the human brain would tend to combine men and women, assuming that neurological gender differences were minimal. But this attitude is changing.

In addition, since birth control pills affect estrogen levels, they may be used as a future treatment against post-traumatic stress.

The research is published in Biological Psychiatry.

Source:  Biological Psychiatry

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Alcoholism Affects Men’s and Women’s Brains Differently


Alcoholism Affects Men's and Women's Brains DifferentlyNew research has demonstrated that the effects on white matter brain volume from long-term alcohol abuse are different for men and women.

Researchers from Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) and Veterans Affairs (VA) Boston Healthcare System also suggest that when they stop drinking, women recover their white matter brain volume more quickly than men.

Previous research has linked alcoholism with white matter reduction, according to the researchers, who explain that white matter forms the connections between neurons, allowing communication between different areas of the brain.

In this latest study, a research team, led by Susan Mosher Ruiz, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research scientist in the Laboratory for Neuropsychology at BUSM and research scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, and Marlene Oscar Berman, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, neurology and anatomy and neurobiology at BUSM and research career scientist at the VA Boston Healthcare System, employed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine the effects of drinking history and gender on white matter volume.

They examined brain images from 42 abstinent alcoholic men and women who drank heavily for more than five years and 42 nonalcoholic men and women. The researchers found that a greater number of years of alcohol abuse was associated with smaller white matter volumes in the alcoholic men and women. In the men, the decrease was observed in the corpus callosum, while in women this effect was observed in cortical white matter regions.

“We believe that many of the cognitive and emotional deficits observed in people with chronic alcoholism, including memory problems and flat affect, are related to disconnections that result from a loss of white matter,” said Mosher Ruiz.

The researchers also found that the number of daily drinks had a strong impact on alcoholic women, with the volume loss 1.5 to 2 percent for each additional drink. Additionally, there was an 8 to 10 percent increase in the size of the brain ventricles, which are areas filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) that play a protective role in the brain. When white matter dies, CSF produced in the ventricles fills the ventricular space.

The researchers also found that in men, white matter brain volume in the corpus callosum recovered at a rate of 1 percent per year for each year of abstinence. For people who abstained less than a year, the researchers found evidence of increased white matter volume and decreased ventricular volume in women, but not in men. However, for people in recovery for more than a year, those signs of recovery disappeared in women and became apparent in men.

“These findings preliminarily suggest that restoration and recovery of the brain’s white matter among alcoholics occurs later in abstinence for men than for women,” said Mosher Ruiz. “We hope that additional research in this area can help lead to improved treatment methods that include educating both alcoholic men and women about the harmful effects of excessive drinking and the potential for recovery with sustained abstinence.”

The research was published online in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

Source: Boston University Medical Center

Brain scan photo by shutterstock.

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Change in Pronoun Use Reflects Women’s Role in Society


Change in Pronoun Use Reflects Women’s Role in SocietyNew research suggests progress in gender equality can be traced by the language found in published literature over the past 50 years.

In a new study led by San Diego State University researchers, investigators explored how the language in the full text of more than one million books reflected cultural change in U.S. women’s status.

Findings are published in the journal Sex Roles.

Jean Twenge, Ph.D., and colleagues examined whether the use of gendered pronouns such as ‘he’ and ‘she’ mirrored women’s status between 1900-2008. Their analyses showed that the frequency of use of female versus male pronouns followed the ups and downs of women’s status over time.

Researchers found that female pronouns were used progressively less often (compared to male pronouns) in the post-war era (1946-1967) when women’s status declined or stagnated, and more often after 1968 when women’s status rose considerably.

Investigators also found that U.S. books used relatively more female pronouns when women were more educated, participated in the labor force more, and married later – all signs of increased status for women.

Researchers posit that U.S. college women were more assertive at times when relatively more female pronouns appeared in books.

“These trends in language quantify one of the largest, and most rapid, cultural changes ever observed: The incredible increase in women’s status since the late 1960s in the U.S.,” said Twenge. “Gender equality is the clear upside of the cultural movement toward individualism in the U.S., and books reflect this movement toward equality.

“That’s exciting because it shows how we can document social change.”

Source: Springer

Woman blowing letters off a book photo by shutterstock.

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Playfulness Plays Role in Attracting a Mate


Playfulness Plays Role in Attracting a Mate  New research finds that playfulness and a sense of humor are important traits sought in romantic partners.

Researchers at Penn State University liken playful behavior and a sense of humor to bright plumage on birds to attract a mate.

“Humans and other animals exhibit a variety of signals as to their value as mates,” said professor Garry Chick.

“Just as birds display bright plumage or coloration, men may attract women by showing off expensive cars or clothing. In the same vein, playfulness in a male may signal to females that he is nonaggressive and less likely to harm them or their offspring. A woman’s playfulness, on the other hand, may signal her youth and fertility.”

Chick and his colleagues expanded on a previous survey that included a list of 13 possible characteristics that individuals seek in prospective mates. To the original list, they added three new traits: “playful,” “sense of humor” and “fun-loving.” The authors gave the survey to 164 male and 89 female undergraduate students, ages 18 to 26.

Of the 16 items, “sense of humor,” “fun-loving” and “playful” ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, among traits that females sought in males. Males rated three traits — “physically attractive,” “healthy,” and “good heredity,” all characteristics of female fertility — significantly higher than women.

“The fact that the subjects tended to rank ‘sense of humor,’ ‘fun-loving’ and ‘playful’ at or near the top of the list of 16 characteristics does not mean that the mates they have selected or will select will actually exhibit these traits,” said Chick.

“In addition, the results may be skewed by the fact that most of the study subjects were college students from a Western culture. Despite these caveats, it seems to us that signaling one’s virtues as a potential long-term mate through playfulness is not far-fetched. Our results suggest that adult playfulness may result from sexual selection and signal positive qualities to potential long-term mates.”

Source: Penn State

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Close Relationships Influence Health, Happiness


Close Relationships Influence Health, HappinessWhile sociologists and psychologists have known that having a close relationship improves one’s health and happiness, the biological underpinnings that influence these health effects has been obscure.

Learning how relationships provide protective health benefits has been accentuated with new findings that show dramatic benefits of being in a relationship for health issues ranging from pregnancy and birth defects to cancer and chronic disease.

“We know that having relationships in general and being socially integrated is associated with a reduced risk of mortality,” said psychologist Dr. Paula Pietromonaco of the University of Massachusetts.

“Our research follows from attachment theory, which suggests that there is one primary person that people turn to for comfort when they are distressed or frightened.” In adulthood, that person is often a romantic partner or spouse, she says.

“These sorts of relationship partners are especially important when people are faced with a stressful event because they have the potential to comfort and calm the person who is experiencing distress or to hinder that person’s efforts to feel better.”

In an ongoing longitudinal study of 225 newlywed couples, Pietromonaco’s team is finding that the way people feel attached to each other affects cortisol levels in response to stress — and can possibly predict depression or anxiety over time.

That is, our emotional quotient, as associated with being in a relationship, can influence future mental health challenges.

Researchers say preliminary findings show that when a wife is more anxiously attached – that is, someone who desires a great deal of intimacy and seeks reassurance and support – and a husband who is more “avoidantly attached,” cortisol levels spike in anticipation of a conflict discussion followed by a sharp decline in cortisol.

“In addition, these same anxious wife/avoidant husband couples appear to have more difficulty in discussing the conflict, and their behavior suggests greater disengagement from the discussion.”

Pietromonaco believes the patterns may signal difficulty with emotion regulation, and it is possible that individuals in these couples will be at greater risk for symptoms of depression and anxiety over time.

In the study, researchers are following the couples over the first 3 to 4 years of marriage, and will be examining the extent to which the patterns they see now predict changes in emotional health over the early years of marriage.

Upon a review of studies that addressed the effects of two-person relationships on a range of health topics Pietromonaco discovered several instances in which greater prenatal social support predicts more optimal fetal growth, higher infant birth weight, and reduced risk of low birth weight.

How, the researchers caution that such studies need to be replicated and expanded to take into account both perceived support as well as actual support interactions among both partners.

Researchers say the emerging field of relationship science will explore in what way the expectations, beliefs, and experiences of both partners can predict emotional and physical health.

“Although research on psychology and health has begun to consider these sorts of ‘partner effects,’ they are often not incorporated into studies designed to intervene to help people cope with chronic diseases such as cancer or diabetes,” said Pietromonaco.

“As Lynn Martire [Penn State] and her colleagues have noted, many couple intervention studies include both partners but assess psychological adjustment for the patient only.

“Yet how the patient’s caregiver, who is often a spouse, is adjusting and coping may be very important in predicting how patients themselves cope.”

Source: Society for Personality and Social Psychology

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