Booster Shots

Oddities, musings and news from the health world

Category: relationships

Psychological test can help predict whether the love will last

July 7, 2010 | 11:11 am


Just think of how much emotional pain could be avoided if humans knew just when to exit a romantic relationship? Knowing whether to break up or stay together is a wrenching question that often lacks an easy answer.

Until now, that is. Researchers at the University of Rochester say they have devised a test to tell if a relationship is going to fall apart. The test involves uncovering what people really -- meaning really -- think of or feel about their partners. Previous studies show people are often unable or reluctant to express their true feelings about their partners. "[T]hat assumes that they know themselves how happy they are, and that's not always the case," a coauthor of the study, Ronald D. Rogge, explained in a news release.

Rogge and his colleagues devised a test in which volunteers supplied their partner's first name and two other words that related to the person -- like a pet name or distinct characteristic. The volunteers then watched a monitor as words were presented. The words conveyed positive ideas, such as "vacation" and "peace" along with the partner-related words they supplied or bad ideas, such as "tragedy" and "criticize," and the partner-related words. The respondents were asked to press a bar when they saw various words. One test featured the bad and partner-related words, and the other the good words and partner-related words. The idea was to get people's automatic reactions to the words. If people have generally good associations with their partners, they would perform the "good words" task easier than the "bad words."

That is, in fact, what happened. The volunteers who found it easier to associate their partner with bad things, and had greater difficulty associating their partner with good things, were more likely to separate over the next year.

Such a measure could be useful to therapists in trying to uncover feelings clients are unwilling to divulge and to differentiate the nature of the problem in a relationship, the authors wrote.

"[I]n deteriorating relationships, the negative associations people begin to form about their partner may be too subtle or threatening for them to recognize in themselves or too socially undesirable for them to report to others," they wrote.

The study was released Wednesday in the journal Psychological Science.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Popperfoto / Getty Images

Cyberstalking: The emerging form of partner violence

June 23, 2010 | 11:34 am

Violence in intimate relationships is all too common -- just ask any cop who's responded to the calls. But younger generations who grew up with computer technology have more to worry about than a punch or slap. Cyberstalking is emerging as a form of partner violence that differs from traditional domestic abuse and is troubling in the ease in which it occurs.

Cyberbully stalking harassment In a study published this month, Kansas State University researcher Lisa A. Melander shines a light on how cyberstalking impacts college-age students. Gathering data in male-only or female-only focus groups, Melander found a range of cyber harassment, including sending unsolicited or threatening e-mails, posting hostile Internet messages and obtaining personal information about the victim without his or her consent.

The study found some differences in cyber harassment compared to face-to-face domestic violence. One, the conflict is quick and easy, so flare-ups occur in cyberspace when they might have blown over if people were only communicating in person. Two, matters that would typically be private become public very quickly -- meaning friends, relatives and others can be pulled into the situation and also suffer from the conflict. And, three, geographic location has no bearing on the situation. Victims can't always escape by changing their physical location.

Melander also found that, contrary to traditional violence where there is likely one abuser and one victim, cyber harassment can often involve both partners because of the back-and-forth that takes place. Moreover, when people communicate via computer they are less inhibited and don't have visual cues, such as facial expressions or tone of voice, to guide their interactions. That too can aggravate conflict that is being played out in cyberspace.

Melander concludes that computer technology "may change how relationship violence occurs among younger generations." A previous study suggested that about one-third of college students reported some form of computer-based harassment. But much more research is needed on the impact of the "darker side" of technology, she said.

The study is published in the June issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Hey, driver! Put down the cellphone -- for your relationship's sake

June 16, 2010 |  3:39 pm

Cellphone Talking on a cellphone while behind the wheel is obviously dangerous to your driving, But it also might be dangerous to your relationship.

In a recent issue of Family Science Review, University of Minnesota professor Paul Rosenblatt discusses the risks, as he sees them, of communicating while driving. He contends that the same factors that make driving while talking on a cellphone risky — distracted concentration and slower reactions times — can also take their toll on the conversation at hand.

It makes sense. Effective communication via cellphones is hard enough given the absence of visual cues and facial expressions. Factor in the distractions created by traffic lights, other motorists and the possibility of an errant child or animal dashing into the road and the chances increase dramatically that a driver will respond thoughtlessly, miss an important comment or, perhaps worse, deliver a delayed response where there really, really shouldn’t be a delay.

A family social science professor in the university’s College of Education and Human Development, Rosenblatt explained that the motive for his article came from his field of study, as well a general desire to help people.

“It just seemed obvious to me…. That kind of communication is not simple. There are more mistakes likely to happen. People misunderstand each other, focus less, and respond slower, which could all be negative for relationships,” Rosenblatt said in an interview.

To date, Rosenblatt has yet to actually test his theory -- citing both the financial and logistical difficulties involved in doing so. But, despite this lack of scientific evidence, Rosenblatt has given his theory a lot of thought, relying on experiences in his own life and conversations with his students as proof that his theory has merit.

For the less imaginative among us, Rosenblatt surmised five possible scenarios in which cellphone usage while driving could lead to relationship problems:

- A phone call to the driver requesting that they run an errand;
- A phone call delivering good news;
- A phone call delivering bad news;
- Arguments over the phone;
- Apologies made over the phone.

Surely, you can think of (or recall) other examples.

Overall, considering what we’re now learning about the perils of talking while driving …

- Most people can't talk on a cellphone and drive safely, study finds

- A new Rx from the doctor: hang up and drive

… maybe we could all benefit from swallowing Rosenblatt’s bitter pill. It might be time to just shut up, hang up, and drive.

-- Jessie Schiewe

Photo credit: Los Angeles Times

Become a fan: Become a fan of our Facebook page and get a steady stream of health-and medical-related news, musings and the occasional oddity.

Female empowerment can help fight HIV, researchers say

June 16, 2010 | 11:42 am

A team of American and South African researchers has an unconventional prescription for reducing the risk of HIV among women – female empowerment.

Hiv If young women in rural South Africa enjoyed true gender equality with their male partners, nearly 14% of the new HIV infections recorded between 2002 and 2006 could have been avoided, the researchers said. In addition, if – by some miracle – all instances of physical or sexual violence by men could have been prevented, so would 12% of the new HIV cases diagnosed during that four-year period.

Those calculations come from a study published online Wednesday in the journal Lancet. The researchers crunched data from a trial designed to test the effectiveness of an HIV-prevention program called Stepping Stones.

Of the 1,099 women included in the Lancet study, 128 acquired HIV during the course of the trial. That worked out to an overall incidence rate of 6.2 new infections per 100 person-years. But the rates weren’t uniform across all groups of women.

Among those with “low relationship power equity,” there were 8.5 new cases per 100 person-years; for women in more equal relationships, there were only 5.5 new infections per 100 person-years. The researchers also found that among women who were victims of intimate partner violence more than once during the study, the infection rate was 9.6 new cases per 100 person-years; for all other women, there were 5.2 new cases per 100 person-years.

Cultures that “celebrate male strength and toughness” tend to tolerate a higher degree of male control over women, and that makes women more vulnerable to the adverse consequences of “risky sexual behavior, predatory sexual practices, and other acts of violence against women,” the researchers wrote. Therefore, health officials should be concerned not only with the availability of HIV medications but with social programs “that address violence and gender inequity in relationships.”

It may sound pie-in-the-sky, but the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator has already earmarked $30 million for pilot programs aimed at preventing gender-based violence in Tanzania, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to Jay Silverman, director of violence-prevention programs at the Harvard School of Public Health. In an editorial that accompanies the study, Silverman wrote:  “We must hope that this initial allocation will be followed by far greater investment.”

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: New research indicates that women like Claudia Pena (above) would be less vulnerable to HIV infection if they were on more equal footing with their partners. She got HIV from her live-in boyfriend, who was sleeping with other men. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times

Become a fan of our Facebook page and get a steady stream of health-and medical-related news, musings and the occasional oddity.

Broken hearts hurt men more than women

June 11, 2010 |  9:10 am

Women may shed more tears over a busted romantic relationship, but men suffer the greater emotional toll, researchers say.

In a study of more than 1,000 men and women, ages 18 to 23, researchers found that unhappy romances cause men more emotional grief, including threatening their identity and feelings of self-worth. Young men and women express their distress at a breakup differently. Women are more likely to feel depressed after a breakup, while men are more likely to have substance-abuse problems.

Men may be more affected by a breakup because their romantic partners are their primary source of intimacy. Women, however, are more likely to have other close relationships with friends or family members to turn to for support, said the study's author, Robin Simon of Wake Forest University.

Nonmarital relationships are important to a young adult's well-being, Simon said. "However, the advantages of partner support and disadvantages of partner strain are more closely associated with men's than women's mental health," she wrote.
The study is published in the June issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Javier Etxezarreta  /  EPA

Young adults tending to a romance have less substance use

June 3, 2010 |  6:00 am

Marriage usually helps stabilize behavior. Studies show, for example, that people are less likely to use drugs and drink once wedded. The same behavior appears true of young adults in romantic relationships, according to a new study.

Love Researchers examined surveys of 909 people who were followed beginning in first or second grade up through two years after high school. They found the typical person of age 19 or 20 who not in a stable relationship was much more likely -- about 40% -- to use marijuana and drink heavily compared with someone who was in a relationship. The researchers controlled for other factors that affect drinking and drug use, such as employment status. The people who were not in relationships were less likely than their dating peers to have used marijuana or alcohol in high school, however.

"For these individuals, the new freedoms of early adulthood and lack of social control from a partner posed the greatest risks in terms of escalation of substance use," the authors wrote.

It could be that young people in relationships are getting support from their romantic partner that helps them avoid substances or that they are spending less time hanging out with substance-abusing friends or in bars.

"Even dating relationships activate mechanisms of support and control, although to a lesser extent than more serious relationship statuses of cohabitation or marriage," the authors wrote. "These findings show how bonding, adopting the behavior patterns of a partner and the interaction between these two processes influence substance use in early adulthood."

"I'm not saying that we should set up dating services," the lead author of the study, Charles Fleming, a research scientist at the University of Washington, said in a news release. "But it's something for parents to know and it's something for other people who are working with young adults of this age to know."

The study was published Wednesday in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Allen J. Schaben  /  Los Angeles Times

Gratitude for even the little things keeps romance alive

May 26, 2010 |  7:00 am

Picking up a pint of ice cream. Issuing a compliment. Doing your partner's chores. All are small acts that provoke gratitude and strengthen relationships, say the authors of a new study.

Rose Researchers studied 65 couples who were in committed, satisfying relationships and tracked the day-to-day fluctuations in relationship satisfaction -- the so-called "ups and downs." The researchers found that feelings of gratitude boost the health of relationships. Both the giver and the receiver of an act of kindness benefit, said the lead author of the study, Sara Algoe, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

The emotion of gratitude helps people find and then bond to people who care about their welfare, the study finds.

"Gratitude triggers a cascade of responses within the person who feels it in that very moment, changing the way the person views the generous benefactor, as well as motivations toward the benefactor," Algoe said in a news release. "This is especially true when a person shows that they care about the partner's needs and preferences."

The study is published online in the journal Personal Relationships.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Robert Lachman  /  Los Angeles Times

Book Review: 'Passages in Caregiving' by Gail Sheehy

May 22, 2010 |  9:00 am

Book jacket of Passages in Caregiving-1 Caring for a loved one with a chronic illness -- a parent, partner, sibling or child -- is a role no one aspires to but many of us will take on.

In her superb new book, "Passages in Caregiving," Gail Sheehy writes that someone is serving as an unpaid family caregiver in almost one-third of American households. It's a job that lasts an average of five years.

"Nobody briefs us on all the services we are expected to perform when we take on this role," she writes.

That statement is no longer true, for "Passages in Caregiving" -- written from Sheehy's personal experience supplemented by a generous dose of reporting -- does it well. Her book outlines the road that awaits caregivers and gives practical advice to help them on the journey. It's an ambitious and readable blend of memoir, reportage, consumer advice, pep talk and love story.

Sheehy, author of the bestselling 1976 book "Passages" and many other books and articles, was married to Clay Felker, the legendary editor who founded New York magazine and cultivated such writing talents as Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin and Gloria Steinem. They were a high-profile New York media couple with a life many would envy.

Then one day a phone call came that changed everything. It was a cancer diagnosis for Felker. As they absorbed the news and started making the rounds of doctors, Sheehy realized she had taken on a new role: family caretaker. She thought this would last six months to a year and then their life together would go back to normal. It didn't. 

Continue reading »

Book Review: 'For Better' by Tara Parker-Pope

May 8, 2010 |  2:18 pm

For better One of the perks of being a journalist is that it can give professional license to explore subjects of personal interest and to knock on doors closed to most people -- all in the course of doing your job.

Author Tara Parker-Pope has made the most of that opportunity with her excellent new book, "For Better: The Science of a Good Marriage."

Parker-Pope, who writes about health in her Well blog for the New York Times, said she became interested in the science of marriage when her own 17-year union began to founder.

She sought help in making sense of the situation but was put off by the platitudes she found in self-help books. "I knew where to look for answers about heart disease, diabetes, allergies, and numerous other health issues, and I wanted the same objective, evidence-based advice about my marriage," she writes.

As she ventured into scientific databases, she was surprised  to discover a large body of research on marriage and relationships that offered practical advice about marital health. She said she realized that basic scientific truths she uncovered could have helped her see the signs of trouble earlier in her marriage.

In "For Better," Parker-Pope seeks to help other people make better choices and save or strengthen their own relationships. Her passion for the subject creates a driving momentum that propels the reader through the book as she attempts to answer the question, "What makes a good marriage?"  

Continue reading »

Another loss can follow for couples who lose a pregnancy

April 5, 2010 |  5:25 pm

Scientists have had a hard time finding data to support the widespread notion that parents are more likely to divorce following the death of a child. But a new study finds that the risk is indeed higher for couples after a pregnancy goes awry.

Baby Researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School used nationwide data on U.S. families to track the outcomes of pregnancies and the effects on parents. They calculated that couples who experienced a miscarriage were 22% more likely to break up than couples whose pregnancies resulted in the birth of a child. The increased risk persisted for three years.

Things were even worse for couples coping with a stillbirth – their odds of splitting were 40% higher, and the risk persisted for nine years, the researchers found.

About 15% of pregnancies end in miscarriage (the loss of a pregnancy during the first 20 weeks of gestation) and 1% end in stillbirth (loss after 20 weeks), so the number of relationships that end in the wake of these losses is significant, according to the researchers.

The study will be published in the May edition of the journal Pediatrics.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: When pregnancies don't end in a live birth, couples face an increased risk of separation. Photo credit: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/MCT


The Latest | news as it happens

Recent Posts
test |  March 15, 2011, 4:00 pm »
Booster Shots has moved |  July 12, 2010, 6:02 pm »