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Social interactions are important for building the strongest relationships.
- When someone says thank you, who is it for? According to Dr. Sara Algoe, expressions of gratitude have a positive effect on the person receiving the message, the person delivering it, and even those who witness the exchange. These types of social interactions are crucial for building lasting relationships with romantic partners, friends, and coworkers.
- "When we say 'thank you,' we're sending a message to the person who just did something nice for us, that they are valued, that they're seen, that the thing that they did for us was worth doing in the first place," Algoe says.
- Expressing gratitude is easy, and the research shows that the benefits far outweigh the effort.
New research from the University of Granada found that stress could help determine sex.
- A new study found that women with elevated stress before, during, and after conception are twice as likely to deliver a girl.
- One factor could be that sperm carrying an X chromosome are better equipped to reach the egg under adverse conditions.
- Another factor could be miscarriage of male fetuses during times of stress.
Stress in the modern world is generally viewed as a hindrance to a healthy life.
Indeed, excess stress is associated with numerous problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, obesity, and other conditions. While the physiological mechanisms associated with stress can be beneficial, as Kelly McGonigal points out in The Upside of Stress, the modern wellness industry is built on the foundation of stress relief.
The effects of stress on pregnant mothers is another longstanding area of research. For example, what potential negative effects do elevated levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine have on fetal development?
A new study, published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, investigated a very specific aspect of stress on fetuses: does it affect sex? Their findings reveal that women with elevated stress are twice as likely to give birth to a girl.
For this research, the University of Granada scientists recorded the stress levels of 108 women before, during, and after conception. By testing cortisol concentration in their hair and subjecting the women to a variety of psychological tests, the researchers discovered that stress indeed influences sex. Specifically, stress made women twice as likely to deliver a baby girl.
The team points out that their research is consistent with other research that used saliva to show that stress resulted in a decreased likelihood of delivering a boy.
Maria Isabel Peralta RamírezPhoto courtesy of University of Granada
Lead author María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, a researcher at the UGR's Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, says that prior research focused on stress levels leading up to and after birth. She was interested in stress's impact leading up to conception. She says:
"Specifically, our research group has shown in numerous publications how psychological stress in the mother generates a greater number of psychopathological symptoms during pregnancy: postpartum depression, a greater likelihood of assisted delivery, an increase in the time taken for lactation to commence (lactogenesis), or inferior neurodevelopment of the baby six months after birth."
While no conclusive evidence has been rendered, the research team believes that activation of the mother's endogenous stress system during conception sets the concentration of sex hormones that will be carried throughout development. As the team writes, "there is evidence that testosterone functions as a mechanism when determining the baby's sex, since the greater the prenatal stress levels, the higher the levels of female testosterone." Levels of paternal stress were not factored into this research.
Previous studies show that sperm carrying an X chromosome are better equipped to reach the egg under adverse conditions than sperm carrying the Y chromosome. Y fetuses also mature slowly and are more likely to produce complications than X fetuses. Peralta also noted that there might be more aborted male fetuses during times of early maternal stress, which would favor more girls being born under such circumstances.
In the future, Peralta and her team say an investigation into aborted fetuses should be undertaken. Right now, the research was limited to a small sample size that did not factor in a number of elements. Still, the team concludes, "the research presented here is pioneering to the extent that it links prenatal stress to the sex of newborns."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
A study finds that sexual regret doesn't change how we behave in the future.
- Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology investigate the degree to which regret regarding sexual encounters makes us modify our behavior.
- Women more often have regrets about encounters that occurred, while men regret the ones that didn't.
- According to the study, people keep doing what they've been doing and continue to have the same regrets.
When it comes to sexual encounters, both women and men may be left with feelings of regret in the fading afterglow. Women, according to recent research, are more likely to experience "action regret," wishing they hadn't had sex. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to report "inaction regret" if they feel they've passed up on a sexual opportunity.
Both may experience regret, says a new study, but not so much that it changes their behavior going forward.
Speaking to Norwegian SciTech, the lead author of the study, Leif Edward Ottesen Kennair of Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), says, "For the most part, people continue with the same sexual behavior and the same level of regret."
The evolutionary value of emotion
Credit: Morgan Lane/Unsplash
"We wanted to examine if their level of regret contributed to a change in behavior the next time around," says senior author Mons Bendixen, who collaborated with Kennair and postdoctoral fellow Trond Viggo Grøntvedt.
Explains Kennair, "A lot of emotions are functional, like disgust that protects against infection and fear that protects against danger. An evolutionary approach has helped us understand anxiety by understanding the function of fear: fight-flight-freeze is about avoiding danger and defending ourselves against it."
The authors say that psychologists generally assume that emotions such as regret serve an evolutionary purpose — they keep us from repeating undesirable behavior.
"Researchers," says Grøntvedt, "have found that most people believe this is true for regret. They assume that regret is actually a helpful negative feeling. People assume it guides them not to repeat what they regretted."
The flexibility of regret
Credit: Priscilla Du Preeze/Unsplash
To see if sexual regret does actually change people's behavior, the researchers invited NTNU students to complete an anonymized web questionnaire about sexual regret. Prospective participants were told:
"We invite you to participate in a research project that examines students' thoughts and feelings after having had casual sex (intercourse), and what factors that may affect these… Some of the questions are sensitive and relate to sexual acts and choices you may have made. Responding may cause some discomfort and embarrassment, and we recommend that all participants sit in an uninterrupted location when answering the questions."
Individuals who agreed to participate were asked to fill out the survey two times, 4.5 months apart. The volunteers were between 18 and 30 years of age. For the first pass at the questionnaire, 529 students, 63.2 percent of whom were female, participated. Just 283 people completed the questionnaire both times.
The questionnaire revealed a resounding, "Nope!" Four and a half months later, individuals had continued to hook up or not hook up in the same way they had at the start of the study. They also exhibited the same level of regret.
Credit: Phix Nguyễn/Unsplash
Kennair admits, "We are not that surprised. If regret helped, would not most sinners eventually become saints? What do you regret the most often? Has it changed your behavior?"
The researchers suggest that, as they suspected at the outset of the project, regret is an emotion that's adaptive, with its impact on behavior dependent on context. In the case of sexual regret, there may be a disconnect between what we think we should want and what we really want.
It may also be that habit simply overpowers regret. Previous studies have found that habits create ever-stronger neural pathways — it's why people often repeat mistakes. The idea is that making a mistake a first time creates a neural pathway to which we increasingly and unconsciously gravitate each time we repeat the error.
Kennair cautions, however, against getting too hung up on sexual regrets.
"And yet," he says, "there are some folks who think that depressive ruminating and worry are a good idea. But the way we treat depression and generalized anxiety disorders is by helping people to stop ruminating and to stop worrying. Not everything people do, think or feel is an evolutionary adaptation — sometimes it is not appropriate either."
Research has shown how important empathy is to relationships, but there are limits to its power.
- Empathy is a useful tool that allows humans (and other species) to connect and form mutually beneficial bonds, but knowing how and when to be empathic is just as important as having empathy.
- Filmmaker Danfung Dennis, Bill Nye, and actor Alan Alda discuss the science of empathy and the ways that the ability can be cultivated and practiced to affect meaningful change, both on a personal and community level.
- But empathy is not a cure all. Paul Bloom explains the psychological differences between empathy and compassion, and how the former can "get in the way" of some of life's crucial relationships.
"Don't tread on me" is a slogan of the deep sea, too.
- Octopuses are part of multispecific collaborative hunting groups with bottom-feeding fish.
- New research shows octopuses defending their territory by punching fish.
- The team believes this research helps reveal underlying game structures in the deep sea.
The psychologist William James noted that consciousness did not arrive in the universe fully formed. Phenomena like perception and memory are in no way limited to our own form of consciousness, though humans often pretend we're evolution's crowning achievement. In many reckonings, all timelines end with Homo sapiens. Because of this errant belief, we've both exalted our own kind while treating other species as lesser forms on the road to our greatness.
Good science is not so egotistical. We should study other species, as evolutionary threads can be picked from their development to help us weave the story of ourselves. Such endeavors require imagination. Thomas Nagel succinctly posed the hard problem of consciousness in a 1974 essay in which he wondered aloud what it's like to be a bat, setting off decades of debate over the nature of consciousness.
We can, and arguably should, also wonder what it's like to an octopus—if we can.
Australian science philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith argues that intelligence is not a straight line to humans, but rather evolved separately in cephalopods (such as octopuses and cuttlefish) and vertebrates, like us. Humans might ponder the hard problem of consciousness, a question that splits fans of emergent phenomena with dualists, but the bottom dweller known as the octopus has no time for such a debate. Godfrey Smith writes,
"In an octopus, the nervous system as a whole is a more relevant object than the brain: it's not clear where the brain itself begins and ends, and the nervous system runs all through the body. The octopus is suffused with nervousness; the body is not a separate thing that is controlled by the brain or nervous system."
Why some angry octopuses punch fish
An octopus body, Godfrey-Smith argues, in some sense transcends the brain-body divide—neither embodied cognition nor disembodied spirit. Rather, it's "all possibility." Nagel, according to Godfrey-Smith, flubbed the question: the octopus is like something, just nothing like a human, therefore making it difficult to even define.
Alas, we can't help but anthropomorphize. Octopuses might maintain a vastly different intelligence, yet like us, they've had to figure out how to survive in challenging environments. As a new study, published in The Scientific Naturalist, shows, they seem to do that, in part, by punching fish.
Our evolutionary success is due in large part to group fitness: we work together well. On occasion, we collaborate with other species to our mutual benefit, as with hunting dogs. The authors of this study point out that ocean life is filled with multispecific collaborative hunting groups, such as moray eels and groupers. Octopuses get in on this action as well.
"Involving active recruitment and referential gestures, the nature of this relationship is mutually beneficial (byproduct mutualism); that is, both can increase their hunting success rate from the presence of the other species, which likely played an important role in the emergence of complex interactions between groupers and eels."
Image sequence depicting the behavioral action of Octopus cyanea punching (white arrows) a yellow‐saddle goatfish (Parupeneus cyclostomus) partner during interspecific multicollaborative hunting.
Coral reef fishes have made bonds with other ocean life, such as octopuses, who chase prey within rocks and coral crevices while bottom-feeders scour the seafloor. Octopuses are known to tail groupers on hunting expeditions. As with any complex social network, however, life is not all mutual benefit. Tensions rise.
Recording instances in Israel in 2018 and Egypt in 2019, the team observed octopuses punching collaborating fish when things got heated. The goal appears to be moving the fish to a less advantageous location or simply telling them to scram.
"Thus, from the octopus's perspective, punching serves as a partner control mechanism, the nature of which is dependent on the ecological context of the interaction, and on how the octopus benefits from inflicting costs on fish partners."
As Godfrey-Smith writes, octopus arms are partly self and partly non-self—each arm is, in a sense, autonomous. To extend a metaphor, breathing is autonomic yet we can also control it. So too each octopus arm travels on its own but also coordinates with the rest of the body. The central brain, he continues, is like a conductor, with each arm being an improvisational jazz player, paying attention to the structure of the song while meandering off when needed.
We will never know what it's like to be an octopus. Nature has branched intelligence in distinctly different directions. Perhaps we share common ground on the hunt for survival. The team believes that research on punching octopuses helps reveal underlying game structures in the deep sea. And maybe, in some form of interspecies solidarity, we can appreciate their method of defending territory.
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
In-depth research suggests BDSM practitioners can experience altered states of consciousness that can be therapeutic.
- BDSM is an acronym encompassing a variety of sexual practices that include: bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, and sadism/masochism. The practice of BDSM usually consists of partners taking on specific roles in which one partner is dominant and the other is submissive.
- BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes.
- According to the research, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation.
The psychology of BDSM
Many experts have weighed in on the significant mental and physical health benefits of sex:
- Lower blood pressure
- Stronger immune system
- Better heart health
- Improved self-esteem
- Decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Better sleep routines
However, there is an increasing interest in studies that explore the specific mental and physical health benefits of BDSM practices. BDSM practitioners (individuals who frequently engage in BDSM play) can experience various mental health benefits from engaging in their scenes. For example, one study suggests that being dominant in the bedroom can boost your work ethic. Other research in this area has suggested engaging in BDSM activities can boost your mental well-being and increase awareness of your attachment style in partnerships, which can ultimately lead to healthier relationships. Additionally, unhealthy stereotypes and misconceptions about BDSM have also been addressed by experts.
A natural starting point for more research surrounding the mental health impact of BDSM practices is to explore what happens in a person's mind and body when they experience intense sexual activity. While physical reactions (such as arousal and climax) are quite typical, there is something unique that happens to individuals who participate in intense BDSM scenes.
What is "subspace" in BDSM play?
Subspace is defined as a state of transcendence reached by submissives through intense physical or psychological experiences with their partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (the use of paddles, blindfolds, restraints) or through emotional triggers (certain words or phrases, meaningful expressions).
This space, while experienced differently for many, can be described as a nearly-hypnotic feeling that takes over when the submissive partner is highly engaged in their role.
What is "domspace" in BDSM play?
Domspace is defined as an altered, elevated state of mind that Dominants (during BDSM scenes) experience through intense physical or psychological experiences with their submissive partner. This can happen through sensory triggers (using paddles or restraints on your partner) or through emotional triggers (expressing certain words or phrases to your partner, meaningful expressions, the notion that your submissive trusts you enough to be vulnerable with you).
While subspace can be described as a "hazy" or "blurry" trance-like state, domspace is often described (by individuals who experience it) as an intense, euphoric, and focused state of mind.
Are there therapeutic benefits to submission?
Experts weigh in: there may be therapeutic and relational benefits to being a submissive person in BDSM scenes.
Photo by LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS on Adobe Stock
According to the author of the study, Dulcinea Pitagora: "Because the BDSM community has been historically vilified due to stereotypes reinforced by negative media exposure and inadequate education, relatively little is known about the phenomenon of subspace outside of the BDSM community."
There is a proven connection between BDSM interactions and altered states of consciousness.
According to a 2016 study, there is a direct link between BDSM interactions and ASCs (altered states of consciousness) - the significant one, in this case, being that engaging in a submissive role during BDSM play can lead to transient hypofrontality.
Transient hypofrontality, a term coined by Dr. Arne Dietrich, is when the focused, thought-processing part of the brain is "shut off" by external triggers. An example of this is the difference between engaging in a competitive sport and running in a beautiful park. During a competitive sport, your brain will need to make a variety of complex decisions. While you're running a calmer path in a beautiful park, however, your mind can "let go" of that prefrontal engagement and you can experience an alternate (relaxed) state of consciousness. For a submissive, during BDSM scenes, this can result in reduced self-reported stress and increased sexual arousal.
Transient hypofrontality has also been used to describe severe "end-stage" addictions. This ability to "shut off" the thought-processing function in your brain can actually cause "involuntary" cravings for this feeling. This can be why many submissive practitioners become reliant on their BDSM activities.
The study explains, "In order to examine an alignment of transient hypofrontality with subspace, the authors collected additional self-reported data describing experiences of subspace; a comparison of these datasets confirmed that the characteristics of transient hypofrontality were consistent with those of subspace."
Experiencing subspace during BDSM play can activate the sympathetic nervous system.
According to the research, subspace is often characterized by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, the release of epinephrine and endorphins, and a subsequent period of non-verbal, deep relaxation. This chain reaction can often lead the submissive in the scene to experience a temporary state of depersonalization and derealization (which are generally experienced as positive and pleasant in this context).
The key to experiencing this trance-like state is having a partner you trust, research suggests.
This state is highly sought after by individuals who identify as submissives in the BDSM context - and the key to achieving this state of being is having a dominant partner you can trust. This type of trust and reciprocal consent can provide an entry to subspace.
"Because the participant who identifies as the sadist, dominant [or top] in a given scene is generally charged with monitoring and protecting their partner, the [submissive] bottom in the scene might be better situated for achieving an altered state of consciousness and transcendence." - Rethinking Kink, 2010
BDSM could be used as a way to heal from trauma and benefit your relationships, experts suggest.
While there is no research to date that has sought to capture the specific experiences of subspace and how they relate to relationships and healing, many experts believe BDSM can in fact provide therapeutic and relational benefits to those who engage in the practices.
"Given the associations between ASCs and subspace described above, the authors' findings on ASCs can be extended to the analogous experience of subspace. The study suggested that symbolic action can have a profound effect on psychological processes and connected trance (a type of ASC) with the healing properties of the trance state."