Positive emotions, better health, more relationships – New study

How Can I Be Happy? Learn to Cultivate Positive Emotions

Social Connections Drive the ‘Upward Spiral’ of Positive Emotions and Health

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, led by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Bethany Kok of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences also found it is possible for a person to self-generate positive emotions in ways that make him or her physically healthier.

happiness positive psychology happier cultivating positive emotions

 

“People tend to liken their emotions to the weather, viewing them as uncontrollable,” says Fredrickson. “This research shows not only that our emotions are controllable, but also that we can take the reins of our daily emotions and steer ourselves toward better physical health.”

To study the bodily effects of up-regulating positive emotions, the researchers zeroed in on vagal tone, an indicator of how a person’s vagus nerve is functioning.  The vagus nerve helps regulate heart rate and is also a central component of a person’s social-engagement system.

Because people who have higher vagal tone tend to be better at regulating their emotions, the researchers speculated that having higher vagal tone might lead people to experience more positive emotions, which would then boost perceived positive social connections. Having more social connections would in turn increase vagal tone, thereby improving physical health and creating an “upward spiral.”

To see whether people might be able to harness this upward spiral to steer themselves toward better health, Kok, Fredrickson, and their colleagues conducted a longitudinal field experiment.

Half of the study participants were randomly assigned to attend a 6-week loving-kindness meditation (LKM) course in which they learned how to cultivate positive feelings of love, compassion, and goodwill toward themselves and others. They were asked to practice meditation at home, but how often they meditated was up to them. The other half of the participants remained on a waiting list for the course.

cultivate positive emotions physical health positive psychology john schinnerer phd
How Can I Be Happy? Become an expert at cultivating positive emotions

Each day, for 61 consecutive days, participants in both groups reported their “meditation, prayer, or solo spiritual activity,” their emotional experiences, and their social interactions within the last day. Their vagal tone was assessed twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the study.

The data provided clear evidence to support the hypothesized upward spiral, with perceived social connections serving as the link between positive emotions and health.

Participants in the LKM group who entered the study with higher vagal tone showed steeper increases in positive emotions over the course of the study. As participants’ positive emotions increased, so did their reported social connections. And, as social connections increased, so did vagal tone. In contrast, participants in the wait-list group showed virtually no change in vagal tone over the course of the study.

“The daily moments of connection that people feel with others emerge as the tiny engines that drive the upward spiral between positivity and health,” Fredrickson explains.

These findings add another piece to the physical health puzzle, suggesting that positive emotions may be an essential psychological nutrient that builds health, just like getting enough exercise and eating leafy greens.

“Given that costly chronic diseases limit people’s lives and overburden healthcare systems worldwide, this is a message that applies to nearly everyone, citizens, educators, health care providers, and policy-makers alike,” Fredrickson observes.

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To life, love and laughter

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Expert

Expert consultant to Pixar

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526, San Francisco Bay Area

(925) 575-0258

For a free PDF copy of John’s award-winning self-help book on positive psychology AND a free online anger management course, visit GuideToSelf.com and enter your name and email address.

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This work was supported National Institute of Mental Health Grant MH59615.

Press release available online: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/social-connections-drive-the-upward-spiral-of-positive-emotions-and-health.html

For more information about this study, please contact: Barbara L. Fredrickson at blf@unc.edu.

Those interested in learning more can also explore Barbara Fredrickson’s recent book, Love 2.0, at www.PositivityResonance.com

Altruism Influenced by Amount of Gray Matter in Brain

More Gray Matter in Brain = More Altruism?

From ScienceDaily (July 11, 2012) — The amount of activity in a tiny region of the brain is directly related to your propensity for altruistic behavior. University of Zurich researchers have demonstrated that people with a higher degree of altruism than others have more gray matter at the intersection between the temporal and parietal lobe, providing initial proof of a connection between brain anatomy, brain activity and altruistic behavior.

http://images.sciencedaily.com/2012/07/120711123005-large.jpg

The intersection (yellow) between the parietal and temporal lobes,

in which the relative proportion of gray matter is significantly

positively correlated with the propensity for altruistic behavior.

(Credit: University of Zurich)

Positive psychology
has often asked ‘Why do some people tend to be more selfish while others are more altruistic?’

Previous studies indicated that social categories like gender, income or education fail to explain individual differences in altruistic behavior. Recent neuroscience studies have shown that variations in brain structure seem to be linked to differences in personality traits and abilities.

Breaking new scientific ground,  a group of researchers from Zurich University, led by Ernst Fehr, Director of the Department of Economics, show that there is a connection between the anatomy of the brain and our degree of altruism.

To investigate whether differences in altruistic behavior have neurobiological causes, volunteers were to divide money between themselves and an anonymous other person. The participants always had the option of sacrificing a certain portion of the money for the benefit of the other person. Such a sacrifice can be deemed altruistic because it helps someone else at one’s own expense. The researchers found major differences in this respect: Some participants were almost never willing to sacrifice money to benefit others while others behaved very altruistically.

Interestingly, altruistic behavior has been shown in multiple studies to reduce depression as well as increase subjective well-being, degree of happiness, and life satisfaction. 

And keep in mind, that this does not mean that altruistic behavior is predetermined or 100% biologically determined. The human brain is highly plastic and continues to grow and change throughout the lifespan. It is my belief, based on studying the brain for 20 years, that altruism is a learnable skill. It simply requires awareness, practice and repetition.

More gray matter

The aim of the study, however, was to find out why there are such differences. Previous studies had shown that a certain region of the brain — the place where the parietal and temporal lobes meet — is linked to the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes in order to understand their thoughts and feelings (i.e., sympathy and empathy). Altruism is probably closely related to this ability. Consequently, the researchers suspected that individual differences in this part of the brain might be linked to differences in altruistic behavior. And, according to Yosuke Morishima, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich, they were right: “People who behaved more altruistically also had a higher proportion of gray matter at the junction between the parietal and temporal lobes.”

Individual Differences in brain activity

The participants in the study also displayed marked differences in brain activity while they were deciding how to split up the money. In the case of selfish people, the small brain region behind the ear is already active when the cost of altruistic behavior is very low. In altruistic people, however, this brain region only becomes more active when the cost is very high. The brain region is thus activated especially strongly when people reach the limits of their willingness to behave altruistically. The reason, the researchers suspect, is that this is when there is the greatest need to overcome man’s natural self-centeredness by activating this brain region.

Ernst Fehr adds: “These are exciting results for us. However, one should not jump to the conclusion that altruistic behavior is determined by biological factors alone.” The volume of gray matter is also influenced by social processes. According to Fehr, the findings therefore raise the fascinating question as to whether it is possible to promote the development of brain regions that are important for altruistic behavior through appropriate training or social norms.
To life, love and altruism,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

For your FREE PDF copy of my award-winning self-help book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought, visit GuideToSelf.com.

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded #1 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschinTwitter

 

 

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Zurich.

Journal Reference:

Yosuke Morishima, Daniel Schunk, Adrian Bruhin, Christian C. Ruff, Ernst Fehr. Linking Brain Structure and Activation in Temporoparietal Junction to Explain the Neurobiology of Human Altruism. Neuron, 12 July 2012 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.05.021

University of Zurich (2012, July 11). The more gray matter you have, the more altruistic you are. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 12, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/07/120711123005.htm

3 Alcoholic Drinks Linked to More Positive Emotions and Bonding

From ScienceDaily (June 29, 2012) — A recent study out of the University of Pittsburgh reveals that 3 glasses of alcohol — drunk with others — seems to cultivate positive emotions and promote social bonding AND relieve negative emotions.
In my line of work, however, the trick is to get people to STOP drinking.

While it is usually taken for granted that people drink to reduce stress and enhance positive feelings, many studies have shown that alcohol consumption has an opposite effect. In a new paper titled “Alcohol and Group Formation: A Multimodal Investigation of the Effects of Alcohol on Emotion and Social Bonding,” research shows that moderate doses of alcohol have a powerful effect on both male and female social drinkers when they are in a group.

 

Moderate alcohol consumption linked to positiveemotions and improved connection with others

According to the researchers, previous alcohol studies testing the impact of alcohol on emotions involved social drinkers consuming alcohol in isolation rather than in groups.

“Those studies may have failed to create realistic conditions for studying this highly social drug,” said Michael A. Sayette, lead author and professor of psychology in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences. “We felt that many of the most significant effects of alcohol would more likely be revealed in an experiment using a social setting.”

Sayette and his colleagues assembled various small groups using 720 male and female participants, a larger sample than in previous alcohol studies. Researchers assessed individual and group interactions using the Facial Action Coding System (FACS), developed by Paul Ekman, and the Grouptalk model for speech behavior.

They concluded that alcohol stimulates social bonding, increases the amount of time people spend talking to one another, and reduces displays of negative emotions. According to Sayette, the paper introduces into the alcohol literature new measures of facial expression and speech behavior that offer a sensitive and comprehensive assessment of social bonding.

Sayette and eight colleagues took special care in the methods they employed to form the groups. Each participant was randomly assigned to a group of three unacquainted “strangers.” Each group was instructed to drink an alcoholic beverage, a placebo, or a nonalcoholic control beverage. Twenty groups representing each gender composition (three males; one female and two males; two males and one female; and three females) were assigned to the three different beverage scenarios. Group members sat around a circular table and consumed three drinks over a 36-minute time span. Each session was video recorded, and the duration and sequence of the participants’ facial and speech behaviors were systematically coded frame by frame.

Results showed that alcohol not only increased the frequency of “true” smiles, but also enhanced the coordination of these smiles. In other words, alcohol enhanced the likelihood of “golden moments,” with groups provided alcohol being more likely than those offered nonalcoholic beverages to have all three group members smile simultaneously. Participants in alcohol-drinking groups also likely reported greater social bonding than did the nonalcohol-drinking groups and were more likely to have all three members stay involved in the discussion.

“By demonstrating the sensitivity of our group formation paradigm for studying the rewarding effects of alcohol,” said Sayette, “we can begin to ask questions of great interest to alcohol researchers — Why does alcohol make us feel better in group settings? Is there evidence to suggest a particular participant may be vulnerable to developing a problem with alcohol?”

The new research sets the stage for evaluation of potential associations between socioemotional responses to alcohol and individual differences in personality, family history of alcoholism, and genetic vulnerability.

Cheers,

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Author of the award-winning Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion & Thought

Guide To Self, Inc.

913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280

Danville CA 94526

GuideToSelf.comWeb site

WebAngerManagement.com – 10-week online anger management course

DrJohnBlog.GuideToSelf.com  Awarded Top 3 Blog in Positive Psychology by PostRank, Top 100 Blog by Daily Reviewer

@johnschinTwitter

 

 

Additional Pitt researchers on the project were Pitt graduate students in psychology Kasey Creswell, John Dimoff, and Catharine Fairbairn and professors of psychology Jeffrey Cohn, John Levine, and Richard Moreland. Other researchers included Bryan Heckman, a graduate student in psychology at the University of South Florida, and Thomas Kirchner, a research investigator at the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies.

The study was funded by a grant from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by University of Pittsburgh.

University of Pittsburgh (2012, June 29). Moderate doses of alcohol increase social bonding in groups. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 2, 2012, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2012/06/120629211854.htm  The paper is published online in Psychological Science.

Latest Positive Psychology…Positive Words Act as Glue for Social Interactions

Words charged with positive emotions are used more frequently and augment human communication

Scientists at ETH Zurich have studied the use of language, finding that words with positive emotion are more frequently used in written communication than those with negative emotional content. This result supports the theory that social relations are enhanced by a positive bias in human communication. The study by David Garcia and his colleagues from the Chair of Systems Design is published in the first issue of the new SpringerOpen journal EPJ Data Science, and is freely available to the general public as an Open Access article.

Previous studies focused on word lengths and frequency. They demonstrated that frequency depends on the length of words used, as a result of the principle of least effort influencing the use of shorter words. In contrast, this study focused on how the emotions expressed in words relate to the word frequency and its information content. The authors focused on words used in written emotional expression in the three most popular European languages online: English, German and Spanish.

They exploited a dataset on human behavior on the Internet, which includes texts from blogs, chat rooms and forums, among other sources. After performing a quantitative analysis on this dataset, the authors found that positive words appeared more frequently than words associated with a negative emotion. This suggests that the emotional content affects the words’ frequency, even though the overall emotional content of the studied words is neutral on average. These findings support existing theories that there is a positive bias in human expression to facilitate social interaction.

Going one step further, the authors also focused on words within their context and realised that positive words carried less information than negative ones. Therefore, because of the positive bias observed in human communication, positive words are more likely to be used whereas negative expressions could be reserved to transmit information about urgent threats and dangerous events.

 

Reference

Garcia D., Garas, A., Schweitzer F., Positive words carry less information than negative words, EPJ Data Science; http://www.springerlink.com/content/487p8w5635603351

This Open Access article is available to the general public on SpringerLink.

For more information, please visit http://www.epj.org.

From EurekAlert

Cheers,
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Positive Psychology Coach

Anger Management Coach

www.GuideToSelf.com 

Want to Reduce Your Social Anxiety? Increase Your Salt Intake!

For those of you who have seen me speak, teach, or who know me personally, you are well aware that social anxiety is a genetic predisposition that I have learned to manage in my own life. I have learned and teach clients scientifically-proven tools to manage anger and anxiety, such as mindfulness, self-compassion, forgiveness, if-then thinking statements, and more.

Social anxiety is a topic that is very  near and dear to my heart because I have suffered the emotional distress that comes with it.

So I was quite excited to see this study which came out today that shows that higher levels of salt in the diet, while having other negative effects on the body, actually has a positive impact on those of us with social anxiety.

This study demonstrated that higher levels of sodium are associated with increased production of oxytocin (which leads to increased trust, rapport, caring, and connection) and decreased levels of pro-stress hormone angiotensin II. So higher levels of sodium actually decrease the painful feelings of social anxiety!

From an evolutionary perspective this makes tremendous sense. Imagine you are on the plains of Africa, millions of years ago, and you and your tribe are suffering from thirst and dehydration (and sodium levels are rising in the body). In this scenario, an increased level of cooperation and trust is necessary so that everyone in the tribe can get to water and share the water so everyone’s chances of survival increase.

Dying of thirst for connection

Dying of thirst for social connection? Must have oxytocin…

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Higher Levels of Sodium Reduce Your Response to Stress, Study Shows

ScienceDaily (Apr. 5, 2011) — All those salty snacks available at the local tavern might be doing more than increasing your thirst: They could also play a role in suppressing social anxiety.

New research from the University of Cincinnati (UC) shows that elevated levels of sodium blunt the body’s natural responses to stress by inhibiting stress hormones that would otherwise be activated in stressful situations. These hormones are located along the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which controls reactions to stress.
The research is reported in the April 6, 2011, issue of The Journal of Neuroscience, the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

“We’re calling this the Watering Hole Effect,” says Eric Krause, PhD, a research assistant professor in the basic science division of UC’s department of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience and first author of the study. “When you’re thirsty, you have to overcome some amount of fear and anxiety to approach a communal water source. And you want to facilitate those interactions — that way everyone can get to the water source.”

Krause and his team dehydrated laboratory rats by giving them sodium chloride, then exposed them to stress. Compared with a control group, the rats that received the sodium chloride secreted fewer stress hormones and also displayed a reduced cardiovascular response to stress.

“Their blood pressure and heart rate did not go up as much in response to stress as the control group’s, and they returned to resting levels more quickly,” says Krause.

“Also, in a social interaction paradigm with two rats interacting, we found them to be more interactive and less socially anxious.”

Further research, through examination of brain and blood samples from the rats, showed that the same hormones that act on kidneys to compensate for dehydration also act on the brain to regulate responsiveness to stressors and social anxiety.

The elevated sodium level, known as hypernatremia, limited stress responses by suppressing the release of the pro-stress hormone angiotensin II. Conversely, it increased the activity of oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone.

Further research, Krause says, will examine these hormones and neurocircuits to investigate their role in social anxiety disorders and autism, a neurological disorder whose characteristics include social impairment.

Oxytocin deficiency has been implicated in autism in previous studies,” says Krause. “We’d like to investigate the possibility that dysregulation in fluid balance during pregnancy could result in autistic disorders.”

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If you would like a FREE PDF copy of John’s award-winning book on managing anxiety and creating more positive emotions in your life, simply visit www.GuideToSelf.com, click on the yellow book icon in the top left corner of the page, then enter your name and email address on the following page. You will be immediately sent an email and given instant access to your copy of Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought.  This award-winning self-help book is filled with the latest in scientifically proven tools and tips to help you manage anxiety, depression and anger. It also is loaded with tips and techniques to teach you cutting-edge ways to insert more positive emotions and thoughts in your life.

To life, love and laughter!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

Award-winning author and blogger

Founder Guide to Self, Inc.

Anger Management Coach

San Francisco Bay Area

Danville, CA

Story Source:
The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, via ScienceDaily and EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.
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Journal Reference:
1. E. G. Krause, A. D. de Kloet, J. N. Flak, M. D. Smeltzer, M. B. Solomon, N. K. Evanson, S. C. Woods, R. R. Sakai, J. P. Herman. Hydration State Controls Stress Responsiveness and Social Behavior. Journal of Neuroscience, 2011; 31 (14): 5470 DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6078-10.2011