Health and Medical News and Resources

General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[Press release] A simple intervention can make your brain more receptive to health advice

From the 2 February 2015 University of Pennsylvania press release

 

Emily Falk, Ph.D.

A new discovery shows how a simple intervention—self-affirmation – can open our brains to accept advice that is hard to hear.

“Self-affirmation involves reflecting on core values,” explained Emily Falk, the study’s lead author and director of the Communication Neuroscience Laboratory at University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. Has your doctor ever told you to get more exercise?  Has your spouse ever suggested you eat healthier? Even though the advice comes from good intentions, most people feel defensive when confronted with suggestions that point out their weaknesses. Reflecting on values that bring us meaning can help people see otherwise threatening messages as valuable and self-relevant. “Our work shows that when people are affirmed, their brains process subsequent messages differently.”

Past studies have shown that brain activity in VMPFC during health messages can predict behavior change better than individuals’ own intentions, and this study sheds new light on why.  VMPFC is the brain region most commonly activated when participants think about themselves and when they ascribe value to ideas. The new results show that opening the brain in this way is a key pathway to behavior change.  “Understanding the brain opens the door to new health interventions that target this same pathway,” Falk noted.

“We were particularly interested in using self-affirmation to help people become more active because sedentary behavior is one of the biggest health threats faced by both Americans and people around the world,” said Falk.  Overly sedentary lifestyles are becoming a big problem; in some regions nearly 85 percent of an adult population leads an inactive lifestyle. This can cause multiple health problems, including poor heart health, diabetes, and cancer, just to name three. Increasing activity even small amount can have an important impact on both mental and physical health.

….

Psychologists have used self-affirmation as a technique to improve outcomes ranging from health behaviors in high risk patients to increasing academic performance in at risk youth, suggesting that the findings may be applicable across a wide range of interventions.  “Our findings highlight that something as simple as reflecting on core values can fundamentally change the way our brains respond to the kinds of messages we encounter every day,” Falk noted.  “Over time, that makes the potential impact huge.”

February 3, 2015 Posted by | Consumer Health, Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , | Leave a comment

[New Scientist Article] Data trackers monitor your life so they can nudge you

From the 7 November 2013 New Scientist article by Hal Hodson

Once you know everything about a person, you can influence their behaviour. A thousand students with tattletale phones are going to find out how easy that is

THERE’S something strange about this year’s undergraduate class at the Technical University of Denmark – they all have exactly the same kind of phone.

The phones are tracking everywhere the students go, who they meet and when, and every text they send. Around 1000 students are volunteers in the largest-ever experiment of its kind, one that could change our understanding of how we interact in groups.

Sune Lehmann and Arek Stopczynski of DTU are using the data to build a model of the social network the students live in – who talks to who, where groups gather. They plan to test whether the results can be used for purposes like boosting student achievement, or even improving mental health. “We hope to be able to figure out how to make this work in terms of academic performance,” says Lehmann.

This is sociology on a different scale, gathering detailed data about an entire group and then using that information to “nudge” them into changing their behaviour. Used ethically, the results could improve the way society works, transforming everything from healthcare and public transport to education and governance. Used for the wrong reasons, it could be extremely dangerous.

Used ethically, the results could improve the way society works, transforming everything from healthcare and public transport to education and governance. Used for the wrong reasons, it could be extremely dangerous.

Used ethically, the results could improve the way society works, transforming everything from healthcare and public transport to education and governance. Used for the wrong reasons, it could be extremely dangerous. a 2010 study, participants were encouraged to boost their activity levels either through personal rewards, or rewards given to a buddy who was supposed to keep tabs on them. Being motivated by an incentivised buddy resulted in twice the activity increase of the direct reward.

..nudges related to public health could be as simple as allowing doctors to ring up their patients when their activity levels start to follow patterns that correlate with, say, diabetes or depression, and asking them if they are feeling OK.

But we shouldn’t lose sight of the potential dark side, says Evan Selinger, a technology ethicist at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “There is extraordinary power in the access to data at a personal level – even predicting future behaviour,” he says. “There’s a lot to be gained, but there’s a lot of problems that scare the living ******** out of me.”

 

 

 

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Psychology, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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