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Cynical Beliefs Linked to Lower Earnings, Poorer Health

Olga Stavrova

Olga Stavrova

People who hold cynical beliefs about human nature and the world have lower incomes than those with a more optimistic view, found University of Cologne’s Olga Stavrova and Daniel Ehlebracht.

Cynical beliefs are measured by statements including:

  • “I think most people would lie to get ahead,”
  • “It’s safer to trust nobody,”
  • “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.”
Daniel Ehlebracht

Daniel Ehlebracht

People who agree with these ideas may avoid cooperation, trust and collaboration with others and while focusing on monitoring, control, and preventing potential exploitation.

Volunteers who endorsed these self-protective behaviors and cynical beliefs reported lower personal income than people who demonstrate greater trust and interpersonal collaboration in studies using a representative sample of Americans between 1986 and 2012, and replicated with a representative German group between 2003 and 2012.

Robert McCrae

Robert McCrae

A related study showed that income-suppressing cynical beliefs are not associated with enduring personality characteristic measured by Robert McCrae of NIH and Paul Costa’s Big Five personality dimensions.

In addition, lower earnings were not explained by cynical individuals’ poorer health, lower education, and greater agreement with items that measure neuroticism and introversion.

Paul Costa

Paul Costa

However, some cynical beliefs are justified by the local environment, such as in counties with low levels of charitable giving, high homicide rates and high overall societal cynicism levels.
Survey data from 41 countries showed that people in these contexts who held cynical beliefs did not have lower personal income than those with more optimistic views.

Anna-Maija Tolppanen

Anna-Maija Tolppanen

Holding cynical beliefs about people was also associated with greater risk of dementia and death among the elderly in a study over 8 to 10 years, according to University of Eastern Finland’s Elisa NeuvonenMinna Rusanen, Anna-Maija Tolppanen, collaborating with Alina Solomon of University of Kuopio, Flinders University’s Tiina Laatikainen, with Tiia Ngandu of Finland’s National Institute for Health and Welfare, Hilkka Soininen of Hospital District of North Karelia, and Kuopio University Hospital’s Miia Kivipelto.

Alina Solomon

Alina Solomon

The team measured cynical distrust with the Cook-Medley Hostility Scale (CMHS) by University of Minnesota’s Walter Cook and Donald Medley, and cognitive status using screening, clinical phase, and differential diagnosis using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition (DSM-IV) criteria for more than 1450 people.

People with highest level of cynical distrust had higher risk of dementia after the researchers controlled for confounding factors including:

  • Age,
  • Gender,
  • Systolic blood pressure,
  • Total cholesterol,
  • Fasting glucose,
  • Body mass index,
  • Socioeconomic background,
  • Smoking,
  • Alcohol use,
  • Self-reported health,
  • Apolipoprotein E (APOE).
Tiina Laatikainen

Tiina Laatikainen

People with highest levels of cynical distrust were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism, even when Neuvonen’s team controlled for effects of dementia risk, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

Tiia Ngandu

Tiia Ngandu

This finding supports suggestions that people who are more open and optimistic have a lower risk for dementia.

Hilary Tindle

Hilary Tindle

In related findings, positive expectations about the future, and trait optimism were associated with reduced rates of coronary heart disease (CHD) and mortality in postmenopausal women, reported University of Pittsburgh’s Hilary A. Tindle, Yue-Fang Chang, Lewis H. Kuller, Greg J. Siegle, Karen A. Matthews, collaborating with Harvard’s JoAnn E. Manson, Jennifer G. Robinson of University of Iowa, and University of Massachusetts’ Milagros C. Rosal.

Michael Scheier

Michael Scheier

More than 97,250 white and black women with no signs of cancer and cardiovascular disease completed the Life Orientation Test–Revised (LOT-R) by Carnegie Mellon’s Michael Scheier and Charles Carver of University of Miami, plus the Cook Medley Questionnaire’s cynicism subscale.

Charles Carver

Charles Carver

Women who scored in the top quartile for optimism had lower age-adjusted rates of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) and total mortality.
Black women with this optimistic perspective also had significantly less cancer-related mortality.

In contrast, those who scored in the top quartile for cynical hostility had significantly higher rates of CHD and total mortality, reinforcing the value of cultivating a positive viewpoint.

Hilkka Soininen

Hilkka Soininen

Likewise, individuals with the highest cynical distrust measured by Cook-Medley Hostility Scale had higher risk of dementia after adjusting for confounding factors including socioeconomic position, lifestyle, alcohol use, and health status, found Neuvonen’s team.

Financial, physical, and cognitive well-being can be enhanced by cultivating optimism and trust and reducing cynicism.

-*How do you increase and sustain optimism, trust, and collaboration?

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Leadership Roles Reduce – Rather than Increase – Perceived Stress

Animal studies suggest that high status roles are associated with lower stress levels, but fewer human studies that show a causal connection between status and health.

Hannah Kuper

Hannah Kuper

Geoffrey Rose

Geoffrey Rose

The longitudinal Whitehall Studies of British Civil servants suggest that lower status individuals had higher stress and poorer health outcomes that higher status workers, according to Geoffrey Rose of London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London’s  Hannah Kuper and Michael Marmot.

Columbia University’s Modupe Akinola collaborated with Wendy Berry Mendes of the University of California, San Francisco, to re-examine the relationship between organizational status and health outcomes.

Michael Marmot

Michael Marmot

Akinola and Mendes asked police officers to rate their status relative to their colleagues and to other people in the United States.
Then, each volunteer participated in a stressful role-play used by many police departments to help decide which officers should get a promotion.

In this scenario, the officer was asked to placate a disgruntled citizen, played by an actor, who claimed that another officer had verbally and physically abused him.

Modupe Akinola

Modupe Akinola

Researchers measured each heart rates, blood circulation, and testosterone levels as measures of “thriving” stress response or “adaptive” stress response to the role-play.

Officers’ perceptions of their social status were significantly associated with their style of stress response.
Those with higher self-perceived status were more likely to have an adaptive stress response.

Wendy Berry Mendes

Wendy Berry Mendes

In a related study, Akinola and Mendes placed civilian volunteers in high-status or low-status roles to play a complicated, fast-paced video game with a partner.
The researchers again measured participants’ cardiovascular responses and testosterone levels during the task.
Findings with civilians mirrored those with police officers:  Participants placed in the higher-status leader role had more adaptive hormonal and cardiovascular reactions during the high-pressure task.

Those assigned higher status leader roles:

  • Performed more quickly and accurately than supporters
  • Allocated more resources to their partners
  • Expressed more positive perceptions of partners.

Opposite trends prevails for those in lower-status supporter roles:   They had less adaptive responses to the stressful task, did not perform as well on the task, and evaluated the leader more negatively.

Akinola and Mendes suggest that managers may be able to mitigate these negative effects of followership by suggesting paths to workplace advancement.

However, some individual contributors may be more interested in flexible work practices, salary, and time off, than career advancement.
Managers may foster greater employee engagement by tailoring rewards and recognitions to individual priorities.

-*How are role status and stress levels related in your work environment?

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Is Optimistic View of the Future Associated with Disabilities, Shorter Life Expectancy?

Frieder Lang

Frieder Lang

Frieder Lang of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and German Institute for Economic Research and his colleagues challenged the robust, replicated finding that optimism is associated with positive health outcomes.

David Weiss

David Weiss

Lang with University of Zurich’s David Weiss and Denis Gerstorf of Humboldt-University of Berlin and German Institute for Economic Research examined data from 1993 to 2003  German Socio-Economic Panel household surveys.

Denis Gerstorf

Denis Gerstorf

The team collaborated with Gert Wagner of German Institute for Economic Research and Max Planck Institute for Human Development evaluated approximately ratings from 40,000 people 18 to 96 years old, concerning their current and predicted life satisfaction in five years.

Gert Wagner

Gert Wagner

Their disruptive finding is that participants who expected highest life satisfaction in five years were more likely to experience disability and death within the following decade.

Five years after the first interviews:

  • 43 percent of participants were more satisfied with their lives than predicted,
  • 25 percent predicted accurately
  • 32 percent overestimated their life satisfaction with an optimistic bias.

Lang, Weiss, Gerstorf, and Wagner calculated that overestimating future life satisfaction was related to a 9.5 percent increase in reporting disabilities and a 10 percent increased incidence of death.

The youngest participants had the most optimistic outlook, whereas middle-aged adults made the most accurate predictions, but became more pessimistic over time.

Lauren Alloy

Lauren Alloy

Older adults’ predictions of future life satisfaction may be more accurate, albeit less optimistic, consistent with Shelley Taylor, Ellen Langer, Lauren Alloy, Lyn Abramson and others demonstration of an “optimism bias” and “depressive realism.”

Lyn Abramson

Lyn Abramson

In contrast to findings that higher income is associated with better health outcomes, Lang’s team found that stable, good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes.
In contrast to other findings, higher income was related to a greater risk of disability.

Shelley Taylor

Shelley Taylor

Lang and team concluded that the outcomes of optimistic, accurate or pessimistic forecasts may depend on age, available resources, and motivation to adopt health-improving behaviors.
They acknowledged that unrealistic optimism about the future may help people feel better when they are facing inevitable negative outcomes, such as terminal disease.

Neil Weinstein

Neil Weinstein

Similarly, Neil Weinstein of Rutgers found that people may underestimate susceptibility to harm from a variety of hazards.
Close to 300 volunteers across age, gender, educational levels and occupational groups, demonstrated an optimism bias that they were less at risk than peers.

Weinstein hypothesized that optimism bias may be introduced when people extrapolate from their past experience to estimate their future vulnerability.
Therefore, volunteers future expectations may be biased  because they tended not to expect problems they had not already experienced.

He demonstrated that these personal risk judgments were not correlated with volunteers’ actual objective risk factors, suggesting that volunteers did not modify their optimistic biases based on laboratory findings, physical examination, and reported health habits.
Positive illusions persist even in the face of contradictory evidence.

Eric Kim

Eric Kim

These findings that optimistic bias may not be associated with positive health outcomes contrasts with findings from including University of Michigan’s Eric S Kim, Nansook Park, and Christopher Peterson, who found that “Dispositional Optimism” protects older adults from stroke.

George Patton

George Patton

Similarly, George Patton and colleagues at Royal Children’s Hospital in Parkville, Victoria, Australia reported that optimism has a somewhat protective effect on adolescent health risks in a prospective study.

Eric Giltay

Eric Giltay

Yet another counterpoint to Lang and team’s work was offered by Eric Giltay and colleagues at Leiden University Medical Center Johanna Geleijnse, Frans Zitman, Brian Buijsse, and Daan Kromhout, who demonstrated that optimists typically report healthier habits, like less smoking and drinking alcohol, more physical activity and consumption of fruit, vegetables and whole-grain bread.

-*What do you make of these conflicting findings about optimism’s role in health outcomes?

-*How have you seen optimism relate to health outcomes: Does it seem to drive healthy behaviors and outcomes or poorer health?

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Health Benefits of Positive Emotions, Outlook

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Frederickson of University of North Carolina posits that negative emotions aid human survival by narrowing and limiting people’s perceived range of possible actions, whereas positive emotions enhance survival by “broadening and building” options for action.

She detailed her lab-based research in Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life and her talk at UC Berkeley Greater Good Science CenterPositivity

Her lab’s findings suggest that positive thinking expands awareness and perception of the surrounding world, so can lead to innovative solutions to problems.

She suggests intentionally implementing a “broaden-and-build” approach to emulate this expanded view: Choose a degree of focus and perspective depending on requirements.

For example, to garner more clout in a discussion, she suggests involving more people who will provide support.
Similarly, to mitigate negative thinking or “tunnel vision,” think more broadly by viewing “the big picture.”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter of Harvard Business School referred this perceptual shift as “zooming in” and “zooming out”, depending on the perspective requires.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Frederickson found that people who experience positive thinking are:

* Healthier
* More generous
* More productive
* Bounce back from adversity more quickly
* Are better managers of people
* Live longer
than those with a bleaker outlook.

Fredrickson’s research implies that positive emotions can mitigate the cardiovascular effects of negative emotions and stress.

In these activated conditions, people generally have increased heart rate, higher blood sugar, greater immunosuppression.
These conditions tax physical systems and can lead to life-threatening illnesses like coronary disease.

To mitigate these negative health consequences, Fredrickson recommends observing positive emotional experiences of joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.
Besides noticing these experiences, she advocates writing and meditating about these to increase grateful awareness.

In addition, Frederickson echoes common wisdom:

  • Spend time in nature to appreciate the natural world
  • Develop interests
  • Invest time in relationships
  • Reduce exposure to negative news
  • Practice kindness
  • Dispute negative thoughts and replace them with more positive, realistic thoughts.

Frederickson extends her research agenda on positive emotions in her latest book, Love 2.0: How Our Supreme Emotion Affects Everything We Feel, Think, Do, and Become. Love 2-0

She broadens the concept of love to suggest that love – or an intense connection – occurs when people share positive emotion.
This lead to alignment between people’s biochemistries,  particularly the release of oxytocin and vagal nerve functioning.
Related emotions and behaviors synchronize and mirror each other, resulting in shared interest in mutual well-being  in a three-phase  “positivity resonance.”

She argues that love “literally changes your mind.
It expands your awareness of your surroundings, even your sense of self.
The boundaries between you and not-you – what lies beyond your skin – relax and become more permeable.
While infused with love, you see fewer distinctions between you and others.”

Fredrickson argues that this intense connection requires physical presence, and cannot be replaced by existing digital media — reinforcing her recommendation to invest in relationships with others.

-*What practices enable you to cultivate and sustain positive emotions?

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Chronotypes: Sleep “Fingerprints,” “Social Jet Lag,” and Health

-*Are you out of sync with socially-defined time at work and home?

Most people require about one hour of sleep for every two hours awake, and each hour of missed sleep results in deeper sleep until the “sleep debt” is resolved.
Health and safety problems of varying severity ensue when the sleep debt is unresolved.

Till Roenneberg

Till Roenneberg

Till Roenneberg of Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich investigated these health consequences by studying variances individual sleep “chronotypes,” or the amount of elapsed time until a person reaches midsleep,”  the midpoint between average bedtime when not determined by schedule requirements and waking time.

His Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired reported one less-known health consequence of discrepant chronotypes – greater likelihood of smoking. Internal Time
Roenneberg found that greater than 60 percent of those with more than five hours social jet lag are smokers and they have greater difficulty changing this habit than those with less social jet lag.

David Randall

David Randall

Journalist David K. Randall experienced an episode of sleepwalking and documented his quest to learn more about sleep in his Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep.
In it, he points out that sleep is crucial for muscle regeneration and long-term memory formation, and conversely, sleep loss interferes with these critical functions.

Other negative consequences of sleep disruption are even more dire.Dreamland
He reported that depression rates are forty times higher for people with insomnia than those without sleep problems, and that sleep apnea causes 38,000 fatal heart attacks and strokes in the United States each year.

The difference between the personal chronotype and socially-defined time can be considered “social jet lag” that can lead to chronic exhaustion.
Roenneberg calculates that more than 40 percent of the Central European population experiences more than two hours of social jet lag, which can lead to increased errors at work and in operating equipment like automobiles. These consequences can be critical when the work involves public safety in transportation and health care settings.

Adolescents generally experience considerable social jet lag because their average midsleep point is later than that of many adults, and is incompatible with typical school start times.
This is because typical adolescent brains release the hormone melatonin around eleven o’clock at night until after the seasonal sunrise.
In contrast, adults, who set school schedules, have minimal levels of melatonin in their bodies when they wake in the morning, so they are more likely to feel and act alert in the early morning.

Sleep, then, has both physiological and cultural determinants, as Roenneberg showed in his analysis of agrarian areas which may not have such technologies as electric lighting, Day Light Saving Time, or work-related reasons for early rising.
These people typically go to sleep earlier and awake earlier than urban dwellers, and have significantly different midsleep points than people in cities.

A. Roger Ekirch

A. Roger Ekirch

Historian A. Roger Ekirch of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University argues in At Day’s Close: Night in Times Past, that before the Industrial Revolution, the typical sleep pattern was “segmented sleep” (also known as divided sleep, bimodal sleep pattern, or interrupted sleep).

People slept for two or more periods (called “first sleep” or “dead sleep” and “second sleep” or “morning sleep”) in medieval England, punctuated by a period of wakefulness.
Similar terms are found in terms French and Italian languages and among the Tiv of Nigeria.

At Days CloseHe argues that this is the natural pattern of human sleep, and is important in regulating stress.
If this is accurate, it would change western medical diagnosis of sleep disorders and might change expectations of “normal” sleep patterns for optimal health and productivity.

Ekirch’s review of historical records suggests that agrarian people were exhausted after field labor, so they would eat and go to sleep quickly after stopping work.
They would later awaken later to pray, reflect, have sex, perform manual labor, interpret dreams, visit neighbors, or engage in petty crime.
Scholars, in contrast, used this time for loftier pursuits –  to write without interruption.

-*How do you manage segmented sleep and social jet lag?

Related post:
Kept Up at Night by Intrusive Thoughts of Work: Elusive Sleep

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