Tag Archives: stress

Brief Aerobic Exercise Increases Attention, Reading Performance

Michele Tine

Michele Tine

As little as 12 minutes of aerobic exercise increased selective attention and reading comprehension scores for low-income young adults at a highly selective, ”academically elite” (“Ivy League”) US undergraduate university, reported Dartmouth College’s Michele T. Tine and Allison G. Butler of Bryant University.

Alison Butler

Alison Butler

Even these highly-skilled participants, admitted to one of the US’s top academic institutions, had significantly different scores on Selective Visual Attention (SVA) and reading comprehension pre-test tasks, depending on their socio-economic status.

Courtney Stevens

Courtney Stevens

Selective Visual Attention (SVA) is the ability to focus on visual targets while ignoring irrelevant stimuli, and an Executive Function” (EF) required for academic and on-the-job learning, according to University of Oregon’s Courtney Stevens and Daphne Bavelier of University of Rochester.

Specifically, selective attention predicts skills in:

according to University of Oregon’s Stevens with Brittni Lauinger and Helen Neville.

Daniel Hackman

Daniel Hackman

Executive Functions, like Selective Visual Attention (SVA,) are positively correlated to socioeconomic status, found University of Pennsylvannia’s Daniel A Hackman and Martha J Farah, indicating that people with financial advantages often perform better on Executive Function tasks than people from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Eric Zillmer

Eric Zillmer

One well-validated measure of Selective Visual Attention (SVA) is the d2 Test of Attention, rapid trials of a manual letter cancellation task, developed by Rolf Brickenkamp and Eric Zillmer of Drexel University.
Participants Tine and Butler’s investigation indicated when they observed the target character among visual distractors.

John Best

John Best

One intervention to increase Executive Function skills, including Selective Visual Attention (SVA) is aerobic exercise, according to University of British Columbia’s John Best.

James Williams

James Williams

In addition to increasing Executive Functions, aerobic exercise increases levels of cortisol and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
These elements are associated with cognitive performance including Selective Visual Attention (SVA), reported Texas Tech’s Lee T Ferris and Chwan-Li Shen with James S Williams of Texas State University, as well as University of Dublin’s Eadaoin W. Griffin, Sinead Mulally, Carole Foley, Stuart A. Warmington, Shane M. O’Mara, and Aine M. Kelly.

Éadaoin W Griffin

Éadaoin W Griffin

Likewise, stress increases levels of cortisol, and lower-income people tend to experience more chronic stress, leading to higher levels of cortisol, according to Northwestern’s Edith Chen and Gregory E. Miller with Sheldon Cohen of Carnegie, and separately by Cornell University’s Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg.

Edith Chen

Edith Chen

Tine and Butler investigated these diverse findings by asking volunteers to:

Gary Evans

Gary Evans

Items include:

  • My parent was fired from his/her job
  • I was a victim of a crime
  • A close friend or family member had health problems
  • My parents divorced or separated
  • I had problems being liked by classmates

Participants also completed three reading comprehension tasks from Sharon Weiner Green and Ira K. Wolf’s GRE Preparation items.

Douglas Williamson

Douglas Williamson

After 45 minutes, participants monitored heart rate to ensure that it was within 10 beats per minute of pre-test measures of resting heart rate.
Brief aerobic exercise sessions eliminated the gap between “Executive Function” performance scores for talented volunteers from lower-income and high-income backgrounds.

Lower-income participants who exercised aerobically had reading comprehension scores comparable to their higher-income counterparts, around 90%,
Likewise, people who exercised significantly improved Selective Visual Attention (SVA) scores, but the video-viewers’ scores did not change, suggesting that exercise was the “active ingredient” in these performance improvements.

In addition, volunteers who exercised and reported higher chronic stress level achieved higher SVA scores and greater SVA score improvement than those who reported less chronic stress.
Cognitive performance improvements were maintained 45 minutes after exercise.

These findings suggest aerobic exercise as an effective, low-cost intervention to reduce achievement differences between people from lower-income and more affluent backgrounds, and this could contribute to increasing the number of diverse applicants in selective higher education settings and skilled employment – as well as increasing endurance, cardiac health, and reducing stress.

-*How have you seen workplaces encourage participation in aerobic exercise for the next generation of potential employees as well as current employees?

-*Do organizations receive more benefit from reducing health care costs and health-related absences or from increasing attention, innovation, and productivity?

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Emotional Awareness Enables Focus, Risk-taking Even When “Stressed”

Jeremy Yip

Jeremy Yip

Greater emotional understanding enables people to quell the “incidental emotion” of anxiety while they focus on decisions, according to Wharton’s Jeremy Yip and Stéphane Côté of University of Toronto.

Stéphane Côté

Stéphane Côté

Incidental emotions that influence decision-making have been called “the affect heuristic” by University of Oregon’s Paul Slovic, Melissa Finucane of the East-West Center, Ohio State’s Ellen Peters, and Donald MacGregor, then of Decision Research.

Paul Slovic

Paul Slovic

People with greater emotional intelligence can separate unpleasant thoughts and feelings from decision making and are less likely to show the affect heuristic bias in risky decisions.

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud considered this ability to separate unpleasant thoughts and feelings as a defense mechanism deployed unconsciously to reduce anxiety and preserve self-esteem.
He called this experience “isolation,” contrasted with “compartmentalization,” which he defined as separating unpleasant emotions from each other.

Roy Baumeister

Roy Baumeister

Florida State’s Roy F. Baumeister, with Karen Dale then of Case Western, and Baruch College’s Kristin L. Sommer, documented recent studies that demonstrate “isolation” as a defense mechanism or coping strategy to contain negative feelings, “emotional contagion,” and “spillover.”

John Mayer

John Mayer

Yip and Côté demonstrated the relationship among emotional intelligence, evoked anxiety and propensity to make riskier choices in their lab studies of more than 100 volunteers, who completed the Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test developed by Yale’s Peter Salovey and David R. Caruso with John D. Mayer of University of New Hampshire.

David R Caruso

David R Caruso

One group received an anxiety-provoking assignment:  One minute to prepare a videotaped speech shown to peers studying “academic and social standing” at the university.
The other group was given a less stressful assignment:  Prepare a grocery list.

Volunteers in both groups could choose their compensation for participating in the study: Receive $1, or take a one in 10 chance to receive $10.

Melissa Finucane

Melissa Finucane

For those given the stressful speech-writing task, people who scored higher on emotional intelligence chose the riskier option to receive $10 three times as often as those who scored lower on emotional intelligence.

In contrast, volunteers who completed the low-stress task made similar choices for compensation no matter the level of emotional intelligence.

Ellen Peters

Ellen Peters

However, people can learn emotional awareness skills to enable mental focus and contain unrelated incidental emotions, according to related studies by Yip and Côté.

They demonstrated this ability to contain anxiety when some volunteers in the speech-writing task were told they “might feel worried” because making a speech is an anxiety-producing task.
Other speech-creators received no further instructions.

Kristin Sommer

Kristin Sommer

Yip and Côté “primed” no emotion among some grocery list-creators by saying that they “may feel no emotion” or no instructions.
Participants were then primed to separate their emotions from their decision-making by being told that their emotions were irrelevant to their decisions.

 Volunteers read information about the benefits of receiving flu injections and consequences of no inoculation during flu season.
Then participants were given the option to register for nearby flu injection clinic.

The reminder that emotions were irrelevant to decisions changed previous results, by increasing the frequency that participants with lower emotional awareness chose the riskier option of not attending the flu injection clinic.

 The findings suggest that adults can reduce emotional bias in decision-making by explicitly identifying emotions and separating them from critical thinking processes

Questions that enable people to separate emotions, thoughts, and decisions include:

  • How do I feel right now?
  • What is causing me to feel that way?
  • And are my feelings relevant to the decision I need to make?

-*How do you avoid the affect heuristic when making decisions?

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Loneliness, Happiness Affect Gene Expression, Health

Loneliness not only feels bad, but it’s also bad for your health.

Steve Cole

Steve Cole

Subjective social isolation is a known social epidemiological risk factor that has been linked to heart disease, viral infections and cancer.

In addition, loneliness has physical effects on gene regulation and expression, according to DNA microarray analyses of 209 gene transcripts (the first step in synthesizing a protein) out of more than 20,000 in white blood cells of 14 volunteers.

Louise Hawkley

Louise Hawkley

UCLA’s Steve Cole, Jesusa Arevalo, and Caroline Sung collaborated with Robert Rosen of University of Texas and University of Chicago’s Louise Hawkley and John Cacioppo to report that individuals who reported high loneliness on Daniel Russell’s UCLA Loneliness Scale showed different gene expression in circulating leukocytes than volunteers who did not report loneliness.

Daniel Russell

Daniel Russell

Lonely individuals were less able to ward off inflammatory responses and viruses, and less able to produce antibodies because controlling genes were under-expressed.
In contrast, lonely individuals were at risk for greater inflammatory responses and more active immune systems  because the related genes were over-expressed.

These volunteers showed “down-regulation” of genes supporting mature B lymphocyte function and type I interferon response, when researchers controlled for effects of circulating cortisol levels, demographic, psychological, health risk, medications, or social network factors.

The social experience of loneliness desensitizes glucocorticoid receptors and reduces cortisol’s immune control and anti-inflammatory effects.

Cole’s team found that loneliness was more dependent on the number of close relationships rather than the total number of acquaintances.
This suggests the importance of cultivating meaningful social relationships for both social support, reciprocity, and for enhanced health.

Barbara Fredrickson

Barbara Fredrickson

Cole, and Arevalo collaborated with UCLA colleague Jeffrey Ma and University of North Carolina’s Barbara Fredrickson, Karen Grewen, Kimberly Coffey, Sara Algo, and Ann Firestine to consider the impact of different types of happiness on gene expression in 80 adult volunteers.

They evaluated two types of happiness:

  • Eudaimonic well-being,“ a Socratic ideal based on leading a virtuous life, striving toward a meaningful purpose, pursuing “worthwhile” service, and more fully developing personal capabilities
  • Hedonic well-being,” focused on pleasure, consumption, and enjoyment.
Karen Grewen

Karen Grewen

Fredrickson’s team compared leukocyte basal gene expression profiles for volunteers who reported hedonic well-being in contrast to those who reported eudaimonic well-being.
The team also considered negative psychological and behavioral factors.

People with high levels of hedonic well-being showed “up-regulated” pro-inflammatory genes and decreased expression of genes involved in antibody synthesis and type I IFN response in peripheral blood mononuclear cells during stress [conserved transcriptional response to adversity (CTRA)].

Kimberly Coffey

Kimberly Coffey

In contrast, volunteers with high levels of eudaimonic well-being showed CTRA down-regulation, suggesting less stress on body systems.

Fredrickson and team concluded that “genes can tell the difference” between a purposeful life and a more pleasure-centric life, even when self-reports do not distinguish between these two types of happiness.

Ann Firestine

Ann Firestine

These finding suggest the importance of pursuing prosocial purposes and developing meaningful, trust-based relationships with others to experience greatest health and happiness – down to your genes.

-*How have you seen social relationships and mood affect immunity to illness and stress?

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Evidence-Based Stress Management – Physical Exercise – Part 5 of 5

Michael Hopkins-David Bucci

Michael Hopkins-David Bucci

“The positive stress of exercise prepares cells and structures and pathways within the brain so that they’re more equipped to handle stress in other forms,” argue Michael Hopkins, FC DavisMichelle VanTieghemPaul Whalen and David Bucci of Dartmouth.

Michelle VanTieghem

Michelle VanTieghem

They compared effects of a single exercise session or repeated sessions on non-exercising volunteers who were genotyped to determine brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a nerve growth factor important in long-term memory.

Paul Whalen

Paul Whalen

Participants were measured on novel object recognition (NOR) memory and mental health dimensions before and after engaging in a 4-week exercise program or a single exercise session.

More frequent exercisers performed better on object recognition memory and said they experienced less stress, but only when their 4 week program included a final test.
In contrast, a single exercise session did not affect recognition memory and resulted in increased perceived stress levels.

This study found no relationship between exercise-induced cognitive benefits and changes in mood and anxiety, suggesting that perceived stress is controlled by a different neural system.

Timothy Schoenfeld

Timothy Schoenfeld

In contrast, Princeton’s Timothy Schoenfeld, Pedro Rada, Pedro Pieruzzini, Brian Hsueh, and Elizabeth Gould, reported different results with mice.
They investigated the paradox of exercise:  It promotes new, excitable brain cells that can aid learning and memory, yet exercise can induce calm in various brain areas.

Elizabeth Gould

Elizabeth Gould

Schoenfeld and team controlled for pre-existing nervousness in adult mice and allowed half to exercise and half to remain sedentary over a six week period.

Exercisers were more willing to cautiously explore and spend time in open areas, suggesting they were more confident and less anxious than their sedentary counterparts.

Brian Hsueh

Brian Hsueh

The runners’ brains developed new, excitable neurons in the hippocampus’ ventral region, associated with processing emotions and releasing GABA, which inhibits brain activity such as the subjective experience of anxiety.

All animals encountered the physical stress of cold water for five minutes, and showed many immediate early genes indicating neuron firing.
However, the runner rats calmed more rapidly due to their release of GABA after this physical stress.

Though this study was conducted with animals, the findings suggest that physical exercise builds capacity to recover more rapidly from stress by regulating anxiety through ventral hippocampus inhibition.

Brett Klika

Brett Klika

Like other stress management recommendations, regular exercise is difficult for many to adopt as an habit.
For reluctant exercisers, Brett Klika and Chris Jordan of Human Performance Institute offer a rapid but challenging solution: “Seven Minutes of Steady Discomfort.”

Chris Jordan

Chris Jordan

Their Scientific 7-Minute Workout includes 12 exercises using a chair, wall and body weight, for interval training alternating large muscles in the upper and lower body.
Each exercise is performed for 30 seconds, at a discomfort rating of 8 on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 10 second rest between.
Though quick, this routine may not be easy, and further willpower may be needed to adopt this approach.

Kirsten Burgomaster

Kirsten Burgomaster

McMaster University’s Kirsten BurgomasterKrista Howarth, Stuart PhillipsMaureen MacDonaldSL McGeeMartin Gibala with Mark Rakobowchuk now of Brunel University validated Klika and Jordan’s proposed Seven Minutes of Discomfort.

Stuart Phillips

Stuart Phillips

They noted that even a few minutes of training at an intensity approaching maximum capacity produces molecular changes within muscles comparable to those of several hours of endurance training like running or bike riding.

John Salamone

John Salamone

Motivational help may be available by activating nucleus accumbens dopamine, which can regulate motivation and lead to goal initiation and persistence, according to University of Connecticut’s John Salamone and Mercè Correa of Universitat Jaume I of Castellón.

Mercè Correa

Mercè Correa

They refined the common assumption that dopamine is associated with reward systems and noted that nucleus accumbens dopamine, involved in appetitive and aversive motivational processes, may provide a biochemical approach to managing motivation and task persistence.

Though it may be difficult to muster the motivation to exercise regularly, these research findings suggest that regular exercise can lead to increased coping and cognitive abilities.

-*To what extent should workplaces promote exercise to reduce stress and increase cognitive performance?

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RELATED POSTS

Motivation to Manage Stress

Mindful Attention (Part 2)

Social Support (Part 3)

Music (Part 4)

Nature

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Organizational Roles, Practices

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  • Vitamins and Probiotcs (Part 1)
  • Mindful Attention (Part 2)
  • Social Support (Part 3)
  • Music (Part 4)

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Evidence-Based Stress Management – Music – Part 4 of 5

Many people intuitively turn to music when they want to regulate energy and mood.

Valorie Salimpoor

Valorie Salimpoor

Listening to music evokes sympathetic nervous system activity, a sign of emotional arousal measured by changes in heart rate, respiration, electrodermal activity, body temperature, and blood volume pulse, according to Rotman Research Institute’s Valorie Salimpoor, McGill’s Mitchel Benovoy, Gregory Longo, Jeremy Cooperstock, and Robert Zatorre.

Mitchel Benovoy

Mitchel Benovoy

The researchers asked twenty-six participants to select and listen to “pleasurable” music and researchers selected “neutral” music for participants based.
Pleasure ratings and emotional arousal measures were strongly related, and those who did not experience pleasure also showed no significant increases in emotional arousal.

Gregory Longo

Gregory Longo

This finding suggests that listening to preferred music can be used as a mood-enhancement and stress management approach.

Lori Gooding

Lori Gooding

Kentucky University’s Lori Gooding and Olivia Yinger validated music’s stress management benefits for surgical patients.
They found that listening to music can reduce anxiety, subjective pain, and requests sedative medication following surgery.

Olivia Yinger

Olivia Yinger

Slow music expedited relaxation and reduced pain, suggesting that music tempo, rhythm and volume can contribute to reduced anxiety, improved treatment experiences, with lower medical costs in medical intensive care units.

Nick Perham

Nick Perham

Besides managing stress, listening to background music before task performance can increase attention and memory by evoking arousal and positive mood, according to Nick Perham and Joanne Vizard, then of University of Wales Institute Cardiff.

Joann Vizard

Joann Vizard

However, listening to music during a task decreased serial recall among adult volunteers, again pointing to the value of listening to music before but not during tasks that require acute concentration.

Kristie Young

Kristie Young

Beyond passively listening to music, performing music by singing during a complex task can decrease performance.
Monash University’s Genevieve Hughes and Kristie Young with Christina Rudin-Brown of Transport Canada found that singing while performing complex, attention-requiring task increases mental workload and distraction.

Christina Rudin-Brown

Christina Rudin-Brown

They asked participants to learn the lyrics two popular songs, then sing them while operating a simulated car during a 6.6 km urban trip with four speed zones and encountering expected and unexpected traffic events.

Volunteers who sang while “driving” scanned their visual field less often, focused on the area directly ahead (“cognitive tunnelling”), and were less aware of potential hazards during a peripheral detection task (PDT).
However, singing reduced “driving” speed and enabled volunteers to maintain position in their “lanes.”

Efforts to compensate for the increased mental workload associated with singing and listening to music appeared ineffective, suggesting that listening to music during complex tasks impairs performance.

Jim Blascovich

Jim Blascovich

In contrast to performance-disrupting impact  of listening to music while performing complex tasks, SUNY Buffalo’s Karen Allen with Jim Blascovich of University of California, Santa Barbara reported that surgeons worked more quickly and accurately when they listened to preferred music, and physical stress was reduced, indicated by cardiac and electrodermal autonomic responses, hemodynamic measures.
Those who listened to no music did not perform as quickly and accurately as those who listened to their preferred music.

Stress-reducing and performance impacts of music appear related to both personal musical preferences, and musical temp and genre.

Leigh Riby

Leigh Riby

Northumbria University’s Leigh Riby found that “uplifting” music can boost mental alertness, attention and memory.

Volunteers pressed a keyboard space bar when a green square appeared on screen but not when they saw different-colored circles and squares under two conditions: in silence and while listening “uplifting” concertos (Vivaldi’s Four Seasons).

Riby measured brain activity with an EEG and found that participants responded accurately more quickly when listening to the ”uplifting” Spring concerto in contrast to performing with no music or the slower, more somber Autumn concerto.
The Spring concert “seemed to give rise to particular imagery in the brain and evoke positive, contented feelings which translated into higher levels of cognitive functioning,” according to Riby.

The underlying mechanism of music’s effects on attention, concentration, and performance is dopamine release in response to music that elicited “chills” or ‘‘musical frisson” — changes in skin conductance, heart rate, breathing, and temperature that were correlated with pleasurability ratings of the music.

Alain Dagher

Alain Dagher

Salimpoor and her McGill team, including Kevin Larcher and Alain Dagher, used PET and fMRI brain imaging techniques to measure anticipation and consumption of music as a reward, and demonstrated that volunteers who listen to preferred, “pleasurable” music experience greater release of dopamine, which is associated with emotional arousal and pleasurability ratings.

This is one of the first demonstrations that an abstract, cognitive, non-tangible reward can lead to dopamine release, and that different brain circuits are involved in anticipating (caudate) and experiencing (nucleus accumbens) musical tension and resolution.

Teresa Lesiuk

Teresa Lesiuk

University of Miami’s Teresa Lesiuk reported improved task speed, performance, and new ideas with information technology specialists who listened to preferred music.

She attributed these positive effects to reduced stress and improved mood, and found that people who were moderately skilled at their jobs benefited most, but experts experience no benefit.
Consistent with findings that music can be a distraction in cognitively-demanding tasks, novices found that music undermined performance.

Amit Sood

Amit Sood

When people’s minds wander, music can help focus on the present moment, according to Amit Sood of Mayo Clinic, who advocates music’s value in developing and reinforcing Mindful Attention – another approach to managing stress.

 -*When does music in the workplace reduce stress? Increase performance?

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RELATED POSTS

Motivation to Manage Stress

Mindful Attention (Part 2)

Social Support (Part 3)

Music (Part 4)

Nature

Sleep

Organizational Roles, Practices

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  • Vitamins and Probiotcs (Part 1)
  • Mindful Attention (Part 2)
  • Social Support (Part 3)
  • Physical Exercise (Part 5)

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Evidence-Based Stress Management – Social Support – Part 3 of 5

George Vaillant

George Vaillant

Personal relationships and social support have been shown to buffer the negative effects of stress inside and outside the workplace, according to George Vaillant, then of Harvard, with colleagues SE MeyerKenneth Mukamal, and Stephen Soldz.

Kenneth Mukamal

Kenneth Mukamal

They evaluated data from a 50-year prospective multivariate study of 223 men and found that engaging with others during a stressful event improves mood, but withdrawing from others increases anxiety, depression, and stress.
In this sample, friends seemed more important than closeness to spouse and to children for sustained physical health.

Lawrence Fisher

Lawrence Fisher

Social  relationships that buffer stress and anxiety include family closeness and connectedness, problem-focused family coping skills, clear family organization, explicit decision making, and direct communication  according to University of California, San Francisco’s Lawrence Fisher and Karen Weihs of University of Arizona.

Stephen Soldz

Stephen Soldz

In contrast, lack of social connections can increase both stress and susceptibility to disease agents due to alterations in the neuroendocrine system, according to Vaillant and team.

Karen Weihs

Karen Weihs

Undermining relationship characteristics include hostility, criticism, and blame within the family; family perfectionism and rigidity; and psychopathology, according to Fisher and Weihs.

Stress-reducing social support can come from animal companions, according to SUNY Buffalo’s Karen AllenBarbara Shykoff, and Joseph Izzo, who demonstrated that “nonevaluative social support” from animal companions reduces blood pressure in response to mental stress.

Joseph Izzo

Joseph Izzo

Forty-eight hypertensive volunteers were assigned to random comparison groups:  One group had animal companions in addition to an anti-hypertensive medication (angiotensin-converting-enzyme inhibitor or ACE inhibitor) and the other group received medication only.

Before participants received medication, volunteerss in both groups had similar physical responses to stress, measured by blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma renin activity.

Allen, Shykoff, and Izzo monitored these physical indicators after experimental mental stressors (serial subtraction and speech), compared with baseline measures.
They found that although medication alone lowers resting blood pressure, social support from animal companions was associated with lower blood pressure in response to mental stress.

Mark Ellenbogen

Mark Ellenbogen

Like some other stress management recommendations, this research-based finding requires willingness, and commitment to engage with others when it may seem easier and more appealing to be alone.

Oxytocin may promote seeking social support when experiencing stress and the impulse to withdraw from others, shown in research by Concordia University’s Mark Ellenbogen and Christopher Cardoso.

Christopher Cardoso

Christopher Cardoso

They demonstrated that oxytocin can increase a person’s trust in others following social rejection.
Volunteers received oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo, then experienced experimentally-induced social rejection when confederates challenged, interrupted, and ignored the participants.

Volunteers who inhaled oxytocin before the experimental social rejection and who reported greater distress on mood and personality questionnaires also said they generally invest greater trust in other people.
In contrast, oxytocin had no effect on trust among volunteers who were not bothered by the evoked social rejection.

These findings suggest that oxytocin may help individuals experiencing stress access the benefits of social support and may become an additional stress management option.

-*How can workplaces enable social support for employees experiencing stress?

RELATED POSTS

Motivation to Manage Stress

Mindful Attention (Part 2)

Social Support (Part 3)

Music (Part 4)

Nature

Sleep

Organizational Roles, Practices

Look for related posts on:

  • Vitamins and Probiotcs (Part 1)
  • Mindful Attention (Part 2)
  • Music (Part 4)
  • Physical Exercise (Part 5)

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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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Natural Environments Enhance “Vitality” and Reduce Stress

Vigor, enthusiasm, positive emotions, and calm energy are characteristics of “vitality,” and have been associated with improved health outcomes and stress management.

Richard Ryan

Richard Ryan

The subjective experience of “vitality” can be increased being outside, particularly in a natural environment, according to  by University of Rochester’s Richard Ryan and Louis Mistretta , Netta Weinstein, now of University of Essex,  McGill’s Jessey Bernstein and  Kirk Warren Brown  of Virginia Commonwealth University with Concordia’s  Marylène Gagné.

Netta Weinstein

Netta Weinstein

The team asked volunteers to complete surveys and diaries, in addition to participating in experiments comparing reactions to being outdoors vs indoors during physical activity and viewing nature scenes vs buildings on volunteers’ subjective “vitality.”

Jessey Bernstein

Jessey Bernstein

These five studies suggest the positive impact of being outdoors and around natural elements on subjective vitality, even when the effects of physical activities or social interactions are controlled.

Kirk Warren Brown

Kirk Warren Brown

Most office workers can attest to the team’s findings, that visiting nature has restorative, energizing effects, and enables a fresh perspective on challenges.
Nevertheless, most office workers have difficulty leaving work in leaving climate-controlled environments for much-needed breaks.

Marylene Gagne

Marylene Gagne

Weinstein and Ryan extended these findings with University of Essex’s Andrew Przybylski, and found that besides providing “vitality”, energy, and stress management, volunteers who were “immersed in natural settings” reported more caring, generous attitudes toward others.
They valued their aspirations to help and connect with others and make generous decisions more than self-interested aspirations for financial success and admiration.

Andrew Przybylski

Andrew Przybylski

Weinstein and team suggested that viewing and experiencing nature and natural settings increases individuals’ sense of personal autonomy to pursue interests while reducing pressures, fears, and social expectations.

These studies suggest the importance of scheduled outdoor breaks from work activities, and thoughtful urban planning that incorporates green spaces and natural environments:  “…full contact with nature can have humanizing effects….to the extent our links with nature are disrupted, we may also lose some connection with each other.”

-*How do you integrate exposure to outdoor and natural setting with your work day?

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Will the ROWE Revolution Reach Yahoo? Results-Only Work Environments, Productivity, and Employee Engagement

Cali Ressler-Jody Thompson

Cali Ressler-Jody Thompson

Why Work SucksJody Thompson and Cali Ressler proposed compensating employees based on outputs, rather than elapsed time, in a “Results-Only Work Environments (ROWE)” policy.

This management strategy evaluated “performance, not presence” practices at Best Buy and has been implemented at another large retailer, Gap.
Is this is a return to a “piece-work” approach of decades ago?
Or is it a performance management practice that emphasizes achieving targeted results?

Why Managing SucksROWE  is being considered at such tech giants as Cisco Systems, in direct contrast to Yahoo’s recent call for employees to be present in offices.
The underlying goal of Yahoo’s “presentism” policy may be to increase innovative performance outputs, although the explanation provided to employees emphasized presence as a prerequisite for effective collaboration.

Widespread negative reaction to Yahoo’s on-site work policy, based on complaints that the policy:

  • Conveys lack of trust in employees
  • Undermines opportunities to manage complex work-life responsibilities
  • Places emphasis on “face time” rather than results
  • Leads to employee resentment and disengagement.
Erin Kelly

Erin Kelly

In contrast, University of Minnesota sociologists Erin Kelly and Phyllis Moen with University of Delaware’s Eric Tranby documented the positive impact of ROWE practices in their survey of more than 600 Best Buy employees before and after the program was implemented.

Phyllis Moen

Phyllis Moen

The researchers found turnover was reduced by 45 percent after they controlled for gender, job level, organizational tenure, job satisfaction, income adequacy, job security and turnover intentions.

Participants reported reduced stress and improved work-home interfaces by increasing employees’ schedule control, and reduced the “opting out” of the workforce due to personal commitments for both men and women.

Eric Tranby

Eric Tranby

Kelly, Moen, and Tranby opine that ROWE “moves us away from the “time cages” developed around the work day…ROWE challenges these taken-for-granted clockworks…our mantra is ‘change the workplace, not the worker’.

Rachelle Hill, also of University of Minnesota collaborated with Moen and Kelly in a related study that documented ROWE moderated turnover effects of negative home-to-work spillover, personal troubles, and physical symptoms.

-*What impacts – positive and negative – have you seen in “Performance, not Presence” workplace policies like ROWE?

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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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