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Tue, 19 Feb 2019
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Wedding Rings

Couples show more humor and tenderness toward each other as marriage progresses

swing couple dancing
© Desconocido
A new UC Berkeley study shows those prickly disagreements that can mark the early and middle years of marriage mellow with age as conflicts give way to humor and acceptance.

When it comes to several health indicators and risks, marriages have been proven to offer considerable benefits according to a large population-based studies. Married individuals usually have lower levels of the stress hormones than those who never married or were previously married. Exactly how marriage works its magic remains mysterious. Perhaps a strong personal relationship improves mental health and helps the individual to ward off physical illness.

Married couples who have well over a decade together typically become more tolerant and compassionate towards the needs of each other. Although this may not be directly evident to casual observers, researchers have found the behavior consistent at levels revealed after investigation.

Researchers analyzed videotaped conversations between 87 middle-aged and older husbands and wives who had been married for 15 to 35 years, and tracked their emotional interactions over the course of 13 years. They found that as couples aged, they showed more humor and tenderness towards one another.

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Shoe

The mental side of physical exercise: Nick Goolab tackling self-doubt head on

Nick Goolab runner
© Mark-Shearman
British international tells Euan Crumley about why he had to take a break from athletics and how a change in mindset has been crucial to rediscovering his love of the sport.

Nick Goolab was no longer enjoying his running. Even though he won the Ipswich 5k in May, he spent the entire race inwardly berating and criticising himself. The Belgrave Harrier knew his mindset was not doing him any favours at all and that something had to change.

He took a two-month break from the sport and during that time began to work with Wendy Hilton, a life coach who is also a masseuse with British Athletics.

Comment: This is a good illustration of having the right mindset that can be applied to a number of areas in life besides just or any physical exercise. The mental game, getting a handle on self-doubt and general attitude, are often the most important factors in accomplishing your goals.

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Birthday Cake

Why children are ready to shift toward more independence around age 4

birthday cake
My earliest clear memories of events I experienced, which are not simply memories of stories told to me about my childhood, are from when I was 4 years old. I know, because those memories are clearly situated at and near the apartment in Minneapolis where we lived when I was 4, from which we moved about the time I turned 5. One of those memories, which would have occurred when I was about 4 years and 4 months, is the following. On a hot summer day, my grandmother told me that it was time for me to take an adventure by myself. We lived on a busy street with traffic lights, and I'm sure that my grandmother had already explained to me how to cross streets at lights as we took walks together. But this day, she told me, I would go by myself, a distance of about two blocks, crossing at least one busy street, to buy myself a popsicle and then walk back home.

She would sit on the stoop and watch to make sure I came back OK. I did. And then, after that, I could take walks like that myself, to get things my grandmother or others in the family needed, without having to be watched. I'm sure that one reason I remember this event so well is that it was very exciting to me, a big step toward growing up.

There are a number of significant things to note about this memory. First, this was seven decades ago, back when it wasn't unusual to see little kids walking along the sidewalk and crossing streets unaccompanied by an adult. There was no fear that someone would call the police or Child Protective Services. If Jack were 4, you might not want to trust him to make a good bargain on his sale of the cow (he might trade it for beans), but you could trust him to walk to the marketplace and find his way back. Second, this illustrates something that parents (or grandparents, as in my case) did in those days; they taught kids safety rules, so they could safely gain independence, rather than protecting them from independence.

Candle

The scents of heaven: Frankincense and myrrh

incense
© Marco Longari/Getty
Orthodox Armenian priests burn incense.
Frankincense and myrrh have long links to the sacred. Why has Christianity viewed them with both fascination and suspicion?

In the traditional Christmas narrative, wise men from the East brought gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold for the infant Christ. Many explanations exist for the choice of these three items. Most centre on the idea that frankincense was for the birth of a divinity, myrrh was for his embalmment after death, and gold was a recognition of his status as king. I find the plant extracts - frankincense and myrrh - to be particularly interesting. How is it that they existed as both medicinal and ritual substances, and endured as such despite the profound shifts in culture and science over the ensuing centuries? What is it about frankincense and myrrh that caught the imagination of early Christians, and how have their material properties - powerfully alluring and at times highly contested - helped to shape religious behaviour?

Even people familiar with the story of the three wise men might struggle to explain the material origins of their gifts. But if Christmas is a story about the 'Emmanuel' (literally, 'God with us') being born in human, bodily form, then the physicality of the gifts - and their relation to our human body - is of great importance. The resins of both myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) and frankincense (Boswellia sacra) come from the sap of small trees in the Burseraceae family. They grow in arid or semi-arid climates, where soil and weather have considerable impact on the flavour and aroma. Frankincense - 'frank', simply denoting high quality incense - has a woody, or warm spiced smell; myrrh smells like rose or even sweet basil, but is sometimes said to have a bitter aroma. Both their smells are wildly variant, however, and myrrh especially - even from the same source - can be said to take on various aromas depending on the mood and spirit of the event. In the ritual practice of Orthodox Christianity, which boasts a continuity of tradition across Eastern Mediterranean regions from the 1st century CE, frankincense is most valued as resin pellets, while myrrh usually comes as an oil infusion.

Broom

Clean your room! The problem with completing household chores in a timely manner

chores
© John M Lund/GETTY
Chores are the worst.

I'm trying to construct an alternative theory of myself in which I'm a tidy person. It's not going well. Walking my recycling from my apartment to the trash room down the hall takes me anywhere from two minutes to a month. I hate looking at broken-down boxes and empty LaCroix cans in my apartment, but studies say humans are bad at prioritizing long-term goals over instant gratification, and I apparently find doing anything else much more gratifying.

It doesn't take a scientist to explain why I might put off other things, such as doing my dishes. Those are annoying and kind of gross, and the primary reward is just being able to use them in the future. Still, at a certain point, the anxiety of not having done these tasks surpasses the annoyance of doing them in the first place. That's an entirely predictable cycle that many otherwise productive people find themselves in when it comes to simple household jobs: A chore that I could feel good about completing in 10 minutes instead stresses me out for days or weeks.

Comment: Incorporating mindfulness into household chores can increase mental stimulation and decrease anxiety


Attention

Information overload: Attention is not a resource but a way of being alive to the world

attention
© Christoph Schmidt/dpa/AFP/Getty
Street sign in Reutlingen, southern Germany.
We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom.' Those were the words of the American biologist E O Wilson at the turn of the century. Fast forward to the smartphone era, and it's easy to believe that our mental lives are now more fragmentary and scattered than ever. The 'attention economy' is a phrase that's often used to make sense of what's going on: it puts our attention as a limited resource at the center of the informational ecosystem, with our various alerts and notifications locked in a constant battle to capture it.

That's a helpful narrative in a world of information overload, and one in which our devices and apps are intentionally designed to get us hooked. Moreover, besides our own mental wellbeing, the attention economy offers a way of looking at some important social problems: from the worrying declines in measures of empathy through to the 'weaponisation' of social media.

The problem, though, is that this narrative assumes a certain kind of attention. An economy, after all, deals with how to allocate resources efficiently in the service of specific objectives (such as maximizing profit). Talk of the attention economy relies on the notion of attention-as-resource: our attention is to be applied in the service of some goal, which social media and other ills are bent on diverting us from. Our attention, when we fail to put it to use for our own objectives, becomes a tool to be used and exploited by others.

Comment: What you pay attention to ends up controlling your life


People 2

Women who emotionally abuse men

angry woman
© Yaniv Golan CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
We've all seen it. And heard it. You're in a restaurant. There's a man there with his girlfriend. As people are eating and socializing, you can't help but notice. When the man tries to speak, he is cut off by his girlfriend. She mocks him when he tells a story that might make him look good, and finishes his jokes for him. When the waiter brings the menus, she makes fun of his selection. While she complains about spending money on him all the time, you can't help but notice that he is paying for all of her drinks. By the end of the night she is berating him outright, and as they exit the restaurant, the woman is in a full rage spiral, yelling about something unrelated to anything that has happened in the last three hours. No one says anything.

It's called emotional abuse. It's well-documented when men inflict it on female victims. Less well known is when women do it to men. While the emotional abuse of women is discussed on Oprah, in bestsellers, and everywhere in pop culture and in academia, there are virtually no resources for men who have been emotionally abused. Google searches turn up very few resources. Books on the subject are mostly broadsides that have not been properly researched and substitute academic rigor for attacks on feminism.

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Cow

Happy Moo-Year: Dairy cows are the new therapy dogs, helping college students de-stress during finals

Therapy cow
First, there were therapy dogs in local schools. Then there were yoga goats on local farms. Now, a herd of dairy farm cows has gone back to school - to help college students de-stress before their tests.

This month, the Lansing State Journal reported on a new program at Michigan State University allowing students to brush dairy cows to chill out during final exams week.

PEOPLE reached out to Andrea Meade, Farm Manager at the Michigan State University Dairy Cattle Teaching and Research Center, to learn more about this unique human-animal bonding experience. She had been looking for ways to get students outside the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources aware of the dairy farm. Meade was also particularly keen on finding "a new way to utilize the herd."

"I have been following other trends in agriculture like 'goat yoga' and wanted to see if any MSU students would be interested in a similar experience," says Meade.

Books

Are people forgetting how to read?

digital reading
© WINNIE T. FRICK
Author of Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World and The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We've Lost in an Age of Constant Connection.
Turning, one evening, from my phone to a book, I set myself the task of reading a single chapter in one sitting. Simple. But I couldn't. There was nothing wrong with my eyes. No stroke or disease clouded my way. Yet - if I'm being honest - the failure was also not a surprise.

Paragraphs swirled; sentences snapped like twigs; and sentiments bled out. The usual, these days. I drag my vision across the page and process little. Half an hour later, I throw down the book and watch some Netflix.

Out for dinner with another writer, I said, "I think I've forgotten how to read."

Comment: Reading seems like a fundamental aspect of self-education. There's undeniably something to reading a book that isn't the same as reading something from a screen. But, as the author above points out, reading hasn't been with humanity for very long. However, does that mean we shouldn't mourn its loss? Can we rely on the fact that 'whatever technology is coming next' will be more beneficial than the book? Or is this just another sign of humanity's slow degeneration into idiocracy?

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Brain

Are memories reliable? Expert explains how they change more than we realize

memory

Tiny mistakes can appear in our memories every time we recall past events.
Your memory probably isn't as good as you think it is. We rely on our memories not only for sharing stories with friends or learning from our past experiences, but we also use it for crucial things like creating a sense of personal identity. Yet evidence shows that our memory isn't as consistent as we'd like to believe. What's worse, we're often guilty of changing the facts and adding false details to our memories without even realising.

To understand a bit about how remembering works, consider the "telephone game" (also known as "Chinese whispers"). In the game, one person quietly whispers a message to the person beside them, who then passes it on to the next person in line, and so on. Each time the message is relayed, some parts might be misheard or misunderstood, others might get innocently altered, improved, or forgotten. Over time the message can become very different from the original.