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Recent research: a mixed bag of studies on personality, paranoia, burnout, somatization, and relationships

This week's recent research post is a mixed bag of six studies covering the physiological & psychological changes triggered by being separated from one's partner, why similar levels of anxiety & interpersonal sensitivity can lead to social anxiety in some individuals and paranoia in others, how difficulty identifying feelings is associated with increased somatization, the frequency of burnout in family doctors around Europe, personality factors that predict a longer life, and how wrong the old saying is that "Sticks & stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"!  

Diamond, L. M., A. M. Hicks, et al. (2008). "Every time you go away: changes in affect, behavior, and physiology associated with travel-related separations from romantic partners." J Pers Soc Psychol 95(2): 385-403.   [PubMed]
This study investigated changes in day-to-day affect, behavior, and physiology (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical axis activity) associated with temporary physical separations from romantic partners (such as those brought about by work-related travel). Daily diaries and measures of salivary cortisol were collected from 42 couples over a 21-day period that was timed to coincide with a naturally occurring 4- to 7-day separation. There were significant changes from preseparation to separation and from separation to reunion in the quality of partners' interactions, their positive and negative affect, sleeping problems, subjective stress, physical symptoms, and cortisol levels. Separation and reunion effects were generally more pronounced in homebound partners, partners with high attachment anxiety, and partners who had less contact with each other during the separation. Separation and reunion effects were not moderated by relationship length, relationship satisfaction, how often couples underwent separations, or the presence of children in the home. The results are discussed with respect to the role of daily proximity and contact between partners for day-to-day affective and physiological regulation.

Freeman, D., M. Gittins, et al. (2008). "What makes one person paranoid and another person anxious? The differential prediction of social anxiety and persecutory ideation in an experimental situation." Psychol Med 38(8): 1121-32.  [PubMed
BACKGROUND: In recent years a close association between anxiety and persecutory ideation has been established, contrary to the traditional division of neurosis and psychosis. Nonetheless, the two experiences are distinct. The aim of this study was to identify factors that distinguish the occurrence of social anxiety and paranoid thoughts in an experimental situation. METHOD: Two hundred non-clinical individuals broadly representative of the UK general population were assessed on a range of psychological factors, experienced a neutral virtual reality social environment, and then completed state measures of paranoia and social anxiety. Clustered bivariate logistic regressions were carried out, testing interactions between potential predictors and the type of reaction in virtual reality. RESULTS: The strongest finding was that the presence of perceptual anomalies increased the risk of paranoid reactions but decreased the risk of social anxiety. Anxiety, depression, worry and interpersonal sensitivity all had similar associations with paranoia and social anxiety. CONCLUSIONS: The study shows that social anxiety and persecutory ideation share many of the same predictive factors. Non-clinical paranoia may be a type of anxious fear. However, perceptual anomalies are a distinct predictor of paranoia. In the context of an individual feeling anxious, the occurrence of odd internal feelings in social situations may lead to delusional ideas through a sense of 'things not seeming right'. The study illustrates the approach of focusing on experiences such as paranoid thinking rather than diagnoses such as schizophrenia.

Mattila, A. K., E. Kronholm, et al. (2008). "Alexithymia and Somatization in General Population." Psychosom Med 70(6): 716-722.  [Abstract/Full Text
Objective: Even though the association between alexithymia and somatization seems plausible according to several studies with selected populations, it has not been verified in carefully controlled and nationally representative population studies. We conducted such a study to find out whether alexithymia is associated with somatization at population level. Methods: This study was a part of the Finnish Health 2000 Study. The nationally representative sample comprised 5129 subjects aged 30 to 97 years. Alexithymia was measured with the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20) and somatic symptom reporting with the 12-item somatization scale derived from the Hopkins Symptom Checklist. Sociodemographic and health-related variables, including depressive and anxiety disorders, and physician verified somatic diagnoses, were treated as confounders in multivariate analyses. Results: Alexithymia was associated with somatization independently of somatic diseases, depression and anxiety and confounding sociodemographic variables. The TAS-20 factor scale "Difficulties Identifying Feelings" was the strongest common denominator between alexithymia and somatization. Conclusions: This was the first time the independent association between alexithymia and somatization was established in a large, nationally representative nonclinical sample of both young and old adults with and without mental disorders and somatic diseases.

Soler, J. K., H. Yaman, et al. (2008). "Burnout in European family doctors: the EGPRN study." Fam. Pract. 25(4): 245-265.  [Abstract/Full Text
Introduction. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence of burnout, and of associated factors, amongst family doctors (FDs) in European countries. Methodology. A cross-sectional survey of FDs was conducted using a custom-designed and validated questionnaire which incorporated the Maslach Burnout Inventory Human Services Survey (MBI-HSS) as well as questions about demographic factors, working experience, health, lifestyle and job satisfaction. MBI-HSS scores were analysed in the three dimensions of emotional exhaustion (EE), depersonalization (DP) and personal accomplishment (PA). Results. Almost 3500 questionnaires were distributed in 12 European countries, and 1393 were returned to give a response rate of 41%. In terms of burnout, 43% of respondents scored high for EE burnout, 35% for DP and 32% for PA, with 12% scoring high burnout in all three dimensions. Just over one-third of doctors did not score high for burnout in any dimension. High burnout was found to be strongly associated with several of the variables under study, especially those relative to respondents' country of residence and European region, job satisfaction, intention to change job, sick leave utilization, the (ab)use of alcohol, tobacco and psychotropic medication, younger age and male sex. Conclusions. Burnout seems to be a common problem in FDs across Europe and is associated with personal and workload indicators, and especially job satisfaction, intention to change job and the (ab)use of alcohol, tobacco and medication. The study questionnaire appears to be a valid tool to measure burnout in FDs. Recommendations for employment conditions of FDs and future research are made, and suggestions for improving the instrument are listed.

Terracciano, A., C. E. Lockenhoff, et al. (2008). "Personality Predictors of Longevity: Activity, Emotional Stability, and Conscientiousness." Psychosom Med 70(6): 621-627.  [Abstract/Full Text
Objective: To examine the association between personality traits and longevity. Methods: Using the Guilford-Zimmerman Temperament Survey, personality traits were assessed in 2359 participants (38% women; age = 17 to 98 years, mean = 50 years) from the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, starting in 1958. Over the duration of the study, 943 (40%) participants died, on average 18 years after their personality assessment. The association of each trait with longevity was examined by Cox regression controlling for demographic variables. Results: In preliminary analyses among the deceased, those who scored 1 standard deviation (SD) above the mean on General Activity (a facet of Extraversion), Emotional Stability (low Neuroticism), or Conscientiousness lived on average 2 to 3 years longer than those scoring 1 SD below the mean. Survival analyses on the full sample confirmed the association of General Activity, Emotional Stability, and Conscientiousness with lower risk of death, such that every 1-SD increase was related to about 13%, 15%, and 27% risk reduction, respectively. The association of personality traits with longevity was largely independent from the influence of smoking and obesity. Personality predictors of longevity did not differ by sex, except for Ascendance (a facet of Extraversion). Emotional Stability was a significant predictor when the analyses were limited to deaths due to cardiovascular disease, with comparable effect sizes for General Activity and Conscientiousness. Conclusions: In a large sample of generally healthy individuals followed for almost five decades, longevity was associated with being conscientious, emotionally stable, and active.

Zhansheng Chen, K. D. W. J. F. N. C. N. (2008). "When Hurt Will Not Heal: Exploring the Capacity to Relive Social and Physical Pain." Psychological Science 19(8): 789-795.  [Abstract/Full Text
Recent discoveries suggest that social pain is as real and intense as physical pain, and that the social-pain system may have piggybacked on the brain structure that had evolved earlier for physical pain. The present study examined an important distinction between social and physical pain: Individuals can relive and reexperience social pain more easily and more intensely than physical pain. Studies 1 and 2 showed that people reported higher levels of pain after reliving a past socially painful event than after reliving a past physically painful event. Studies 3 and 4 found, in addition, that people performed worse on cognitively demanding tasks after they relived social rather than physical pain. Implications for research on social pain and theories about social pain are discussed.


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