week in ideas

Posted by jcmaziquemd on October 2, 2010

Week in Ideas

%$@#^%$ Doctors

[WEEKINIDEAS]Photo by Ron Tom/ ABC via Getty Images

If your doctor drops the F-bomb during your next check up, don’t take offense—she may just be trying to help you relax. A new study finds that swearing, if used tactfully, can be an effective tool for doctors seeking to improve communication with a patient. Patients wrestling with a traumatic experience, for example, may find it difficult to express their feelings in everyday language. By strategically swearing, a doctor can signal that it is OK to open up and use the full spectrum of language. It’s also not uncommon for patients to view doctors as haughty, making it hard to open up the lines of communication. Using profanity can make doctors seem more down-to-earth and help to break the ice. Further study may be needed to determine whether this advice applies equally to others in the helping professions, such as teachers and clergy.

"Offensive Language in the General Hospital," Daniel J. Zimmerman and Theodore A. Stern, Psychosomatics (September-October 2010)

Boomers and Suicide

Suicide among the Baby Boom generation is on the rise, even as the overall suicide rate in the U.S. declines, according to a new study. From 1999 to 2005, the number of suicides climbed by more than 2% a year for men and 3% a year for women among those defined as middle-aged. By 2005, all of those in the middle-aged group were baby boomers (born between 1945 and 1964).

Though it’s unclear what’s driving the spike, researchers have a few theories. Because baby boomers had a high rate of suicide in adolescence, more of them knew someone who took their own life—which is a known risk factor for suicide. They also grew up in an era of vaccines and medical advances that drastically reduced chronic illness, which has made aging and getting sick more of a "rude awakening" than it was to previous generations. Also not to be ignored: the economy, which is hitting all age groups hard right now, especially those on the verge of retirement.

"Understanding Recent Changes in Suicide Rates Among the Middle-aged: Period or Cohort Effects?" Julie A. Phillips, Ashley V. Robin, Colleen N. Nugent and Ellen L. Idler, Public Health Reports (September-October 2010)

Not Offended, Not Sorry


Men don’t seem to say sorry very often, but it may not be because of macho pride. New research shows that men are just as willing to apologize as are women—provided they think an apology is warranted. Male and female participants in an experiment kept daily diaries reporting when they committed, or were on the receiving end of, an offensive act. They also recorded whether the guilty party apologized. The results showed that while women offered up apologies more often than men, they also found themselves offended more often.

As a follow-up, both genders were asked to evaluate potentially offensive situations. Men were significantly less likely to get their feathers ruffled by the various scenarios. Having a thick skin, it seems, can also make you callous.

"Why Women Apologize More Than Men: Gender Differences in Thresholds for Perceiving Offensive Behavior," Karina Schumann and Michael Ross, Psychological Science (forthcoming)

Cutting Aid Too Fast

[WEEKINIDEAS]Sebastien Villotte/Sygma/Corbis

In the current federal budget crisis, foreign aid is often cited as one of the top items Americans are willing to cut. Aside from the fact that the U.S. spends less than 0.5% of its budget on foreign aid, there’s another reason to rethink that eagerness to slash. A forthcoming paper argues that rapidly cutting off aid can lead to increased violence and instability in impoverished nations.

Though some critics view foreign aid as a source of potential conflict over resources, cutting off aid, at least in the wrong way, can make things worse by suddenly taking away a government’s means to negotiate with (i.e., bribe) rebel groups. The report analyzes data on aid flows from 1981 through 2005 and finds that sudden reductions significantly increased the probability of armed conflict and even civil war. Regardless of the merits of foreign aid, the authors caution governments against getting rid of it too quickly.

"Foreign Aid Shocks as a Cause of Violent Armed Conflict," by Richard A. Nielsen, Michael G. Findley, Zachary S. Davis, Tara Candland and Daniel L. Nielson, American Journal of Political Science (forthcoming)

Accentuating Bias

Think you’re an enlightened, tolerant person? Well, you may have a hidden bias against anything you hear said in a foreign accent. It’s not necessarily prejudice—our brains just seem to be a bit lazy. A new study finds that when we encounter difficulty in processing information, such as accented speech, we respond to that difficulty by questioning the truthfulness of the information we’re hearing.

Our brains prefer the path of least resistance. The further from native-sounding an accent is, the harder we have to work, and the less trustworthy we perceive the information to be. By playing a series of recorded statements and having participants evaluate whether or not the information was true, researchers found that the heavier the accent, the more skeptical participants became.

But there is some good news: When a second test group was cued about their inherent aversion to accents, participants succeeded in counteracting their anti-accent bias with mild accents—though they were not successful with heavy ones.

"Why Don’t We Believe Non-Native Speakers? The Influence of Accent on Credibility," Shiri Lev-Ari and Boaz Keysar, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (November 2010)

—Clayton M. McCleskeyPrinted in The Wall Street Journal, page C4

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