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“I Feel Your Pain…Not”

“I Feel Your Pain…Not”

“I-Feel-Your-Pain2

“I Feel Your Pain..Not”


 

Last year, I was battling my fourth week of coughing without end.  I became determined to treat my symptoms through a standard protocol. I took zinc tablets for one week for my presumed viral infection. After no relief, I started antibiotics for a 10-day schedule.  The upper respiratory infection left me with laryngitis with a continuous cough.  Frustrated with my prolonged coughing, I started using a steam vaporizer to loosen my congestion and even used a muscle thumper to areas of my chest to help clear my lungs.  However, for some reason, my deep cough continued without significant resolution.  I decided to pay the local medical clinic a visit to have my primary physician provide other strategies for treatment.

 

 

He agreed with my diagnostic impression of post-infection bronchitis and he prescribed an expectorant, cortisone along with two kinds of antitussives (cough suppressant medicines), Benzonatate and Dextromethorphan.  I had used Dextromethorphan in past years without any problems.  The other antitussive, Benzonatate was a medicine that I had never tried before.  I started the treatment right away, hoping for a speedy recovery.

After nearly a week of treatment, I began to have a resolution of my coughing symptoms.  I also became increasingly aware that my normal level of energy and emotional posture had shifted.  On one level, I was a quiet observer of the change I was experiencing.  But on a different level, I was feeling numb and apathetic, and oddly, depressed.  Clearly, I was experiencing what Mental Health professionals call “anhedonia” (no pleasure in activities ) and psychomotor retardation (sluggish) with a decreased appetite and increased need for sleep. What I found noteworthy was that I seemed to have lost interest even in my personal feelings about everything that was important to me; even my appreciation of others, especially with those closest to me.  I recognized that even during that time if I had the energy to gaze at what I was actually experiencing, it would have shocked me that I could not have cared less for anything or anyone. Since this was an experience I had never felt before, and knowing this was a clear departure from my character, I reasoned that this dysphoria had to be medication related.  I decided to stop the Benzonatate and I reduced my routine dose of Dextromethorphan.

 

After I recovered and was finally on the other side of my illness, I was compelled to revisit this dysphoria in order to unravel the mystery behind my mood experience.  For me to have such a profound emotional shift from a routine prescription treatment, I began to question how often I may have missed treating a depressed patient effectively for a refractory depression without considering possible iatrogenic (treatment induced) influence of their medicines?  Since I tolerated Dextromethorphan, I knew the culprit had to be the Benzonatate.

 

So what is unique to Benzonatate that it could actually diminish my sense of connection with others? What would interfere with my level of empathy and even the influence the deepest sense to even care about anything?   

 

What I found was that Benzonatate..

 

“ is an ester local anesthetic derived from tetracaine. After absorption and circulation to the respiratory tract, it distributes into the mucosa, anesthetizing vagal afferent fibers that contribute to both cough and hiccups.”

Benzonatate behaves like a painkiller of sorts for vagal afferent fibers. These nerve fibers actually monitor the upper respiratory tract and have motor fibers that stimulate the diaphragm.  On further reading, I found an article that surprised me and seemed to explain what I had experienced. Apparently, the blunting of empathy such as what I had experienced, had been a side effect recently attributed to some common pain killers. In this article, blunting was also associated with very common pain medicine, Tylenol.

“..acetaminophen has a general blunting effect on individuals’ evaluative and emotional processing, irrespective of negative or positive valence..”
“..It is thus conceivable that acetaminophen may also reduce willingness to help others in physical or emotional distress

This description adequately portrays what I felt.  I did not seem to value anything or anyone and I did not even care that I felt this way.  The only incongruence I experienced about this emotional state is that I knew that under ‘normal’ situations, I would be bothered about not caring for anything or anyone. It was as if I had no Will to change my state.

Understanding that pain-reducing mechanisms can because apathy and diminished empathy, it brought me to a different level of questioning.  When we speak of the blunting effect on empathy, what is it that we are describing? The first step was to define what is meant by the term, “empathy”.

What is EMPATHY

According to Webster “Empathy” is:

 “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this ” (“empathy”).

 

Empathy plays an important part in our lives as social beings.  It is that part of our internal monitor, which appeals to fairness and justice in the world.  It helps us to “walk in someone else’s shoes” and stirs us to ponder the question, “What if that person were me?”.  Empathy is important for modifying our behavior, aligned to the survival and safety of each other.  When empathy is returned, we can depend on this emotion to assure our wellbeing as well.  This is not just about our physical safety from harm, but it includes the preservation and the welfare of others in our social circle for security, which we all require in our relationships.  As one author shared, “Empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior”.

Components of Empathy

In order to empathize with others, there has to exist something within us to register “what if that person was me?”  This would require both the Will [W] to take a template of another person (like us) [T]  and recreate a similar scenario [S] of ourselves in such a situation. Then we would need to employ some sort of a “personalized assessment” [A] where our resulting emotions [E(r)] are compared to our baseline emotional function [E(b)]. If the disturbance of comfort exceeds our baseline comfort, we are motivated [M] toward action to restore the balance.

                                    [W] * [M] = [E(b)] – [E(r)], where  A (S* ( [T] ) ) = [E(r)]

If we present this process as an equation, we can see that if a baseline Emotional state E(b) is not significantly altered by the imagined self in the represented scenario E(r), there will be no motivation (M) to alter the situation. An example of this could occur , when one who is actively suffering a loss, observes another experiencing a loss. However, if the number of losses of the other person (E(r)) is exceeded by personal loss (E(b)), one might be motivated to give comfort.

What condition, based on this equation, would increase the likelihood of empathy?  First,  there would have to be a willingness (W)  to look beyond ourselves. Then there would have to be a high degree of similarity of the observed person (T) to ourselves (e.g. age, gender, traits, etc) and the assessment (A) of imagined distress (E(r)) would have to be significantly different from our baseline emotional comfort (E(b)).

 

The Biology of Empathy

“Simulation theories of empathy hypothesize that empathizing with others’ pain shares some common psychological computations with the processing of one’s own pain.  Support for this perspective has largely relied on functional neuroimaging evidence of an overlap between activations during the experience of physical pain and empathy for other people’s pain”

 

A substantial body of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research suggests that observing others experiencing pain (e.g. observing a person receiving a hot probe placed on the hand), activates brain regions that are also activated during one’s own experience of pain—the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the anterior insula (AI) cortex.

 

 

It is not the purpose of my present writing to discuss the neurological detail of empathy.  However, it suffices at this point to say we have the brain structure which is designed to fill a particular role for Empathy. Our design supports the importance of “being wired” for this function in our lives and it also stresses the importance of our relating to each other as social creatures.

I believe this shared pain phenomenon, has something to offer us when we discuss empathy.  When we observe others suffering from specific injuries, our brains mirror a similar pattern of pain activity related to the one we observe being injured. In fact, if you consider the brain pattern activity, it is much like we experience the very same injury, just by observing the one in pain.

Pain is a subjective experience of discomfort but from a physiological perspective, there are some common characteristics behind the “pain” experience.

 

“…pain can result from increased activity in excitatory pathways involving, for example, substance P, glutamate, etc. decreased activity in inhibitory pathways involving, for example, noradrenaline or serotonin (5-HT) or both mechanisms..”(3)

 

Given that we seem to experience a similar injury pattern from observation, questions were raised on how this ‘perceived pain ‘ would be impacted after an observer is administered a painkiller. Even though it is unclear exactly how acetaminophen works, it does have analgesic and fever-reducing properties. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is believed to regulate serotonin pathways.

Paracetamol has a central analgesic effect that is mediated through activation of descending serotonergic pathways.

Paracetamol (aka Tylenol)

 

Empathy and Painkillers

 

To examine the impact of painkillers on empathy, a study was conducted where randomized subjects were given a direct form of irritation by quick air puffs. A group of subjects was tested where they were to estimate the level of pain other subjects experienced when observed in the “painful situation”.  Subjects again assessed the pain experience after an oral administration of 1000mg of acetaminophen in a double-blind study.

You can review this study here.

Surprisingly, what was discovered is that acetaminophen (aka paracetamol or Tylenol) had a profound effect not only on direct painful stimuli but also in the pain attributed to others experiencing pain.  In other words, empathy was directly diminished by taking 1000mg of Tylenol.

As hypothesized, acetaminophen reduced empathy in response to others’ pain.  Acetaminophen also reduced the unpleasantness of noise blasts delivered to the participant, which mediated acetaminophen’s effects on empathy. Together, these findings suggest that the physical painkiller acetaminophen reduces empathy for pain and provide a new perspective on the neurochemical bases of empathy (2)

This ought to raise some concern for those involved in Mental Health care.

“Based on the drug-induced reductions in empathy seen here, acetaminophen, and potentially other analgesics, might interfere with social processes that are critical for the promotion of social bonds and social order.” (2).

 

“Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, these drug-induced reductions in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen (as well as other potential pain regulating medicines), which is taken by almost a quarter of all adults in the United States each week”. (2)

“As hypothesized, acetaminophen reduced empathy in response to others’ pain. ..these findings suggest that the physical painkiller acetaminophen reduces empathy for pain and provide a new perspective on the neurochemical bases of empathy”.

What this study implies is that most people taking Tylenol for chronic pain are likely experiencing an ongoing emotional shift just like the one I had experienced.  Tylenol (acetaminophen) is frequently administered to manage chronic pain since it does not have the same concerns that most other pain medications, which may contribute to gastric ulcers and increased bleeding risks.  Yet it seems very important to expose the impact that our medicines have on our emotional tone.  Let us face it, without the awareness that a very common pain medicine can dampen our empathy and fuel our depression we would not appreciate a different level of our emotional experience.  One can understand that taking pain medicine while being treated for a depressive disorder, it would be easy to conclude, “it is just how I feel’ or “something must be wrong with me for not caring for others in my life”.  Counseling is always important in addressing the maladaptive way we approach relationships.  It is very important to be ‘equipped emotionally’ to make necessary changes in our thinking for our progress.  If we do not consider the broad impact of our medicine strategies, many people may be left hopeless in path toward healing.  Emotional trials contribute to problems in our relationships despite all our mental health efforts to help others improve in their relationships.  The missing piece of someone’s emotional puzzle may just be as simple as a change of pain medicine.

I wonder how many people we meet in our lives who struggle with “I should care about him/her but I just don’t”?  

 I wonder how many clergy or pastors, dealing with chronic physical pain are questioning their lack of empathy for others in their congregation?  I wonder how many spiritual people actually wrestle with feel abandoned by God because they do not have the love for others as modeled by their Savior.

 

For some frustrated people, this post may bring some hope just knowing their pain medication may be preventing them from effectively restoring a wayward relationship.

Conclusion

There is so much we do not know about our treatment strategies for the many health problems we experience. Most strategies are evidenced-based, in that results of our best-known treatments guide future treatments of particular pathologies.  The scope of clinical treatment is most often based on physical goals and it rarely considers the impact efforts on other aspects of life, i.e. influence on emotions.  Medicine is not perfect, but good clinicians strive to improve their efforts by observing the impact of treatment on all planes of a patient’s life.  My post did not provide clear answers, nor did it reveal the exact mechanisms behind the dysphoria I experienced from my prescription medicine.  However,  it does likely explain what I experienced and it offers an insight to consider in treating patients with similar symptoms of depression. ,

 

If my readers personally experience depressive symptoms that seem untouched by prescribed medicines and applied therapeutic counseling efforts, please consider the impact of any pain medicines, which may be contributing to your prolonged dysphoria.  Always seek the alliance with mental health professionals if you are depressed and feeling hopeless.  I wish you joy and peace in your journey.  Thank you for taking this walk with me.

 

Greg


Bibliography

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2). Dominik Mischkowski, Jennifer Crocker, Baldwin M. Way; From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2016; 11 (9): 1345-1353. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw057

 

n.d.: n. pag. Print. 23 April 2017

 

3) What do we (not) know about how paracetamol (acetaminophen) works?

K Toussaint, XC Yang, MA Zielinski… – Journal of clinical …, 2010 – Wiley Online Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Emotions: Of Man AND Beast

 

sn-jealousyHEmotions : of Man and Beast

Emotions are often ascribed to animals, regardless of scientific proofs.  Ask any pet owner; they would not even consider skepticism about this matter.  Sure, we attribute emotions to their behavior. What looks like anger, we call it anger.  Many would possibly hold to the idea that any behavior appearing to be emotional only calls forth a label from an observer, or owner.  In other words, it is a matter of projection; projecting what we feel as human beings on to the animals mannerisms we interpret.

However, I am aligned to the findings of this study below.  Emotions are a complex , active stream of conscious interpretations spinning around our values. It is active, reactive and dynamic while orbiting our Will striving for the control of our decisions for comfort and peace. 

If Animals possess emotions, what does this mean about their place in the world? How does it compare to Humanity? I am eager to write on this topic, but I must refrain for another time.  Until then, enjoy this article.


 

Dogs experience human-like jealousy

Many dog owners are sure their pooches get jealous, particularly when the person pays too much attention to someone else’s Fido. Now, scientists have confirmed that these dog lovers are right. Our canine pals can act every bit as resentful, bitter, and hostile as a jealous child—even if the interloper is nothing more than a stuffed toy hound. The researchers modified a test originally developed to assess the emotion in 6-month-old infants. They videotaped 36 dogs as they watched their owners completely ignore them while turning their attention to three different objects: a realistic-looking stuffed dog (which briefly barked and wagged its tail after a button was pushed), a plastic jack-o’-lantern, and a book. The dogs’ behaviors were then rated for aggressiveness, attention seeking, and interest in the owner or object. The fake pooch elicited the strongest response[1], the researchers report today in PLOS ONE. All the dogs pushed at their owners when the people talked to and petted the toy, and nearly 87% bumped it or tried to get between it and their beloved human. Almost 42% of the dogs actually snapped at the stuffed interloper. The fact that the rival was faux didn’t seem to matter—even pooches that sniffed the toy’s rear end (which 86% of the subjects did) behaved aggressively toward it. The study supports the idea that not all jealousy requires the ability to reflect on one’s self and to understand conscious intentions, as some scientists have argued, but that there is a more basic form of the emotion that likely evolved as a way of securing resources such as food and affection. Infants experience it if their mothers gaze affectionately at other babies, and so do members of another social species: dogs.

Posted in Brain & Behavior, Evolution, Plants & Animals

 

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Oxytocin: Remember the good times, but don’t forget the Bad

romancecar

 The Bond of Love


 

I have read a number of  articles related to oxytocin and its effects on our behavior. This hormone has a wide variety of influences upon different brain-body mechanisms. It has been more recently studied for its impact on “attraction” and “bonding”. I realize that some readers may believe I am specifically dealing with sexual interests, however this hormone is not only influential in sexual interests.  In fact, it has been shown to be also important in maintaining faithfulness to your partner as well.

“Oxytocin affects social distance between adult males and females, and may be responsible at least in part for romantic attraction and subsequent monogamous pair bonding. An oxytocin nasal spray caused men in a monogamous relationship, but not single men, to increase the distance between themselves and an attractive woman during a first encounter by 10 to 15 centimeters.” (“Oxytocin”).

Furthermore, studies have shown that oxytocin can enhance the trust attributed to another individual, but only when there was no reason not to trust.  However, in relationships which have proven harmful or dangerous, Oxytocin will not enhance trust, but enhance the vigilance to avoid a repeat offense.  

“oxytocin only increases trust when there is no reason to be distrustful.[44]” (“Oxytocin”).
“ oxytocin increases approach/avoidance to certain social stimuli. The second theory states that oxytocin increases the salience of certain social stimuli, causing the animal or human to pay closer attention to socially relevant stimuli.[93]” (“Oxytocin”).

 

References:

“Oxytocin.” Oxytocin – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, n.d. Web. 19 July 2014.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxytocin.


 

With this in mind, the following article may seem more clear in the context discussed. Enjoy.

Greg E. Williams, MD


 

Study Finds Oxytocin Strengthens Memories of Both Bad and Good Events

by Marla Paul on Jul 22, 2013

It turns out the love hormone oxytocin is two-faced. Oxytocin has long been known as the warm, fuzzy hormone that promotes feelings of love, social bonding, and wellbeing. It’s even being tested as an anti-anxiety drug. But new Northwestern Medicine® research shows oxytocin also can cause emotional pain, an entirely new, darker identity for the hormone.

Oxytocin appears to be the reason stressful social situations, perhaps being bullied at school or tormented by a boss, reverberate long past the event and can trigger fear and anxiety in the future.

That’s because the hormone actually strengthens social memory in one specific region of the brain, Northwestern scientists discovered.

If a social experience is negative or stressful, the hormone activates a part of the brain that intensifies the memory. Oxytocin also increases the susceptibility to feeling fearful and anxious during stressful events going forward. (Presumably, oxytocin also intensifies positive social memories and, thereby, increases feelings of wellbeing, but that research is ongoing.)

The findings are important because chronic social stress is one of the leading causes of anxiety and depression, while positive social interactions enhance emotional health. The research, which was done in mice, is particularly relevant because oxytocin currently is being tested as an anti-anxiety drug in several clinical trials.

“By understanding the oxytocin system’s dual role in triggering or reducing anxiety, depending on the social context, we can optimize oxytocin treatments that improve wellbeing instead of triggering negative reactions,” said Jelena Radulovic, MD, PhD, the senior author of the study and the Dunbar Professsor of Bipolar Disease at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The paper was published July 21 in Nature Neuroscience.

This is the first study to link oxytocin to social stress and its ability to increase anxiety and fear in response to future stress. Northwestern scientists also discovered the brain region responsible for these effects – the lateral septum – and the pathway or route oxytocin uses in this area to amplify fear and anxiety.

The scientists discovered that oxytocin strengthens negative social memory and future anxiety by triggering an important signaling molecule – ERK (extracellular signal regulated kinases) – that becomes activated for six hours after a negative social experience. ERK causes enhanced fear, Radulovic believes, by stimulating the brain’s fear pathways, many of which pass through the lateral septum. The region is involved in emotional and stress responses.

The findings surprised the researchers, who were expecting oxytocin to modulate positive emotions in memory, based on its long association with love and social bonding.

“Oxytocin is usually considered a stress-reducing agent based on decades of research,” said Yomayra Guzman, a doctoral student in Radulovic’s lab and the study’s lead author. “With this novel animal model, we showed how it enhances fear rather than reducing it and where the molecular changes are occurring in our central nervous system.”

The new research follows three recent human studies with oxytocin, all of which are beginning to offer a more complicated view of the hormone’s role in emotions.

All the new experiments were done in the lateral septum. This region has the highest oxytocin levels in the brain and has high levels of oxytocin receptors across all species from mice to humans.

“This is important because the variability of oxytocin receptors in different species is huge,” Radulovic said. “We wanted the research to be relevant for humans, too.”

Experiments with mice in the study established that 1) oxytocin is essential for strengthening the memory of negative social interactions and 2) oxytocin increases fear and anxiety in future stressful situations.

Experiment 1: Oxytocin Strengthens Bad Memories

Three groups of mice were individually placed in cages with aggressive mice and experienced social defeat, a stressful experience for them. One group was missing its oxytocin receptors, essentially the plug by which the hormone accesses brain cells. The lack of receptors means oxytocin couldn’t enter the mice’s brain cells. The second group had an increased number of receptors so their brain cells were flooded with the hormone. The third control group had a normal number of receptors.

Six hours later, the mice were returned to cages with the aggressive mice. The mice that were missing their oxytocin receptors didn’t appear to remember the aggressive mice and show any fear. Conversely, when mice with increased numbers of oxytocin receptors were reintroduced to the aggressive mice, they showed an intense fear reaction and avoided the aggressive mice.

Experiment 2: Oxytocin Increases Fear and Anxiety in Future Stress

Again, the three groups of mice were exposed to the stressful experience of social defeat in the cages of other more aggressive mice. This time, six hours after the social stress, the mice were put in a box in which they received a brief electric shock, which startles them but is not painful. Then 24 hours later, the mice were returned to the same box but did not receive a shock.

The mice missing their oxytocin receptors did not show any enhanced fear when they re-entered the box in which they received the shock. The second group, which had extra oxytocin receptors, showed much greater fear in the box. The third control group exhibited an average fear response.

“This experiment shows that after a negative social experience the oxytocin triggers anxiety and fear in a new stressful situation,” Radulovic said.

This research was supported by the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health, grants R01 MH078064 and MH092065.

Members of the media, please contact Marla Paul via e-mail or at (312) 503-8928 for more information about this story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cranky Characters


Grumpy, Grumpy, Grumpy


 

grumpy1

Yes, we are familiar with the cranky, grumbling, characters in our life spaces from time to time. Yet according to this study it is more related to the perspective not the problems encountered. Further, the article lends evidence to open minds as related to having more optimism. Enjoy.

GEWms

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Why do Haters Have to Hate? Newly Identified Personality Trait Holds Clues

Contact:          Joseph Diorio
                        jdiorio@asc.upenn.edu
                        215-746-1798
PHILADELPHIA (August 26, 2013) – New research has uncovered the reason why some people seem to dislike everything while others seem to like everything. Apparently, it’s all part of our individual personality – a dimension that researchers have coined “dispositional attitude.
            People with a positive dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to like things, whereas people with a negative dispositional attitude have a strong tendency to dislike things, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The journal article, “Attitudes without objects: Evidence for a dispositional attitude, its measurement, and its consequences,” was written by Justin Hepler, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D., the Martin Fishbein Chair of Communication and Professor of Psychology at Penn.
            “The dispositional attitude construct represents a new perspective in which attitudes are not simply a function of the properties of the stimuli under consideration, but are also a function of the properties of the evaluator,” wrote the authors. “[For example], at first glance, it may not seem useful to know someone’s feelings about architecture when assessing their feelings about health care. After all, health care and architecture are independent stimuli with unique sets of properties, so attitudes toward these objects should also be independent.”
            However, they note, there is still one critical factor that an individual’s attitudes will have in common: the individual who formed the attitudes.  “Some people may simply be more prone to focusing on positive features and others on negative features,” Hepler said.
            To discover whether people differ in the tendency to like or dislike things, Hepler and Albarracín created a scale that requires people to report their attitudes toward a wide variety of unrelated stimuli, such as architecturecold showerspolitics, and soccer. Upon knowing how much people (dis)like these specific things, the responses were then averaged together to calculate their dispositional attitude (i.e., to calculate how much they tend to like or dislike things in general). The theory is that if individuals differ in the general tendency to like versus dislike objects, attitudes toward independent objects may actually be related. Throughout the studies the researchers found that people with generally positive dispositional attitudes are more open than people with generally negative dispositional attitudes. In day-to-day practice, this means that people with positive dispositional attitudes may be more prone to actually buy new products, get vaccine shots, follow regular positive actions (recycling, driving carefully, etc.)
            “This surprising and novel discovery expands attitude theory by demonstrating that an attitude is not simply a function of an object’s properties, but it is also a function of the properties of the individual who evaluates the object,” concluded Hepler and Albarracín. “Overall, the present research provides clear support for the dispositional attitude as a meaningful construct that has important implications for attitude theory and research.”

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Posted by on July 18, 2014 in Interesting Items, Personality

 

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Her revealing face: Indicative Traits of women by their face?

 

 

Face Traits

Women’s traits ‘written on face’

A woman’s personality traits may be “written all over her face”, research has suggested.

The Glasgow University and New Scientist study examined whether self-assessed personality characteristics could be identified from appearance.

It claimed that women’s faces were easier to read than men’s faces, with greater success in matching traits.

Glasgow University’s Dr Rob Jenkins said: “We did not expect there to be such a difference between the sexes.”

Dr Jenkins, a specialist in the psychology of social interaction, devised the study, along with Professor Richard Wiseman, of the University of Hertfordshire.

Dr Jenkins said the research should pave the way for further investigations into the link between a person’s character and their appearance.

“Past studies have shown that people do associate facial appearance with certain personality traits and that our snap judgements of faces really do suggest a kernel of truth about the personality of their owner,” he said.

Our perception of lucky-looking male faces is at odds with reality
Dr Rob Jenkins
Glasgow University

For the study of more than 1,000 New Scientist readers, participants were asked to submit a photograph of themselves looking directly at the camera and to complete an online personality questionnaire – rating how lucky, humorous, religious and trustworthy they believed themselves to be.

From the personality self-assessments, the experts identified groups of men and women scoring at the extremes of each of the four personality dimensions.

The photographs were then blended electronically to make several composite images.

“This allowed us to calculate an average of the two faces,” Dr Jenkins said. “For example, if both faces have bushy eyebrows and deep-set eyes, the resulting composite would also have these features.

“We wanted to know whether people would be able to identify the personalities of the individuals behind the images.

“To find this out we paired up composites from the extreme ends of each dimension and posted them online.

“For example, the composite face from the women who had rated themselves as extremely lucky was paired with the composite from those who had rated themselves as very unlucky.”

Transparent faces

More than 6,500 visitors to the site attempted to identify the lucky, humorous, religious and trustworthy faces. From this, it appeared that women’s faces were more transparent, or “gave more away”, than men’s faces.

A total of 70% of people were able to correctly identify the lucky face and 73% correctly identified the religious one.

In line with past research, the female composite associated with trustworthiness was also accurately identified, with a 54% success rate.

Only one of the female composites was not correctly identified – the one from the women who assessed themselves as humorous.

However, Dr Jenkins said none of the male composites was correctly identified.

“The images identified with being humorous, trustworthy and religious all came in around chance, whilst the lucky composite was only correctly identified 22% of the time,” he said.

“This suggests that our perception of lucky-looking male faces is at odds with reality.

“If there was nothing in this at all then the score should have been 50% across the board, but it wasn’t. Perhaps female faces are simply more informative than male ones.”

Dr Jenkins added that other reasons to explain the findings could be that male participants were less insightful or less honest when rating their personalities, or perhaps that women were more thoughtful when selecting the photographs they submitted.

“Overall the data is fascinating,” he said. “It pushes the envelope in that we are looking at subtle aspects of psychological make-up.

“It also shows that people readily associate facial appearance with certain personality traits.

“It’s possible that there is some correlation between appearance and personality because both are influenced by our genetic make-up.”

 

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Psychology Metasites and Megasites

Links to psychology metasites, sites with content and/or links spanning a large number of areas of psychology.

Link

 

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