Research Spotlights: May 2018

research spotlight

Holding on to stress-related emotions negatively effects health a decade later

Stress and an individual’s reaction to it are known to impact health, yet less is known about whether lingering emotions after a stressor effects long-term health. This was the focus of a recent study by NIA-funded investigators.

Analyses were conducted using data from 1,155 participants of the Midlife in the United States II (MIDUS II) study. Participants answered questions about daily stressors and negative emotions for 8 consecutive days. After a follow-up period of 10 years, participants were asked about their current physical health and functional status.

Participants who reported more stressors were more likely to be younger, female, and have a higher education. At baseline 25 percent of participants reported four or more chronic conditions, increasing to 38 percent at 10-year follow-up. Participants experienced increased negative affect in the days following a stressor, and lingering negative affect was found to significantly predict the number of chronic conditions and decline in functional status 10 years later. These results suggest how individuals recover from a stressful event is just as important as the initial reaction to the stressor. Future studies may be needed to explore the mechanisms by which post-stress emotional response impacts an individual’s chronic health both acutely and chronically.

Leger KA, Charles ST, Almeida DM. 2018. Let it go: Lingering negative affect in response to daily stressors is associated with physical health years later. Psychol Sci. doi: 10.1177/0956797618763097.

Genetic risk for low educational attainment predicts criminal behavior

Genetic variants of educational attainment in childhood are associated with having a criminal record in adulthood according to a new study published by NIA- and NICHD-funded investigators.

The study sample of over 2,900 was drawn from two birth cohorts: the Environmental Risk Longitudinal Twin Study and the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development Study. Genetic data from both cohorts were analyzed, and single-nucleotide polymorphisms were extracted and matched to education-associated alleles to create a polygenic score of educational attainment. Criminal record data of participants were obtained from police databases in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Results indicate participants with a lower polygenic score of one standard deviation for educational attainment were 20–30 percent more likely to have a criminal record in adulthood. This relationship remained significant even after adjusting for socioeconomic deprivation and parental antisocial behavior. Early-emerging risk factors including lower cognitive ability and self-control, academic difficulties, and truancy were found to mediate the genetic relationship with criminal offending.

These findings highlight how genetics can be incorporated into theories of criminology. Furthermore, results reveal the role of school experiences in mitigating the genetic influences on criminal behavior.

Wertz J, Caspi A, Belsky DW, Beckley AL, Arseneault L, Barnes JC, Corcoran DL, Hogan S, et al. 2018. Genetics and crime: Integrating new genomic discoveries into psychological research about antisocial behavior. Psychol Sci. doi: 10.1177/0956797617744542.

Individuals are willing to pay more for unhealthy food they are craving

Cravings are known to contribute to addiction and obesity-related health outcomes but their impact on consumer behavior is poorly understood. This is the focus of a recent study published by NIDA-funded investigators.

The first study included 44 non-dieters who fasted for 4 hours. The study included a series of experiments in which participants were asked to indicate how much money they would pay for a snack food before and after exposure to the item as well as after manipulation to induce craving. In the second study, 45 participants were given the opportunity to bid on one, three, five, or eight units of the exposed snack food or two other non-exposed snack items.

Findings revealed that participants were willing to pay more for a snack after they were exposed to it and asked to recall memories about eating the item. Willingness to pay more for a snack craving was also observed in participants who were hungry before and after exposure to the item, indicating hunger and cravings are distinct experiences. Results also indicated participants were willing to pay more for items with higher calories and fat and/or sugar content and for greater portion sizes of the items they craved. These results shed light on the multiplicative value of cravings and their role in food consumption choices.

Konova AB, Louie K, Glimcher PW. 2018. The computational form of craving is a selective multiplication of economic value. Proc Natl Acad Sci 115(16):4122-7.