Research Spotlights: October 2018

research spotlight

Lonely people prefer to stand farther away from those they love

A recent NIA-funded study reports lonely people are more likely to prefer greater interpersonal distances from close friends and family.

Over two experiments, close to 600 men and women were surveyed to determine how close they prefer to physically be in relation to others in their intimate, relational, and collective space (and in relation to strangers). Intimate space consisted of those they are closest to (closest family and friends and significant others), relational space included trusted friends and family, and collective space included social groups individuals identified with. Loneliness was measured using the UCLA Loneliness Scale and additional covariates including gender, marital status, anxiety, and depression were collected.

As expected, interpersonal distance preferences increased from intimate space to relational space to collective space to strangers. Overall, males preferred larger interpersonal distances across all spaces. Participants who reported more loneliness, however, preferred significantly more interpersonal distance with those in intimate spaces. This effect was not found with relational or collective space. Marital status, number of people in intimate social networks, anxiety and depression, and social closeness did not mediate this effect.

These results suggest that lonely individuals prefer greater interpersonal distances with those they are closest to. This is consistent with the evolutionary model of loneliness in which lonely individuals withdraw from potential social threats in self-preservation.

Layden EA, Cacioppo JT, Cacioppo S. 2018. Loneliness predicts a preference for larger interpersonal distance within intimate space. PLoS ONE 13(9):e0203491.

Childhood stress leads to overeating in low-income children

Psychosocial stress exposure in early childhood predicts increased eating in the absence of hunger (EAH) and emotional overeating in low-income children according to a recent NIDDK-funded study.

In an observational longitudinal study from early to middle childhood, early childhood stress exposure in 207 low-income children was measured by parent report and a calculated stress exposure index. EAH was measured at Head Start by measuring kilocalories of desirable food consumed after breakfast was finished. Parents also reported on child eating behaviors and children’s BMI was collected.

At baseline 40 percent of the sample was overweight/obese. Obesity-promoting behaviors correlated with BMIz and, at follow-up, BMIz and disordered eating behaviors both increased, suggesting child obesogenic eating behaviors increase with age. Stress exposure predicted yearly increases in EAH and emotional overeating but was not associated with food responsiveness. A trend was observed for increased stress and decreased enjoyment of food.

Results suggest that early-life stress may result in obesogenic eating behaviors which increase risk for childhood obesity. Targeted behavioral interventions for these mechanisms may ameliorate obesity in this at-risk population.

Miller AL, Gearhardt AN, Retzloff L, Sturza J, Kaciroti N, Lumeng JC. 2018. Early childhood stress and child age predict longitudinal increase in obesogenic eating among low-income children. Acad Pediatr 18(6):685-691.

Expanding implementation of stress-reducing treatments for cancer patients improves health

Widespread dissemination and implementation of previously tested treatments often takes many years and is not always successful. But according to a recent NCI-funded study, researchers successfully trained providers from around the country to implement an evidence-based treatment to reduce stress in cancer patients in their own communities.

Cancer to Health, a biobehavioral intervention, was developed in the early 2000s to reduce stress in cancer patients, foster communication about treatment, increase physical activity, and improve mood and overall quality of life. Researchers used a hybrid design to test the effectiveness of the clinical intervention with newly trained providers and the feasibility of a flexible implementation strategy for rapid translation. Across fifteen sites in the U.S., 128 oncology mental health providers were trained to implement Cancer to Health to 158 patients as a part of standard care.

Results suggest 60–70 percent of the patients received the core components of the program. Patients reported significant improvements in mood and became more physically active (increases from “moderately active” to “active”). Overall, patients rated the helpfulness of the program an average 3.48 out of 4. The program was successful even when trained providers slightly modified aspects such as the number of monthly maintenance sessions.

This study emphasizes the importance of research to evaluate effectiveness and implementation strategies and to facilitate uptake of evidence-based treatments. With adoption of models such as this, the time from efficacy to dissemination and implementation can be reduced.

Ashmore JA, Ditterich KW, Conley CC, Wright MR, Howland PS, Huggins KL, Cooreman J, Andrews PS, Nicholas DR, Roberts L, Hewitt L, Scales JN, Delap JK, Gray CA, Tyler LA, Collins C, Whiting CM, Brothers BM, Ryba MM, Andersen BL. 2018. Evaluating the effectiveness and implementation of evidence-based treatment: A multisite hybrid design. Am Psychol. Epub.