New Study Shows Impact of Pay, Schedule Flexibility, and Job Security on Mental and Physical Health

A person’s overall pattern of employment, including pay, hours, schedule flexibility and job security, influence mental and physical health as well as the risk of being injured on the job, according to new research.

“This research is part of a growing body of evidence that the work people do — and the way it is organized and paid for — is fundamental to producing not only wealth, but health,” said senior author Noah Seixas, a professor of environmental and occupational health at the University of Washington.

According to researchers, technology and other forces are changing the nature of work. The traditional model of ongoing, full-time employment with regular hours and job security is giving way to gig-economy jobs, short-term contracts, nonstandard work hours, and flexible employer-worker relationships.

Current models for understanding this work are too simplistic, according to first author Trevor Peckham, a UW doctoral student in environmental and occupational health sciences. Studies of a single aspect of employment may not capture important elements of jobs that influence health, he noted.

“Employment relationships are complex,” he said. “They determine everything from how much you get paid, to how much control you have over your work schedule, your opportunities for advancement, and how much protection you have against adverse working conditions, like harassment.”

For the study, the researchers used data from the General Social Survey collected between 2002 to 2014 to create a multidimensional measure of how self-reported health, mental health, and occupational injury were associated with the quality of employment among approximately 6,000 US adults.

“There are many different forms of employment in the modern economy,” Peckham said. “Our study suggests that it is the different combinations of employment characteristics, which workers experience together as a package, that is important for their health.”

Findings include:

  • People employed in “dead-end” jobs — for example, manufacturing assembly line workers who are often well-paid and unionized but with little empowerment or opportunity — and “precarious” job holders — janitors or retail workers who work on short-term contracts and struggle to get full-time hours — were more likely to report poor general and mental health, as well as occupational injury compared to people with more traditional forms of employment.
  • “Inflexible skilled” workers, such as physicians and military personnel, who have generally high-quality jobs but with long, inflexible hours, and “job-to-job” workers, such as Uber drivers, gig workers or the self-employed doing odd jobs, had worse mental health and increased injury experience compared to those with standard employment.

One of the most surprising findings, according to the researchers, was for “optimistic precarious” job holders, which includes service-sector workers with high empowerment, such as florists. The researchers found these workers had similar health to those in standard employment, despite having jobs characterized by insecurity, low pay, and irregular hours. However, these workers report high control over their schedules, opportunities to develop, and involvement in decision-making.

“Our research has direct implications for policy,” said co-author Anjum Hajat, a UW assistant professor of epidemiology. “As we have seen at the local level, Seattle City Council has been actively promoting policy solutions to improve workers’ lives.”

Those solutions include the secure scheduling ordinance, minimum wage, and family leave policies. These approaches show “the interest and appetite for change,” she said.

Researchers and policymakers must continue the dialogue with employers “to demonstrate the benefits of increased worker security and stability on employee turnover, productivity and, ultimately, their bottom line,” she said.

“Using policy and legal levers to influence how people are hired and treated at work can have profound effects on improving the health of workers and their communities,” Seixas added.

The study was published in the Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences.

Source: University of Washington

Smartphone Addiction in Late Adolescence May Increase Risk for Depression, Loneliness

A new study suggests young people who are hooked on their smartphones may be at an increased risk for depression and loneliness. University of Arizona investigators designed the study to explore whether reliance on smartphones precedes symptoms of depression and loneliness, or whether the reverse is true.

In a study of 346 older adolescents, ages 18-20, researchers found that smartphone dependency predicts higher reports of depressive symptoms and loneliness, rather than the other way around. Understanding the path of the relationship is important as mental health professionals work to design interventions to reduce dependency and subsequent mood disorders.

“The main takeaway is that smartphone dependency directly predicts later depressive symptoms,” said Matthew Lapierre, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication. “There’s an issue where people are entirely too reliant on the device, in terms of feeling anxious if they don’t have it accessible, and they’re using it to the detriment of their day-to-day life.”

In the study, Lapierre and his co-authors focus on smartphone dependency – a person’s psychological reliance on the device – rather than on general smartphone use, which can actually provide benefits.

“The research grows out of my concern that there is too much of a focus on general use of smartphones,” Lapierre said. “Smartphones can be useful. They help us connect with others. We’ve really been trying to focus on this idea of dependency and problematic use of smartphones being the driver for these psychological outcomes. ”

The study will appear in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Acknowledging the direction of the relationship between smartphone dependency and poor psychological outcomes is critical for knowing how best to address the problem, said graduate student Pengfei Zhao, who co-authored the study with Lapierre and communication doctoral student Benjamin Custer.

“If depression and loneliness lead to smartphone dependency, we could reduce dependency by adjusting people’s mental health,” Zhao said. “But if smartphone dependency (precedes depression and loneliness), which is what we found, we can reduce smartphone dependency to maintain or improve wellbeing.”

The researchers measured smartphone dependency by asking study participants to use a four-point scale to rate a series of statements, such as “I panic when I cannot use my smartphone.”

Participants also answered questions designed to measure loneliness, depressive symptoms and their daily smartphone use. They responded to the questions at the start of the study and again three to four months later.

The study focused on older adolescents, a population researchers say is important for a couple of reasons: First, they largely grew up with smartphones. Second, they are at an age and transitional stage in life where they are vulnerable to poor mental health outcomes, such as depression.

“It might be easier for late adolescents to become dependent on smartphones, and smartphones may have a bigger negative influence on them because they are already very vulnerable to depression or loneliness,” Zhao said.

Given the potential negative effects of smartphone dependency, it may be worth it for people to evaluate their relationship with their devices and self-impose boundaries if necessary, the researchers said.

Looking for alternative ways to manage stress might be one helpful strategy, since other research has indicated that some people turn to their phones in an effort to relieve stress, Zhao said.

“When people feel stressed, they should use other healthy approaches to cope, like talking to a close friend to get support or doing some exercises or meditation,” Zhao said.

Smartphones are still a relatively new technology with research a global endeavor as a wide-variety of professionals investigate how the phones affect people’s lives.

Lapierre said now that researchers know that there is a link between smartphone dependency and depression and loneliness, future work should focus on better understanding why that relationship exists.

“The work we’re doing is answering some essential questions about the psychological effects of smartphone dependency,” he said. “Then we can start asking, ‘OK, why is this the case?’”

Source: University of Arizona

Posting a ‘Posie’ Rather than ‘Selfie’ Is Best for Impression Management

If the way others perceive you is important, then you may want to rethink the way you visually present yourself on social media. At least, that is the lesson learned from a new study by Washington State University psychologists.

The scientists conducted a novel experiment with hundreds of actual Instagram users to determine if there are certain types of self-image posts that cause others to make snap judgments about the user’s personality.

The researchers discovered that individuals who post a lot of selfies are almost uniformly viewed as less likeable, less successful, more insecure and less open to new experiences than individuals who share a greater number of posed photos taken by someone else.

In short, a posie trumps a selfie if you want to make a favorable impression. The study appears in the Journal of Research in Personality.

“Even when two feeds had similar content, such as depictions of achievement or travel, feelings about the person who posted selfies were negative and feelings about the person who posted posies were positive,” said Chris Barry, WSU professor of psychology and lead author of the study.

“It shows there are certain visual cues, independent of context, that elicit either a positive or negative response on social media.”

Barry began researching possible links between Instagram activity and personality traits around five years ago. At the time, the idea that people who take lots of selfies are probably narcissists was front and center in the pop culture world.

Barry decided to put the popular theory to the test. He conducted two studies investigating potential links between posting lots of selfies on Instagram and a narcissistic personality.

Somewhat surprisingly, the research was inconclusive.

“We just weren’t finding anything,” Barry said. “That got us thinking that while posts on social media might not be indicative of the poster’s personality, other people might think they are. So, we decided to design another study to investigate.”

In the new study, Barry, along with WSU psychology students and collaborators from the University of Southern Mississippi, analyzed data from two groups of students for the study. The first group consisted of 30 undergraduates from a public university in the southern United States.

The participants were asked to complete a personality questionnaire and agreed to let the researchers use their 30 most recent Instagram posts for the experiment.

The posts were coded based on whether they were selfies or posies as well as what was depicted in each image, such as physical appearance, affiliation with others, events, activities or accomplishments.

The second group of students consisted of 119 undergraduates from a university in the northwestern United States.

This group was asked to rate the Instagram profiles of the first group on 13 attributes such as self-absorption, low self-esteem, extraversion and success using only the images from those profiles.

Barry’s team then analyzed the data to determine if there were visual cues in the first group of students’ photos that elicited consistent personality ratings from the second group.

They found that the students who posted more posies were viewed as being relatively higher in self-esteem, more adventurous, less lonely, more outgoing, more dependable, more successful and having the potential for being a good friend. However, the reverse was true for students with a greater number of selfies on their feed.

Personality ratings for selfies with a physical appearance theme, such as flexing in the mirror, were particularly negative, the researchers found.

Other interesting findings from the study included that students in the first group who were rated by the second group as highly self-absorbed tended to have more Instagram followers and followed more users.

The researchers also found the older the study participants in the second group were, the more they tended to rate profiles negatively in terms of success, consideration of others, openness to trying new things and likeability.

“One of the noteworthy things about this study is that none of these students knew each other or were aware of the Instagram patterns or number of followers of the people they were viewing,” Barry said.

The researchers have several theories to explain their results.

The generally positive reactions to posies may be due to the fact that the photos appear more natural, similar to how the observer would see the poster in real life.

Another explanation is that selfies were far less frequently posted than posies and seeing one could signal something strange or unusual about the poster.

“While there may be a variety of motives behind why people post self-images to Instagram, how those photos are perceived appears to follow a more consistent pattern,” Barry said.

“While the findings of this study are just a small piece of the puzzle, they may be important to keep in mind before you make that next post.”

Source: Washington State University

Lack of Sleep Plus Extra Screen Time Leads to Impulsivity in Kids

New Canadian research suggests that children and youth who do not sleep enough and who use screens more than recommended are more likely to act impulsively and make poorer decisions.

The findings, published in the journal Pediatrics, come from the globally recognized Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research Group (HALO) in Ottawa.

“Impulsive behavior is associated with numerous mental health and addiction problems, including eating disorders, behavioral addictions and substance abuse,” said Dr. Michelle Guerrero, lead author and postdoctoral fellow at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and the University of Ottawa.

“This study shows the importance of especially paying attention to sleep and recreational screen time, and reinforces the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth.”

The 24-Hour Movement recommendations, are the first evidence-based guidelines to address the whole day. Experts discovered kids are inactive and may be losing sleep over it. Moreover, they aren’t moving enough to be tired, and they may also be too tired to move. For optimal health benefits, children and youth should achieve high levels of physical activity, low levels of sedentary behavior, and sufficient sleep each day.

Emerging evidence shows the need for a new movement paradigm that emphasizes the integration of all movement behaviors occurring over a whole day, shifting the focus from the individual components to emphasize the whole. The new guidelines encourage children and youth to “Sweat, Step, Sleep and Sit” the right amounts for a healthy 24 hours.

Now, the new study confirms that when kids follow these recommendations, they are more likely to make better decisions and act less rashly than those who do not meet the guidelines, explains Guerrero.

The Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommend:

    • 9-11 hours of sleep a night
    • no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time a day

The new paper, “24-Hour Movement Behaviors and Impulsivity,” analyzed data over a 10-year period for 4,524 children from a large longitudinal population study called the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development (ABCD) Study. In addition to sleep and screen time, the ABCD Study also captures data related to physical activity.

Physical activity is a third pillar of the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines, which recommend children and youth receive at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity daily.

The ABCD Study allowed Guerrero and her team to look at the three pillars of the movement guidelines against eight measures of impulsivity.

The criteria include one’s tendency to seek out thrilling experiences, to set desired goals, to respond sensitively to rewarding or unpleasant stimuli, and to act rashly in negative and positive moods.

The study results suggest that meeting all three pillars of the movement guidelines was associated with more favorable outcomes on five of the eight dimensions.

Guerrero and her team say that studies using feedback devices to measure the movement behaviors in future research will help further our understanding of how physical activity, screen time, and sleep relate to children’s impulsivity.

Source: University of Ottawa

Study: Screen Time Not to Blame for Teens’ Mental Health Issues

A new study suggests that the time teens are spending on their phones and online is not that bad.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, tracked young adolescents on their smartphones to determine whether more time spent using digital technology was tied to greater mental health problems.

The researchers found little evidence of any association between digital technology use and adolescent mental health.

“It may be time for adults to stop arguing over whether smartphones and social media are good or bad for teens’ mental health and start figuring out ways to best support them in both their offline and online lives,” said Dr. Candice Odgers, professor of psychological science at the University of California, Irvine.

For the study, the multi-university research team surveyed more than 2,000 young people and then closely tracked a subsample of nearly 400 adolescents (10 to 15 years old) on their smartphones several times a day for two weeks.

Adolescents in the study represented the economically and racially diverse population of youth attending North Carolina public schools.

The young participants reported on their daily technology usage each night and gave reports of their mental health symptoms three times a day.

Specifically, the researchers investigated whether youth who engaged more with digital technologies were more likely to experience later mental health symptoms, and whether days that adolescents spent more time using digital technology for a wide range of purposes were also days when mental health problems were more common.

In both cases, increased digital technology use was not related to worse mental health.

When any associations were observed, they were small and in the opposite direction that would be expected given all of the recent concerns about digital technology damaging adolescents’ mental health. For example, adolescents who reported sending more text messages over the study period actually reported feeling better (less depressed) than teens who were less frequent texters.

“Contrary to the common belief that smartphones and social media are damaging adolescents’ mental health, we don’t see much support for the idea that time spent on phones and online is associated with increased risk for mental health problems,” said Dr. Michaeline Jensen, assistant professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Source: University of California- Irvine

Fake News Can Create False Memories

Voters can form false memories after seeing fake news stories, especially if those stories align with their political beliefs, according to new research out of Ireland.

The research was conducted in the week before the 2018 referendum on legalizing abortion in Ireland, but researchers suggest that fake news is likely to have similar effects in other political contexts, including the U.S. presidential race in 2020.

“In highly emotional, partisan political contests, such as the 2020 U.S. presidential election, voters may ‘remember’ entirely fabricated news stories,” said lead author Gillian Murphy of University College Cork. “In particular, they are likely to ‘remember’ scandals that reflect poorly on the opposing candidate.”

According to Murphy, the study is novel because it examines misinformation and false memories in relation to a real-world referendum.

For the study, the researchers recruited 3,140 voters online and asked them whether and how they planned to vote in the referendum.

Next, each participant was presented with six news reports, two of which were made-up stories that depicted campaigners on either side of the issue engaging in illegal or inflammatory behavior. After reading each story, participants were asked if they had heard about the event depicted in the story before. If they did, they were asked to report any specific memories about it.

The researchers then told the voters that some of the stories had been fabricated. They  invited the participants to identify any of the reports they believed to be fake. Finally, the participants completed a cognitive test.

According to the study’s findings, nearly half of the participants reported a memory for at least one of the made-up events. Many recalled rich details about a fabricated news story.

The individuals in favor of legalizing abortion were more likely to remember a falsehood about the referendum opponents, while those against legalization were more likely to remember a falsehood about the proponents, the researchers discovered.

Many participants failed to reconsider their memory even after learning that some of the information could be fictitious. And several participants recounted details that the false news reports did not include, the researchers said.

“This demonstrates the ease with which we can plant these entirely fabricated memories, despite this voter suspicion and even despite an explicit warning that they may have been shown fake news,” Murphy said.

Participants who scored lower on the cognitive test were no more prone to forming false memories than those with higher scores, the researchers said. Low scorers were more likely to remember false stories that aligned with their opinions, they added.

This finding suggests that people with higher cognitive ability may be more likely to question their personal biases and their news sources, according to the researchers.

According to pioneering memory researcher Dr. Elizabeth Loftus of the University of California, Irvine, understanding the psychological effects of fake news is critical given that sophisticated technology is making it easier to create not only phony news reports and images, but fake video as well.

“People will act on their fake memories, and it is often hard to convince them that fake news is fake,” said Loftus, who participated in the research. “With the growing ability to make news incredibly convincing, how are we going to help people avoid being misled? It’s a problem that psychological scientists may be uniquely qualified to work on.”

The researchers plan to expand on the study by investigating the influence of false memories related to the Brexit referendum and the #MeToo movement.

The study was published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

Source: Association for Psychological Science