Feel better about it

Kevin Lewis

March 03, 2019

Mindfulness training reduces loneliness and increases social contact in a randomized controlled trial
Emily Lindsay et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 26 February 2019, Pages 3488-3493


Loneliness and social isolation are a growing public health concern, yet there are few evidence-based interventions for mitigating these social risk factors. Accumulating evidence suggests that mindfulness interventions can improve social-relationship processes. However, the active ingredients of mindfulness training underlying these improvements are unclear. Developing mindfulness-specific skills — namely, (i) monitoring present-moment experiences with (ii) an orientation of acceptance — may change the way people perceive and relate toward others. We predicted that developing openness and acceptance toward present experiences is critical for reducing loneliness and increasing social contact and that removing acceptance-skills training from a mindfulness intervention would eliminate these benefits. In this dismantling trial, 153 community adults were randomly assigned to a 14-lesson smartphone-based intervention: (i) training in both monitoring and acceptance (Monitor+Accept), (ii) training in monitoring only (Monitor Only), or (iii) active control training. For 3 d before and after the intervention, ambulatory assessments were used to measure loneliness and social contact in daily life. Consistent with predictions, Monitor+Accept training reduced daily-life loneliness by 22% (d = 0.44, P = 0.0001) and increased social contact by two more interactions each day (d = 0.47, P = 0.001) and one more person each day (d = 0.39, P = 0.004), compared with both Monitor Only and control trainings. These findings describe a behavioral therapeutic target for improving social-relationship functioning; by fostering equanimity with feelings of loneliness and social disconnect, acceptance-skills training may allow loneliness to dissipate and encourage greater engagement with others in daily life.

Walk for well-being: The main effects of walking on approach motivation
Christine Weinkauff Duranso
Motivation and Emotion, February 2019, Pages 93–102


The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of exercise in the development of self-efficacy and approach motivation. An 8-week blind experimental design was used (N = 185), with two control and two treatment groups. Already physically active participants were assigned to one control group, while participants that reported a sedentary lifestyle at pretest were randomly assigned to either a sedentary control group or one of two treatment groups that began a brisk walking intervention. Treatment group participants walked either outdoors or indoors for 30 min per day, 4 days per week, for 8 weeks. The indoor/outdoor treatment group assignment was implemented to determine if exercising outdoors enhanced the outcomes. Significant main effects of walking were found for exercise self-efficacy, general self-efficacy and global approach motivation tendencies. Walking outdoors resulted in the greatest gains in general self-efficacy and global approach motivation. Given the alarmingly sedentary nature of American culture, these findings further evidence how simple changes in physical activity may have profound effects on well-being.

Supportive hand-holding attenuates pupillary responses to stress in adult couples
Tyler Graff, Steven Luke & Wendy Birmingham
PLoS ONE, February 2019

Methods: Eighty individuals (40 couples) were randomly assigned to either a spousal support (i.e., spouse hand-holding) or non-support condition (i.e., alone) and administered a Stroop task while pupil dilation was measured.

Results: The Stroop task elicited a stress reaction in terms of pupil dilation in response to the incongruent task trials. Participants in the support condition showed accelerated habituation to the stress task (p < .001), and less pupil reactivity (p < .001) providing evidence for buffering effects of social support via spousal presence and hand-holding.

The second pugilist’s plight: Why people believe they are above average but are not especially happy about it
Shai Davidai & Sebastian Deri
Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, March 2019, Pages 570-587


People’s tendency to rate themselves as above average is often taken as evidence of undue self-regard. Yet, everyday experience is occasioned with feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. How can these 2 experiences be reconciled? Across 12 studies (N = 2,474; including 4 preregistered studies) we argue that although people do indeed believe that they are above average they also hold themselves to standards of comparison that are well above average. Across a host of domains, we find that people’s typical standards of comparison are significantly above the level of the “average” person (Studies 1A, 1B, 2A, and 3). We further show that people’s tendency to measure themselves against above-average others is due to the increased mental availability of such high-performing standards of comparison (Studies 4A and 4B). Finally, we present evidence that this is not simply the result of self-enhancement by showing that people measure themselves against above-average others even when they feel subjectively inadequate (Study 5A), receive objective information about their poor performance (Study 5B), or evaluate themselves on domains in which they chronically underperform (Study 5C). Even in domains where being above average is undesirable (e.g., rudeness), people bring to mind and compare themselves with above average targets (Studies 2B and 2C). We discuss the implications for self-enhancement research and the importance of examining who people compare themselves to in addition to how people believe they compare with others.

Why do depressed people prefer sad music?
Sunkyung Yoon et al.
Emotion, forthcoming


One of the cardinal symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) is persistent sadness. Do people with MDD actually prefer sad stimuli, potentially perpetuating their depression? Millgram, Joormann, Huppert, and Tamir (2015) observed such preferences and interpreted them as reflecting a maladaptive emotion regulatory goal to upregulate sad feelings. We assessed emotional music choice among both those with MDD and healthy controls (HC), and assessed the reasons for music preferences in these two groups. Seventy-six female participants (38 per group) completed two tasks: (1) Millgram et al.’s (2015) music task wherein participants listened to happy, neutral, and sad music excerpts and chose the one they wanted to listen to most, and (2) a novel Emotional Music Selection Task (EMST) wherein participants chose preferred music clips, varying in emotion and energy level, in paired-choice trials. In the replication music task, MDD people were more likely to choose sad music. However, inconsistent with any motivation to upregulate sadness, people with MDD reported that they chose sad music because it was low in energy levels (e.g., relaxing). EMST results revealed that MDD people had a stronger preference for both low energy and sad music, relative to HC. The strong appeal of sad music to people with MDD may be related to its calming effects rather than any desire to increase or maintain sad feelings.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.