Mind Matters — Research Nuggets in Psychology

It has come to my attention that Mind Matters has become too political and needs to focus on the psychological. So for this column, allow me to glean some nuggets of psychological research reported on in the American Psychological Association Monitor (see http://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/05/index.aspx).

The articles include research on belief versus fact; how green buildings help cognitive ability, thereby promoting productivity; and also an editorial on how psychologists are concerned about both the possible loss of funding for scientific research as well as for the Affordable Care Act.

The Environmental Protection Agency states that, on average, ninety percent of our time is spent indoors. Until recently, our indoor atmosphere—at work, at school, at home—and its effect on health have been given short shrift. Researchers, including psychologists, are discovering that the indoor environment may have a profound effect on behavior, performance, and health.

The physical environment includes carbon dioxide levels, humidity, lighting, and color, for example. Thus ventilation, air borne contaminants, lighting and noise levels can make an immense difference in how a person feels, and even thinks. It was found that “workers in green-certified buildings scored 26.4 percent higher on … cognitive tasks than those in non-certified buildings.” Other research showed that what is good for the employees turns out to be good for the employer, with a sizable increase in productivity.

Just as good indoor air promotes health, poor outdoor air does the reverse. In a Women’s Health Initiative memory study, it was found that older women who live in areas where the fine particulate matter in the air exceeds the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standard, women were 81 percent more likely to develop cognitive decline and 92 percent more likely to develop dementia. (The study did not include older men.)

Other research of older Americans found that poorer and less educated seniors were more likely to suffer severe chronic pain than were wealthier, more educated elderly. This finding seems to deserve more study.

From the old to the young: other research briefly noted in the APA Monitor reports how significant learning happens in the first six months of life. It was found in a Dutch study that Korean born infants adopted even before the age of six months retained some knowledge of their birth language!

Let’s end on a partly optimistic research note: a drop in teen suicide was found in states that legalized same sex marriage over the past fifteen years, as compared to no change in the states that did not pass same sex marriage laws. The research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, was an analysis of data collected from more than 700,000 teens in 47 states over a fifteen year span, as part of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System Survey.

Perhaps what all the research drives home is that we are social beings and our indoor and outdoor environments matter; our milieu and our laws matter and have a deep influence on our mental and physical well-being.