The Nuance

There’s new evidence that strong emotion — and, in particular, anger — may allow falsehoods to flourish

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

On January 8, two days after former president Donald Trump incited a mob attack on the U.S. Capitol, a 57-year-old Texas man tweeted a list of the penalties Trump would incur if he were impeached a second time. The listed penalties included the loss of Trump’s presidential pension, the loss of his Secret Service detail, and the loss of his ability to run again in 2024.

The tweet was reposted on a left-leaning Facebook page, at which point it went viral. The original tweet, which has since been deleted, accrued hundreds of thousands of “likes” and tens of thousands of retweets. …


The Nuance

Your self-control can fluctuate, but you probably can’t use it up

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

January is the month for resolutions, which also makes it the month for self-control. Whether you’re giving up your favorite latte or cutting back on Instagram, avoiding these and other temptations can feel draining. It’s as though you only have so much willpower in your tank, and the more of it you use, the harder it becomes to follow through on your good intentions.

Experts have a name for this phenomenon: ego depletion. The term was introduced in the 1990s by a team of psychologists at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. They argued that your “volition” — that is, your ability to make choices or engage in effortful behaviors — is a limited resource. …


The Nuance

It can also enrich your view of the world

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

For a groundbreaking 2010 study, a team of Canadian researchers explored the associations between bilingualism and Alzheimer’s disease.

At that time, it was known that socially and physically active older adults tended to enjoy a measure of protection from dementia, and the study team was interested to learn if the cognitive demands of bilingualism — the ability of speaking and understanding two or more languages — offered any similar protections.

To find out, they collected data on more than 200 people recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. They found that people who spoke two or more languages developed Alzheimer’s symptoms an average of five years later in life than those who spoke only one language. This time gap persisted even after the study team controlled for occupation, education level, country of birth, and other variables. …


The Nuance

Time spent around other living things may be essential to the health of your microbiome, and by extension the health of your brain and body

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

Until about the midpoint of the 20th century, the prevailing view of life on Earth was something akin to a massive interspecies cage match. The English biologist Thomas Henry Huxley famously likened the natural world to a “gladiator’s show […] whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day.”

Now we know better.

In his 2020 bestseller Entangled Life, the writer and biologist Merlin Sheldrake details many of the profound and symbiotic relationships that exist among Earth’s life-forms. …


The Nuance

The human voice is a persuasive communication tool — even when you’re talking to yourself

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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

Spoken mantras are a feature of many Eastern religious traditions, including Hinduism and Buddhism. Mantras can take the form of words or phrases, but they’re often simple sounds or syllables that are thought to improve concentration and support meditative practices.

The Om chant is one of the best-known mantras in the West. While for some the word has great spiritual significance, it may also have the power to instill calm in those who attach no religious meaning to its utterance.

Research from India has found that saying Om dampens patterns of brain activity in ways that mimic stimulation of the vagus nerve, which governs the body’s rest-and-relax states and counteracts stress. While that Indian study was small, other research efforts have likewise linked Om to mood and relaxation benefits. …


Researchers suggest anything over two hours per day may be too much

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Photo: Warren Wong/Unsplash

It’s a classic chicken-or-egg conundrum.

Research has linked heavy social media use with an elevated risk for depression. But experts have disagreed — and occasionally called one another out — over whether a heavy social media habit contributes to depression or if people who are depressed simply gravitate toward heavy social media use.

The findings of a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine will provide ammo for the “social media is harmful” camp.

The study team recruited more than 1,300 people between the ages of 18 and 30 and screened them for depression. The researchers also collected information on each person’s daily social media use as well as information on race, sex, income, relationship status, adverse childhood experiences, and other socioeconomic factors associated with the development of depression. …


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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

Autoimmunity may explain how the virus inflicts such widespread and unpredictable damage

Throughout the pandemic, doctors have noticed a confounding phenomenon: A lot of people infected by the coronavirus develop myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can cause lasting damage and death.

Even among people who have mild Covid-19 or who are asymptomatic, experts have found evidence of heart inflammation. A July study published in JAMA Cardiology found that 60% of coronavirus patients had active myocarditis two months after their initial infection. Remarkably, the study found that this inflammation was as common among people who recovered at home as it was among those who required hospitalization. …


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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

Most people do exactly the wrong thing during a bout of sleepless nights

Stress and worry are major insomnia triggers, and so it’s hardly a surprise that the pandemic has set off a wave of lost sleep. Earlier this year, research in the journal Sleep Medicine found that the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 caused a 37% jump in the incidence of clinical insomnia.

Even before the pandemic, insomnia was commonplace. Each year, about one in four adults develops acute insomnia, which is defined as a problem falling asleep or staying asleep a few nights a week for a period of at least two weeks. That’s according to a 2020 study in the journal Sleep.

Fortunately, that study found that most people — roughly 75% — recover from these periods of short-term insomnia. But for others, the problem persists for months or years. …


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Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

While physical distancing and masks are crucial, social interaction could calm the immune system and turn down inflammation

Like other apes, humans are social animals. We evolved to live in codependent communities, and we do poorly if deprived of interpersonal contact.

Everyone has a different threshold for social interaction. But nearly all of us tend to become distressed when cut off from others, and our immune system responds to this distress by ramping up its defenses. A new study in the journal Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews finds that social isolation is associated with a rise in inflammation-promoting molecules, including some that are implicated in severe Covid-19. …


Hangovers take a toll — and not just on your Sunday mornings

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A collection of empty wine bottles
Photo: Marina Herrmann/Moment/Getty Images

A 2015 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that heavy drinking costs the American economy roughly $250 billion a year. The majority of those losses — 72 percent — was due to “lost productivity,” which is more or less a euphemism for “too hungover to get anything done.”

Despite all the havoc hangovers cause, science still has a crude understanding of how hangovers work and why they seem to vary so much from person to person. It’s true that the amount of pure alcohol (ethanol) a person swallows tends to correlate with the severity of the resulting hangover. …

About

Markham Heid

I write about health and science. I live in Detroit with my wife and kids. I’m trying to learn German, but my progress so far is nicht gut.

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