New Findings

Paging Dr. Google: Personality traits and family health and aging concerns interact to predict health-related Internet searches


Recent estimates suggest 60 % of the U.S. adult population uses the Internet to find health-related information. Recent work by Dr. Tim Bogg investigated the extent to which personality traits and recent health and aging concerns contribute to this prevalent form of search behavior. Using data from a representative U.S. sample, Dr. Bogg assessed the frequency of past-month health-related Internet searches via Google, Yahoo, AOL, Bing, or some other search engine. The results showed more frequent health-related Internet searches were predicted by high openness tendencies, as well as combinations of high openness and high neuroticism tendencies and high openness and high conscientiousness tendencies when experiencing problems with aging parents or health concerns for a family member.


The results suggest the combination of high openness-neuroticism tendencies is responsive to eldercare concerns. Caregivers of aging parents or other elderly family members often experience a variety of physical and psychological burdens. Individuals high in both openness and neuroticism may find that pursuing information on the Internet is a means of both targeted exploration of eldercare issues, as well as a means of coping with eldercare concern via resource gathering. By contrast, the combination of high openness-conscientiousness tendencies contributes to a greater frequency of searches that is not sensitive to health and aging concerns. Individuals with this combination of attributes appear to conduct searches to satisfy drives for exploration and goal control, where searching might produce information that could be used for the immediate gratification of curiosity, as well as for efficient future reference.


More generally, the findings of this work suggest the importance of openness tendencies to the expression of health literacy – an important marker of health outcomes linked to increased hospitalizations, increased healthcare spending, lower use of preventive care, and poorer health status.


For more details, the complete article is available at the journal Frontiers in Psychology (please see


Bogg, T., & Vo, P. T. (2014). Openness, neuroticism, conscientiousness, and family health and aging concerns interact in the prediction of health-related Internet searches in a representative U.S. sample. Frontiers in Psychology, 5: 370.



Humor in Marriage

Many people who place personal ads seeking a romantic partner specify someone with a good sense of humor. So why is humor important in a mate? Dr. Glenn Weisfeld’s research analyzes extensive data on thousands of married couples in several countries, trying to understand why humor in marriage is evolutionarily adaptive. Conducting their research with mainly urban couples in the U.S., U.K., China, Russia, and Turkey, Dr. Weisfeld and his colleagues ask, “How much does your spouse make you laugh?”

In four of the countries, husbands made wives laugh more than the reverse, but in Russia wives made husbands laugh more. The Russian collaborator in the study, Dr. Marina Butovskaya, believes that Russian wives need to use humor to buoy their husbands’ spirits in a country where the men are under high levels of stress. In all five countries, wives’ marital satisfaction was associated with having a humorous spouse; so was husband’s satisfaction, although not as much. Contrary to prior theories, humorousness of the spouse was not particularly related to finding the spouse intelligent. Spousal humorousness was more closely tied to spousal kindness, understanding, and dependability in a crisis—traits sought in a mate around the world.

The researchers concluded that humor serves various functions in marriage. Humor can magnify the benefits of having a kind, understanding, dependable spouse, perhaps by adding a personal touch that indicates commitment. Telling jokes to the spouse may also indicate a desire to amuse him or her, and to maintain the relationship. Some research suggests that husbands, but not wives, tell more jokes when the marriage is faltering, as though to try to maintain it. Dr. Weisfeld adds, “Telling jokes may also provide a test of the recipient’s mood—if she doesn’t laugh, he may be in trouble!”

G.E. Weisfeld, N.T. Nowak, C.C. Weisfeld, E.O. Imamoðlu, M. Butovskaya, J. Shen, & M.R. Parkhill (in press). Do women seek humorousness in men because it signals intelligence? A cross-cultural test. Humor: International Journal of Humor Research.



Narrative Exposure Therapy for Traumatized Iraqi Refugees

Many Iraqi refugees suffer from posttraumatic stress, and efficient, culturally-sensitive interventions are needed to help those who have been traumatized.  Psychology professor, Mark Lumley, mentored the doctoral research of Alaa Hijazi, who along with other team members (Maisa Ziadni, Luay Haddad, Bengt Arnetz, Lisa Rapport), conducted a randomized clinical trial of brief narrative exposure therapy (NET) in a sample of traumatized Iraqi refugees. A total of 63 Iraqi 

refugees in the U.S. who reported elevated posttraumatic stress were randomized to brief NET or to a waitlist control condition.  Students Alaa and Maisa conducted three sessions NET, in Arabic, at the participant’s homes, churches, or other community locations. Positive indicators, such as posttraumatic growth and well-being, along with symptoms (posttraumatic stress, depressive, and somatic) were assessed at baseline and 2- and 4-month follow-ups. Treatment participation (95.1% completion) and study retention (98.4% provided follow-up data) were very high. Analyses shows that brief NET led to greater posttraumatic growth and well-being through 4 months than did the control condition. Brief NET reduced symptoms of posttraumatic stress and depression compared to control, but only at 2 months; the symptoms of controls decreased from 2 to 4 months, eliminating condition differences at 4 months. The researchers concluded that three sessions of NET increased growth and well-being and led to symptom reduction in highly traumatized Iraqi refugees. This preliminary study was published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress, and suggests that brief NET is both acceptable and potentially efficacious in traumatized Middle Eastern refugees.

 Hijazi, A.M., Lumley, M.A., Ziadni, M., Haddad, L., Rapport, L.J., & Arnetz, B.B. (2014). Brief narrative exposure therapy for posttraumatic stress in Iraqi refugees: A preliminary randomized clinical trial. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 27, 314-322.


Emotional Disclosure and Coping Skills Training in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a complex autoimmune disease that affects 1 to 2 percent of adults, requires patients to not only cope with pain, disability and joint disfigurements, but also other stressors such as disrupted work, family life and marital functioning.  While many pharmacological advances help some RA patients, residual pain and disability is common.  In addition, some patients avoid newer medications due to their high cost or side effects. Because of this, there is interest in psychosocial interventions for RA such as cognitive-behavioral and emotional processing approaches.

 With funding from the NIH, psychology professor Mark Lumley led a team of researchers at Wayne State University and Duke University Medical Center that explored two psychological interventions separately and in combination to determine their effectiveness in offering relief to RA patients.  Coping skills training teaches patients various cognitive and behavioral techniques or skills to enhance their ability to cope with pain and improve their behavioral and psychological functioning. A few studies have shown that written emotional disclosure can reduce stress and improve health by having patients write privately for 20 minutes each day for three or four days about stressful experiences and their deepest thoughts and feelings. 

The team randomized 264 patients with RA to engage in written emotional disclosure about stress or neutral writing (control), followed by 8 sessions of either pain coping skills training or education about RA (control).  The study, “The Effects of Written Emotional Disclosure and Coping Skills Training in Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Clinical Trial,” was recently published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. It  revealed cognitive-behavioral  coping skills training (CST) had positive effects on the pain and mood of patients that lasted for at least one year, whereas written emotional closure (WED) or expressive writing about stress, had only temporary and inconsistent benefits on patients’ joints and functioning, and did not help with pain or mood.  The combination of CST and WED had had no unique benefits for patients.

 “Our study revealed that patients with RA receive positive benefits in both the short and long- term using cognitive behavioral techniques such as relaxation, increasing pleasant activities, changing negative thoughts, and problem solving,” said Lumley.  “WED, however, was less effective, and an examination of patients’ expressive writings suggests that many patients either did not have much unresolved stress, or more likely, they did not know how to effectively identify important stressors, label and express their negative emotions, and learn from or resolve these conflicts while writing by themselves. We probably need to identify and target those patients with unresolved stress or trauma, and then help them more effectively disclose and work with their unexpressed emotions.”

The study was made possible with funding from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, award numbers AR049059, AR057808, and AR057047.

Lumley, M.A., Keefe, F.J., Mosley-Williams, A., Rice, J.R., McKee, D., Waters, S.J., Partridge, R.T., Carty, J.N., Coltri, A.M., Kalaj, A., Cohen, J.L., Neely, L.C., Pahssen, J.K., Connelly, M.A., Bouaziz, Y.B., & Riordan, P.A. (2014). The effects of written emotional disclosure and coping skills training in rheumatoid arthritis: A randomized clinical trial. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 82, 644-658.


The Meaning of Working for Older Workers: Development of a New Theoretical Model

As the oldest Baby Boomers now approach 65, many are finding themselves uninterested in hitting the golf course full-time or moving to Florida—yet, at least. Over fifty years of research suggests that across cultures, occupations, ages, and sexes, a majority of people continue to work even if they do not need to do so financially. Further, the number of workers over 55 in the U.S is predicted to leap by more than million per year over the next several years. So why do people want to keep working well into their golden years, even when they don’t have to?

Dr. Boris Baltes and graduate students Cort Rudolph and Anne Bal from the Diversity and Work-Family Relations lab at Wayne State are trying to tackle this question with a new theoretical model of the meaning of working for older workers. Their model focuses on how the meaning of working reflects older workers’ specific needs and motivations and how the components that contribute to the meaning of working may be dynamic across the lifespan. The central idea of their model is that the meaning of working is affected by both the choices that people make at work and their unique experiences in their workplaces. They argue that these choices affect how people are rewarded in the workplace and their expectations about future experiences at work. Baltes and his colleagues say that these rewards and expectations are at the core of what gives rise to meaningful working for older workers. And, they theorize, when older workers find meaning, the benefits may be great—with happy older workers being more productive workers and serving as mentors for younger co-workers

Baltes, B. B., Rudolph, C.W., and Bal, A. C. (In Press).  A Review of Aging Theories and Modern Perspectives. in J.W. Hedge, & W.C. Borman (Eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Work and Aging.

Alcohol’s Role in Sexual Assault:  What is the Evidence?

Sexual assault is disturbingly common across the United States, with college campuses currently receiving intense scrutiny for Title IX violations and their treatment of victims.  Many of the stories that receive media attention involve intoxicated male perpetrators and female victims.  It is easy to understand why people wonder if many of these sexual assaults could be avoided if alcohol was not part of the story.  But what’s the evidence?   Does alcohol play a major role in men’s sexual violence against women?

A team of researchers at Wayne State systematically reviewed empirical studies that examine associations between alcohol consumption and men’s sexual aggression.  Professor Antonia Abbey and doctoral students Rhiana Wegner (now a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Washington), Jacqueline Woerner, Sheri Pegram, and Jennifer Pierce identified 43 relevant studies published between 1993 and 2013 with male college student and young adult (nonincarcerated) samples.  Most of the studies find that heavy drinking is positively associated with an increased likelihood of committing sexual assault.   However, many of these effects are mediated or moderated by other risk factors.  Thus, alcohol works in combination with other common risk factors such as narcissism, low empathy, hostility toward women, and peer norms that support violence toward women.  Other studies have documented that men who have high scores on multiple risk factors are most at risk for being sexually aggressive. 

Some studies randomly assign participants to drink alcohol or a control beverage and then to respond to a hypothetical acquaintance rape scenario.  As compared to sober men, intoxicated men tend to report increased sexual arousal, greater anger toward the woman, increased feelings of entitlement to sex, and greater willingness to act like the perpetrator.  An exciting new direction for research is to use findings from these studies to develop prevention and treatment programs.  The article ends with concrete suggestions for future research and policy initiatives.  

Abbey, A., Wegner, R., Woerner, J., Pegram, S.E., & Pierce, J. (2014). Review of survey and experimental research that examine the relationship between alcohol consumption and men’s sexual aggression perpetration. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 15, 265-282.  doi:10.1177/1524838014521031 (PMID24776459; PMC4477196)

Accessibility of Indirectly Related Concepts: Strong Association Not Required!

The links between concepts form the basis of language comprehension. When we hear or see a concept such as DOG, we anticipate that upcoming related concepts like CAT may follow. This spread of activation between related concepts can occur across several concepts. For example, the concept MOUSE will be more accessible upon hearing or seeing DOG due to the spread of activation from DOG to CAT to MOUSE. This enhanced activation of a target word (MOUSE) by an indirectly related word (DOG) is referred to as mediated priming. Note that there is a strong association between DOG and CAT and between CAT and MOUSE. That is, when presented with DOG in a free association task, a large percentage of people (20% or more) provide CAT as the first word that comes to mind.

Prior studies of mediated priming demonstrated increased accessibility for concepts such as MOUSE only when there was a strong association between the prime and mediator (DOG and CAT) and between the mediator and target (CAT and MOUSE). Dr. Lara Jones demonstrated that “pure” mediated priming occurred between concepts (WIND and STRING) that were only weakly associated with a mediating concept (KITE). Participants were faster to recognize STRING as being a real word in the English language (a measure of a concept’s accessibility) following the indirectly related word WIND. However, rather than a spread of activation from WIND to KITE to STRING, pure mediated priming resulted from the increased activation of the target following a successful search for a plausible concept that connected the paired prime (WIND) and target (STRING) concepts. This research is the first to demonstrate increased activation of concepts following indirectly related concepts in the absence of a strong association.

Jones, L. L. (2010). Pure mediated priming: A retrospective semantic matching model. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 36, 135-146.

“Couple Friends” May be Good for Your Relationship

You have been with your boyfriend or girlfriend for a few years and have settled into a nice routine. You enjoy each other’s company thoroughly, share dinners together, occasionally go out, and typically end the day with an hour or so pleasantly unwinding together in front of the t.v. This is a person you could spend the rest of your life with. Still, you feel like the routine that the two of you have settled into together may be just a little, well, boring. Research by Dr. Richard Slatcher at Wayne State suggests that spending quality time with other couples may be something that can you can do to add some zest to your long-term relationship.

In a new study to appear in the journal Personal Relationships, Dr. Slatcher brought sixty couples into the lab and randomly assigned them to one of two conditions where they engaged in a 45-minute get-to-know-you conversation with another couple. In the one condition, couples were encouraged to focus on topics that were geared toward creating a fast friendship with the other couple; in the other condition, couples engaged in non-emotional small-talk. Compared to the small-talk group, those in the “fast friends” group felt closer to the couples they interacted with and were more likely to actually meet up with them again during the following month—a full third of the couples in the fast friends group contacted the other couple and met up with them later. Getting on the path to friendship with other couples also put a spark in people’s own relationships: those in the fast friends condition felt much closer to their romantic partners after the get-to-know session. So, if your relationship is having a temporary case of the doldrums that most couples face, having fun together with another couple may just help pull you out of it.

Slatcher, R. B. (2010). When Harry and Sally met Dick and Jane: Experimentally creating closeness between couples. Personal Relationships, 17, 279-297.


 Adolescents in Foster Care Face Considerable Risk for Homelessness

Homelessness continues to plague American urban centers. Especially troubling are suggestions that the foster care in the U.S. is a pipeline to the streets for older adolescents leaving the system. Surveys of service providers and homeless adults suggest difficulties securing stable housing, a huge problem for youths exiting foster care. Until now, very little research has systematically examined the onset, frequency, and duration of homelessness among former foster youth. As a result of this lack of research, policy and intervention possibilities among an already vulnerable population have been hamstrung.

To address this gap in knowledge, a recent study by researchers at Wayne State sought to estimate the prevalence of homelessness among adolescents who age out of foster care. The study, which appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, reported on findings from a sample of 265 adolescents who aged out of foster care in 2002 and 2003 in the Detroit metropolitan area. The research team, led by Dr. Patrick Fowler—a 2009 graduate of the Wayne State’s clinical psychology program and now an assistant professor of psychology at DePaul University—along with Dr. Paul Toro (from our Department of Psychology) and Dr. Bart Miles (from Wayne State’s School of Social Work), found that over two-fifths of aged-out foster youths experience enduring housing problems in the two years after exit from the foster care system. In this two-year follow-up period, the researchers found that rates of homelessness exceed the 12.9% lifetime prevalence for a single homeless episode among US adults. Although some manage to attain stable housing after early episodes of homelessness, many aged-out youths experience enduring patterns of precarious housing, with one-fifth of adolescents experiencing chronic homelessness. The scope of this problem is immense, the authors conclude, not only in prevalence but also in terms of its real impact on psychosocial functioning. Identifying these risks for adolescents exiting foster care, the authors conclude, represents “a remarkable opportunity to mitigate and prevent homelessness and its associated psychosocial effects in the United States.”

Fowler, P.J., Toro, P.A., & Miles, B.  (2009).  Pathways to and from homelessness and associated psychosocial outcomes among adolescents leaving the foster care system. American Journal of Public Health, 99, 1453-1458.

Antisocial Behavior in Adolescence: Neighborhood Characteristics and Parental Knowledge Matter

Antisocial behavior in adolescence is linked to a number of problems in adulthood, including crime, mental health concerns, substance dependence, and work problems. Because of the personal, economic, and social toll of antisocial behavior, extensive attention has been directed by researchers toward identifying the factors that increase risk for engaging in adolescent behaviors during adolescence.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Dr. Christopher Trentacosta and his colleagues investigated how dispositional factors, parenting factors and community factors interact to predict youth problem behavior. The study, which followed a sample of 289 boys from lower socioeconomic status backgrounds from early childhood through adolescence, found that those who were both “daring” (e.g., impulsive and adventurous) and who lived in dangerous neighborhoods were at especially high risk for problem behaviors. There was good news as well: children who were high in prosociality (e.g., caring about the welfare and rights of others) and whose parents had a strong knowledge about their kids’ lives were less likely to develop problem behaviors. These findings suggest that while dispositional factors are key risk factors for antisocial behaviors in adolescence, they need to be considered in the context of children’s neighborhood and family environments. According to Dr. Trentacosta, “Programs that target adolescent dispositional characteristics may not be as effective in particular contextual circumstances, and efforts to alter or support adaptations to the family and neighborhood context may be particularly useful.”

Trentacosta, C. J., Hyde, L. W., Shaw, D. S., & Cheong, J. (2009). Adolescent dispositions for antisocial behavior in context: The roles of neighborhood dangerousness and parental knowledge. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 118, 564-575.

The Ethics of Leadership Across Different Cultures

Clearly, ethical leadership has importance within both Western and Eastern societies. However, there have been few attempts to clarify the attributes and actions that define what it means to lead ethically across cultures. For example, views about the ethical appropriateness of activities such as whistle-blowing tend to differ across cultures, while other factors such as integrity would appear to be universally supported ethical standards (though the meaning of integrity is itself culturally bounded).

In a series of studies, Dr. Marcus Dickson has worked with his former students Christian Resick (now at Drexel University), Jackie Deuling (now at Roosevelt University) and others to examine issues of ethics and leadership across cultures. Some of the work has been quantitative, drawing on data from Project GLOBE, the largest study conducted to date of leadership and culture (and of which Dickson was a Co-PI). Some of the studies have been more qualitative, using open-ended questionnaire data in which managers describe ethical and unethical leaders and leadership. Characteristics of ethical leaders such as integrity, altruism, empowerment, and collective motivation have been found to be universally viewed as facilitators of effective leadership across cultures, although the degree of emphasis varies significantly between cultures. Further, that variation between cultures has been found to be to some degree systematic, varying based on the cultural profiles of the societies. For example, when describing ethical leadership, respondents from the U.S., Ireland, and Taiwan most frequently focused on issues of the leader’s personal character, while respondents from the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Germany were more likely to focus on the leader’s consideration for others as determinants of the leader’s ethical leadership. When discussing unethical leadership, respondents from People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, and Germany were more likely to focus on the leader’s incivility, while other countries were more likely to identify deception and dishonesty as indicators of unethical leadership.  Finally, the research program has also focused on elements of culture that are predictive of the level of governmental and business corruption that characterize a given society.
Martin, G. S., Resick, C. J., Keating, M., & Dickson, M. W. (2009). Ethical leadership across cultures: a comparative analysis of German and U.S. perspectives. Business Ethics: A European Review, 18, 127-144.



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