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People Choose More Difficult Tasks to Get Jobs Done Faster

Putting off tasks until later, procrastination, is common, but new research suggests that “pre-crastination,” hurrying to complete a task as soon as possible, may also be common.

The research suggests that people often opt to begin a task as soon as possible just to get it off their plate, even if they have to expend more physical effort to do so.

While conducting an experiment to explore the trade-off between the weight of a bucket and how far people would carry it, researchers stumbled on a surprising finding: Participants often chose an action that took more physical effort, choosing the near bucket even though that meant they would have to carry it further.

Intrigued by the counterintuitive finding, they conducted nine experiments, 

each of which had the same general setup: “We asked university students to pick up either of two buckets, one to the left of an alley and one to the right, and to carry the selected bucket to the alley’s end,” the authors report in their article abstract. “In most trials, one of the buckets was closer to the end point. We emphasized choosing the easier task, expecting participants to prefer the bucket that would be carried a shorter distance.”

In the first three experiments, participants showed an overwhelming tendency to choose whichever bucket had the shorter approach distance, which translated to the longer carrying distance.

When the students were asked to explain why they chose the bucket they did, they often said that they “wanted to get the task done as soon as they could.”

Picking up a bucket may seem like a trivial task, said the lead author, David Rosenbaum, PhD, of Penn State University’s Department of Psychology. But he speculates that it still stood out on participants’ mental to-do lists: “By picking up the near bucket, they could check that task off their mental to-do lists more quickly than if they picked up the far bucket,” he explains. “Their desire to lighten their mental load was so strong that they were willing to expend quite a bit of extra physical effort to do so.”

Interestingly, “Almost all the people we tested pre-crastinated,” Rosenbaum said, “so procrastinating and pre-crastinating may turn out to be two different things.”

The researchers also want to examine whether physical ability limitations might play a role in the effect: “If it’s a big deal for someone to carry a load a long distance, then he or she may be more judicious in their decision-making,” Rosenbaum explains. “Elderly or frail people may therefore have better memory management abilities than more able-bodied individuals.”

SOURCE: Association for Psychological Science press release. Journal abstract.

Hungry for "Likes": Anxiety over Facebook Photos Linked to Risk of Eating Disorders

Frequent Facebook users share a greater risk of eating disorders, according to a new study of 960 college women that found that more time on Facebook was associated with higher levels of disordered eating. The women who reported the highest levels of disordered eating were those who placed greater importance on receiving comments and “likes” on their status updates, who were more likely to un-tag photos of themselves, and who compared their own photos to their friends’ posted photos.

While other studies have linked social media and eating disorders, this is the first study to show that spending just 20 minutes at a time on Facebook actually contributes to the risk of eating disorders by reinforcing women’s concerns about weight and shape and increasing anxiety.

The finding is significant because more than 95 percent of the women who participated in the study use Facebook, and those with Facebook accounts described checking the site about three times a day, typically spending 20 minutes during each visit. 

Researchers have long recognized the powerful impact of peer/social influences and traditional media on the risk for eating disorders. Facebook combines those factors.

The research is important because it may lead to interventions to reduce risk factors for eating disorders, which are among the most serious forms of mental illness.

“Eating disorders are associated with the highest rates of mortality of any psychiatric illness,” said lead researcher Pamela Keel, PhD, a psychology professor at Florida State University. 

Her advice to young women?

“Consider what it is you are pursuing when you post on Facebook,” she said. “Try to remember that you are a whole person and not an object, so don’t display yourself as a commodity that then can be approved or not approved.”

SOURCE: Florida State University press release. The findings were outlined in a paper, “Do You ‘Like’ My Photo? Facebook Use Maintains Eating Disorder Risk,” which was published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders

Teen Depression and Anger Can Linger Into Adulthood

By Bev Betkowski 

A new study that followed 341 people for 25 years showed that the negative emotions they suffered as young adults could have a lasting grip on their couple relationships, well into middle age.

The fact that depression and anger experienced during the teen years clung to people—even through major life events such as child-rearing, marriages, and careers—surprised researchers.

“We assume or hope that high-school experiences fade away and don’t necessarily resonate 25 years later,” said University of Alberta research-er Matthew Johnson, PhD (center), shown with co-authors Harvey Krahn, PhD, and Nancy Galambos, PhD. .

“The fact that symptoms of depression and expressions of anger can endure over many large events in life shows how important it is to deal with mental health early. Sometimes, problems don’t just dissipate.” Johnson is an assistant professor of human ecology in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences at Canada’s University of Alberta.

The research, which drew from a larger study begun in 1985, surveyed 178 women and 163 men through their transition to adulthood from age 18 to 25, again on their perceived stress levels at age 32, and on the quality of their intimate relationships at age 43.

SOURCE: University of Alberta press release, May 12, 2014.  The research was  published recently in the Journal of Family Psychology.