Posts in Category: Minds

Who’s Happy Now?

The news is not good: women are not happy.

According the survey that has tracked America’s mood for over 30 years, women are not as happy as they used to be. The General Social Survey by the University of Chicago is a face-to-face survey of randomly selected adults.

Columnists are speculating on the reasons.

Maureen Dowd’s take on our funk in the New York Times is here.

Arianna Huffington’s musings are here.

Both also refer to economists Betsey Stevenson’s and Justin Wolfer’s report, ” The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” originally published back in 2007 and recently updated.

Back then, more than a few writers questioned the premise. Maybe, they opined at Freakonomics, women are more unhappy because women’s lives are more like men’s lives now, and men have historically reported being less happy. Or maybe there’s less social pressure for women to pretend to be happy. Or maybe surveys designed to elicit self-reports of happiness produce questionable data.

Some want to blame feminism for making women unhappy. Others believe it is evidence of an enduring degree of inequality.

What’s your thinking?

Photo credit: deflam. Painting by John David McCosh.

All or Nothing – What’s Perfect?

Do you keep lists?
A lot of lists?
Do you ever get to the end of one?

Science tells us that the very desire to get things done  well can prevent us from getting them done at all. As I suggest to patients, “the perfect is the enemy of the good. Or even the good enough.”

Recently researchers have turned their attention to the important but neglected area of binge-eating disorder. Perfectionism, the ultimate set-up for disappointment, can lead us to binge. Watch how often you, your child or family use the word “perfect.” Then try to substitute another. As we used to say in the hospital, in groups of anorexic girls, “I never met a perfect woman but if I did, I don’t think I would like her. She wouldn’t be real.”

Dr. Simon Sherry, an assistant professor of psychology at Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia, has published “The Perfectionism Model of Binge Eating,” a paper examining the connection between perfectionism and binge-eating in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The article is co-authored by Peter Hall of the University of Waterloo.

You can read a review of their paper here at Science Daily.

As the author points out, “Perfectionists are often not self-aware and are reluctant to seek help, posing a conundrum. They don’t want to admit they’re imperfect.”

Sherry also adds: “I’m hopeful that students will read about this and realize that there are effective interventions for binge eating, including some help for perfectionism change is possible.”


Photo credit: palo

Fearful Symmetry: Anorexia and Autism

Over the last few years, I have noticed more women with eating disorders reporting early memories of obsessive-compulsive behavior. New research now links anorexia to a different area of rigidity: autism.

Trichitillomania (compulsive hair pulling), too, is associated with perfectionism and OCD. Perhaps these behaviors and thoughts do all start with a delicate and finely tuned sensibility to textures, shapes and symmetry. Body Dysmorphic Disorder, one of the least overlooked disorders, may be next to consider as part of the colors that make up the autistic spectrum.

To read about this research, please see the April 22, 2009 article “Anorexia linked to ‘autistic’ thinking” by Linda Geddes in The New Scientist. Here’s a short excerpt:

… “Eating disorders and autism spectrum disorders are obviously not the same thing, but they do have some things in common,” says Janet Treasure of the Institute of Psychiatry in London.

Anorexia and autism are obviously not the same thing, but they have some things in common. Treasure had already discovered that anorexia was associated with extreme attention to detail and a rigid, inflexible style of thinking traits also associated with ASD.

To investigate further, her team used neuropsychological tests to measure central coherence, or the ability to see the big picture as well as the finer details, in 42 women with anorexia and 42 without it. Women with anorexia had weaker central coherence, with a bias towards local, rather than global processing (International Journal of Eating Disorders, vol 41, p 143).

In a separate study, Treasure and her colleagues found that 45 per cent of people with anorexia or bulimia have problems “set-shifting,” or modifying their behaviour in response to changing goals, compared to just 10 per cent of healthy people. ….

Photo credit: Eugene Wei