Executive Health: How Does Stress Increase Your Risk for Stroke and Heart Attack?

Heart Attack
© Photographer: Suriyaphoto |

Scientists have shown that anger, anxiety, and depression not only affect the functioning of the heart, but also increase the risk for heart disease.

Stroke and heart attacks are the end products of progressive damage to blood vessels supplying the heart and brain, a process called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis progresses when there are high levels of chemicals in the body called pro-inflammatory cytokines.

It is thought that persisting stress increases the risk for atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease by evoking negative emotions that, in turn, raise the levels of pro-inflammatory chemicals in the body.

Researchers have now investigated the underlying neural circuitry of this process, and report their findings in the current issue of Biological Psychiatry.

“Drawing upon the observation that many of the same brain areas involved in emotion are also involved in sensing and regulating levels of inflammation in the body, we hypothesized that brain activity linked to negative emotions – specifically efforts to regulate negative emotions – would relate to physical signs of risk for heart disease,” explained Dr. Peter Gianaros, Associate Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and first author on the study.

To conduct the study, Gianaros and his colleagues recruited 157 healthy adult volunteers who were asked to regulate their emotional reactions to unpleasant pictures while their brain activity was measured with functional imaging. The researchers also scanned their arteries for signs of atherosclerosis to assess heart disease risk and measured levels of inflammation in the bloodstream, a major physiological risk factor for atherosclerosis and premature death by heart disease.

They found that individuals who show greater brain activation when regulating their negative emotions also exhibit elevated blood levels of interleukin-6, one of the body’s pro-inflammatory cytokines, and increased thickness of the carotid artery wall, a marker of atherosclerosis.

The inflammation levels accounted for the link between signs of atherosclerosis and brain activity patterns seen during emotion regulation. Importantly, the findings were significant even after controlling for a number of different factors, like age, gender, smoking, and other conventional heart disease risk factors.

“These new findings agree with the popular belief that emotions are connected to heart health,” said Gianaros. “We think that the mechanistic basis for this connection may lie in the functioning of brain regions important for regulating both emotion and inflammation.”

These findings may have implications for brain-based prevention and intervention efforts to improve heart health and protect against heart disease.”

“It is remarkable to see the links develop between negative emotional states, brain circuits, inflammation, and markers of poor physical health,” said Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. “As we identify the key mechanisms linking brain and body, we may be able to also break the cycle through which stress and depression impair physical health.”

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How Do Men and Women Choose Their Partners? The Real Difference Lies In…

Holding hands couple
© Photographer: Martinmark |

 

A hamburger that’s 90 per cent fat-free sounds a lot better than one with 10 per cent fat. And even when the choices are the same, humans are hard-wired to prefer the more positive option.

This is because of what’s known as the “framing effect,” a principle that new research from Concordia has proved applies to mate selection, too.

The study — co-authored by Concordia marketing professor Gad Saad and Wilfrid Laurier University’s Tripat Gill, and published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior — shows that when we choose a partner, the framing effect is even stronger in women than it is for men.

“When it comes to mate selection, women are more attuned to negatively framed information due to an evolutionary phenomenon called ‘parental investment theory,’” says Saad, who has done extensive research on the evolutionary and biological roots of consumer behavior.

“Choosing someone who might be a poor provider or an unloving father would have serious consequences for a woman and for her offspring. So we hypothesized that women would naturally be more leery of negatively framed information when evaluating a prospective mate.”

To prove this, Saad and Gill called on hundreds of young men and women to take part in their study.

Participants were given positively and negatively framed descriptions of potential partners. For example:

“Seven out of 10 people who know this person think that this person is kind.”
[positive frame]
versus
“Three out of 10 people who know this person think that this person is not kind.”
[negative frame]

The researchers tested the framing effect using six key attributes, two of which are more important to men and women respectively, and two that are considered as necessities by both sexes:

  • Attractive body (more important to men)
  • Attractive face (more important to men)
  • Earning potential (more important to women)
  • Ambition (more important to women)
  • Kindness (equally important to both)
  • Intelligence (equally important to both)

Participants evaluated both high-quality (e.g. seven out of 10 people think this person is kind) and low-quality (e.g. three out of 10 people think this person is kind) prospective mates for these attributes, in the context of a short-term fling or a long-term relationship.

More often than not, women said they were far less likely to date the potential mates described in the negatively framed descriptions — even though in each instance, they were being presented with exactly the same information as in the positively framed descriptions.

Women also proved more susceptible to framing effects in attributes like ambition and earning potential, while men responded more strongly to framing when physical attractiveness was described.

This research highlights how an evolutionary lens could help explain the biologicial origins of seemingly “irrational” decision-making biases like the framing effect.

 

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Use Your Brand Momentum to Maximize Revenue

The Brand
© Photographer: Convisum |

Companies should use existing brand names and add new, sub-brand names to maximize revenue when introducing new products to market, according to a new study from the University at Buffalo School of Management.

Forthcoming in Management Science, the study notes a proliferation of new products in the consumer packaged-goods market each year. For example, U.S. manufacturers introduced more than 150,000 new products in 2010 alone. Of these, more than 90 percent were extensions of existing brand-name products.

“These new products can be line extensions, like when Pepsi introduces another type of soda, such as Pepsi Lime, or brand extensions, like when a toothpaste brand such as Crest introduces a mouthwash product,” says study co-author Debabrata Talukdar, PhD, professor of marketing in the UB School of Management.

“Given the significant investment and high failure rates of product-extension launches, deeper insight into the impact of these brand-development strategies can be very valuable,” Talukdar adds.

The study analyzed 155 new product extensions introduced to 20 markets across the U.S. Researchers investigated the market performance of the new products and the effects that introducing them to the market had on their parent brands.

“We found that brand extensions generate positive overall revenues,” says study co-author Ram Bezawada, PhD, associate professor of marketing in the UB School of Management. “In addition, sub-branding, where a new brand name is used to help consumers distinguish from the parent brand, such as Gillette Mach3, generates greater revenues for a typical brand extension.”

Past studies have investigated the effects of introducing new product extensions, but have not evaluated the aggregate market impact of these effects across different brand-development strategies or accounted for the strategic decision to introduce the extension. The scope and analysis approach of this study provide more general insights for manufacturers to better introduce and manage new product extensions.

Bezawada and Talukdar collaborated on the study with Vijay Ganesh Hariharan, assistant professor of marketing in the Department of Business Economics at the Erasmus School of Economics.

 

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Can money buy happiness?

Counting money
© Photographer: Paul Hakimata |

Neither life experiences nor material items make materialistic shoppers happier, study shows

Many shoppers, whether they buy material items or life experiences, are no happier following the purchase than they were before, according to a new study from San Francisco State University.

Although previous research has shown experiences create greater happiness for buyers, the study suggests that certain material buyers — those who tend to purchase material goods — may be an exception to this rule. The study is detailed in an article to be published in the June edition of the Journal of Research in Personality.

“Everyone has been told if you spend your money on life experiences, it will make you happier, but we found that isn’t always the case,” said Ryan Howell, an associate professor of psychology at SF State and co-author of the study. “Extremely material buyers, who represent about a third of the overall population, are sort of stuck. They’re not really happy with either purchase.”

Researchers found that when material buyers purchase life experiences, they are no happier because the purchase is likely out of line with their personality and values. But if they spend on material items, they are not better off either, because others may criticize or look down upon their choices.

“I’m a baseball fan. If you tell me, ‘Go spend money on a life experience,’ and I buy tickets to a baseball game, that would be authentic to who I am, and it will probably make me happy,” Howell said. “On the other hand, I’m not a big museum guy. If I bought tickets to an art museum, I would be spending money on a life experience that seems like it would be the right choice, but because it’s not true to my personality, I’m not going to be any happier as a result.”

Although the link between experiential purchases and happiness had been well demonstrated, Howell said few studies have examined the types of people who experience no benefits. To do so, he and his colleagues surveyed shoppers to find out if there were any factors that limited the happiness boost from experiential purchases. The researchers found that those who tend to spend money on material items reported no happiness boost from experiential purchases because those purchases did not give them an increased sense of “identity expression” — the belief that they bought something that reflected their personality.

“The results show it is not correct to say to everyone, ‘If you spend money on life experiences you’ll be happier,’ because you need to take into account the values of the buyer,” said Jia Wei Zhang, the lead author of the study and a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley who conducted the research with Howell while an undergraduate at SF State.

Reasons someone may buy a life experience that doesn’t reflect his or her personality include a desire to fit in or spend time with others, according to Zhang. And researchers did find that material buyers feel closer to friends or family following an experiential purchase. That feeling of closeness, however, was not enough to counter the lack of identity expression and therefore provide the happiness boost.

“There are a lot of reasons someone might buy something,” Howell said, “but if the reason is to maximize happiness, the best thing for that person to do is purchase a life experience that is in line with their personality.”

 

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How State Ownership Hampered Entrepreneurship in Chinese Companies

Agricultural Bank of China  in  guangzhou
© Photographer: Hupeng |

For state-owned companies in China, the significant detriment in employing innovation may be linked to the company’s ownership structure, according to a new study on Chinese entrepreneurship by Chinese business experts at Rice University, the University of Hong Kong, Texas Christian University, Jilin University and Shantou University.

 

The researchers found that the more equity the state owned of a company, the less likely the company was to engage in strategic entrepreneurship (investing in research and development and other innovations) to gain market share. This emphasis on strategic entrepreneurship in transition economies is critical as nations seek to revitalize existing state-owned companies. However, such efforts must be thought out and designed well, the authors said.

 

The findings are the result of the authors’ study of 1,095 Chinese business-group-affiliated companies during a period of institutional friction in 1999; the researchers expected to find a potential conflict between emergent institutions encouraging strategic entrepreneurship and those still creating pressure for maintenance of the status quo. The authors examined how such institutional friction impacts firms’ strategic choices regarding corporate entrepreneurship and innovation.

 

“Although both formal systems designed to reward strategic-entrepreneurship activities and informal systems to develop new cultures are important in creating the desired strategic outcomes, their effectiveness is hampered by the embedded state philosophy,” said Robert Hoskisson, one of the study’s co-authors and the George R. Brown Professor of Strategic Management at Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business.

 

“We believe that the results of this study provide insights for managers and policymakers in transition economies by highlighting the means and constraints that are available to encourage strategic entrepreneurship.” A transition economy is an economy that is shifting from a centrally planned structure toward a more free market. China is doing so very gradually. The former Soviet Union used the so-called “big bang” approach of very quickly privatizing state-owned firms, often through auction.

 

The researchers studied competing institutional philosophies measured through a company’s founding leadership and ownership history and through the impact of formal and informal controls emphasized in newly formed business groups and how they influence company actions. Formal systems were manifested in the use of objective financial control measures to reward and discipline member firms; informal control efforts to indoctrinate new values and norms were represented by the socialization and development of a strong group culture.

 

The authors found that the original institutional philosophy of state control and ownership remained a potent factor among the Chinese companies, while the new institutional philosophy in support of strategic entrepreneurship took place through business groups’ informal and formal organization controls. They also found that state philosophy caused rigidity and inflexibility for companies to react to the new institutional demands, thus weakening the positive effects of business groups’ formal and informal controls on strategic entrepreneurship.

 

The authors advocated that managers and policymakers of state-operated enterprises need to be cautious about the consistency between the institutionalization of new organizational practices and governance and control of the firms. “Although the use of formal controls that rely on structuration to sanction and set norms for appropriate behaviors may be more effective in the short run, for long-term effectiveness, a supportive cultural change for an emphasis on strategic entrepreneurship is needed,” the authors said. Transition economies are a significant part of the world economy, the authors emphasized.

 

“However, forward economic movement in such nations will require a greater understanding of strategic entrepreneurship in former state enterprises,” they said. “This research has helped lay the foundation for a greater understanding, but more research is still required.”

The paper will be published in Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal.

 

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