Posts tagged with "Michigan State University"

Why skipping your dog’s walk is a bigger deal than you think

February 22, 2024

A 2011 study conducted by Michigan State University on the benefits of dog-walking found only two-thirds of its subjects routinely walked their dogs, reports The Washington Post.

According to experts, this forgoing of walks doesn’t only make neurotic dog guardians feel guilty. It can significantly affect your dog’s emotional and physical well-being.

“First of all, dogs don’t exercise by themselves, for the most part,” says Stephanie Borns-Weil, an assistant clinical professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. The amount of exercise a dog needs varies based on age, breed and health: It can be as little as 30 minutes a day or as much as a few hours—but virtually all dogs need exercise in some form.

The typical yard, Borns-Weil says, just doesn’t offer enough stimulation to prompt an adequate amount of movement. Unless you’re spending time playing with your dog, “they’re just going to sit there,” she says, “because the space is familiar.” She compared it to reading the same book over and over again, or seeking enrichment by hanging out in your bathroom.

This need for exercise, while crucial, isn’t  even the most important reason to walk your dog. They may or may not get some exercise in the yard, Borns-Weil says, “but they’re not getting companionship [from their human], and they’re not getting the mental stimulation that comes from seeing new things, or, from the point of view of a dog, sniffing new things.”

Dogs who don’t have these needs met “are subjected to some of the same effects of long-term chronic stress on their health that people are,” she says, ranging from depression and anxiety, to problems with the immune system. Studies have found that dogs in shelters, too, benefit from direct human interaction, which reduces stress and stress-related behaviors.)

To help your dog get the most out of her walk, let her explore. “Sniffing is the way that dogs experience the world,” says Valli Fraser-Celin, a humane dog training advocate. Where humans have 6 million olfactory receptors, research shows that dogs can have up to 300 million; it’s how they acquire information about their environment and communicate.

Dogs can tell which animals have been nearby— including sniffing out their gender and information about their health. But so often, humans hurry them along, prioritizing exercise (or their own schedule) over their dog’s interest in the world around them. “It would be like taking me to the Smithsonian Institute,” Borns-Weil says, “and I’m wanting to stop and look at the exhibits, and somebody says, hey, hurry up; we’re just exercising, keep walking.”

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Allowing a dog to pull off to the side and sniff whenever he wants can feel wrong to those accustomed to outdated, dominance-focused training methods, which prioritize obedience above all else (and which are based on a long-debunked, but still persistent theory). Fraser-Celin warns against getting wrapped up in that mind-set.

It isn’t necessary that your dog walk obediently behind or beside you, or that they only stop to sniff when you grant permission. What’s important is that you pay attention to what they’re communicating and help them meet their needs. “If your dog wants to sniff every blade of grass,” Fraser-Celin says, “then that’s what they want to do on their walk.”

After some amount of time, you can usher them to a new area to sniff, or you might even designate a portion of the walk for sniffing and a portion for exercise.

But, above all, guardians need to take the animals’ lead, Fraser-Celin says, “rather than focusing on what our intentions are for the walk.” And if your dog isn’t into meeting strangers—canine or human—don’t feel pressured to acquiesce to those who insist their dog “is friendly!” or “all dogs love me!”

“Whenever you’re out in the world, it’s important to be an advocate for your dog’s needs,” Borns-Weil says. “Your dog is not public property.”

Research contact: @washingtonpost

Personality traits are ‘contagious’ among children, study reveals

December 8, 2020

Great minds think alike—especially if they’re children, Study Finds reports. In fact, recent research has determined that a child’s personality is strongly influenced by his or her peers because many traits are actually “contagious.”

The finding emerged during a nature versus nurture debate: Are children’s personality traits determined at birth—or later, by their environment?

In the first study of its kind, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers at Michigan State University side with those who argue the latter— that personalities are generally malleable at a young age.

MSU researchers examined two separate preschool classes, each consisting of three- and four-year-olds, over the time span of an entire school year. They say that children who demonstrated extroverted or hard-working behavior were likely to be mimicked by their peers and friends.

Conversely, anxious and easily frustrated children did not transfer these personality traits onto their classmates.

“Our finding, that personality traits are ‘contagious’ among children, flies in the face of common assumptions that personality is ingrained and can’t be changed,” explains Jennifer Watling Neal, one of the study’s co-investigators, in  a story in MSU Today.

If personality traits can change, we should try to instill ones that will bode well for the child later in life, Watling Neal argues.

This study also advances the argument that kids have a much larger effect upon one another than previously believed. Traditional wisdom within the field has said that it’s mostly teachers and parents who bear the responsibility for how a child acts and behaves later in life.

Research contact: @StudyFinds

Single-minded: Being unattached beats being in a bad relationship—or even in a ‘neutral’ one

October 22, 2019

Are people who have life partners happier than those who go it alone? Not necessarily, according to a study performed recently by psychologists Nathan Hudson of Southern Methodist University and Richard Lucas and M. Brent Donnellan of Michigan State University.

Indeed, the researchers found—out of a cohort of more than 300 respondents, ages 19 to 92 (average age: 53)—people in romantic relationships were “better off” than single people in only one way. On the other six measures, people in romantic relationships did better than single people only if they said their relationships were of the very highest quality.

In other words, single people were more satisfied with their lives than people in bad romantic relationships. But they also did better than people in romantic relationships that were not that bad at all.

What was the one way in which people in relationships were more fulfilled and contented with their lives? The people in committed romantic relationships did not experience more positive feelings than the single people did. They also did not experience fewer negative feelings or any more of a sense of meaning.

Indeed, according to a report by Psychology Today, they were only doing better in one way: They said they were more satisfied with their lives.

The researchers posited that It’s possible that they were proud of themselves for being in a romantic relationship, since those relationships are so valued in our society—and perhaps that’s why they were more satisfied with their lives. Compared to single people, though, they did not feel any better emotionally and they did not experience their lives as being more meaningful.

One subset of people in romantic relationships were doing better than single people in every way—the coupled people who agreed most strongly with every positive statement about their relationship. In every way, they described their relationship in the most positive terms possible—a seven on the seven-point scale.

As for the coupled people who gave middle-of-the-scale ratings of their relationships—for example, they neither agreed nor disagreed that their relationship made them happy—they were worse off in every way (either significantly or nearly so) than the people who were single. The truism was also true: being single was better than being in a bad relationship.

When it came to negative feelings (frustration, worry, sadness, and anger), the results were even more ominous. Even those who rated their romantic relationships as fairly high in quality (5.5 on the 1-to-7 scale) experienced significantly more negative feelings when they were with their partner than when their partner was not around. As the authors concluded:

The research findings have been published online in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.   

Research contact: @PsychToday