The Psychology of ‘Backburner’ Relationships

It’s natural for humans to pay attention to all their romantic options, and new research shows Facebook helps them do that.

Source: The Psychology of ‘Backburner’ Relationships


One episode in season five of How I Met Your Mother, called “Hooked,” revolves around people being kept “on the hook,” romantically speaking, by members of the show’s central gang of friends. “I can’t be with you … right now” is the phrase the pals keep using to string these people along, the “right now” leaving the door cracked open just enough that apparently some poor guy is willing to continue to do Robin’s laundry and rub her feet for the vague possibility of a someday relationship.

This does not make the friends look very good, obviously, but keeping track of and keeping in touch with alternative romantic prospects is a common thing for humans to do, even if it is rarely in such an exaggerated, sitcommy way. A recent study published in Computers in Human Behavior dubs these interactions “backburner relationships.” A backburner, as defined by the study, is “a person to whom one is not presently committed, and with whom one maintains some degree of communication, in order to keep or establish the possibility of future romantic and/or sexual involvement.”

The lead study author, Jayson Dibble, an assistant professor of communication at Hope College, told me, “What originally inspired me to think about this is when you meet somebody at a club and trade numbers, you might go through your contacts [later] and say ‘Oh I remember that guy. I might zing him a note and see how he’s doing … It was inspired by my old days in grad school.”“When you were meeting everybody at the club?” I asked.

“Well, I say research is me-search,” he replied, laughing.

The communication is key here. A backburner is not just someone who wanders into your thoughts every once in a while—the college sweetheart whose Facebook photos you occasionally browse, or the cute friend-of-a-friend you met on vacation and have always thought you’d really click with, if you lived in the same city. These “what-ifs” only become backburners if you actually reach out to them.

Dibble notes that sometimes backburners know they’re backburners and sometimes they don’t—I suppose it depends on whether the communication in question is more artful than a “hey, what’s up?” text sent at 1 a.m.

There are a couple of competing evolutionary imperatives at play when it comes to keeping people on the backburner. On the one hand, it makes a certain primal sense to explore all the potential mates available, to be sure to get the best deal. But having one long-term partner helps offspring survive, in the rough-and-tumble caveman world often invoked by evolutionary psychology. So commitment provides benefits, in exchange for letting go of other possibilities—the wouldas, the couldas, the shouldas.

So, with all this as background, Dibble reasoned that people in committed relationships in his study would keep fewer people on the backburner.He and Michelle Drouin had 374 undergrads self-report how many backburners they had, whether they talked to them platonically or were more flirty, and what technology they used to keep in touch with these people. Those who were currently in relationships also completed assessments of their investment in and commitment to their relationships, and rated how appealing they thought their alternatives were.

The most frequent ways that people kept up with their backburners were through texts and Facebook. Forty-five percent of participants reported texting backburners, 37 percent reported talking to them on Facebook. Thirteen percent of people still picked up the phone and called the person they were stringing along, and piddling percentages of people kept up with backburners through email, Skype, or Twitter.

What surprised the researchers was that there was no significant difference between the number of backburners kept by people in relationships, and the number kept by single people.

“We were really puzzled by why we didn’t find a relationship between commitment and backburners,” Dibble says. “If the investment model holds, we should have seen a nice strong relationship. Maybe the investment model doesn’t work in the online world.”

In his dissertation at the University of Texas, Austin, Adam Redd West proposed in 2013 that the investment model indeed might not apply when it comes to the Internet. “The online world provides opportunities to evaluate and monitor alternatives … without the need for direct interaction with others,” he writes. The relative privacy of Facebook makes it easier to keep in minimal contact with backburners. Another thing humans tend to do in relationships is attempt to maximize benefits and minimize costs. It doesn’t take much to just comment on someone’s Facebook status, potentially a small cost for the benefit of keeping that person available as a romantic option.

That could also explain why people in relationships still kept in touch with backburners online at nearly the same rates as single people. It seems a little more acceptable to talk to someone on Facebook when you’re not available than it does to meet up with them for dinner or something.

This was a preliminary study—all it really shows is that people keep some of their romantic alternatives on the backburner. That’s not necessarily a new phenomenon: “The behavior of keeping people waiting in the wings, keeping your options open, is nothing new. In the old days it was called keeping people in your little black book,” Dibble says.

This study shows how that behavior plays out today, when people can zing each other notes through a variety of different mediums. The next steps, Dibble says, are to see exactly what people say to keep others on the backburner and examine the ways those conversations play out. He also wants to refine the definition a little more—if you only check in with someone once a year, are they still a backburner? What happens when someone you considered a backburner starts a new relationship, or gets married?

When someone sees their backburner’s Facebook status change, “you’re going to have that ‘ugh’ moment,” Dibble says. “Now your quality of alternatives has shrunk just a bit. If you could develop a backburner relationship over the short term in the lab, and then take it away, man, that would be really cool.”


Why Everything We’ve Been Told About Happiness Is Flawed

The traditional path to happiness doesn’t work for many, so here’s how to bring more meaning into your everyday life.

Source: Why Everything We’ve Been Told About Happiness Is Flawed


The “standard” blueprint for a happy life usually reads something like this: Go to college. Get a job in a big corporation that provides good benefits. Find a partner. Have children. Buy a house. Raise your children. Retire and hope to go on a cruise (before you die of a heart attack.)

Author Colin Beavan’s life was on that trajectory, but instead of feeling successful, he felt dissatisfied and guilty about the affect his pursuits were having on the earth.

“The truth is that those old approaches to happiness no longer work for us or the world, and they’re starting to break down,” he says. “A college education no longer guarantees a corporate job. Once you get a job, there is no guarantee you’ll keep it or even get health care. We can no longer maintain the illusion that any of this is successful.”

Beavan scrapped the standard blueprint in 2007, when he and his family embarked on a yearlong experiment to reduce their carbon footprint. He chronicled their journey in the book and documentary No Impact Man, and discovered that life was better when you live it according to your values. Soon people asked how they could be more like him and have a more meaningful and happy life.

“The idea isn’t to be like me; it’s to be more like you,” says Beavan, whose latest book, How to Be Alive: A Guide to the Kind of Happiness That Helps the World, helps readers rethink their own definition of happiness. “The idea is to explore who you are in your own life so you can make choices that are better for you and the world.”


Once you accept that the old path to happiness is an illusion, you have to acknowledge that there is no new standard story that provides a new path, says Beavan. “It’s no longer about personal happiness,” he says. “That happiness is narcissistic and comes at the expense of the world.”

To redefine happiness, you have to explore who you really are. “Too many of us get caught up in the 10,000 ad messages that bombard us every day, and we start wanting things we don’t need,” says Beavan. “Things are at the surface of who we are; deeper inside, you find passions. Ask yourself, ‘What do I care about?’”


The answer doesn’t require a career change or grand action; that will stop you, says Beavan. Instead, explore who you are in the world by looking at simple relationships you have with things like food, products, or transportation. Then choose one aspect of your life that matters to you, and take a step each day toward manifesting value in that area.

Perhaps you want to explore your relationship to coffee, for example. Beavan suggests starting by making a commitment to only purchase and drink ethically produced coffee. But don’t stop there. Research the harm the traditional coffee industry is doing. Find out how you can help, and take steps to make a difference.

“Begin by saying, ‘Today I care about this.’ Then fix that one thing,” he says. “We can worry about all of the problems of the world and do nothing, or we can be happy that there are tremendous opportunities that we can plug into. This is an opportunity to redefine our lives and find our happiness.”


As you make small changes, you begin to gain competence in living according to your values, says Beavan, and eventually you may start to change bigger things. The process is how you define your calling, but it won’t happen right away, says Beavan.

“We usually don’t know enough about ourselves to identify that right away,” he says. “Nor do we have types of lives to support that. Experimenting in those smaller relationships helps you find what will give you fulfillment by helping the world.”

Many people design a career around their calling, but callings can also emerge in the moment, says Beavan. For example, if you care about what’s happening with racial barriers, identify what you can do in your life to make a difference.

“If you work in HR, for example, you might begin by working on a new hiring policy,” says Beavan. “Avoid hiring from personal networks. Advertise jobs and cast a wider net to find new talent. Ask yourself, ‘How can I deal with this in my life right now?’”

Happiness is not the end goal of life, says Beavan. “Happy people help more people,” he says. “If you make yourself miserable helping the world, you won’t help for long. Find ways to help that make you happy, too. This gives you the energy to help more. Happiness is not our purpose; it’s the fuel to fulfill our purpose.”


Why We Always End Up Overwhelmed By Our To-Do Lists

Blame it on the “planning fallacy.”

Source: Why We Always End Up Overwhelmed By Our To-Do Lists

By Kat Boogaard

You look down at your to-do list and your heart starts racing. Why? You’ve just had that brutal realization that there is absolutely no way you’re going to be able to get everything done.

Even if you shut your office door, skip happy hour, pull an all-nighter, and crank up your most inspirational productivity playlist, there will still be unfinished tasks lingering on that pesky list of yours.

Put simply, you’ve over-promised—meaning you’ve found yourself over-extended and totally overwhelmed.

Now what? What can you realistically do, other than put your head down on your desk and silently resent your ridiculous workload?

While there’s no magic formula that will instantly make half of your to-do list vanish into thin air (you wish, right?), there are some things you can do to navigate your way through that sticky situation and come out with your sanity intact.

Why Do We Do This To Ourselves?

Before you can jump into fixing the problem, it’s important that you understand it first.

I know, I know—you’re stretched thin and don’t have time for a detailed psychology lesson about what drives your compulsive need to say “yes” to everything. But, spend just one minute on the science anyway.

The Trap of the Planning Fallacy

First and foremost, we find ourselves with unrealistic workloads due to something called the planning fallacy (also sometimes referred to as the optimism bias).

Put simply, we’re pretty bad at understanding how long things take us. We all fancy ourselves productivity superheroes and thus grossly underestimate just how long a project will take us to complete.

We grossly underestimate just how long a project will take us to complete.

Plenty of studies exist to back this fact up. Researchers wanted to see the planning fallacy in action—so, they conducted an experiment by asking students for an estimate of when they’d complete an academic project. Basically, the students were asked to assign a confidence interval of 50%, 75%, and 99% to a time when they thought they’d have the task finished.

At the point in time when students said they were 99% certain they’d have the project completed? In reality, only 45% of them had it done.

In a separate study involving students, the researchers found that, on average, students were 30 days too optimistic when offering their estimates for completion.

That’s pretty far off. And, if you continue to estimate your time incorrectly over and over again? Well, you already know what happens: You’re left with way too much to do and far too little time to do it.

The Psychology of Saying ‘Yes’

Our crappy time management skills aside, there’s another reason we all pile our plates too full: It feels good to say “yes” to people.

“Much of saying ‘yes’ is saying ‘yes’ to another person,” explains Dr. Robert Bilder, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA, “By acknowledging that you are going along with a plan initiated by someone else, you are strengthening or creating a bond with them.”

Joining a group initiates neural circuits (the same ones as when we fall in love, actually!) that cause oxytocin levels to surge. Those increased levels make you feel great, so you’ll be all the more likely to repeat that behavior over and over again. After all, it’s a whole lot better than your brain’s reaction to negative stimuli—like hearing the word “no.”

Where Do You Go From Here?

Now that you know that your overwhelming workload is a result of your brain playing tricks on you, what happens next? You can’t rewind time and say “no” instead of “yes.” So, how can you realistically cope with that pile of tasks that you know you won’t get done?

1. Separate the Wheat From the Chaff

First things first, you need to zone in on the things that are actually urgent. What on your to-do list really needs to be done today, and what’s just hanging out there with a not-so-firm deadline?

Grab a highlighter and prepare to do some major destruction to that list of yours. Highlight only (yes, only) the things that you absolutely need to have finished by the end of the day. That will allow you to turn your attention to those do-or-die items that should be at the very top of your priorities list.

Our brains have the not-so-helpful tendency to conflate real, productive work with those other small, menial, and mindless tasks.

Yes, it’d be nice to finally get around to cleaning your inbox or giving Susan in marketing a prompt reply to that birthday invitation she just sent. But, right now, you’re in crisis management mode. Anything that can wait until tomorrow absolutely should (sorry, Susan).

Not only does this elimination step give you a clearer focus on where you should be channeling your energy and attention, but it also removes the risk of self-sabotaging your own productivity.

Our brains have the not-so-helpful tendency to conflate real, productive work with those other small, menial, and mindless tasks.

By totally pushing those out of your mind (and off your to-do list) for now, you won’t be tempted to color code your inbox when you should actually be completing that presentation that’s due in two hours.

2. Delegate What You Can

You’re now left with a simplified and streamlined to-do list. It helps, but you’re quickly realizing that there are still far too many time-pressing tasks taunting you—this still isn’t doable.

At this point, take a look at what you could potentially delegate to other people. Do you have a direct report that could take one of those assignments off of your plate? If you’re not in a management role, perhaps you could throw yourself on the mercy of one of your colleagues (with a promise that you’ll return the favor if and when they need it).

When delegating, just make sure to pass along any important background information, notes, or requirements to ensure the job is done the way it was intended.

If you work independently or you don’t have anybody in your office who’s willing to take pity on you, don’t count yourself out of this delegation step quite yet. Have you ever considered using automation as a form of delegating?

Automation typically works best for those pesky recurring tasks that take up a lot of your time (think of things like automatically storing files and email attachments in Google Drive or scheduling social media posts, for example).

While you will need to invest a bit of time to get it set up, automation can save you a decent chunk of much-needed time in the long run. Seventy-five percent of marketers, for example, state that saving time is the biggest benefit of automation.

3. Push Back Deadlines

Are you cringing? I know—this is the very thing you wanted to avoid. But, when you’ve whittled down your to-do list and exhausted all of your other options, it’s time to face the music that you’re going to have to extend some end dates and let a few people down.

The key to pushing back a deadline is to do it sooner rather than later. It’s a lot more professional to request an extension before that task is due, rather than hours (or even days) after it was originally supposed to be submitted.

The key to pushing back a deadline is to do it sooner rather than later.

Rest assured, there’s a way to do this in a way that’s polite and professional. It’ll just involve swallowing your pride and admitting to the fact that you bit off far more than you can chew.

Here’s a sample message, so you can see what this ends up looking like:

Hey Jamie,

I wanted to touch base and let you know that I’m pretty swamped right now. I’m doing my best to catch up. But, unfortunately, I won’t be able to have that client rundown completed for you by the end of the week as originally discussed.

I’m hoping that we can push that deadline back a bit, as I’d always rather turn in high-quality work a little behind schedule than shoddy work on time. Would next week Wednesday work to have it submitted to you?

Let me know if that adjusted timeline works on your end.



There are two important things to remember when crafting a similar email of your own. First and foremost, resist the urge to profusely apologize. You might be embarrassed by admitting defeat. But, continuously beating yourself over the head will only make you more guilt-ridden, and ultimately won’t do you any favors. Be direct and concise—and skip the Oscar-worthy apology speeches.

Secondly—and, this is incredibly important—ensure that you suggest an adjusted deadline that you can actually meet (be conservative if you have to!). Pushing a deadline back once is one thing. Needing to do it over and over again will make it appear as if you don’t know how to manage your own workload.

Moving Forward: Don’t Make the Same Mistake Twice

The natural tendency to pile your plate full can be difficult to combat. Once you make it through that overwhelming period, take some steps to ensure that your workload remains at a more doable level (at least most of the time) moving forward.

For starters, it’s a wise idea to begin tracking your time in order to get a more realistic handle on how long specific projects and tasks take you. That’ll override your optimism bias and keep your expectations for your own productivity in check.

If you find that you’re often stuffing your calendar full with various social functions and events, consider using this calendar hack that involves creating an “optional” category within your calendar. Things that aren’t mandatory—whether it’s a networking mixer or an educational seminar you wanted to attend—should be assigned that category.

Life gets busy, and we all fall victim to the siren song of over-promising every now and then.

So on those days when you’re feeling particularly spread thin, with just the click of a button you can sort through everything on your schedule and be left with only the things you absolutely have to do. It’s an effective way to instantly streamline your to-dos when you’re already barely maintaining your grip on your sanity.

Life gets busy, and we all fall victim to the siren song of over-promising every now and then. Follow these steps and you’ll be able to make your way to the other side of that lengthy to-do list—with as few tears and tantrums as possible.

This article originally appeared on Trello.

Kat Boogaard is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, self-development, and the freelance life.

The Hidden Costs of Sleep Deficits

sleep cover


Throughout modern history, the concept of a good night’s sleep has often been painted as almost an indulgence. Virginia Woolf referred to it as “that deplorable curtailment of the joy of life.” Vladimir Nabokov called it “the most moronic fraternity in the world.” And more recently, internet pioneer Vint Cerf simply dismissed sleep as “a waste of time.”

These types of sentiments — along with burdensome work schedules and plenty of electronic distractions that make it tempting and easy to delay bedtime — are seeping into everyday life across the industrialized world. Recent reports indicate that nearly 30% of American adults report an average of 6 or fewer hours of sleep per night — at least an hour short of the amount recommended by the World Health Organization. School-age children ideally should have 10 hours of daily sleep, but heavy homework loads, crack-of-dawn school starts, and extracurricular activities are keeping them up far too late and forcing them out of bed way too early.

Science has produced a strong body of evidence showing how lack of sleep impairs not only a variety of bodily functions, but also cognitive processes such as memory and executive control.

“There does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough),” says Matthew P. Walker, a cognitive psychologist who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s (UCB) Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab, in his book Why we sleep: Unlocking the power of sleep and dreams.

Psychology researchers are expanding the scope of sleep research to explore how ties between sleep and cognition affect central aspects of our societal fabric, including fairness, justice, relationships, and morality.

Why Sleep Isn’t a Waste of Time

As early as infancy, sleep plays a central role in the development of higher-order cognition, including executive functioning, working memory, and self-control.

As we grow, sleep continues to support mental functioning, including noncognitive abilities such as mastering emotional processing and control.

“Benevolently servicing our psychological health, sleep recalibrates our emotional brain circuits, allowing us to navigate next-day social and psychological challenges with cool-headed composure,” Walker writes in his book.

Indeed, research has supported the correlation between sleep and emotion regulation. A lab study led by APS Fellow Iris Mauss of UCB, for example, showed that participants with poor self-reported sleep quality exhibited lowered ability to cognitively reappraise negative thoughts — considered a key skill in emotional control.

When we don’t get sufficient sleep, it can seep into our social lives in a variety of ways, as APS Past Board Member Wendy Berry Mendes and her University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) colleagues Amie M. Gordon and Aric A. Prather point out in an article in the October 2017 issue of Current Directions in Psychological Science. In examining the literature on the relationship between sleep and a number of social processes, lead author Gordon and the other scientists note that poor sleepers have difficulty overriding initial impulses and employing effortful cognition, which can produce behavior that is driven by implicit biases. Additionally, sleep deficits may disrupt our ability to process subtle social cues, they note.

Indeed, Walker’s own research indicates that a person’s ability to accurately read others’ emotions, especially nuanced ones, is impeded by insufficient sleep. In a 2010 lab study, Walker assigned college-age participants to evaluate pictures of three different faces expressing varying degrees of sadness, happiness, and anger. Some of the students performed the task once under conditions of sleep deprivation and twice when rested after different durations of sleep. The others evaluated the pictures twice, with plenty of rest both times.

Results showed that participants were less able to recognize moderate expressions of anger and happiness after being deprived of sleep, although they were still able to recognize extreme manifestations of those emotions.

University of Arizona neuropsychologist William D.S. Killgore and his colleagues published results of a similar experiment using a larger set of emotional depictions, part of an examination of sleep deprivation’s effects on social, emotional, and moral judgment that began while Killgore worked as a research psychologist for the US Army. He notes that such results show how insufficient sleep can take a toll on critical social interactions.

“You may be responding inappropriately to somebody that you just don’t read correctly, especially those social emotions that make us human,” Killgore said. “Or you may not be as empathic. Your spouse or significant other may need something from you and you’re less able to read that. It’s possible that this could lead to problems in your relationships or problems at work. To me, that is one of the biggest problems — how this affects our relationships.”

Relationship Costs

It seems intuitive that sleep loss could lead to heightened conflict with family, friends, and colleagues: Low on sleep, short on temper.

A 2014 empirical report authored by UCSF’s Gordon and APS Fellow Serena Chen (UCB) showed some correlations among sleep quality, emotions, and relationship conflict. In one lab study, the researchers asked 70 heterosexual couples to discuss a top source of conflict within their relationship and then offered the couples an opportunity to resolve that conflict while being videotaped.  Prior to the conversation participants independently rated their previous night’s sleep duration and quality along with their daytime dysfunction (i.e., current feelings of tiredness). They also completed questionnaires rating their levels of appreciation, caring, anger, resentment, and other emotions, and as well as how much they thought their partners had experienced those emotions. Three independent observers also watched the conflict conversations and coded each individual’s affect.

In multilevel analyses of the measures, Gordon and Chen found that participants who reported poor sleep the previous night showed more negative and less positive affect during the conflict conversation, as did their partners. The independent coders corroborated those results. What’s more, the people who slept poorly were less able to gauge their partners’ feelings, and their partners showed a similar impediment in empathy.  The data indicated that couples were best able to resolve the conflict during the experiment if both were well-rested. If one partner slept poorly, it hindered conflict resolution.

Economic Costs

The costs of sleep deprivation appear to be taking a heavy toll on economic vitality as well. A 2016 RAND Europe study concluded that the effects of sleep loss on workplace productivity and mortality risk is costing the combined economies of the leading industrialized nations — the United States, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom — $660 billion a year.

In a 2015 article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Christopher Barnes (University of Washington) and Christopher Drake (Henry Ford Hospital, Sleep Disorders and Research Center) explain how these economic costs seem to arise from employee fatigue.

“Overall, sleep deprived employees will be more prone to mistakes, less aware that they are making mistakes, less creative, and more likely to be injured,” Barnes explains. “Other workplace effects include more cyberloafing, less work engagement, more unethical behavior, and jerkier bosses.”

Psychological scientists Michael S. Christian (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) and Aleksander P.J. Ellis (University of Arizona) conducted a study that demonstrated such effects. Testing the hypothesis that sleep-deprived workers would have more trouble resisting negative impulses than their well-rested peers, Christian and Ellis surveyed 171 nurses at the beginning and end of their shifts, asking them to rate their own levels of sleep deprivation, self-control, and hostility. At the end of their 12-hour shifts, they were asked about whether they had engaged in any deviant behavior, such as making hurtful comments or intentionally working slowly. The results showed that nurses who reported less than 6 hours of sleep the night before were significantly more likely to report committing deviant acts at work than those who were better rested.

In a follow-up study, 75 business students participated in a lab experiment that examined whether sleep deprivation would lead to increased rates of cheating and hostility. The students were divided into two groups: One stayed awake for a full 24 hours in the lab, while the other group was told to sleep normally — no fewer than 7 hours of sleep per night — for the two nights before the experiment.

The next day, both groups of students responded to a set of emails from prospective students who were interested in applying to their business school as part of a new electronic mentoring program. The researchers specifically told the participants that they would be representing the business school with their responses to the potential applicants.

The emails from potential students contained a number of grammatical and spelling mistakes, as well as negative comments about the business school.

Using a predetermined coding system, the researchers rated participants’ responses to these emails for inappropriateness, such as making fun of the sender, cursing, or making racial or ethnic remarks.

Participants from the sleep-deprivation condition were significantly more likely to include negative and inappropriate language in their responses, suggesting that they were having more difficulty controlling their emotions than the well-rested participants.

In the same lab experiment, participants had an opportunity to cheat for small amounts of money. First, they took a short pretest measuring reasoning. They then received a similar test and learned that they’d earn $1 for each correct response. Importantly, the participants graded their own tests and rewarded themselves for their correct responses by taking cash out of an envelope in the room.

The findings revealed that the sleep-deprived participants were more likely to cheat, taking more cash than they’d actually earned compared with the well-rested group.

Importantly, these results suggest that sleepiness has serious consequences for jobs where regulating emotions are important, such as customer service. Sleep-deprived employees who have difficulty regulating and hiding their negative emotions may be more likely to lash out at an irate customer than their well-rested counterparts.

In another study, Barnes and an international team of researchers revealed the effects that sleep deprivation can have on bosses in the workplace. The research team had supervisors complete a daily sleep survey at the beginning of each day for 10 consecutive workdays. The supervisors’ subordinates completed surveys evaluating abusive behavior across this same period of time.

When supervisors slept badly, their staff noticed more abusive behavior. In turn, this created a negative atmosphere in the office, potentially harming the team’s productivity.

“In conclusion, our study connects leader sleep quality to daily abusive supervisor behavior, which ultimately results in deleterious outcomes for subordinates,” Barnes and colleagues write.

Legal Costs

In addition to its economic impact, science has identified the impacts of insufficient sleep on another societal cornerstone: criminal justice. That research takes advantage of a natural experiment: the annual conversion to daylight saving time (DST) in North America, Europe, and some parts of the Middle East.

The seemingly small amount of lost sleep (an average of 40 minutes) that most people incur when they advance their clocks an hour had already been linked to an increase in workplace injuries and auto accidents. But a 2016 study showed that the shortened sleep associated with the switch to DST might also affect the severity of sentences doled out by judges.

“We find that the sentences given to those convicted of crimes may be partially polluted by the sleep of those giving the punishments,” says researcher Kyoungmin Cho of the University of Washington, first author on the study. “Sleep is a factor that should not play a role in their sentences, but does.”

Cho conducted the research with the University of Washington’s Barnes and Cristiano L. Guarana (Indiana University Bloomington). The researchers tapped into data on legal sentences handed down between 1992 and 2003 and collected by the US Sentencing Commission. They examined data within each judicial district to account for variation across districts and looked at the length of the sentence given, not including any other types of sentences including community confinement or probation.

To isolate the unique impact of DST, Cho and colleagues took other potential influences, including the yearly trend in sentencing decisions and various characteristics related to both the trial and the offender, into account.

Across multiple analyses, the researchers found a consistent trend: Sentences given on the Monday after the switch to DST were longer than those given on other days. Specifically, Cho and colleagues found that sentences on the so-called “Sleepy Monday” were approximately 5% longer than those given on the previous Monday and the following Monday.

Additional analyses showed that legal sentences handed out on Sleepy Monday were longer than those given on all other Mondays combined, and they were also longer than those doled out on all other days of the year combined.

Importantly, the effect was specific to Sleepy Monday: Sentences given on the other weekdays following the transition to DST did not differ from sentences given 1 week before or 1 week after. Cho and colleagues found that the return to standard time in the fall, when people gain an hour, had no effect on legal sentencing.

To be sure, there are many variables that influence a judge’s sentencing decisions, and the average amount of sleep lost due to DST is less than an hour. And yet the data still showed a clear relationship between the time change and sentencing:

“We were surprised at how clearly we were able to detect the hypothesized effect,” says Cho. “Across many alternative analyses and robustness checks, the effect was still quite clear and meaningful.”

The findings have clear implications for those involved in the legal system, but may also extend to the many other contexts in which people give or receive punishment, Cho said.

“Bosses punish employees who break work rules, parents punish children who engage in bad behavior, teachers punish students who disrupt the classroom environment, and sports referees punish players and athletes who violate the rules of the game,” she noted. “Many of the people making these punishment decisions will do so while short on sleep, and the same logic explored in our research will likely apply in those contexts, as well.”

Cho plans next to investigate the causal mechanisms that link sleep and punishment decisions, as well as potential strategies for mitigating these effects.

What’s Next

Recognizing the need for more and better sleep research, Gordon, Mendes, and others are urging psychological scientists to take a much closer look at the role that sleep — or a lack of it — plays in our emotional and social functioning, and in our societal structure as a whole. Critical to this effort will be going beyond participant self-reports and lab-based studies to actually measure people and their sleep under more naturalistic conditions. The recent availability of wearable technologies such as fitness trackers offers one promising avenue for more precisely measuring participants’ sleep.


Barnes, C., & Drake, C. (2015). Prioritizing Sleep Health Public Health Policy Recommendations. Perspectives on Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/1745691615598509

Barnes, C., Lucianetti, L., Bhave, D., & Christian, M. (2015). You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Sleepy: Leader Sleep, Daily Abusive Supervision, and Work Unit Engagement. Academy of Management Journal.

Cho, K., Barnes, C. M., & Guanara, C. L. (2017). Sleepy punishers are harsh punishers: daylight saving time and legal sentences. Psychological Science, 28, 242–247. doi:10.1177/0956797616678437

Christian, M. S., & Ellis, A. P. (2011). Examining the effects of sleep deprivation on workplace deviance: A self-regulatory perspective. Academy of Management Journal, 54, 913–934. doi:10.5465/amj.2010.0179

Gordon, A. M., Mendes, W. B., & Prather, A. A. (2017). The social side of sleep: Elucidating the links between sleep and social processes. Current Directions in Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0963721417712269.

Killgore, W. D. S., Balkin, T. J., Yarnell, A. M., & Capaldi II, V. F. (2017). Sleep deprivation impairs recognition of specific emotions. Neurobiology of Sleep and Circadian Rhythms, 3, 10–16.

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Walker, M. (2017). Why we sleep: unlocking the power of sleep and dreams. Scribner.

How Making A “Reverse Bucket List” Can Make You Happier

Here’s a productive way to deal with FOMO.

Source: How Making A “Reverse Bucket List” Can Make You Happier

This article originally appeared on Shine, a free daily motivational text, and is reprinted with permission. 

As someone who loves to travel, I have a pretty intense bucket list of places I want to go to, sights to see, and events to attend. Right now, I have about 10 different countries I want to visit, and I need to squeeze in a drawing class to better hone my artistic skills, too. I also want to challenge myself at work by pitching and writing for different publications, and there’s a handful of musicians I want to see perform live at least once in my lifetime. Oh, and did I mention that I someday want to try reading my poetry at an open mic night?

While my bucket list inspires me to take initiative, it can also make me feel, well, overwhelmed. Like a shame-y reminder of all the things I haven’t done. It can feel like I have so much left to accomplish–and that any moment I’m not doing something on the list isn’t a moment well spent.

Thankfully, in the midst of a recent wave of bucket-list anxiety, I learned about something called a reverse bucket list. It’s a mindfulness exercise that has been making the rounds on blogs lately.

The reverse bucket list is pretty straightforward: Rather than writing down all of the things you hope to one day achieve, you instead write down a list of all the things you’ve already accomplished, things that make you feel proud. It’s the exact opposite of a regular bucket list–and it’s an encouraging exercise.


Researchers haven’t specifically looked into the benefits of a reverse bucket list, but the exercise taps into a couple of well-studied topics, including gratitude.

Gratitude is typically thought of as appreciating all that you have in a given moment, but it can also include appreciating all you have done and the experiences you’ve had in the past.

A 2015 study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology looked into how “grateful recounting” enhances a person’s overall well-being. The study showed that participants who recalled three good things from the past 48 hours–and briefly wrote about them–every day for a week had an easier time accessing positive memories. And by routinely recalling positive experiences, it sparked an increase in their subjective well-being.

Think of a reverse bucket list as an exercise in grateful recounting: You’re basking in the pride of your experiences and accomplishments, and you’re taking time to get thankful for them.

Reverse bucket lists also tap into the power of nostalgia. Research shows that revisiting positive or meaningful experiences from the past–like that music festival you went to–can help counteract loneliness, boredom, and anxiety, as well as make people “more generous to strangers and more tolerant of outsiders,” according to The New York Times. Creating a reverse bucket list is like creating a nostalgia playlist–it’s a collection of your greatest hits and memories.

Finally, creating a reverse bucket list can give us a sense of progress. Traditional bucket lists can often feel like a daily to-do list–overwhelming and impossible. But taking stock of what you have accomplished can create a feeling of progress, which can boost self-esteem and motivation. It’s why productivity enthusiasts praise “done” lists–when we see that we’ve made progress, it’s more encouraging than feeling like we’re behind. And we can gain a major sense of fulfillment.


So, how do you create a reverse bucket list? It’s simple: Write down accomplishments from your past that you feel proud of. Boom–you’ve made a reverse bucket list.

There’s no official amount of examples you need, since this list is really your own to make use of. Some bloggers jotted down 50 or more accomplishments, but you can always write down 10 to 15 of your strongest memories if you don’t have time to write more.

If it’s hard to come up with examples, try looking through your social media for reminders of rewarding things you’ve done. If you did something that made you proud, you might have posted about it on Facebook or Instagram. A quick scroll through your timeline might remind you of teaching your niece to ride a bike or getting that big promotion at work.

You can also refer to your real-life social network and ask a close friend or family member to help you remember your proudest moments. Perhaps you’re too humble to remember scoring the winning goal at your rec soccer game last year, but your friend who was on the sidelines that day can help bring up the good memory.

If you still feel like you can’t find accomplishments for your list, try thinking smaller. Sure, big milestones are great additions to a reverse bucket list, but meaningful moments come in all sizes. Spending the holidays with your family, making a new friend as an adult (a goal that sometimes feels truly impossible)–that’s definitely reverse bucket list material.

When I created my reverse bucket list, I tried to alternate between big and small accomplishments. That way, I didn’t underestimate how the smaller things are just as important as the more significant.

Here are the first 10 items from my reverse bucket list:

1. I’ve had my work printed in a national magazine

2. I’ve allowed myself to dance and have fun at Zumba classes even though I’m not a great dancer

3. I’ve climbed the Thórsmörk mountain range in Iceland

4. I disciplined my spending habits and saved up for tattoos I want

5. I’ve scored a spot on both the dean’s and honor’s lists while studying at my university

6. I taught myself how to cut my own hair to save money between haircuts

7. I’ve traveled to foreign countries on my own

8. I was the featured guest on a podcast when I was 19 years old

9. I’ve performed on stage at the Orpheum Theater in Minneapolis—twice!

10. I’ve had the strength to walk away from a couple of toxic relationships in my life

After you’ve created your list, try placing it right next to your traditional bucket list or keep it as a note on your phone. It might feel like a “brag list”–and a bit uncomfortable to write at first–but know it’s okay to take pride in your accomplishments. This list is by you, for you, and to benefit you.

When I created my own reverse bucket list, I found it counteracted my bucket list shame. Instead of getting anxious about all the things I still have to do, I could look back with satisfaction and pride.

Just as bucket lists can inspire us for the future, reverse bucket lists can make us grateful for the now–for all we’ve experienced and all we’ve done. Create your own list, and see if it can make today feel a bit more meaningful.

After 12 Years of Searching for Cause of Bipolar Disorder, Researchers Conclude it Has Many

Following a 12 year long study, researchers have identified seven phenoclasses that can help doctors to diagnose and track the progression of bipolar disorder in patients.

Source: After 12 Years of Searching for Cause of Bipolar Disorder, Researchers Conclude it Has Many

NEUROSCIENCE NEWS                  

Source: University of Michigan

Nearly 6 million Americans have bipolar disorder, and most have probably wondered why. After more than a decade of studying over 1,100 of them in-depth, a University of Michigan team has an answer – or rather, seven answers.

In fact, they say, no one genetic change, or chemical imbalance, or life event, lies at the heart of every case of the mental health condition once known as manic depression.

Rather, every patient’s experience with bipolar disorder varies from that of others with the condition. But all of their experiences include features that fall into seven classes of phenotypes, or characteristics that can be observed, the team reports in a new paper in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The team, from U-M’s Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Program, collected and analyzed tens of thousands of data points over years about the genetics, emotions, life experiences, medical histories, motivations, diets, temperaments, sleep patterns and thought patterns of research volunteers. More than 730 had bipolar disorder, and 277 didn’t. Three-quarters of them are currently active research participants in the Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder..

Using those findings, the team has developed a framework that could be useful to researchers studying the condition, clinical teams treating it, and patients experiencing it. The team hopes it will give them all a common structure to use during studies, treatment decisions and more.

“There are many routes to this disease, and many routes through it,” says Melvin McInnis, M.D., lead author of the new paper and head of the program based at the U-M Depression Center. “We have found that there are many biological mechanisms which drive the disease, and many interactive external influences on it. All of these elements combine to affect the disease as patients experience it.”

The Prechter program, funded by gifts from many donors, is named for a late Detroit automotive pioneer who fought bipolar even as he built a successful business.

Long-term funding from this program has made it possible to build a massive library of data from the “Prechter cohort” of patients, which is two-thirds female, and 79 percent white, with an average age at enrollment in the study of 38 years. On average, participants had had their first depressive or manic episode when they were 17, and many had other mental health conditions.

Seven classes and the key findings that shaped them

The seven phenoclasses, as the U-M team has dubbed them, include standard measures doctors already use to diagnose and track the progress of bipolar disorder.

In addition, they include:

  • changes in cognition, which includes thinking, reasoning and emotion processing;
  • psychological dimensions such as personality and temperament;
    measures of behaviors related to substance use or abuse – called motivated behaviors;
  • aspects of the person’s life story involving family and intimate relationships and traumas;
  • patterns of sleep and circadian rhythms; and
  • measures of how patients’ symptoms change over time and respond to treatment.

Some of the key findings made in the Prechter cohort by the U-M team include:

  • Migraine headaches are three and a half times more common among people with bipolar disorder than those without. Eating disorders, anxiety disorders and alcohol problems are also more common in those with bipolar, as is metabolic syndrome.
  • More people with bipolar disorder have a history of childhood trauma than those without the condition, it is associated with changes in self-control and attention.
  • People with bipolar disorder had higher levels of saturated fats in their diets, and the research also found associations between levels of certain fat molecules in the blood of patients and their mood or level of symptoms.
  • Looking at the microbes living in the gastrointestinal tracts of patients and comparison volunteers, the researchers found lower levels of a key bacteria type, and less diversity of microbes in patients taking antipsychotic medications.
  • Poor sleep appears to play a key role in bipolar disorder, with links found to severity of depression and mania in female, but not male, participants with the condition. Other gender differences also emerged in other aspects of the study.
  • People with bipolar disorder who have a strong neurotic tendency in their personalities are more likely to have severe illness, especially among men.
  • A range of cognitive abilities – including memory, executive functioning and motor skills – were poorer in participants with bipolar than those without, in general. The study found a particular link between the cognitive abilities of people who carried a particular genetic trait and were taking newer antipsychotic medicines.
  • Two genes, called CACNA1 and ANK3, appear to play a role in susceptibility to developing bipolar disorder. But many genetic variations have been found to be associated with bipolar risk, and more recent findings have explored the role of having a mix of these variations in the chances a person will develop bipolar.
  • Stem cells grown from skin samples taken from participants, and then coaxed to grow into nerve cells called neurons, have proven useful in studying cellular aspects of bipolar disorder. For instance, neurons derived from bipolar patients’ cells were more excitable than comparisons – but calmed down when exposed to lithium, a common treatment for bipolar. Also, the cells show differences in how they interact and function.
  • Key features of speech patterns predict mood states and may be useful outcomes measures to predict the need for intervention to prevent episodes of mania or depression.

Even though bipolar disorder tends to run in families, the long-term study has revealed no one gene that ‘carries the day’ to explain it, says McInnis, who is the Woodworth Professor of Bipolar Disorder and Depression in the U-M Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry.

a depressed looking man

The seven phenoclasses, as the U-M team has dubbed them, include standard measures doctors already use to diagnose and track the progress of bipolar disorder. image is in the public domain.

“If there was a gene with a strong effect like what we see in breast cancer, for instance, we would have found it,” he explains. “We hope this new framework will provide a new approach to understand this disorder, and other complex diseases, by developing models that can guide a management strategy for clinicians and patients, and give researchers consistent variables to measure and assess.”

He adds, “Bipolar disorder has a lot to teach humankind about other illnesses, because it covers the breadths of human mood, emotion and behavior like no other condition. What we can learn in bipolar about all these factors will be directly applicable to monitoring other disorders, and personalizing the approach to managing them.”


The Prechter Bipolar Research Program is still recruiting participants for its long-term study, and accepting donations from those who want to help the research move forward. More information is available at

Funding: This work was supported by the
Heinz C. Prechter Bipolar Research Fund.

Source: Kara Gavin – University of Michigan
Publisher: Organized by
Image Source: image is adapted from the University of Michigan news release.
Original Research: Full open access research for “Cohort Profile: The Heinz C. Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder ” by Melvin G McInnis, Shervin Assari, Masoud Kamali, Kelly Ryan, Scott A Langenecker, Erika F H Saunders, Kritika Versha, Simon Evans, K Sue O’Shea, Emily Mower, Provost David Marshall, Daniel Forger, Patricia Deldin, and Sebastian Zoellner in International Journal of Epidemiology. Published online December 2 2017 doi:10.1093/ije/dyx229



Cohort Profile: The Heinz C. Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorders are a chronic, heterogeneous and complex spectrum of conditions that typically are first identified in late adolescence and consist of pathological mood swings that include varying intensities of mania and depression. A comprehensive description of the phenotype should include characterization of the longitudinal course of the disease, such as onset, symptom severity patterns, cognitive functioning and comorbidities. Outcomes include impaired social, vocational and personal functioning that often results in disability. Suicide and suicidal behaviours are common in BP and 4% of individuals with BP attempt suicide annually; individuals with BP die by suicide at a 15-fold greater rate than that of the general population.

“Cohort Profile: The Heinz C. Prechter Longitudinal Study of Bipolar Disorder ” by Melvin G McInnis, Shervin Assari, Masoud Kamali, Kelly Ryan, Scott A Langenecker, Erika F H Saunders, Kritika Versha, Simon Evans, K Sue O’Shea, Emily Mower, Provost David Marshall, Daniel Forger, Patricia Deldin, and Sebastian Zoellner in International Journal of Epidemiology. Published online December 2 2017 doi:10.1093/ije/dyx229


A psychologist explains the 6 best ways to rewire your brain to let go of anxiety – Hack Spirit

Source: A psychologist explains the 6 best ways to rewire your brain to let go of anxiety – Hack Spirit

Anxiety inflicts all of us on a regular basis.

Whether you experience the type of anxiety that leaves you frozen in your room for days at a time, or the subtler cases exhibited only in nail-biting and teeth-gnashing, you are more than familiar with the symptoms anxiety can cause: shallow breathing, sweaty palms, a racing heart—these are all caused by the “fight or flight” response going into overdrive, activating several responses at once.

Melanie Greenberg wants to help you beat that anxiety away.

A Ph.D. cognitive-behavior therapist who has been treating patients with anxiety for over the last 15 years, in Psychology Today Greenberg describes 6 proven and effective techniques that she regularly introduces to her anxiety-ridden patients.

We’ve summarized  them below:

1) Face Your Fears

It may be cliché, but one of the best things you can do for your anxiety is to simply face your fears.

By pushing yourself into situations that make you anxious and gradually becoming comfortable with the situation, you can melt away the anxiety slowly over time. Familiarity is the key towards moving forward.

2) Shift Focus from Your Fears to Your Values

Anxiety is when we’re too caught up in what we fear, and thus to ease your anxiety, you must loosen the grip fear has over you.

ACT, or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, teaches you to accept that fear is a part of life, and therefore we shouldn’t let it control us.

Turn your focus away from worrying about your fears, and towards the idea of living out your values.

3) Breathe and Relax

One exercise that is so simple yet so easily forgotten is to simply escape from your situation and just breathe

By mindfully breathing and relaxing the tension in our muscles, we automatically calm down, mentally and physically. Let your nervous system naturally put an end to your worries.

4) Think About the Threat

Often when we are anxious, it’s because we are faced with a sizable dilemma and we are afraid of the outcome.

However, most of the time the outcome isn’t nearly as bad as we assume. You just need time to step back and reevaluate the issue properly.

5) Become Mindful of What You Are Doing

Anxiety blinds us from the rest of the world, and even from ourselves. We lose track of our reactions and responses, emotionally and physically.

Recognize your actions, and ask yourself how necessary they actually are, if at all. This will soothe your panic and help you analyze whether you are acting rationally.

6) Decatastrophize

What does this mean? It means solving the issue that happened. Anxiety isn’t always an overreaction; sometimes bad things do happen.

But if that’s the case, then it’s time to pick yourself up and fix it. Take the appropriate steps and measures to right what has been wronged; recognize that as bad as the situation may have been, it wasn’t the end of the world.