Entries in Attitude (2)


Research: 'Being Cool' Not What It Used to Be

ABC/RANDY HOLMES(ROCHESTER, N.Y.) -- Ilan Dar-Nimrod listens to the classics -- the Beatles, the Doors, Genesis. He is a voracious reader, with some of his favorite authors being Kafka, Murakami and Vonnegut. He used to own a motorcycle. In his free time, he goes backpacking through Europe, Asia or Latin America. He's friendly and laughs easily, but, as a scientist and academic, he has chops in the brain department.

According to research published in the Journal of Individual Differences for which Dar-Nimrod was the lead author, he epitomizes the modern-day perception of what it takes to be "cool."

Researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center surveyed nearly 1,000 mostly college-aged students on their perception of cool. The three-year study found that more people believe a person is cool when they are friendly, warm, smart and trendy. Today people are less apt to respond to the James Dean-style of aloof coolness that was once so dreamy in yesteryears.

"Even if you hear how the word 'cool' is being used to describe things today, it's not being used to reflect counterculture rebellion, it's being used to described as a way of saying, 'I like you.'"

The researchers acknowledged that the study population is limited in scope, since it consisted of "mostly educated, young, Canadian, ethnically white and Asian, [and] predominantly female" in British Columbia, Canada.

This is important to note because the idea of "cool" does not necessarily translate between different types of people, experts said.

"Coolness is a concept that is historically wedded to notions of race, socioeconomic status, and rebellion- each of which is anchored in broader social hierarchies and norms that are certainly temporally, culturally, and even contextually variant," said Kevin Lewis, a doctoral student in Harvard's Department of Sociology.

The leather jacketed, cigarette smoking, rebel to authority is still perceived as somewhat cool, researchers said, but the nice guy next door now reigns coolest, according to the study surveys. Those who are talented and smart and striving to succeed also rated high up on the cool scale. Even nerdiness, which was once the antithesis of "cool," has changed its reputation. Geeks are now "under that counterculture umbrella of edginess" Dar-Nimrod said.

Researchers said the findings have real-world implications in changing the way society perceives unhealthy behaviors, like smoking, drinking and drug use, which used to fall under the general perception of a rebellious "cool."

Still, what gives? Why is Slickster Danny Zuko from Grease out and Justin Bieber, the popstar with the boy-next-door charm in?

"[Being] cool by definition requires a reference point-- what is boring, normal, or even uncool," said Lewis. "The day culture stops changing is the day our notions of coolness will also be frozen in time."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Attitude Adjustment: Optimism Can Stave Off Stroke in Older Patients

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(ANN ARBOR, Mich.) -- Looking on the brighter side of life just may save your life, according to new research from the University of Michigan. In a study of 6,000 adults over 50 with no history of stroke, optimism was associated with significantly reduced risk of stroke, even when controlling for stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, heart disease, hypertension and body mass index.

"Past research has linked optimism with a range of health benefits, including cardiovascular outcome," says lead author Eric Kim, a doctoral student in clinical psychology at the University of Michigan. The study was published Thursday in the journal Stroke.

Kim and colleagues drew on data from the National Institutes of Health and Retirement Study, analyzing the relationship between how participants scored on an 15-point optimism scale and how likely they were to suffer a stroke during a two-year follow-up period. Optimism was gauged by how strongly patients agreed with statements like: "In uncertain times, I usually expect the best." They found that for each point increase in optimism rating, patients were nine percent less likely to suffer a stroke. The reduction in risk is on par with the reduction seen in those making dietary changes, such as increasing fruits and vegetables in the diet.

Previous studies have linked antagonistic and disagreeable personalities with increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and a lack of pessimism with better heart outcomes and optimism in decreased mortality in those who have had heart attacks.

Given the mounting evidence that ties an optimistic attitude to a better outcome, these results hardly came as a surprise to researchers. What remains a mystery is exactly how a sunny attitude affects heart health.

"We can't say for sure which thing is responsible for reduction in stroke, or as we have found in a recent study, a reduction in mortality among those with heart disease. It's pretty clear though, that something in optimism and related psychological characteristics is protective," says Dr. Redford Williams, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

Kim notes that previous research found that those who are higher in optimism are more likely to take vitamins and are more likely to adhere to a health program in cardiac rehab following a heart attack or stroke.

"People who are optimistic are more likely to listen to other people's advice and plan for the future and think they can change the outcome," says Dr. Joseph Broderick, professor and chairman in the department of neurology at the University of Cincinnati, but this doesn't mean that all optimistic people will have a lower risk of stroke. Broderick cautions that saying point blank that optimism reduces stroke risk is a "huge generalization" that hides a lot of the other factors that play into who does and who doesn't suffer from stroke or other health problems.

"Some people think that ornery, cranky people survive things in spite of it all because of a will to endure on, but these people are certainly not optimistic. Optimism can also work against making healthier decisions -- you can be optimistic and feel like everything will work out, and so you don't change your behavior for the better," he says.

Dr. Wendy Wright, medical director of the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, agreed that more study is needed to parse out what's going on in the optimism-stroke relationship.

"It would be valuable to know...if the results will be different if people try to 'manipulate' their levels of optimism to improve stroke risk," she says, especially considering that optimism is a medicine with no negative side effects. "Encourage optimism for its health benefits. It has no downside. Optimism is free!"

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio