Today’s Headlines: Happiness, Cognitive Decline, and Okra

There’s an equation for happiness. Or, at least, for momentary joy. Researchers have used a decision-making game that led to either gains or losses. “The researchers used fMRI imaging to measure brain activity, and repeatedly asked, ‘How happy are you now?’…They created a model that linked self-reported happiness to recent rewards and expectations [based on this data].” They then tested this model using a phone app, similarly asking users to play a game and say when they were happy. The equation accurately predicted when these times would be. “The researchers were not surprised by how much rewards influenced happiness, but they were surprised by how much expectations could. The researchers say their findings do support the theory that if you have low expectations, you can never be disappointed, but they also found that the positive expectations you have for something—like going to your favorite restaurant with a friend—is a large part of what develops your happiness.” (TIME)

Interpreting images is key for a sharp mind. How well you interpret the visual world may relate to your thinking skills. Researchers studied individuals at various ages and measured how good they were at interpreting simple images. Two images were rapidly flashed on a screen and participants had to determine which shape had the longest edge. This was paired with intelligence tests. “As people got older, their ability to do well in this task decreased. And the worse their scores on the visual processing tests, the worse they did in more complex intelligence tasks.” According to the authors, “The results suggest the brain’s ability to make correct decisions based on brief visual impressions [is essential to] complex mental functions…This research makes us question whether the reason we start to slow up in old age is because the speed at which we apprehend the world slows down.” (BBC)

Eating okra may help obesity-related diseases. We all know that vegetables are good for us, but okra, a staple of Southern cooking, may be yet another in that long list. “Okra is rich in disease-fighting compounds called flavonoids, of which two in particular may help to regulate glucose and fat metabolism through proteins in the liver, the study suggests.” The study was done in mice. Those that ate okra had glucose and insulin levels “significantly lower than in those of untreated mice, though okra had no effect on weight or food intake. Triglycerides, a type of fat linked to heart disease, were also reduced in okra-treated mice. And the okra appeared to prevent the development of fatty liver disease.” While the mice had to eat large amounts of okra, this may provide a lead to future ways to treat these diseases. (WSJ)