Could opinion pieces like those published in this newspaper change your long-term view on certain issues?

A new study out of the US' Yale University suggests yes it could - and that's irregardless of your political leanings or initial stance on the topic.

"People read an argument and were persuaded by it," said the study's lead author and Yale political scientist Assistant Professor Alexander Coppock.

"It's that simple."


The researchers enrolled 3567 people into the study through an online tool.

In an initial survey, participants shared background information, such as their gender and party affiliation, before being randomly assigned into a control group or one of five "treatment" groups.

Participants in the treatment groups were shown one of five op-eds that had been published in a major news outlet by a writer affiliated with the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, or US Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Participants in the control group were not given an op-ed to read.

The op-eds, which had appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, or Newsweek, advocated libertarian policy positions on issues such as climate change, federal spending on transportation and infrastructure, and instituting a federal flat tax on income.

The researchers gauged participants' immediate reactions to the op-ed pieces and surveyed them again 10 and 30 days later, comparing their responses to those of participants in the control group.

The researchers performed the same experiment on a group of 2169 "elites" including journalists, law professors, policy-focused academics, think tank scholars, bankers, and congressional staffers.

In both experiments, people exposed to op-eds shifted their views to support the argument presented in the piece, with the general public being marginally more persuaded than the elites.


While 50 per cent of people in the control group agreed with the views expressed in a given op-ed, 65 per cent to 70 per cent of the people in the treatment groups expressed agreement with the op-eds' authors immediately after reading the pieces, Coppock said.

"These large differences suggest that people are persuadable on policy issues by substantial amounts."

The gap between the control and treatment groups closed by about half after 10 days, but remained substantial.

Participants' views changed little between 10 and 30 days after reading the op-eds, demonstrating a lasting effect, he said.

The researchers concluded that op-eds are a cost effective way to influence people's views.

Why shaking off the office is important

Doing something relaxing to recover after work - such as yoga, listening to music or going for a walk - could mean you sleep better. Photo / 123RF
Doing something relaxing to recover after work - such as yoga, listening to music or going for a walk - could mean you sleep better. Photo / 123RF

If you've had a bad day at work, doing something fun and relaxing after you clock off could net you a better night's sleep.

"Sleep quality is crucial because sleep plays a major role in how employees perform and behave at work," explained Oakland University's Dr Caitlin Demsky, PhD, the lead author of a study just published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

"In our fast-paced, competitive professional world, it is more important than ever that workers are in the best condition to succeed, and getting a good night's sleep is key to that."

Nearly 700 employees in Demsky's study were asked to rate the level of rude behaviour they experienced in the workplace, how often they had negative thoughts about work, whether they have insomnia symptoms and how much they were able to detach from work and relax.

Researchers also asked about the number of children under 18 living at home, hours worked per week, and frequency of alcoholic drinks as these have previously been linked with sleep issues.

Experiencing rude or negative behaviour at work, such as being judged or verbally abused, was linked with more symptoms of insomnia, including waking up multiple times during the night.

But people who were able to detach and do something relaxing to recover after work - such as yoga, listening to music or going for a walk - slept better.

"Incivility in the workplace takes a toll on sleep quality," she said.

"It does so in part by making people repeatedly think about their negative work experiences.

"Those who can take mental breaks from this fare better and do not lose as much sleep as those who are less capable of letting go."

Repeated negative thoughts about work could also be linked to several health problems, including cardiovascular diseases, increased blood pressure and fatigue, according to the authors.

Demsky suggested managers could be role models for employees after work by not sending work-related messages outside of business hours.

Pinot could be linked to PMS

Drinking alcohol may be linked to pre-menstrual syndrome. Photo / 123RF
Drinking alcohol may be linked to pre-menstrual syndrome. Photo / 123RF

Drinking alcohol may be linked to pre-menstrual syndrome, suggests a new analysis in the online journal BMJ Open.

Based on the global prevalence of alcohol drinking and their study findings, the Spanish researchers estimate that around one in 10 cases might be linked to alcohol intake.

PMS includes any or all of mood swings, tender breasts, food cravings, fatigue, irritability and depression, although its severity varies from woman to woman.

Several studies have shown that PMS tends to be more severe among women who drink alcohol, but it's not clear whether this is due to the alcohol itself or whether women reach for the bottle to cope with their symptoms.

To find out more, researchers from the University of Santiago de Compostela trawled research databases and found 19 from eight different countries, involving more than 47,000 participants.

Pooled analysis of the data from these 19 studies produced estimates showing that alcohol intake was associated with a "moderate" heightened risk of PMS of 45 per cent, rising to 79 per cent for heavy drinkers.

While the design of the included studies precluded the ability to establish cause, the relatively large number, and the consistency of the results, suggested alcohol could be associated with an increase in the risk of PMS, the authors found.

"These findings are important given that the worldwide prevalence of alcohol drinking among women is not negligible," they wrote.

Globally, the proportion of women who drink alcohol is thought to be around 30 per cent, with around one in 20 of those heavy drinkers.

But in Europe and America, the equivalent figures were higher, at almost 60 per cent and over 12.5 per cent, respectively.

"Based on the figures above and on our results, we estimate that 11 per cent of the PMS cases may be associated to alcohol intake worldwide and 21 per cent in Europe," they wrote.

"Furthermore, heavy drinking may be associated with 4 per cent of the PMS cases in the world and over 9 per cent in Europe."

They speculate that if the association was causal in nature, "eliminating heavy drinking in women would then prevent one in every 12 cases in Europe".

There were also some plausible biological explanations for the association found, they explain.

Alcohol might boost PMS risk by altering levels of the sex steroid hormones and gonadotropin during the menstrual cycle, or it might interfere with the production of key "mood" chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, they suggested.