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Does using weed make you a nicer person? Results may vary.

Some people may turn to weed for anxiety, sleep and creativity. New research suggests it could also make you a nicer person.

The findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience Research, suggests there could be a connection between cannabis use and empathy.

A study of 85 regular cannabis users and 51 nonusers asked participants to complete a test that measures empathy. Researchers also used brain imaging to study some of the subjects, analyzing a region of the brain that plays a central role in mediating the empathic response.

The recent research shows an association between cannabis use and empathy, but doesn’t prove cause and effect, said Carrie Cuttler, a psychology professor at Washington State University.

“We have no idea if it’s that the people who are more empathetic to begin with are more likely to use cannabis,” Cuttler said.

Or there may be another reason such as “a personality trait or difference in lived experience, that is driving people to be interested in using cannabis and have higher empathy as well,” Cuttler said. “There’s not enough evidence to convince me yet that the cannabis is causing them to be more empathetic.”

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Forget FOMO. Embrace JOMO to discover the joy of missing out.

Your friends are probably having fun without you. For many, this knowledge would trigger a fear of missing out – popularly acronymized as FOMO. But emerging research suggests that missing out need not be something we fear, but something we can enjoy.

For better mental health this year, try reframing those feelings of FOMO and instead, try finding JOMO – the joy of missing out.

The fear embodied in FOMO is a social one. Humans have dealt with it since we realized that there were opportunities being missed, fun not being had and Joneses needing to be kept up with. But the rise of social media meant that FOMO arose in public consciousness and vocabulary.

“FOMO existed before social media did, but it just wasn’t such a salient part of our experience,” said Chris Barry, a psychology professor at Washington State University.

With the advent of social media, we were granted the profound ability to constantly see the highlight reel of everyone’s life – and all the possibilities for self-comparison. Research shows that higher levels of FOMO are associated with lower self-esteem, lower life satisfaction and more loneliness.

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WSU Experts Offer Advice on Turning New Year’s Resolutions Into Reality

From ancient Babylonians making new commitments to their gods to today’s average office worker pledging to give up soda, humans have been struggling with New Year’s resolutions for a very long time.

Yet there is hope, according to a group of Washington State University experts who offer their insights into keeping positive lifestyle changes going in the weeks and months ahead.

One solution is setting SMART goals, which stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. By setting clear, quantifiable objectives, individuals looking to make positives changes can start accumulating small victories and maintain perspective of how far they’ve come and set the next milestone to aim for.

“If you’re committed to being healthier, you need to take stock of what that means and define what your goal is from the outset,” said Chris Barry, a professor in the Department of Psychology at WSU.

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Exposure to soft robots decreases human fears about working with them

Seeing robots made with soft, flexible parts in action appears to lower people’s anxiety about working with them or even being replaced by them.

A Washington State University study found that watching videos of a soft robot working with a person at picking and placing tasks lowered the viewers’ safety concerns and feelings of job insecurity. This was true even when the soft robot was shown working in close proximity to the person. This finding shows soft robots hold a potential psychological advantage over rigid robots made of metal or other hard materials.

“Prior research has generally found that the closer you are to a rigid robot, the more negative your reactions are, but we didn’t find those outcomes in this study of soft robots,” said lead author Tahira Probst, a WSU psychology professor.

Currently, human and rigid robotic workers have to maintain a set distance for safety reasons, but as this study indicates, proximity to soft robots could be not only physically safer but also more psychologically accepted.

“This finding needs to be replicated, but if it holds up, that means humans could work together more closely with the soft robots,” Probst said.

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Loosening restrictions on marijuana may not lead to boon cannabis advocates seek

Federal authorities are weighing whether to stop classifying marijuana among the riskiest drugs, a move that cannabis advocates have long hoped would result in more research on its health effects, businesses having an easier time selling it and fewer people going to jail.

But experts warn the August recommendation by the Department of Health and Human Services to strip marijuana’s designation as a Schedule I drug may not fulfill those hopes.

All controlled substances come with restrictions on research, but marijuana and other Schedule I substances have the toughest requirements. Experts say it’s imperative to conduct more research on marijuana to understand its benefits and risks as legal markets flourish and consumer use soars.

To gain access to pot, researchers need to register with the DEA under rules that would not apply if they studied Schedule II substances like cocaine and fentanyl.

Some researchers have found ways to get around these rules, but their studies have limitations.

For example, Washington State University researchers studying the cognitive effects of cannabis had to use Zoom to observe participants who just used marijuana they bought at dispensaries. The ideal study would involve researchers providing high-potency cannabis from dispensaries, including a placebo to a control group, and participants coming to a lab to provide blood samples and record physiological data points such as heart rate variability and cortisol levels that cannot be measured over Zoom.

The university risks losing federal funding if researchers administer cannabis themselves even though marijuana is legal in Washington, said Carrie Cuttler, an associate professor of psychology who directs The Health & Cognition (THC) Lab at Washington State.

“It’s absurd, absolutely absurd,” she said, “to treat cannabis as pretty much the most dangerous narcotic available in the world.”

Despite these restrictions, there is still plenty of research done on marijuana without ever handling the physical drug.

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