Scientists have broadened our understanding of how ‘weak’ cells bond with their more mature cellular counterparts to boost the body’s production of insulin – improving our knowledge of the processes leading to type 2 diabetes – a significant global health problem.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus occurs when β-cells cannot release enough insulin – a tightly controlled process requiring hundreds of such cells clustered together to co-ordinate their response to signals from food, such as sugar, fat and gut hormones.
An international research team – led by scientists at the University of Birmingham – have discovered that immature β-cells (PDX1LOW/MAFALOW) are able to overcome their relative deficiencies by partnering with ‘stronger’ counterparts to drive insulin release.
Publishing their findings today in Nature Communications, the researchers reveal that subtle differences in the levels of PDX1 and MAFA proteins (found only in β-cells) , and more broadly, differences in β-cell maturity, contribute to how clusters of insulin-producing cells, known as islets, function.
The corresponding author David Hodson, Professor of Cellular Metabolism, at the University of Birmingham, commented: “Our research shows that differences in β-cell maturity, defined using PDX1 and MAFA levels, are needed across the islet for proper insulin release. Unexpectedly, increases in the proportion of mature β-cells, is associated with islet failure. It seems that, rather like society, the islet needs cells with all ages to be properly functional.
“Redressing the balance between immature and mature β-cells restores islet function under conditions of metabolic stress – an excess of sugar and fat in the diet – providing evidence that both ’weak’ and ‘strong’ β-cells could contribute to proper islet function and insulin release.”
“This is the first glimpse that immature cells might contribute to the regulation of insulin release across the islet. Our study indicates a promising line of investigation that could be leveraged to make islets more resilient during type 2 diabetes or when generating new islets in a ‘dish’ for the purpose of transplantation.”
Normally, mature and immature β-cells co-exist within the adult islet and can be grouped into subpopulations according to differences in their levels of specific genes and proteins. Immature β-cells are generally considered to be poorly functional when viewed alone, as single cells.
Researchers found that islets containing proportionally more PDX1HIGH and MAFAHIGH β-cells showed defects in cell function (metabolism, ionic fluxes and insulin secretion). The team believes maintaining a mix of ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ β-cells is important for effective insulin production.
Perhaps you tell your partner everything, and your partner similarly confides in you. Some of what you tell your partner involves your feelings about other people. You might have an older relative who, despite years of regular contact, occasionally upsets you with meddling in your affairs. The situation was bad enough all along, but most recently this relative is telling you that you’re wasting money on your latest home renovation. It’s a pandemic, and you’re spending more time at home, so you see this as a wise investment instead of a frivolous enterprise.
When you share your relative’s opinion with your partner, you’re surprised at how angry this makes your partner. What’s more, your partner points out that this relative is not only meddling too much, but is also patronizing and insulting. As you hear your partner continue to rant about that relative’s behavior, you start to realize just how intrusive it is. Now that you think about it, you decide that maybe it’s time to cut off your relationship with this relative in order to avoid such invasions of your well-being.
A new study by the University of Maryland’s Edward Lemay and colleagues (2020) shows just what happens when people’s partners start to influence how they feel about others outside of the relationship. Familiarly known as creating a “wedge,” this process can further alienate a partner from those outside others. Ironically, your partner’s behavior may not be in your best interest even though, as Lemay et al. observe, relationship satisfaction is strongly related to the belief that partners support each other. Indeed, according to the concept of “responsiveness,” attending to and supporting your partner’s needs and goals should build your bonds of intimacy.
One way people demonstrate responsiveness, unfortunately, turns out to be the basis for developing and expanding wedges between members of the couple and those with whom one of them is in conflict. Lemay and his fellow researchers propose that for you and your partner to feel most satisfied, you need to mitigate the downside of responsiveness with the many potential benefits to relationship satisfaction of showing you understand, support, validate, and care about your partner.
In Lemay et. al’s description, there are three players involved in the wedge-building process. The discloser is the person who confides about being upset with another person. The confidant is the partner who hears this disclosure. Adversaries are the people outside the relationship with whom the conflict exists. The Maryland research team tested a theoretical model that begins with the degree to which you feel emotionally close with your partner, which, in turn, leads you to value responsiveness. The next factor to come into play is the degree to which you need “negativity validation” (i.e., wanting your negative views to be confirmed).
The next step involves negativity-validating behavior. Here’s where the wedge-building comes into play. Your partner, wanting to be close to you, takes that bit of negativity from your disclosure and makes it seem worse than it was. The more your partner wants to maintain closeness, the more your partner may tend take the small pieces of negativity and ensure that they become full-grown barriers. A wedge-building partner will not talk you down from your high levels of conflict with the adversary but instead will use that conflict as a way of demonstrating just how close the two of you are.
In the words of the authors, the problem can be characterized as follows: “Hence, when confidants enact negativity-validating behaviors, disclosers may evaluate their adversaries’ morality more negatively, become less motivated to forgive their adversaries, more motivated to avoid them or seek revenge on them, and less committed to maintaining a relationship with them” (p. 106).
Given the high stakes involved in showing they support their partners, are there any confidants who resist the “negativity bandwagon?” As you might suspect, confidants high in agreeableness (in short, they are “nice”) should be the ones least likely to build wedges. They would be the ones who could find the balance between showing they support you while also helping you overcome the negativity that threatens your outside relationships.
With these theoretical elements in place, the authors conducted a series of seven studies intended to test the key pieces of the model. The first correlational study on an online sample established that there was, as predicted, a set of statistical pathways linking desires for closeness by confidants with validating behaviors that, in turn, led to wedge-like negative attributions to the adversary.
In the next three studies, the researchers turned their participants into confidants by having them read descriptions of hypothetical conflicts with adversaries in which they were experimentally induced either to validate or not validate the feelings of their disclosing partners. Once again, the findings supported the responsiveness-validation model.
The next two studies presented participants with instructions to recall a time in one of their own relationships in which they were the confidants who became upset with an adversary who transgressed against a discloser. The key measures in these studies involved the confidant recommending negative behaviors directed toward the adversary. The types of negative behaviors were typical “wedge-like” actions such as seeking revenge, getting even, avoidance and “reduced benevolence” (i.e., not wanting to make peace). These findings once again suggested that confidants who want to promote closeness can encourage disclosers to adopt more negative behaviors toward the adversary.
Finally, the research team put the behavior of confidants and disclosers into focus by having participants observe a situation in which they discussed what happened the last time an adversarial conflict occurred. Additionally, Lemay and his colleagues examined the role of agreeableness and self-esteem, as well as the length of the relationship and closeness of the discloser to the adversary. The findings showed that responsiveness significantly predicted the tendency for confidants to try to build wedges.
In all of this wedge formation, there was one glimmer of hope that benevolence could prevail, and that involved the degree to which the discloser was close to the adversary. As the authors noted, “This effect may reflect the fact that, independently of their goal to be responsive, confidants consider the costs and benefits of conflict resolution for the discloser when deciding whether to validate negativity”.
The lower likelihood that a confidant would try to undermine a tie with a close adversary may be relevant for thinking about a partner who tries to pry you from your family. A partner who truly cares about you will likely recognize that no matter how upset you may be with a relative or close friend at the moment, the best way to build responsiveness may be to help you, the discloser, achieve a peaceful resolution. The exception might be, as the authors point out, when your partner is trying to protect you from an abusive relationship with an adversary that you don’t recognize as abusive.
In the worst of all possible worlds, the opposite prevails, and your partner is just someone who likes to stir up mischief to see what happens. Such a partner doesn’t have your best interests in mind, and may even want to create a rift between you and your close friends and family in order to maintain exclusive rights to your emotional capital.
Returning to the earlier example, that meddling relative may be annoying from time to time, but that person may also be someone you’ve been close to before and will be close to once again. A partner who recognizes this will refrain from negativity validation the next time you get upset.
To sum up, the best way to maintain peace between your partner and those outside the relationship is to find that balance between being responsive and preserving emotional ties with the others you care about. Finding a partner who manages this delicate balance may just be key to fulfilling relationships with all of the important people in your life.
References: Lemay, E. P., Jr., Ryan, J. E., Fehr, R., & Gelfand, M. J. (2020). Validation of negativity: Drawbacks of interpersonal responsiveness during conflicts with outsiders. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 119(1), 104–135. doi: 10.1037/pspi0000214.supp (Supplemental)
This post is republished here from psychology today under common creative licenses.
New research from the University of Texas at Austin suggests people too often opt to send email or text messages when a phone call is more likely to produce the feelings of connectedness they crave.
They carried out an experiment on 200 people in which they asked those people to make predictions about what it would be like to reconnect with an old friend either via email or phone, and then they randomly assigned them to actually do it. Even though participants intuited that a phone call would make them feel more connected, they still said they would prefer to email because they expected calling would be too awkward.
But the phone call went much better than an email, researchers found.
In one another experiment, researchers randomly assigned strangers to connect either by texting during a live chat, talking over video chat, or talking using only audio. Participants had to ask and answer a series of personal questions such as, “Is there something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it?” or “Can you describe a time you cried in front of another person?”
Participants didn’t expect that the media through which they communicated would matter, and in this case they also predicted that they would feel just as connected to the stranger via text as by phone.
But the researchers found when they really interacted, people felt significantly more connected when they communicated by talking than by typing. And, again, they found it wasn’t more awkward to hear each other’s voices.
In fact, the voice itself—even without visual cues—seemed to be integral to bonding, the researchers found.
Confronting another myth about voice-based media, researchers timed participants reconnecting with their old friend. They found the call took about the same amount of time as reading and responding to email.
According to researchers, the results both reveal and challenge people’s assumptions about communication media at a time when managing relationships via technology is especially important.
References: Amit Kumar et al. It’s surprisingly nice to hear you: Misunderstanding the impact of communication media can lead to suboptimal choices of how to connect with others., Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2020). DOI: 10.1037/xge0000962