The mental block

Beware who you compare your relationship with, and how, if a series of experiments is to be believed (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin) Norwegian students who had bad relationships felt even worse about theirs if they compared it negatively with ones they regarded as a romantic ideal. However, those in bad relationships who chose friends they perceived as having ones worse than theirs to compare with felt better about it after doing so. Highly committed couples, whether perceiving the relationship to be good or bad, tended to see friends' relationships as inferior to theirs and also felt better as a result, a similarly self-protective wheeze. Couples in happy relationships were more likely to see their friends as having good ones, upgrading their own in the process. So if you're getting on well, keep taking the 'smug married' pills regarding yourselves and your friends. If you're getting on badly, watch episodes of Fawlty Towers, concentrating on the relationship between Basil and Sybil.

People with eating disorders often also make suicide attempts, but is it possible to predict which sufferers are most likely to do so? Two large samples of bulimics and anorexics were followed for nine years to find out what predicted which ones would make suicide attempts (Psychological Medicine). Twice as many anorexics made attempts (22 per cent versus 11 per cent). The key predictors for anorexics were whether they suffered severe bouts of depression or drug abuse. For bulimics, a history of drug abuse and the use of laxatives predicted it.

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