Research Roundup

Pains cause smoking pangs

Discomfort may spur smokers to light up, finds a study by University of South Florida clinical psychology student Joseph Ditre, in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology (Vol. 117, No. 2).

Ditre and his adviser, Thomas H. Brandon, PhD, had 132 smokers ages 18 to 65 place their hands in either a painfully cold vat of water or one with lukewarm water. He then asked them to smoke a cigarette. The participants who put their hands in the cold water reported strong urges to smoke and lit their cigarettes about 1.5 seconds faster than the control group.

The results are particularly interesting in light of past research that shows that people with chronic pain tend to be smokers, Ditre says.

"If people are smoking in order to cope with pain, they may be smoking for different reasons than the average smoker," he notes.

For his dissertation, Ditre will see if he can break the link by having smokers use a pain-coping strategy and challenging their beliefs about smoking in response to pain.

Trust in mom

Children shouldn't take candy from strangers, but how about information?

Decades of research show that when children are learning about a new object's name or its function, they trust familiar people's information more than that of strangers. New research by Harvard University developmental psychology graduate student Kathleen Corriveau suggests that how pronounced the effect is traces back to infants' attachment to their mothers.

Corriveau enlisted 147 preschoolers and their mothers participating in a longitudinal study. As infants, the children had previously been sorted into three groups: secure (having a healthy attachment to their moms), insecure-avoidant (showing little attachment), and insecure-resistant (showing a very strong, clingy attachment).

Corriveau then had a child's mother and a stranger make conflicting claims about the identity or function of some object. In one scenario, children were shown a kneepad. Mom would snap the pad's straps like a slingshot while the stranger would put it on his head like a hat. Then Corriveau asked the children what the object was used for.

In another case, children were shown an image of an imaginary hybrid animal that was 75 percent bird and 25 percent fish. The mother would claim it was a fish; the stranger would say it was a bird. Then the child had to decide.

Securely attached children trusted their mother if the perceptual information was unclear, like with the kneepad, and they trusted the stranger when the information available contradicted mom, as with the bird-fish. The insecure-avoidant children, however, preferred the stranger's information, while the insecure-resistant children would side with their moms even when they could see she was less correct.

Corriveau and her colleagues plan to continue to study the children to find out what longer-term effects these attachments have on learning and trusting. She hypothesizes that insecure-avoidant children might also have trouble learning from other familiar people, such as teachers. But on the other hand, she says, they might be less gullible to believe wrong information, even if it's from a trusted source.

"It's so interesting to see emotional development influencing the epistemic realm," she says.

Estrogen: A craving intensifier?

Female sugar fiends should be particularly wary of cocaine use, suggests research by University of Minnesota psychopharmacology student Justin Anker.

In a study in press in Behavioural Pharmacology, Anker gave four groups of rats the opportunity to self-administer cocaine: male sugar-loving rats, female sugar-loving rats, and male and female rats relatively indifferent to sugar. He found that the female sugar-loving rats used more cocaine than the other three groups. Additionally, the female sugar fiends continued to press the lever even when they knew the drug wasn't available, while the other animals were better at controlling themselves.

"Sugar craving and drug craving activate the same reward center in the brain, so there is probably an overlap there," says Anker.

Female hormones such as estrogen may ramp up that craving by making cocaine more pleasurable, according to past research by Anker and his colleagues. In his dissertation, Anker will explore whether progesterone can decrease cocaine binging in female rats, possibly laying the foundation for new addiction treatments.

Who carries the inhaler?

For asthmatic kids, managing their condition is a complex task. Many have to take several types of medication each day and track how often they use their rescue inhalers, all the while watching out for potential attack triggers. University of Florida clinical psychology student Stacey Simon is exploring how families divide up these responsibilities and how effective children feel they are at controlling their asthma symptoms. In a preliminary survey of 49 kids with asthma, ages 8 to 18, and their parents, she's finding that responsibility for asthma control seems to shift from parents to children around early adolescence—and that these teens may not always be up to the challenge.

"Adolescence is when adherence to treatment is typically lower," notes Simon, who presented her findings at APA's 2008 Annual Convention in Boston.

In addition, children and teens who feel confident in their ability to control their asthma—knowing how to operate a rescue inhaler, for instance—reported a higher quality of life, says Simon.

Through future research, Simon hopes to illuminate ways to increase treatment adherence and explore how parents shift responsibility for asthma management to their children.

By Sadie Dingfelder and Michael Price
gradPSYCH Staff