Research Roundup

Rat with Red wine

A common chemical may curb alcohol addiction  
  
Adolescent drinking continues to be a significant problem in the United States, with 3.5 percent of 12- to 13-year-olds and 14 percent of 14- to 15-year-olds drinking, and the earlier they start drinking, the more likely they are to become adult alcoholics. But new research points to a way to counter young people's taste for alcohol: Research by Baylor University behavioral neuroscience student Rebecca Helfand found that increasing consumption of the naturally occurring amino acid taurine may turn people off drinking.  
  
In her study, Helfand divided 40 mice into three groups: One group consumed taurine through drinking water that also introduced alcohol; another group drank water then alcohol; and a third served as the control with no eventual access to alcohol. After two weeks of either taurine or water, Helfand placed a bottle of water and a bottle containing alcohol in the cages, allowing the mice to drink if they wanted. The taurine-drinking mice drank about 30 percent less alcohol than the control groups, says Helfand. 
  
"The mice administered taurine still drank," says Helfand, "but they drank like responsible drinkers." 
  
Helfand will use this research as part of her dissertation along with other studies she's conducting to understand how taurine decreases the mice's alcohol consumption.  
  
"There's still a lot of research left to conduct," says Helfand, "but it looks like we may have found a simple and effective way to help decrease the preference for alcohol in youth early on, which could help reduce the number of adult alcoholics in the future."


Sleep helps people follow through on their dreams  
  
Here's one more reason to get a good night's sleep: It strengthens your ability to follow through with your plans, according to research by Michael Scullin, a cognitive psychology student at Washington University in St. Louis. 
  
Scullin tested three groups of 24 Washington University undergraduates using a program that required them to hit the "F1" key when they saw a certain word on the screen. Scullin reminded the first group to hit the key before they went to sleep, the second group in the morning and the third, the control group, 20 minutes before they performed the task in the afternoon.  
  
Scullin found that the group that took the test 20 minutes after getting their directions succeeded at the task about 50 percent of the time, while the group told about the task in the morning only remembered 20 percent of the time. But the group that formed the plan before a good night's sleep performed just as well as those who took the test soon after hearing the directions, Scullin says.  
  
"Even I was surprised," says Scullin. "There was no difference for people who remembered something 20 minutes later and those who remembered it 12 hours later." 
  
The results, says Scullin, suggest that sleep allows people to consolidate their plans for the future—an ability known as prospective memory.


Children with HIV stand tall with peers despite the odds  
  
Many Ugandan youth with HIV perform as well as their healthy, uninfected peers in school, in part because they appear to receive care from their community and have a strong desire for success, found research by Rachelle Busman, a school psychology doctoral candidate at Michigan State University.  
  
Children infected with HIV at birth can exhibit reduced cognitive abilities as a result of the virus. However, these children are also influenced by other factors, including their socioeconomic status, who is caring for them and the progression of their disease.  
  
To better understand how these factors interact, Busman spent a summer in a remote village in Uganda, where she administered cognitive measures such as the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children, Second Edition, which assesses intelligence and achievement, to 60 children age 6 to 16. Busman also visited schools to collect data on children's academic achievement and talked to caregivers to better understand who is caring for children with the disease. The resilience she found among the children, she says, will help to inform interventions and promote overall well-being. "This way we can look at the child as a whole, rather than as just a person with a disease," she says. 
  
After defending her dissertation in the spring, Busman hopes to continue working in Uganda to improve the quality of life for children living with HIV.



Parenting techniques may be universal  
  
Parents in the Western Hemisphere often mirror their children, repeating coos and smiles and often exaggerating them. But do parents in other parts of the world do the same?  
  
To find out, Tanya Broesch, an Emory University cognitive and developmental psychology student, traveled to Fiji and Kenya—places relatively uninfluenced by Western culture and globalization—where she videotaped mothers with their infants. She found that they do mirror their children's expressions, just not as frequently as Western parents. She also found that the Fijian and Kenyan moms were more likely to respond to their children's emotions with soothing gestures, such as touching and singing.   
  
"Seeing mirroring in other cultures helps bring us one step closer to finding some universal child-raising techniques," says Broesch.