Research Roundup

Nature child

Gardening and fishing promote environmental awareness

What does it take for a child to feel connected to nature? Camping doesn't cut it, according to research by Randie Chance, an applied psychology student at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

As a master's student at California State University, San Marcos, Chance helped conduct a longitudinal study that surveyed 260 elementary, middle and high school students each year for four years to gain insights on their views of nature. The children reported how often they engaged in outdoor activities such as camping, hiking, fishing and gardening, as well as their overall environmental attitudes and connectedness to nature.

When Chance analyzed the data after four years, she found that the children who initially spent the most time playing outside or going camping didn't necessarily show a strong bond with nature in the future. The children who reported feeling more connected to the natural world engaged in activities where they took something from the environment by, for example, gardening, hunting or fishing, says Chance. In addition, children who initially reported higher connectedness to nature were later more likely to engage in other outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, according to the longitudinal data.

"We can apply these lessons, for example by bringing gardening programs to schools, to help children connect with the natural world, hopefully benefiting sustainability in the long run," Chance says.

Household harmony helps young mothers 

When Congress reformed welfare in 1996, it included a mandate that mothers under 18 could only qualify for public assistance if they lived with an adult — a provision intended to provide a more stable home environment for poor children. To test whether the revision had its intended effect, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County conducted a randomized controlled intervention trial among 181 young mothers on welfare who lived with their own mothers. The intervention group received in-home visits focused on adolescent development and parenting from a "big sister" mentor. As a UMBC graduate student, Sarah Oberlander, PhD, surveyed the young mothers seven years after delivery regarding the support and conflict they had with their own mothers. Oberlander measured children's resilience using mothers' reports of behavioral problems, analysis of a videotaped parent-child interaction, and an assessment of children's academic performance.

Overall, Oberlander found that children in low-conflict households were more resilient than children in high-conflict households. In addition, the "big sister" intervention helped the most vulnerable children: Those living in households with high conflict and low support. Children in these households with mothers in the intervention group had resilience scores on par with the other children in the study, Oberlander found.

"Strategies that reduce conflict and increase support between young mothers and their mothers are likely to increase resilience," says Oberlander. 

Speed dating: Do pretty psychopaths excel?

Can you make an accurate assessment of a person after meeting him or her for just four minutes? That's the assumption of many "speed dating" setups, says Katie Payne, a clinical psychology student at the University of Southern Mississippi. But according to Payne's research, presented at APA's 2010 Annual Convention in San Diego, looks are the biggest factor when it comes to first impressions.

Payne recruited 60 women and 69 men to participate in speed dating sessions. They first filled out the Psychopathic Personality Inventory to gauge their levels of superficial charm and psychopathic traits, including a tendency to manipulate others. In addition, the students' attractiveness was rated by an independent group of male and female students. During the actual speed dating session, participants met their dates, then filled out a short survey that included questions such as, "Did you think this person was selfish?" "Would you go on a date with this person?" and "How attractive did you find him or her?"

Payne found that the students generally did not like the dates that ranked high on psychopathy, but that tendency could be overridden by good looks.

"If a person was really attractive, then all the other personality traits went right out the window," says Payne. "People will happily date a psychopath if they're cute enough."

Payne says she hopes her research can help inform real-world speed daters about potential pitfalls.