In Brief

  • Learning a few new languages may be one of the best ways to preserve your cognitive function, finds a study in March's Psychology and Aging (Vol. 23, No. 1). Through a series of cognitive tests and interviews over 12 years, researchers at Tel Aviv University tracked more than 800 bilingual, trilingual and multilingual elderly Israeli men and women and found that multilingual participants performed best on cognitive tests, and those who reported being able to speak three languages did better than those who spoke only two. Learning many languages might give a person lifelong practice in the ability to switch mentally among tasks and promote cognitive reserve, just as reading and formal education does, researchers say.

  • Our ability to control our thoughts and behaviors may be in our genes, according to research with same-sex twins. In the study in May's Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (Vol. 137, No. 2), Naomi P. Friedman, PhD, and her colleagues at the University of Colorado at Boulder found that executive control abilities--which are often lacking in people with behavioral problems such as impulsivity and substance use--were highly heritable in adolescents. The results don't rule out the possibility that environmental interventions, such as training, could improve a person's executive control, but they do suggest that locating specific genes will be an important part of understanding these abilities, Friedman says.

  • Cooperative classrooms, where students complete a project or prepare for an exam together, lead to better friendships and higher achievement scores than classrooms that promote competition or more individual learning, according to a meta-analysis in March's Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 134, No. 2). Researchers at the University of Minnesota--Twin Cities reviewed eight decades of research and found that the effect of peer interactions on academic achievement is not random, "nor can it be explained in terms of individual differences among students or their peer groups," says lead author Cary J. Roseth, PhD. These findings may also hold true for adult workers whose organizations support cooperative interactions.

  • A study in March's Health Psychology (Vol. 27, No. 2) may help boost organ donation rates. Researchers at Claremont Graduate University teamed up with the Donor Network of Arizona to test the effectiveness of organ donor campaign messages and found that counterargument appeals that debunk common myths associated with organ donation--such as that certain religions don't support it--led to more new donor registrations than emotional, motivational and dissonance messages. "It may seem intuitive to try and pull at the heart strings of potential donors," says lead author Jason T. Siegel, PhD, "but our results indicate that this is not the most effective approach."

--A. Novotney