In Brief

  • Childhood lead exposure may predict increased criminal behavior in adulthood, finds research in the May PLoS Medicine (Vol. 5, No. 5). University of Cincinnati researchers examined the criminal records of 250 Ohio inmates who had been exposed to lead in the womb and as young children. They found that 55 percent of them had at least one arrest after turning 18, and that for every five-microgram per deciliter increase in blood lead at age 6, their chances of being arrested for a violent crime increased by 48 percent.

  • New research by social psychologists challenges the idea that racial differences are no longer a significant issue in today's workplaces. A July Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 93, No. 4) study with 943 graduate and undergraduate students shows that being white is an expected characteristic of U.S. business leaders, regardless of the racial makeup of an organization's work force.

  • Scientists have identified a toxic beta-amyloid protein fragment that may play a role in initiating Alzheimer's disease. Research by Harvard Medical School neurologists found that only the soluble two-molecule form of beta-amyloid produced characteristics of Alzheimer's in rats, according to July's Nature Medicine (Vol. 14, No. 7). The findings may explain why some people show evidence of larger aggregates of the protein in their brains, yet never exhibit reduced cognitive functioning. The study results also suggest a possible new target for developing drug therapies to combat the disorder.

  • Internet-based therapy is as effective as the face-to-face kind for treating panic and panic-related mental health disorders, suggests a study by Australian researchers in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (Vol. 10, No. 2). After completing a 12-week e-therapy program in conjunction with support from a health-care professional, 30 percent of panic-disorder sufferers reported a complete abatement of panic-related symptoms. All participants reported significant symptom declines.

  • Researchers have confirmed Charles Darwin's long-held notion that facial expressions do more than just communicate how we're feeling—they also police our sensory intake. A study in July's Nature Neuroscience (Vol. 11, No. 7) shows that fear expressions open up our nasal passages, enhance our range of vision and quicken our eye movements, while expressions of disgust do exactly the opposite, blocking nasal passages, narrowing one's vision field and slowing eye movement. This makes sense, says lead author and University of Toronto graduate student Joshua Susskind because "most disgusting things we wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole, and we also don't want to see or smell them." He suggests that's also why we crinkle up our faces at disgusting things.

  • Like eye color or height, individual differences in how people process startling news may be genetic, finds a study in August's Behavioral Neuroscience (Vol. 122, No. 4). Based on eye-blink reflex data, study participants carrying two Met158 alleles of the COMT Val158Met polymorphism demonstrated a significantly higher startle reflex when shown fear-inducing images—such as a weapon or injured victims at a crime scene—than those who did not carry this genotype. Those with a lower tolerance for upsetting information may also be more prone to anxiety disorders, researchers say.

  • Saying it like you mean it does, in fact, help get your point across faster, according to a study in the August Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance (Vol. 34, No. 4). Researchers asked 96 undergraduates to repeat words that they heard in either a happy, sad or neutral tone of voice and found that processing times were quicker if the words matched the speaker's emotional tone of voice. Happy words, such as "dazzle" and "comedy" were repeated faster if spoken in a happy tone of voice than a sad tone of voice, and sad words like "gloomy" and "despair" were repeated faster if spoken in a sad tone.

—A. Novotney