In Brief

  • Group therapy boosts survival in breast cancer patients, finds a study in the Dec. 15 issue of Cancer (Vol. 113, No. 12). Ohio State University researchers studied 227 women with breast cancer and found that after an average of 11 years, those who participated in a group-based psychological intervention program were 45 percent less likely to have had their cancer return and 56 percent less likely to have died of the disease. "We already knew a program like this could help breast cancer patients to handle their stress," says lead author Barbara Andersen, PhD. "Now we know that for these women it did even more."

  • Preschoolers whose parents have been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan are more aggressive, according to November's Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (Vol. 162, No. 11). Scientists at the Boston University School of Medicine studied 169 families with children enrolled in a military child-care center and found that children age 3 and older who had a deployed parent were more likely to have behavior problems such as hitting, biting and hyperactivity than children without a deployed parent.

  • Bullies enjoy seeing others in pain, according to a study published online in Biological Psychology. Brain scans of eight 16- to 18-year-old boys with aggressive conduct disorder collected while the boys watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person revealed increased activity in the amygdala and ventral striatum—areas of the brain associated with rewards. The control group did not show the same response, says lead researcher Jean Decety, PhD, of the University of Chicago. In addition, Decety notes, the more sadistic and daring bullies are, based on behavioral measures, the greater the activation in these brain regions.

  • Simply touching something warm may make you feel warmly toward others, finds a study in the Oct. 24 issue of Science (Vol. 322, No. 5,091). Yale researchers asked undergraduate study participants to hold a cup of coffee—either hot or iced—and then to rate the personality traits of a fictitious person. Those who had held the hot coffee saw the person as more generous, sociable and good-natured than those who had held the cold cup. Lead author Lawrence Williams, PhD, now at the University of Colorado at Boulder, says the findings suggest that people may be more sensitive to cues in their physical environments than we often think. "We shouldn't underestimate the importance of our surroundings in shaping our thoughts, feelings and actions," he says.

  • Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara say glitzy science texts and multimedia presentations might prevent students from absorbing the material. According to a study in December's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied (Vol. 14, No. 4), college students who learned about cold viruses or the digestive process with help from cartoons and other embellishing details scored lower on tests that examined how well they were able to apply the information to new problems.

  • Googling may be good for your brain, according to a University of California, Los Angeles study in press in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Brain scans taken while 24 middle-aged and older adults surfed the Internet revealed that those who had prior experience with the Web showed a two-fold increase in brain activation—particularly in the brain regions that control decision-making and complex reasoning—than those who were not as Web savvy. Findings suggest that Web searching may give the brain a more extensive workout than reading alone, as it requires users to make choices as they sift through Web pages, researchers say.

—A. Novotney