In Brief

  • Nearly half of young adults meet the diagnostic criteria for mental illness or substance abuse, but only a quarter seek treatment, finds a study in the December Archives of General Psychiatry (Vol. 65, No. 12). National data from more than 5,000 adults age 19 to 25 show that the most common disorders in college students are alcohol use and personality disorders, while those not in college frequently met criteria for personality disorders and nicotine dependence.

  • The Atkins diet and other low-carb weight-loss plans may hamper thinking and memory, according to research in the February Appetite (Vol. 52, No. 1). Researchers compared the cognitive skills of 19 female dieters over three weeks and found that during the initial period of carbohydrate elimination for the diet low in carbohydrates, the women performed more poorly on memory-related tasks and had slower reaction times than those following low-calorie diets. Thinking and memory skills returned to normal once they added carbs back into their diets, says study author and psychologist Holly Taylor, PhD, of Tufts University.

  • Clean people are less judgmental, suggests research in December's Psychological Science (Vol. 19, No. 12). In one experiment, led by psychologists at the United Kingdom's University of Plymouth, 43 undergraduates watched a three-minute clip from the disgust-inducing film "Trainspotting" and then were asked to rate a series of moral dilemmas, such as keeping money found inside a wallet or killing a terminally ill plane crash survivor to avoid starvation. Those who had washed their hands after watching the film gave less-severe ratings to the vignettes than those who did not wash their hands. Researchers suggest that after having washed their hands, people misinterpreted their feeling of cleanliness to be about the moral transgression they were considering.

  • Magnetic stimulation may improve autism symptoms, finds a study published online in December in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Thirteen people with autism took part in the study, led by a team of neuroscientists from the University of Louisville. After three weeks of twice-weekly, 20-minute treatments with low-frequency magnetic stimulation, the patients showed fewer symptoms of hyperactivity, sensory overload and repetitive behaviors. "Our results are preliminary, but they show a great deal of promise in reducing the severity of symptoms that people with autism find most distressing, without affecting areas in which many autism patients are gifted," says principal investigator Manuel Casanova, MD.

  • People who have a sibling with mental illness are 63 percent more likely to suffer from depression, suggests data gathered by University of Wisconsin–Madison researchers from a 46-year longitudinal study. The research, published in the December Journal of Family Psychology (Vol. 22, No. 6), also shows that people who have a sibling with a low IQ are 18 percent more likely to live in the same state as their brother or sister with a disability, but they report feeling less emotionally close to that sibling than those without a sibling with a low IQ.

  • Poor mental health may boost asthma risk, finds a study in the December Chest (Vol. 134, No. 6). Using national data from the 2006 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey, Brown University researchers have found that people who rated their mental health as poor were more likely to have asthma than those who described their mental health as good. In addition, for every incremental increase in days of poor mental health, there is a corresponding increase in one's risk of having asthma.

—A. Novotney