In Brief

  • Teen abstinence pledges are ineffective, finds a study in January's Pediatrics (Vol. 123, No. 1). Janet E. Rosenbaum, PhD, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, analyzed data from a large federal study and found that after five years, teens who took virginity pledges were just as likely to have had sex as their similarly conservative nonpledging counterparts. Interestingly, they were also substantially less likely to use condoms or other forms of birth control. Rosenbaum also found that pledgers started having sex at the same age as non-pledgers.

  • Smiles are innate, not visually learned finds a study in the January Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 96, No. 1). Researchers compared the facial expressions from more than 4,800 photographs of sighted and blind judo athletes at the 2004 Summer Olympics and Paralympic Games and found that the blind athletes produced the same facial expressions involving anger, contempt, disgust, sadness, surprise and joy as the sighted athletes. The study results also suggest that our ability to regulate emotional expressions is not learned through observation, says study author David Matsumoto, PhD, of San Francisco State University.

  • A study in January's Neuropsychology, (Vol. 23, No. 1), researchers from the department of psychiatry and the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh have found that workers exposed to lead show memory loss and other cognitive problems later in life. As a follow-up to a 1982 study of workers at three lead battery plants, the researchers found that those with higher cumulative bone-lead levels had significantly lower cognitive scores, particularly with regard to spatial ability, learning and memory. In workers over age 55, higher bone-lead levels predicted poorer cognitive test scores, suggesting that lead is particularly detrimental to the aging brain, the authors say.

  • The use of anti-psychotic drugs doubles the risk of death among people with Alzheimer's disease, finds a study published in February's Lancet Neurology (Vol. 8, No. 2). Researchers at King's College in London conducted the study with 165 Alzheimer's patients who had been prescribed antipsychotics to treat agitation, delusions and aggressive behavior. After three years, less than a third of those on anti-psychotics were alive compared with nearly two-thirds given an oral placebo. Too often, says the researchers' funder, the Alzheimer's Research Trust, the drugs are used as a simple sedation by nursing home staff, when alternative psychosocial interventions may be more appropriate. Long-term use of antipsychotics can cause tremors, dizziness and further cognitive decline in Alzheimer's patients.

  • The odds of committing suicide in Las Vegas are twice as high as anywhere else in the country, and it doesn't matter if you live there or you're just visiting, concludes research in December's Social Science and Medicine (Vol. 67, No. 11). For the study, Temple University sociologist Matt Wray, PhD, examined 40 million U.S. death records, spanning 30 years. A former Las Vegas resident, Wray speculates that the city has a high suicide rate because it attracts people who are impulsive risk-takers and, as a community, offers few protections against people's worst impulses. "We have to understand the cultural meaning of Las Vegas—what it symbolizes in people's imaginations—and how to create better social safety nets for those most vulnerable to suicide and self-harm," Wray says.

—A. Novotney