• A study examining a national data set of 11,000 third-graders in February's Pediatrics (Vol. 123, No. 2) reports that children not getting recess were more likely to be black, from poor families and attending public schools in large cities. Researchers also found that those who were given at least a 15-minute break during the school day exhibited better classroom behavior than those who had no break. "This is a serious concern because we know that many disadvantaged children are not free to roam their neighborhoods unless they are with an adult," says lead author Romina M. Barros, MD, of Yeshiva University's Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Recess may be the only opportunity for these kids to practice their social skills with other children."
• A survey of 1,740 middle and high school students from 13 schools reveals that students who feel connected to their peers and teachers are more inclined to tell someone if a fellow student plans to do something dangerous at school. The study in February's Journal of Educational Psychology (Vol. 101, No. 1) suggests that fostering caring school climates where students and teachers look out for each other may be one of the best ways to keep schools safe, says lead author Amy Syvertsen, a psychology graduate student at Penn State University. This "can't be taught in a single lesson or by using deterrents, like metal detectors or harsh policies," she says. "It's built on daily interactions between the teachers and students."
• A drug routinely prescribed to stroke victims to treat vascular problems in the brain improves spatial learning and working memory in middle-aged rats, finds a team of researchers at the Translational Genomics Research Institute and Arizona State University. Although far from proving anything about human use of the drug, the research, which appears in February's Behavioral Neuroscience (Vol. 123, No. 1), provides hope that hydroxyfasudil may help combat the normal decrease in cognitive function as humans age.
• University of British Columbia researchers have found that the color red enhances one's attention to detail and that blue can make people more creative. In the study, published Feb. 5 on the Web site of the journal Science, researchers tracked the cognitive-task performance of 600 participants using red, white or blue computer screens. They found that red screens boosted performance on detail-oriented tasks, such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31 percent compared with the blue screens. Conversely, for creative tasks, blue screens prompted participants to produce twice as many creative outputs as the red ones.
• Genes that regulate one's dopamine and serotonin levels may trigger some people to take more financial risks, finds a Northwestern University study published Feb. 11 in the online journal PLoS ONE (Vol. 4, No. 2). Scientists asked 65 volunteers to make high- and low-risk investment decisions, then examined the participants' DNA based on saliva samples. They found that people with the short serotonin transporter gene 5HTTLPR invested 28 percent less in risky investments, and those with the 7-repeat allele of the dopamine DRD4 gene invested about 25 percent more in risky investments. The study suggests that researchers may be getting closer to pinpointing genetic mechanisms that underlie complex social and economic behaviors, such as drug addiction, gambling and risk-taking.