• People are more likely to remember low-key, fact-based anti-smoking ads than attention-grabbing messages, suggests research supported by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in the May 15 NeuroImage (Vol. 46, No. 1). University of Pennsylvania scientists used fMRI to visualize patterns of brain activity in 18 adult smokers who watched a series of anti-smoking public service announcements. They found that the brain regions associated with attention and memory—the frontal and temporal cortexes—were more active when participants watched PSAs with a low message-sensation value compared with PSAs that used dramatic narration, bright colors, loud music and shocking images. Participants' reports were in line with the imaging data: They said they were more likely to remember the images from the low-key announcements than the high-sensation or neutral videos.
• Fruit flies that lack a newly identified gene called happyhour are resistant to the effects of ethanol, according to research published online in Cell in May. The finding is significant, say University of California, San Francisco, researchers because it could lead to new drugs to treat alcohol abuse.
• A study in the August Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (Vol. 138, No. 3) reveals that people's left- or right-handedness influences how they think about good and bad. The Max Planck Institute's Daniel Casasanto, PhD, conducted a series of experiments to tease out people's associations of good and bad with left or right. Right-handers associated "right" with positive ideas and "left" with negative ones. Left-handers showed the opposite pattern. That suggests a person's dominant hand influences how they think about abstract space, and could help explain why across cultures "left" is associated with bad things and "right" with good.
• Brains beat beauty and confidence when it comes to career success, but having all three boosts pay the most, suggests a University of Florida study in the May Journal of Applied Psychology (Vol. 94, No. 3). The study involved 191 men and women age 25 to 75, who answered questions about their household incomes and education; evaluated how happy they were with their achievements; and completed several intelligence and cognitive tests. Researchers of varying ages judged attractiveness by rating participants' photographs and then the authors calculated an average attractiveness score based on those ratings.
• Coaching middle school students in study strategies improves their grades more than homework help, finds an analysis of 50 studies involving more than 50,000 students in May's Developmental Psychology (Vol. 45, No. 3). Because adolescence is a time when analytical thinking, problem-solving, planning and decision-making skills start to increase, teaching study skills and emphasizing the link between academic performance and future job prospects can be particularly effective, says lead author Nancy E. Hill, PhD, of Harvard University.
• Significant cognitive problems appear in early-stage schizophrenia, making it very hard for people with the disorder to work, study or socialize, according to a meta-analysis of 47 studies involving 2,304 patients and 2,775 matched control participants in the May Neuropsychology (Vol. 23, No. 3). This serious and broad early cognitive impairment approached or matched the severity of problems seen in people who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia for many years. Understanding the early onset of these problems may help clinicians more accurately diagnose incipient schizophrenia and allow them to provide earlier and more appropriate treatment, say the study's authors, from Harvard Medical School and SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y.
• Focused, positive kids grow up to be healthier adults, finds a study in May's Health Psychology (Vol. 13, No. 1). Harvard School of Public Health researcher Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD, and co-authors tracked 569 men and women from age 7 to their mid-30s and found that the children with superior attention spans and more positive outlooks reported better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later. The effects were greater for women, perhaps because they may be more sensitive to interactions among emotion, behavior and biology, the researchers say.
• Preschoolers' vocabulary develops faster when their classmates have better language skills, finds a longitudinal study with 1,812 4-year-olds in more than 450 pre-kindergarten classrooms, published in the May/June Child Development (Vol. 80, No. 3). Lead author Andrew J. Mashburn, PhD, of the University of Virginia, says the results also suggest that teachers can promote children's language development by creating well-managed classroom environments where children feel comfortable talking with one another.
• Fidgeting may enable children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder to stay alert, according to a University of Central Florida study in the May Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (Vol. 37, No. 4). Researchers tracked the activity level of 23 boys age 8 and 12—including 12 with ADHD—as they completed a series of working memory tasks. They found that all of the children fidgeted when they were required to remember and manipulate computer-generated letters, numbers and shapes for a short time, but the children with ADHD became significantly more active—moving their hands and feet and swiveling in their chairs more—than their typically developing peers during those tasks.
• Women's ability to learn may become impaired shortly before menopause, finds research with 2,362 women published in the May 26 issue of Neurology (Vol. 72, No. 21). Scientists at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, tested women's verbal memory, working memory and information-processing speed throughout three stages of the menopause transition and found that processing speed and verbal memory improved with repeated testing during premenopause and postmenopause. But compared to premenopausal performance, verbal memory did not show the same degree of improvement during early and late perimenopause, and processing speed was slower during late perimenopause. The good news, they say: The effect seems to be temporary, as the amount of learning on both of these tests improved back to premenopausal levels during the postmenopausal stage.
—A. Novotney and M. Price