In Brief

  • When your ears sense danger, they let your eyes know to be prepared, suggests new research by psychologist Gregor Thut, PhD, of the University of Glasgow in Scotland. In a neuroimaging study in press in Current Biology, Thut and colleagues found that the sound of an object approaching excited participants' visual cortex 35 milliseconds before they were able to consciously identify the sound, while control sounds didn't produce this effect. Such an effect might help prime the visual system to look out for looming danger, Thut says.

  • Research from University of Maryland occupational health psychologists suggests that taking a part-time job after retirement helps keep retirees healthy. Retirees who engaged in part-time or temporary work had fewer major diseases—including high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, lung disease, heart disease and stroke—than those who quit working altogether, according to the study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 4). The study also found that retirees who continued to work in their previous career fields reported better mental health than those who fully retired or took on different skills.

  • Scientists have known for years that octopuses, squids and other mollusks were master memorizers of their environments, but little was known about their cephalopod cousin, the nautilus, which has one of the simplest brains in the family. Research by Robyn Crook, PhD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch, finds that nautiluses do in fact possess an environmental memory. In the Journal of Comparative Psychology (Vol. 123, No. 3) study, she reports that these sea creatures learned to navigate small open-field mazes within three trials and kept that memory intact for at least two weeks.

  • Young people's reasoning skills and ability to control emotions mature at different rates, finds new research published in American Psychologist (Vol. 64, No. 7). Temple University's Laurence Steinberg, PhD, led the study examining 935 participants age 10 to 30. Performance on intellectual and cognitive skills tests improved rapidly from age 11 to 16 then leveled off, while psychosocial maturity skills like impulse control and risk perception didn't fully mature until people were in their early- to mid-twenties. That suggests that while teens are capable of making informed decisions about, say, ending a pregnancy, they're far less capable of controlling their behaviors in a violent confrontation, Steinberg says.

  • Expectant moms with a sweet tooth for licorice could endanger their child's intelligence and behavioral control, according to new research in the American Journal of Epidemiology (Vol. 170, No. 9). A team from the Universities of Helsinki and Edinburg found that children whose mothers ate large amounts of licorice while pregnant performed lower than other children on cognitive tests and were more likely to have poorer attention spans and show symptoms of ADHD. One possible explanation is that a compound called glycyrrhizin found in licorice could alter the placenta and allow damaging stress hormones to cross over into the baby.

  • We shouldn't fret too much over the young generation of tweeters, texters and chatters, says the University of Alberta's Connie Varnhagen, PhD. According to her study in the journal Reading and Writing (Vol. 22, No. 10) using Internet language replete with abbreviations, acronyms and funky punctuation does little damage to young people's spelling abilities when it comes to conventional language. Instead, adolescents employ Internet language as a tool, Varnhagen says, using it as a linguistic shortcut to bypass the time-consuming process of typing.

  • Alcohol abuse by youngsters might lead to a life of risky decision-making, suggests a study published in September online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by the University of Washington's Ilene Bernstein, PhD, and grad student Nicholas Nasrallah. Using rats as a model, the researchers gave adolescent rats ethanol mixed with gelatin—essentially Jell-O shots—and measured how they made decisions three months later. The alcohol-fed rats were far more likely to engage in high-risk, high-reward behaviors that yielded fewer treats on average.

  • Depression, obesity and alcohol abuse tend to be interrelated conditions for women, but not for men, finds new research out of the University of Washington. The study, part of the ongoing Seattle Development Project, found strong correlations among these traits for women: Those who have an alcohol disorder at age 24 are three times as likely to be obese by 27; women obese at 27 are twice as likely to be depressed by 30; and women who are depressed at 27 were more likely to have an alcohol disorder by 30. These connections weren't found in men. In fact, obesity seemed to give men some protection against developing depression later in life.

—M. Price