In Brief

  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses self-reflection and self-examination to get at the root of suffering, is at least as effective as symptom-oriented treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy or psychoactive medication, according to a January review of meta-analyses by Jonathan Shedler, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine (American Psychologist, Vol. 65, No. 2). According to one major meta-analysis, Shedler says, psychodynamic psychotherapy was about three times more effective per treatment than the most popular antidepressant medication. The benefits of psychodynamic psychotherapy seem to persist and even grow larger over time, he says.

  • Why do fewer girls than boys pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math? It’s not because of any inherent gender differences in ability, according to a meta-analysis reported in Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 136, No. 1). Villanova University psychologist Nicole Else-Quest, PhD, and colleagues looked at international statistics on math and science performance from nearly 500,000 students ages 14 to 16. On average, they found that gender differences on math abilities were negligible. But looking at the nations individually, girls performed better in countries where women are wealthier, more educated and politically involved.

  • Then there’s the workplace itself to consider: According to the University of Washington’s Sapna Cheryan, PhD, stereotypes surrounding the culture of computer science may turn women away from considering it as a career path. Cheryan ran a series of experiments looking into male and female students’ attitudes toward computer science after being exposed to “stereotypical” workplace decoration and detritus — Star Trek posters, video game boxes and Coke cans — or more conventional work areas. Women had a lower regard for the profession after seeing the stereotypically male work areas, Cheryan reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 97, No. 6).

  • Good news for researchers battling drug abuse among teenagers: Methamphetamine use has dropped significantly in recent years. The bad news? The decline in marijuana use has leveled off, and teens continue to abuse prescription drugs at an alarmingly high rate, report researchers from the University of Michigan working with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As part of the institute’s Monitoring the Future project, the researchers surveyed eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders on their drug use. The researchers say the meth-use statistics are encouraging, but overall they fear that young people are becoming increasingly complacent about substance abuse.

  • A nice body might get you places in the big city, but it’s a lot less useful in a small town, suggests research from psychologists at the University of Georgia and University of Kansas. Victoria Plaut, PhD, and colleagues polled 550 women on whether their attractiveness (measured in this study as the waist-to-hips ratio) corresponded with their reported well-being and social connectedness. It did for women in urban settings, but not for those in rural ones, according to the research, which was published in Personal Relationships (Vol. 16, No.4). The researchers suggest this might be because urban areas offer much more “social choice” in terms of who one spends time with, while rural areas with lower populations offer fewer social choices, shrinking the demand for attractive acquaintances.

  • Fatty acids commonly found in fish and algae may play an important part in the brain’s ability to process stimuli without getting overwhelmed, suggests research in Behavioral Neuroscience (Vol. 123, No. 6). In their study, researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism fed young mice diets with varying amounts of the omega-3 fatty acid. When the mice were fully grown, the researchers measured the animals’ response to a soft tone followed by sudden loud noises. The mice with omega-3-rich diets were significantly calmer in response to the loud noise than the mice fed little to no omega-3. The researchers posit that a lack of omega-3 could disrupt the body’s natural maintenance of nerve cell membranes, throwing off the nervous system and making animals prone to easy startling.

  • Psychologists have a new theory for why people with schizophrenia and other impairments can’t comprehend irony. Previously, scientists attributed the inability to a deficient theory of mind — the ability to understand and process the mental intents and desires of others. But research from psychologists at the University of Tuebingen in Germany reported in the online journal Brain and Language suggests that the inability may instead have to do with faulty language processing areas of the brain. The researchers had students with varying schizotypal personality scores read a series of statements with either literal or ironic endings while their brains were scanned using fMRI. They found that students with higher schizotypal scores had less activation in the left medial frontal gyrus, an area previously shown to be involved in irony comprehension.

  • Violent video games have been maligned by social critics and psychologists for their tendency to promote aggressive thoughts, but the effects of video games with positive messages have been less clear. New research in January’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 98, No. 2) by Tobias Greitemeyer, PhD, of the University of Sussex in England and Silvia Osswald, PhD, of Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, suggests people who play “pro-social” video games are more likely to clean up after a mess, assist in further experiments, and intervene when someone is being harassed.

—M. Price