In Brief

  • Violent video games make kids more aggressive, regardless of gender or culture, says Iowa State University’s Craig Anderson, PhD, primary author of an extensive meta-analysis appearing in March’s Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 136, No. 2). Anderson and his team looked at 130 studies testing more than 130,000 participants worldwide. They found that, for both males and females, playing violent video games is a risk factor for future aggressiveness. Anderson says it’s time for policymakers to move past the question of whether the effect is real and onto how they can help parents make more responsible decisions about video games.

  • Men who engage in domestic violence have a distorted perception of how common their behavior is, according to research in April’s Violence Against Women. Lead author Clayton Neighbors, PhD, at the University of Washington in Seattle, asked 124 men enrolled in a domestic violence treatment program what percentage of men have ever physically abused their partners. In one example, the participants’ average estimate was that 27.6 percent of men have violently thrown something at their partners, while the actual number is 11.9 percent, according to the National Violence Against Women survey. The men also overestimated how many men have forced their partners to have sex involuntarily, estimating 23.6 percent when it’s actually 7.9 percent. Correcting these misconceptions might help domestic violence perpetrators improve their behaviors, Neighbors says.

  • Natural lighting in schoolrooms could help teens get more sleep, according to a study by researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y. In an article in press in Neuroendocrinology Letters, the researchers report that students who wake up early for school often don’t get adequate morning sunlight, which is essential to regulating the body’s natural sleep-and-wake cycle. To test whether this gap could alter children’s circadian rhythms, they gave eighth-graders eyeglasses that block out the short wavelengths of light that characterize morning light. After five days, those kids went to sleep 30 minutes later on average than a control group. The researchers say it’s important for school administrators to factor in the human need for natural light when setting school schedules and designing classroom layouts.

  • Your satisfaction with buying a massage will get better over time, while buying a TV will ultimately leave you disappointed with your purchase, according to research in January’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 98, No. 1). Thomas Gilovich, PhD, at Cornell University, and Travis Carter, PhD, at the University of Chicago, found that people’s experiential purchases, like massages and vacations, provide greater long-term happiness than material items. The researchers suggest this might be because people second-guess their material purchases and compare them to what others buy, whereas experiential purchases are more subjective and therefore harder to compare.

  • Pigeons are smarter than people when it comes to maximizing their returns in a “Let’s Make a Deal”-style game, finds research in February’s Journal of Comparative Psychology (Vol. 124, No. 1). The game is this: Pick one of three doors, watch as one of the non-chosen ones is opened to reveal no prize, then decide whether to switch your choice. Unintuitive as it may be, switching doors doubles your odds of winning. Researchers Walter Herbranson, PhD, of Whitman College, and Julia Schroeder, a graduate student at Duke University, found that over time, pigeons adopted this optimal strategy while human participants stuck to their original choices and performed more poorly.

  • A molecule linked to Alzheimer’s disease might play a role in the immune system, fighting off infection but then sticking around to cause the disease, suggests an article in March’s Public Library of Science ONE (Vol. 5, No. 3). Scientists have known for years that the protein amyloid beta accumulates in and poisons the neurons of people with Alzheimer’s, but most researchers thought it was just a byproduct of the brain’s metabolic processes. A team of researchers from Boston and Uppsala, Sweden, discovered that the protein actually fights infection in the brain. They theorize that the immune system could flood the brain with amyloid beta during an infection, after which some of the proteins become damaging plaques that cause Alzheimer’s.

  • Stressed men prefer women who look nothing like them, while unstressed men favor those whose features resemble their own, says an article in press in Proceedings of the Royal Academy B. Researchers from the University of Trier in Germany had 25 male students submerge their hands in ice water to stress out the participants, then had them look at pictures of women, some of whose faces were subtly altered to more resemble the participants. Another group of 25 did the same, without the ice water. Then researchers startled them with a burst of noise, knowing that men flinch less when looking at someone they’re attracted to. Evolutionary forces might drive men in chaotic environments to seek genetically dissimilar mates to expand the genetic diversity of their offspring, the researchers say.

  • Children with moderate exposure to spanking tend to think it’s a fairer punishment than do children who are either spanked rarely or frequently, find researchers from the University of Texas at Austin. They showed videos to children ages 6 to 10 of other children bring disciplined with spanking, reasoning, withholding privileges or time-out. The researchers then asked the children to rate how fair and effective the punishments were and how frequently they themselves receive those punishments. According to an article in press at the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, the children also said that spanking was most effective for short-term behavioral change, but that reasoning was better for long-term change. The study suggests that children have remarkably nuanced views on punishment, the researchers say.

  • Children as young as 3 are swayed by brand identity and marketing, says the University of Michigan’s Bettina Cornwell, PhD. As detailed in a paper in March’s Psychology and Marketing (Vol. 27, No. 3), Cornwell showed mainstream logos, such as those of Lego, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, to children ages 3 to 5. Ninety-two percent of the children recognized the most popular brands. A second study found that children are also able to associate specific toys and food with particular fast-food restaurants, suggesting they’re highly aware of what these brands advertise.

  • A new form of prion disease — rogue protein infections that cause mad cow disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans — has been discovered in mice by scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In an article published in March’s Public Library of Science Pathogens (Vol. 6, No. 3), the researchers explain how they exposed mice to a form of prion disease known as scrapie, then observed the typical symptoms of weight loss and inactivity. But when they examined the mice’s brain tissue, they found protein plaques clinging outside blood vessels, similar to what happens in Alzheimer’s disease, instead of the tell-tale spongy holes near nerve cells, typical of prion disease. Scientists say this form of the disease lacks a molecule that fastens the protein inside the cell.

  • Can you be bored to death? Possibly, suggests work by Annie Britton, PhD, and Martin J. Shipley, PhD, at University College London. In an in-press article in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the researchers analyzed questionnaires sent to British civil servants between 1985 and 1988 that measured their levels and frequency of boredom. They looked up whether these people were still alive, and if not, when and how they died. They found that people who reported greater levels of boredom tended to die at a younger age than those who weren’t very bored. Bored people in the study, who were two-and-a-half times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, tended to be younger, underemployed women who reported relatively poor health and low physical activity. Researchers suspect that boredom makes people prone to harmful behaviors such as excessive drinking, smoking and drug abuse.

  • The Affective States Questionnaire predicts suicide risk in psychiatric patients better than other more widely used measures, according to a paper in March’s Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, led by Herbert Hendin, MD, at New York Medical College in Valhalla, N.Y. Hendin and his team followed 238 people seeking mental health treatment at the Michael DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston. Over a three-month period, the ASQ, which measures people’s inability to deal with intense emotions such as anxiety, rage, desperation, hopelessness and guilt, predicted suicidal behavior with a success rate of 60 percent — a rate on par with other available measures — but had almost 30 percent fewer false positives than other instruments.

—M. Price