In Brief

  • Moving frequently as a child can have long-lasting effects on a person’s well-being, persisting even into adulthood, according to a study in June’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 98, No. 6). University of Virginia researchers surveyed more than 7,000 American adults and found that the more they had changed cities or neighborhoods as children, the more likely they were to report lower life satisfaction and well-being as adults. They were also more likely to die younger.

  • People with anxious and avoidant personalities are at higher risk for pain and cardiovascular problems than those who are secure in their relationships, finds new research in July’s Health Psychology (Vol. 29, No. 4). Researchers from Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, looked at data from a previously given questionnaire that assessed 5,645 adults’ closeness with and trust in others, as well as their physical health. After adjusting for other factors that affect health, the researchers found that people whose relationships with others fit the definition of “avoidant” tended to suffer from frequent pain, while those whose relationships met criteria for “anxious” were also at higher risk for stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure and ulcers.

  • Violent video games are more likely to increase hostility in inconsiderate kids but can help other children learn new skills and become more social, according to a series of meta-analyses in June’s special issue of Review of General Psychology (Vol. 14, No. 2). Researchers in one study found that children who scored low on measures of conscientiousness and agreeableness, and high on neuroticism, tended to increase their aggressiveness and hostility after they played violent video games. But according to Christopher J. Ferguson, PhD, at Texas A&M International University, video games can be excellent learning tools for more considerate children to learn social skills and problem-solving techniques.

  • Children who regularly eat government-sponsored school lunches are at an increased risk of becoming overweight adults unless they also get a free breakfast, finds new research in the summer edition of the Journal of Human Resources (Vol. 45, No. 2). Georgia State University researchers came to the conclusion after looking at data on 13,500 elementary school students who participated in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. The researchers interviewed students in kindergarten, first and third grades, then once more several years later.

  • For women who are prone to trusting others, a drop of testosterone could increase their guardedness, according to an article in the June 1 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 107, No. 22). Researchers from Utrecht University, the Netherlands, and the University of Cape Town, South Africa, placed either one drop of a liquid containing testosterone or a placebo under women’s tongues and asked them to judge the trustworthiness of a series of male faces. Then women who were given the placebo were given testosterone and those who’d been given testosterone got the placebo and both groups were asked to judge new faces. The women who’d just been given testosterone reported less trust in the men than those given the placebo. This effect was most pronounced in women who, based on their placebo answers, were normally trustful.

  • Parkinson’s disease impairs people’s ability to recognize certain emotions in music, according to research in press in Brain and Cognition. Researchers from the University of Amsterdam chose 32 musical passages that, based on wide consensus, expressed happiness, sadness, fear or anger, and played those passages to 20 people with Parkinson’s and 20 healthy, demographically matched people. Compared with the controls, people with Parkinson’s were unable to identify fearful or angry passages, but easily identified happy and sad music. Researchers say Parkinson’s disease likely interferes with the subthalamic nucleus’s ability to process fear and anger.

  • Even when they’re sleeping, infants pick out causation patterns in the world, according to new research published in a June issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Vol. 107, No. 22). Columbia University researchers hooked up 26 sleeping infants to an EEG machine. They then played a soft tone, paired with a gentle puff of air to the babies’ eyelids. In response to the air, the infants consistently scrunched their faces. After nine of these trials, the researchers played the tone without blowing air, and the sleeping infants scrunched in response anyway. The EEG readings revealed activation in the babies’ brains that reflected a learned behavior, which provides the first evidence that infants learn while sleeping.

  • A single question about a patient’s drug use is a quick and useful tool for identifying drug users, according to new research in the July 12 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (Vol. 170, No. 13). Lead researcher Peter C. Smith, MD, at the Boston University School of Medicine, found that by asking patients, “How many times in the past year have you used an illegal drug or used a prescription medication for nonmedical reasons?” and getting a response of “at least once,” he was able to identify 73.5 percent of people with a drug disorder.

  • Exposure to second-hand smoke might contribute to mental health problems, finds a study in press in Archives of General Psychiatry. Mark Hamer, PhD, at University College London, and colleagues looked at 5,560 nonsmoking adults without a history of mental illness and measured the levels of the tobacco chemical cotinine in their saliva. Those with high levels of exposure were about 50 percent more likely to report psychological distress than those with very low exposure. Furthermore, high exposure to second-hand smoke was also linked to higher odds of being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Animal models have shown that tobacco can induce negative mood effects, which could over time endanger psychological health, the researcher say.

  • Being exposed to a new food can make you more likely to eat it, but not necessarily more likely to enjoy it, finds a study in June’s Behavioral Neuroscience (Vol. 124, No. 3). Researchers from the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, exposed one group of rats to water with saccharin in it, and another group to pure water, then recorded their drinking actions over five days. When rats enjoy a food, they lick their lips. Based on their lip-licking, the saccharin-exposed rats didn’t appear to like the saccharin water any more than regular water. But at the end of five days, when both groups were exposed to saccharin water and regular water, the previously saccharin-exposed rats were more likely to drink the saccharin water than the group that had only had pure water up until that point, even though neither engaged in any more lip-licking when drinking it than when drinking normal water. The results highlight the difference between liking and wanting food, the researchers say.

  • Yawning might have evolved to keep brains at the perfect temperature, according to an article in May’s Journal of Comparative Psychology (Vol. 124, No. 2). Previous experiments had shown that parakeets increased their yawning when exposed to rising ambient heat levels. According to the brain thermoregulation hypothesis, when ambient temperature is at or below body temperature, deeply inhaling causes a rush of body-temperature blood to the brain, keeping the brain’s temperature closer to body temperature. Once it’s hotter outside than on the inside, the body-temperature blood helps cool the brain. Researchers at Binghamton University in New York tested this theory on parakeets, and observed that the birds’ yawning mirrored their other attempts to stay cool or warm, such as panting or venting their wings, reinforcing yawning’s thermoregulatory role. Brain mechanisms across most vertebrates are similar enough that this could also be true for humans, researchers say.

—M. Price