In Brief

  • Suicide among women veterans is a "hidden epidemic"Young women military veterans are three times more likely to commit suicide than their non-military peers, according to new research from Portland State University and Oregon Health & Science University. The researchers looked at data from more than 6,000 female suicides between 2004 and 2007 and found that women veterans age 18 to 34 were disproportionately represented. The findings point to the need for clinicians to inquire whether their clients have military backgrounds and to incorporate suicide prevention strategies as needed. (Psychiatric Service, Vol. 61, No. 12.)

  • Targeting specific social deficits early in children with autism yields significant, sustained social-skill improvement, finds a new study from the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The researchers assigned 50 toddlers with autism spectrum disorders to one of two interventions. The first was a six-month intervention that focused on interpersonal skills, such as joint attention, sharing emotions and imitating others. The other intervention generally encouraged children to communicate and play with one another. The children in the first group made greater and faster gains in their social skills than did those in the more general intervention. (In press in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.)

  • Men well into old age rate sex as an important part of their lives and many report wishing they had more sex, according to a new study by grad student Zoe Hyde at the University of Western Australia. As many as one in five men over age 100 say that sex is important to them. Among men age 75 to 95, 40 percent wish they were having more sex, but that their own or their partners’ health problems prevent them. To maintain healthy sex lives into old age, men can take preventive measures in their younger years, such as managing osteoporosis, diabetes and prostate cancer, says Hyde. (Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 153, No. 11.)

  • Moderation is the key to deriving benefits from energy drinks, say researchers from Northern Kentucky University and the University at Buffalo. In one study, college-aged participants were given one of four drinks: Red Bull, the soda Squirt with added caffeine, a decaffeinated drink resembling Red Bull or regular Squirt, which has no caffeine. Then participants took a computer test that measured their response times. The Red Bull-drinkers recorded better scores and reported feeling more stimulated and less tired than those who drank the other beverages, but as they drank more and more of it, their response times dipped. Another study found that different concentrations of caffeine affect boys and girls (ages 12 to 17) differently: High amounts of caffeine increased boys’ blood pressure but had no effect on girls’ blood pressure. (Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, Vol. 18, No. 6.)

  • Youths who avoid their problems by listening to music are more likely to become neurotic.Teens who tune into music to tune out emotionally fraught situations are at a higher risk for developing neuroticism, suggests a new study by researchers at the University of Ottawa and the University of Montreal. The researchers followed 336 adolescent boys and girls and asked them how and when they used music to cope with life’s stresses. Those who reported listening to music to avoid or disengage from problems were more likely to score higher on neuroticism scales later in adolescence than youngsters who reported an emotional connection with the music, or who incorporated the music into problem-solving routines. (Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, Vol. 4, No. 4.)

  • Working memory begins weakening even before the onset of clinically recognizable Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study from the University of Montreal. The researchers administered tests that measured working memory to 20 people with mild cognitive impairment — a condition that’s detectable in the lab but isn’t detrimental to everyday life — 20 healthy older adults and 16 adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Adults with MCI who eventually progressed into full-blown Alzheimer’s had lower working memory scores than healthy controls or those whose cognitive abilities maintained or improved. The finding indicates that declining working memory could be an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s. (Neuropsychology, Vol. 25, No. 1.)

  • Emergency physicians and nurses will need more training to handle growing numbers of people receiving end-of-life care within emergency departments, according to a new study from the University of Birmingham, England, and the University of Nottingham. The researchers observed and interviewed physicians, nurses, patients with terminal illnesses and their relatives and found that because emergency-room health workers prioritize resuscitation, they focus less on patients for whom intensive treatments would be ineffective. As a result, those patients and their families don’t receive the more personalized attention they might find in hospitals or under hospice care, and they report being less satisfied with the treatment. The physicians and nurses report being unprepared for such deaths because they receive little training in palliative care. (In press in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.)

  • Very young babies can differentiate between big and small amounts of food.Very young babies consistently choose the larger of two amounts of food, according to a new study by developmental psychologist Kristy vanMarle, PhD, at the University of Missouri. VanMarle and her colleagues presented babies as young as 10 months old with opaque cups containing differing amounts of Cheerios or graham crackers. If the ratio between the cupfuls was at least 4:1, the 10-month-olds consistently chose the larger amount; older babies were able to consistently choose the larger amount when the ratios were as small as 2:1. The findings add to the evidence that babies are born with some understanding of quantity, vanMarle says. (In press in Developmental Science.)

  • Conventionally attractive couples have more daughters than sons, finds evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, PhD, of the London School of Economics. Kanazawa tracked 17,000 people who at age 7 were rated on their attractiveness by their teachers. He then interviewed them at age 45 and found that those rated most attractive were also the most likely to have daughters. Kanazawa speculates that inherited attractive features might benefit women more than men since, when it comes to long-term relationships, an attractive mate matters more to men than women. But he’s careful to note that his findings concern averages of large numbers — there’s still a lot of chance involved in determining a baby’s sex. (In press in Reproductive Sciences.)

  • Having rich exposure to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) experiences early in one’s academic life predicts success in the STEM disciplines as an adult, according to findings by Jonathan Wai, PhD, at Duke University, and colleagues. In one study, the team looked at longitudinal data from 1,467 13-year-olds who scored in the top 0.5 percent of those who took the SAT. Twenty-five years later, those people were notably more accomplished within the STEM disciplines than their peers. Another study retrospectively examined the educational experiences of 714 high-achieving STEM graduate students and found that the common factor among them was early and frequent exposure to STEM education. (Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 102, No. 4.)

  • Women spend less time speaking with their fathers when they’re most fertile, finds a study led by University of Miami psychologist Debra Lieberman, PhD. She and her colleagues examined phone records and menstrual histories of 48 women capable of having children and identified when those women would have been at the most and least fertile. The researchers found that women called their dads less frequently and talked with them on the phone for shorter periods of time when they were most fertile. The researchers propose that the behavior is an evolutionary holdover to prevent inbreeding, though it could also be due to fathers’ keeping too close of an eye on potential mates. (In press in Psychological Science.)

  • Larger schools don’t lead to higher rates of student victimization, despite common belief to the contrary, finds research from the University of Virginia. The researchers looked at data collected from 7,432 ninth-graders and 2,353 teachers among 290 high schools participating in the Virginia High School Safety Study. Controlling for other factors, such as the proportion of students who receive reduced-price meals, ethnic diversity and proximity to urban environments, the researchers found that although teachers and students in larger schools believed more violence took place at their schools than in smaller ones, reports of bullying didn’t bear that out. Although more instances of victimization take place in larger schools due to the larger number of students, the rate of bullying is actually lower among larger schools, the researchers say. (Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 102, No. 4.)

  • Police should avoid using multiple line-ups during investigations.A first brush with a police lineup could reduce a witness’s ability to identify the real perpetrator in a second lineup, according to new research headed by Neil Brewer, PhD, at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia. Brewer and his colleagues showed a pictorial lineup of potential perpetrators to 621 “witnesses” of a mock crime, where the perpetrator was absent from this initial lineup. These witnesses were worse at finding the perpetrator in a second lineup than a control group whose members never saw the initial lineup. The researchers argue that, whenever possible, police should avoid using multiple lineups during investigations. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Vol. 16, No. 4.)

—M. Price