In Brief

  • JudgeJudicial decisions could hinge on whether the judge has recently taken a break, according to a study by Jonathan Levav, PhD, at Columbia Business School. Levav analyzed 1,000 parole-related court cases over the course of 50 days in four Israeli prisons and looked at how the rulings matched up with the chronological order of the two daily food breaks for judges. He found that in the first case of the day, the judges ruled in favor of the prisoner 65 percent of the time. That rate dropped gradually as the day wore on, falling nearly to zero for the cases immediately before a break. Rulings favoring the prisoner popped back up to 65 percent following the breaks, suggesting that judges’ decisions might be heavily influenced by their schedules. (In press in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)

  • Childhood mental health problems may play a larger role in adult financial success than major physical health difficulties, according to a study. Researchers from the Institute of Fiscal Studies in London analyzed data from the National Child Development Study, which is composed of longitudinal data from almost 18,000 people born in Great Britain in 1958. Based on periodic health, wellness and lifestyle updates, the researchers found that those who experienced childhood psychological problems, such as depression and anxiety, earned 19 percent less at age 23 than did their peers without such problems. By age 50, the subjects earned 25 percent less than their peers. By contrast, children who experienced major physical health problems made about 9 percent less than their peers. (In press in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)

  • The lack of a certain protein at a key point in brain development might help explain schizophrenia, according to researchers from Duke and Johns Hopkins Universities. The researchers found that a protein known as BBS1, previously implicated in the developmental disorder Bardet-Biedl syndrome, is necessary for neurons to stop dividing and begin migrating toward their normal destinations in the brain. In schizophrenia, this protein is often missing, preventing many neuronal circuits from developing properly. The researchers say defects involving BBS1 could account for as many as 10 percent of cases of schizophrenia. The good news: The finding gives scientists a new target for designing potential therapies. (In press in Nature.)

  • Interactive video games are more likely to become incorporated into a player’s dreams than are non-interactive but highly immersive virtual environments, find researchers from Grant MacEwan College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The team enrolled nearly 1,200 college students who reported frequently playing video games and remembering their dreams. Some participants played a video game on a PlayStation 3 system, while others watched a video of the game being played by somebody else. These conditions were further divided into whether the player or viewer watched on a normal TV or played or watched with high-resolution video goggles and headphones. Then the participants reported whether they’d dreamed about the video game later that night. Participants who played the video games with the goggles and headphones were more likely than any of the other groups to remember dreaming about it. This could indicate a greater emotional connection to interactive video-game playing, the researchers note. (Dreaming, Vol. 21, No. 1.)

  • Looking at artLooking at pictures with the illusion of depth causes people to sway more than when looking at apparently flat images, according to new findings. Researchers from the National Center of Scientific Research and the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, both in Paris, attached sensors to the feet of participants as they looked at two paintings by Maria Elena Vieira da Silva with a marked illusion of depth. In one round of tests, the participants stood in front of the normal paintings and in another, they viewed cubist versions of the paintings that broke up the depth illusion. Participants shifted pressure on their feet about twice as many times when looking at the unaltered paintings. The research dovetails with previous posture research that has found that people sway more when looking at objects in the distance. (In press in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.)

  • Happiness may not fend off depression in Asian cultures as it does in Western cultures, suggests a new study by researchers from the University of Washington. While happiness is valued as a positive emotion in Western cultures and is negatively correlated with depression, other cultures view happiness as a precursor to jealousy and disharmony with friends and family. In many Asian cultures, the researchers say, emotional moderation is preferable to happiness. To see whether this cultural difference affects happiness’ role in depression, the researchers surveyed 156 college-age Asians who immigrated to the United States, 147 Asian-Americans and 330 European-Americans on their experiences with depression and how often they felt a variety of emotions such as “calm,” “cheerful” and “scared.” For all groups, frequently feeling negative emotions was correlated with depression, but only for the European-American group did frequent happiness greatly reduce reports of depression. Happiness only slightly reduced depression in Asian-Americans and was not a factor for immigrant Asians. (In press in Emotion.)

  • Experiencing physical pain could help remove feelings of guilt, according to researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia. They designed an experiment in which 62 college-age participants were split into two groups. The control group wrote about an everyday occurrence while the experimental group was asked to write about a time they wrongly rejected or excluded someone socially. The latter group was further split into a pain group, who held their hand under ice water for as long as they could (the control group did this, too), and a no-pain group who held their hand under comfortably warm water. Afterward, the researchers measured self-reports of guilt over their earlier statements. They found that participants who described socially ostracizing someone held their hands under the ice water longer than those in the control group, suggesting they were intentionally submitting themselves to physical pain. Afterward, these participants reported feeling less guilty about their actions than did the group who held their hands under warm water. (Psychological Science, Vol. 22, No. 3.)

  • Walking and talkingWalking and talking on a cell phone could put older adults in danger, finds a new study led by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign psychologist Mark B. Neider, PhD. He and his colleagues ran both younger and older adults through a virtual reality simulation in which video goggles and a self-powered treadmill created the illusion of crossing a busy street. Participants were asked to cross the street when the “walk” signal flashed while talking on the cell phone, listening to an iPod or doing neither. Older adults using cell phones took longer to begin walking and more frequently didn’t make it across the street before the light changed than did younger people or older adults with the iPod or listening to nothing. (In press in Psychology and Aging.)

  • Men who are abused by their partners might be just as likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as women who are abused, suggests a new study led by Anna Randle, PhD, at Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care in Oxfordshire, England. Randle analyzed data from the U.S. National Violence against Women Survey, which polled 8,000 men and 8,000 women on their experiences with domestic violence and their physical and mental health. Of the 8 percent of men and 25 percent of women who reported being abused by a partner, both men and women reported symptoms of PTSD at approximately the same rate. The study also found that for men, psychological abuse was just as likely to result in PTSD symptoms as physical abuse. (Psychology of Men & Masculinity, Vol. 12, No. 2, .)

  • A 60-minute session dedicated to addressing fears about fitting in at college could help raise minority students’ GPAs, according to a new study by Stanford University psychologists. Minority students face the usual pressures and insecurities as other students when going to college, but previous studies have shown that the added factors of stereotyping and feeling outnumbered can weigh down their academic performance. Greg Walton, PhD, and Geoffrey Cohen, PhD, created an hourlong course for second-semester minority students designed to put their feelings of alienation into context and reassure them that their frustrations aren’t unique. Students who took part in the exercise raised their GPAs by an average of 30 percent between their sophomore and senior years; 22 percent of them placed in the top 25 percent of their graduating class. (Science, Vol. 331, No. 6,023.)

—M. Price