In Brief

  • Bypass surgery is more successful for people in happy marriages, research finds.Love helps keep the heart pumping, according to research from the University of Rochester. Psychologists found that happily married husbands and wives who undergo heart bypass surgery are up to three times more likely than their unmarried counterparts to still be alive 15 years later. The study also showed that women were more likely to be positively affected by a happy marriage, perhaps because the emotional health of a marriage is more important to women. For men, simply being married was enough to improve their chances of thriving after surgery (Health Psychology, Aug. 22).

  • Watching just a few minutes of the popular children's television show "SpongeBob SquarePants" may impair preschoolers' thinking, according to research by University of Virginia psychologists. The researchers randomly assigned 60 4-year-olds to watch a fast-paced, "fantastical cartoon about an animated sponge that lives under the sea," watch an educational cartoon or draw for nine minutes. They found that the children who watched the fast-paced cartoon performed significantly worse on subsequent tasks assessing attention and working memory than children in the other two groups (Pediatrics, Sept. 12).

  • Contrary to popular belief, there are no major differences between men's and women's self-esteem levels in adolescence and early adulthood, according to researchers at the University of Basel in Switzerland. The investigators looked at data from a 14-year longitudinal study of 7,100 Americans age 14 to 30 and also found that emotionally stable, extroverted and conscientious people reported higher self-esteem than those who were emotionally unstable, introverted or less conscientious (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, September).

  • Researchers have found a pathway linking memory and reward centers in the brain that may help explain how environmental contexts become strong motivators in drug taking. Scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse used a combination of anatomical, physiological and behavioral techniques with rats to define a pathway from a region of the hippocampus to the ventral tegmental area, which processes reward-driven behaviors. Using inhibitory brain chemicals, they then blocked the pathway, and found the rats' reward-based habits decreased by about 75 percent. These findings, the study authors say, could offer new, attractive targets for interventions that could make people less susceptible to environmentally triggered drug relapse (Science, July 15).

  • People from diverse cultures perceive happy, sad or angry facial expressions differently, according to a study led by the University of Glasgow's Rachael E. Jack, PhD. Jack used statistical image processing techniques to examine how study participants perceived facial expressions and found that Chinese participants relied on the eyes more to represent facial expressions, while Caucasians relied on the eyebrows and mouth. Those cultural distinctions could lead to missed cues or misinterpreted signals about emotions during cross-cultural communications, Jack says (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, April 25).

  • Video-game competitiveness may trump violence in causing aggressive behavior, according to research led by Paul Adachi, a psychology doctoral student at Brock University in Canada. In a series of experiments in which video games were matched on competitiveness, difficulty and pace of action, researchers found video-game violence alone did not increase aggressive behavior. However, more competitive games produced greater levels of aggressive behavior than less competitive games, no matter how much violence was in the games (Psychology of Violence, Aug. 17).

  • Impulsivity is one of the strongest predictors of obesity, finds a study by scientists with the National Institute on Aging. In an examination of 50 years of data from a longitudinal study of 1,988 people, the researchers found that participants who scored in the top 10 percent on impulsivity weighed about 22 pounds more than those in the bottom 10 percent. Further, participants scoring high in conscientiousness tended to be leaner — most likely due to their ability to show restraint in their diet and commit to exercise (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, September).

  • A few fatigued members won't drag down a team, according to researchers at London South Bank University. The investigators studied 171 army officer cadets as they worked on a series of math problems. Half were well-rested while the others were exhausted from military drills and night-watch duty. The results showed that, when working individually, cadets who were fatigued performed significantly worse on the tests than alert soldiers. However, cadets working in teams performed just as well when they were tired as when they were alert, perhaps because team members can compare solutions to reach the best decision (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, Aug. 15).

  • Depressed women are more likely to have strokes, new research suggests.Depressed women are at higher risk for stroke, according to a study of 80,000 women age 54 to 79. Harvard University researchers found that women with a history of depression have a 29 percent greater risk of having a stroke than women who are not depressed. In addition, the study found that those who take antidepressants — particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors — face a 39 percent higher stroke risk, perhaps because the use of antidepressants most likely indicates more severe depression, the authors say (Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, Aug. 11).

  • Employee-assistance programs teach workers to be resilient, which may reduce absenteeism.Employee-assistance programs (EAPs) may reduce absenteeism over time, according to a three-year study of nearly 3,500 employees of a large Canadian retail corporation. Researchers from Alliant International University found that employees missed more days of work the year they used an EAP but fewer in the following years. One possibility for the decrease, the authors say, may be that counseling provided by EAPs teaches employees how to be resilient in the face of adversity (Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, June).

  • Kids who share beds with their parents displayed daytime behaviors characteristic of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder seven times more frequently than those who never bed-share, research found. The study of 700 children ages 2 to 14, conducted by the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology, also showed children who sleep in their parents' bed hit, pushed or kicked their parents 13 times more frequently than their non-bed-sharing counterparts (American Journal of Family Therapy, Sept. 20).

  • Google is changing the way our brains recall information, according to research by Columbia University psychologist Betsy Sparrow, PhD. Through a series of four studies, Sparrow found that we are better able to remember where to find something on the Internet than we are at remembering the specific information we found. These results, Sparrow says, suggest that processes of human memory are adapting to the advent of new computing and communication technology (Science, July 14).

  • People tend to sit closer to others who are physically similar, according to research from Canada's Wilfrid Laurier University. In one experiment with more than 2,200 undergraduates in 14 different classrooms, students were more likely to select seats next to students of the same sex and race, but also closest to those who wore glasses — if they did, too — and had a hair length and color similar to their own (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, April 5).

  • Venting to a friend may not be the most effective way to deal with daily stress, according to a study by researchers at the University of Kent in England. Over the course of two weeks, nearly 150 Kent students noted the most bothersome failure they experienced each day and what they did to cope with the stressor. Findings showed that strategies such as using social support and venting actually made students feel worse instead of better. The most effective way to deal with a setback: acceptance, humor and positive reframing, the researchers found (Anxiety, Stress & Coping, Aug. 19).

  • People with a sweet tooth are actually sweeter, personality-wise, than their counterparts who prefer more sour foods, according to research led by Brian P. Meier, PhD, of Gettysburg College. In a series of studies with undergraduates at North Dakota State University and Gettysburg College, Meier found that those with a preference for sweet foods have a greater propensity for sharing and volunteering than those who prefer more savory or sour foods. He also found that giving participants sweets momentarily increases their level of agreeableness and kindness (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Aug. 29).

—A. Novotney