In Brief

  • StressFor African-Americans, perceived racism may cause mental health symptoms similar to trauma and could even lead to physical health disparities, according to a meta-analysis of 66 studies comprising 18,140 black adults in the United States. The study showed that blacks who reported experiencing more and very stressful racism were more likely to report depression and anxiety, which may contribute to the black population's high rate of hypertension (Journal of Counseling Psychology®, Nov. 7).
  • People with high blood pressure and other stroke risk factors are also more likely to develop cognitive problems, according to a study conducted at Indiana University. Scientists collected data on nearly 24,000 people who had no history of cognitive impairment or stroke and assessed each person's risk for experiencing a stroke, based on their ages and whether they had high blood pressure, diabetes or heart problems. They also assessed participants' cognitive health with a six-item screening test, which was repeated annually for four years. They found that each 10-year increment in age doubled a person's risk of developing clinically significant cognitive impairment, and that the existence of left ventricular hypertrophy—an enlargement of the heart that can result from high blood pressure—increased their risk by about 30 percent (Neurology, Nov. 8).
  • The less people know about complex issues such as the economy, energy consumption and the environment, the more they want to avoid becoming well-informed, according to a series of five studies by researchers at Duke University and the University of Waterloo. In one study, participants were asked to provide information about their knowledge of the nation's natural resource management and then read a statement declaring that the United States has less than 40 years' worth of oil. Those who said they felt unknowledgeable about the U.S. oil supply not only avoided negative information about the issue, they became even more reluctant to know more when the issue became imminent (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology®, Nov. 7).
  • Highly creative people are more likely to cheat, possibly because they're better able to rationalize their actions, suggests a study by scientists at Duke University and Harvard University. In one experiment, participants were shown drawings with dots on two sides of a diagonal line and asked to indicate whether there were more dots on the left side or right side. In half of 200 trials, it was virtually impossible to tell whether there were more dots on one side or another, but the subjects were told they'd be paid 10 times as much for each time they said there were more dots on the right side. Participants who previously scored high on tests of creativity were significantly more likely to give the answer that paid more, rather than the one they thought was right (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Nov. 28).
  • Impatient people have lower credit scores, finds research by two economists from the Federal Reserve's Center for Behavioral Economics and Decisionmaking in Boston. The researchers asked 437 people whether they'd rather receive a small reward now or wait for a larger reward later. The participants who were most willing to wait for the larger payout had FICO scores of 30 points higher, on average, than those who said they'd take a smaller immediate payment. The study also found that people who were least patient had average FICO scores below 620—a commonly used cutoff for prime and subprime lending (Psychological Science, Dec. 7).
  • Children with autism have more brain cells and heavier brains compared with typically developing children, according to a small study based at the University of California, San Diego, on the potential prenatal causes of autism. Scientists counted the brain cells in specific regions of the prefrontal cortex in postmortem brains of seven boys who had autism and six typically developing males. They found that children with autism had 67 percent more neurons in the prefrontal cortex and heavier brains for their age compared with typically developing children. Since these neurons are produced before birth, these findings suggest that faulty prenatal cell birth or maintenance may be involved in the development of autism (Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 9).
  • Neurons grown from skin cells may help researchers better understand how the brain's wiring goes awry in the development of autism. Stanford University scientists converted skin cells from patients with Timothy Syndrome—a rare, purely genetic form of autism that affects fewer than 20 people worldwide—into stem cells and then coaxed these to differentiate into neurons. They found that neurons that make long-distance connections between the brain's hemispheres also tended to be in short supply—a finding that may help in developing new therapies for Timothy Syndrome and provide insights into the neural basis of deficits in other forms of autism (Nature Medicine, Nov. 27).
  • Working momWorking may help mom's mental health, according to research from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Scientists analyzed data from 1,364 mothers interviewed shortly after their children's birth and over the course of 10 years. They found that moms who were employed full- or part-time reported fewer symptoms of depression and better overall health than stay-at-home moms. The study also found that moms who work part-time provided the most learning opportunities for their children—such as taking them to museums and to music lessons (Journal of Family Psychology®, December).
  • Unfair bosses and ambiguous expectations are strong predictors of workplace bullying, finds a study led by researchers at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Based on data collected from more than 10,000 employees within 65 organizations, the study showed that a "hands-off" leadership style, role conflict and role ambiguity were strongly related to bullying at the departmental level. The authors say that targeting these departmental or organizational practices may be one of the most effective ways to reduce bullying (International Journal of Stress Management, November).
  • Pregnant womanChanges in mothers' mental states before and after giving birth may slow infant development, according to a University of California, Irvine study. Researchers assessed pregnant women for depression before and after giving birth, and followed their babies' development for several months. They found that mental and physical development was faster in babies with mothers who either were depression-free or had depression both before and after giving birth. Babies' development was slower if their mothers went from depressed before birth to non-depressed after birth or from non-depressed before birth to depressed after birth (Psychological Science, Nov. 10).
  • Breast cancer survivors struggle with cognitive problems several years after treatment, finds a study out of the Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute in Tampa. Study participants, including 62 breast cancer patients treated with chemotherapy and radiation, 67 patients treated with radiation only and 184 women with no history of cancer, completed neuropsychological assessments six months after finishing treatment and again 36 months later. The study confirmed that both chemotherapy and radiation can cause cognitive problems in breast cancer survivors that persist for three years after they finish treatment. They did not find, however, that hormonal therapy, such as tamoxifen, affected cognition (Cancer, Dec. 12).
  • Another study confirms that alcohol consumption causes people to consider having unsafe sex, according to researchers at the University of Toronto. Through a series of 12 experiments, study participants were randomly assigned to drink alcohol or not. Then researchers asked participants whether they would engage in unsafe sex. They found that for every 0.1 mg/mL increase in blood alcohol level, participants' willingness to engage in unprotected sex increased by 5 percent (Addiction, January).
  • Some personality traits are broadcast through scent, according to research at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. Researchers collected cotton T-shirts worn over three consecutive nights by 60 participants and asked raters to smell the shirts and guess how the donors' rated on the "Big Five" personality traits—openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The raters predicted the donor's level of extroversion and neuroticism through smell at an above chance level—about as accurately as participants in past research predicted these personality traits based on a video depicting a person's behavior (European Journal of Personality, Oct. 12).
  • The antidepressant mirtazapine may help reduce methamphetamine use among gay men, according to research led by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco. In the study, half of the trial's 56 participants received a daily dose of mirtazapine; the other half, a placebo. After 12 weeks of treatment, men assigned to the mirtazapine group had 19 percent fewer methamphetamine-positive urine test results than the men assigned to the placebo group. Risky sexual behaviors also decreased among the mirtazapine group over the course of the trial (Archives of General Psychiatry, November).
  • Babies as young as 8 months old prefer it when antisocial people are mistreated, according to a study led by a University of British Columbia psychologist. Researchers presented four scenarios to 100 babies using animal hand puppets. After watching puppets act negatively or positively toward other characters, the babies were shown puppets either giving or taking toys from these "good" or "bad" puppets. When prompted to choose their favorite characters, babies preferred puppets that mistreated the bad characters (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov. 28).
  • Nice guys make less money, according to a study led by a business professor at the University of Notre Dame. Researchers collected data from 10,000 workers from around the nation and found that men who perceive themselves as being less agreeable earn an average of 18 percent more than their more agreeable co-workers. A woman's level of agreeableness has little to no effect on her pay (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Nov 28).
  • Chubby babyEarly weight gain may predict whether or not a child will become obese, according to a study conducted at the University of Montreal. Scientists analyzed the body mass indexes (BMI) of 1,957 children whose height and weight measurements had been taken yearly, from age 5 months to 8 years, and identified three trajectory groups: children with low but stable BMI, children with moderate BMI and children whose BMI was elevated and rising. The children who went on to become obese tended to be those who had high and rising BMI before age 4. Researchers also found that those children whose mothers were overweight or smoked during pregnancy were significantly more likely to be in the high-rising group. By the time these children moved into middle childhood, more than 50 percent of them were obese (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, October).

— A. Novotney


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