In Brief

  • Exercise makes us happy, according researchers at Pennsylvania State University. For eight days, the study tracked the daily activities of 190 college students, who reported on the amount and level of their physical activity and their overall mental states. The participants who were more physically active reported greater levels of excitement and enthusiasm than those who were less active. (Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, December)

  • Boy playing soccerChildren who get more exercise do better in school, according to a study conducted by scientists at the Vrije Universiteit Free University Medical Center in Amsterdam. Researchers reviewed 14 studies that compared kids’ physical activity with their grades or scores on math, language and general thinking and memory tests. They found that those with higher rates of physical activity did better in the classroom. The authors say this may be because children can concentrate better when they get enough exercise or because physical activity improves blood flow to the brain. (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, January)

  • Online dating services don’t work any better than meeting someone in a bar, finds research led by a Northwestern University psychologist. In a review of more than 400 studies examining online dating, the authors found that while the sites do enable singles to meet people quickly, going through so many online profiles may overwhelm daters. The researchers also questioned the algorithms some sites use to match people based on their interests or personalities, noting that personality similarity has no effect on relationship well-being or marital satisfaction. (Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Feb. 2)

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy may not work as well with older adults, finds a study by researchers at King’s College London. In a review of 12 studies with participants 55 and older with anxiety disorders, the authors found that cognitive behavioral therapy appears to help older adults battle anxiety disorders slightly better than other approaches, but not as well as it does younger adults. It’s possible that talk therapy might take longer to work for this population, the authors say. (Journal of the American Geriatrics Association, online Jan. 27)

  • People eat less when they munch on snacks in pre-packaged segments or portions, according to a study by researchers at Cornell University and the University of Pennsylvania. In the study, 98 college students ate from tubes of potato chips while watching a movie. The control group ate chips that were identical and the treatment group ate from tubes that had colored chips inserted at regular intervals — every fifth chip was red, for example. The authors found that participants in the red-potato-chip group ate an average of 50 percent fewer chips than those whose chips were identical. (Health Psychology, online Feb. 6)

  • Chocolate cakeTopping off breakfast with a piece of chocolate cake may help dieters lose more weight, according to researchers from Tel Aviv University. In a study with nearly 200 obese, non-diabetic adults, scientists found that participants who added dessert to their breakfasts — such as cookies, cake or chocolate — lost an average of 40 pounds more than a group that avoided such foods. They also kept the weight off longer. Researchers say that such a morning meal staves off cravings and defuses psychological addictions to sweet foods. (Steroids, March)

  • Attending a poor school is worse for a teen’s health than coming from a poor family, finds researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. They analyzed data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that included information about 16,133 students in 132 schools, and found that adolescents in schools with limited financial resources were more likely to experience weight problems, while the income and average education level of their parents played less of a role. Poor schools often don’t have the resources to fund athletic and fitness programs, and may rely more on income from junkfood- dispensing vending machines. (Social Science and Medicine, February)

  • People who work too much are twice as likely to become depressed, finds a study led by a researcher at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health. The authors followed more than 2,000 middle-aged British workers over the course of five years and found that those working 11 or more hours a day had nearly double the odds of experiencing a major depressive episode than their colleagues. (PLoS ONE, Jan. 25)

  • Component scores in 360-degree feedback assessments matter regardless of who provides the ratings, suggest findings from a study with 825 managers and their colleagues. The study’s researchers, at Goldsmiths, University of London, found that personality predicted 360-degree feedback ratings of a worker’s ability to develop others or meet goals despite these ratings being substantially influenced by whether the rater was a manager, colleague or subordinate of the worker being rated. (Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, December)

  • Narcissism may put men’s health at risk, according to a study led by a University of Michigan psychologist. Scientists measured the stress hormone cortisol in 106 undergraduate students and asked them to complete an assessment for the personality trait narcissism. They found that males who had higher measures of the unhealthy components of narcissism, such as exploitativeness and entitlement, also had higher levels of cortisol. The unhealthy components of narcissism were more than twice as likely to predict high cortisol in males than in females. No link was found between healthy narcissism traits, such as leadership, and cortisol in either gender. (PLoS One, Jan. 23)

  • Male tenure-track professors often experience work-family conflicts, but tend not to take advantage of family-friendly policies, according to a qualitative study conducted at the University of Texas at Austin. Researchers interviewed assistant professors raising at least one child under age 6 and found that many felt torn between work and family obligations. They also found that, even after learning about programs such as “stopping the tenure clock,” most of the dads were reluctant to take advantage of them for fear of seeming uncommitted to their careers. (Psychology of Men & Masculinity, January)

  • Memory problemsMen are at higher risk for memory loss than women, according to a study conducted at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Over the course of three years, researchers performed several neuropsychological tests every 15 months with a group of 1,450 older adults who had no dementia at enrollment. They found that 296 participants developed mild cognitive impairment, and that the number of new cases per year was higher in men, at 72 per 1,000 people compared with 57 per 1,000 people in women. Men and women who had less education or were not married also had higher rates of memory problems. (Neurology, Jan. 31)

  • Good friends can reduce the effects of stress, according to a study by researchers at Concordia University in Montreal. More than 100 schoolchildren in fifth and sixth grades were given journals to record their feelings and had their saliva tested four times a day for four consecutive days. The authors found that having a best friend present during a stressful experience significantly buffered the children against the negative effects of that experience — cortisol levels and self-worth remained relatively unchanged. When a best friend was not present, researchers saw an increase in cortisol and a decrease in self-worth. (Developmental Psychology, November)

  • Abnormal brain structures predispose people to chronic drug abuse, find University of Cambridge researchers. Their study compared the cognitive function and brain structure of 47 people with an addiction with 49 of their non-addicted siblings and 50 healthy unrelated, drug-free volunteers. The researchers tested participants’ ability to control impulses and found that both the addicted participants and their siblings showed significantly reduced performance on the task compared with controls. Brain scans also showed that siblings had similar abnormal connections in an area of the brain involved with self-control, suggesting that poor impulse control may predispose people to abuse drugs. (Science, Feb. 3)

  • Babies appear to read lips while learning to speak, finds research by a group of Florida Atlantic University psychologists. In the study, researchers followed the gazes of 180 babies at 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months by showing videos of a woman speaking. They found that as babies got older, they shifted their attention: The 4-month-olds gazed mostly into the speaker’s eyes while the 6-month-olds spent equal amounts of time looking at her eyes and mouth. The 8- and 10-month-olds studied mostly the mouth, and by 12 months, attention started shifting back toward the speaker’s eyes. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online Jan. 17)

  • Having an easy-to-say name may help you get promoted, finds a study by a team of American and Australian researchers. Through a series of five experiments, the authors found that, even after controlling for the ethnicity of the name, people with more pronounceable last names such as Sherman and Jenkins are judged more positively than those with difficult-topronounce names, such as Farquharson and Leszczynska. They also found that people with simpler names were more likely to win political office, and that American lawyers with easier sounding names were promoted faster within their law firms. (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, online Dec. 9)

  • Family conflictTeens have fewer behavioral problems when parents enforce rules at home, according to a study led by researchers at the University of Oregon. The authors followed 593 seventhand eighth-graders and their families in a randomized controlled trial at three public schools in the Pacific Northwest. Some families were assigned to participate in Family Check-Up — a program for parents that encourages them to enforce a curfew and talk with teens about drinking, substance use and sex. The other families were assigned to a control group of “school as usual.” The researchers found that the intervention improved parental monitoring and reduced family conflict and decreased antisocial behavior and alcohol use among the teens. (Journal of Adolescent Health, online Jan. 16)

—A. Novotney