In Brief

  • Young black adult males are less likely to go back for mental health services than their white counterpartsYoung adult blacks males, especially those with higher levels of education, are less likely to seek mental health services than their white counterparts, according to researchers at Michigan State University. The study examined two samples of national data—one collected in 1994 and 1995 consisting of 6,504 adolescents ages 13 to 18, and another collected in 2001, with 4,881 adults ages 18 to 26. The analysis also found that while whites who had previously used mental health services were more likely to receive additional services, the opposite was true for blacks. (Psychological Services, February)

  • A six-month intervention focused on dealing with work-related problems appears to help depressed and anxious employees return to work sooner, according to research led by scientists at the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research. The study followed 168 employees on sick leave due to psychological problems. Half received about six months of standard, evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy, while the rest received CBT that also focused on problem-solving at work and the process of returning to work. Those who received the work-based therapy resumed work 65 days more quickly than participants receiving regular CBT. (Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, online Feb. 6)

  • Firefighters who perceive a lack of social support and tend to blame themselves are at increased risk for mental health problems, suggests a study conducted by psychologists at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University and Texas A&M Schools of Medicine. Researchers assessed 142 trauma-exposed, professional firefighters and found relatively low rates of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and alcohol abuse. Most problems were observed among those who perceived a lack of emotional and practical support and who blamed themselves when coping with stress. (Psychological Services, February)

  • Women are happier in relationships when men feel their pain, suggests research at Harvard Medical School. The study examined videotaped discussions between 156 heterosexual couples about a frustrating, disappointing or upsetting incident in their lives. The researchers also surveyed the couples on their overall relationship satisfaction and measured their ability to empathize. They found that the men's ability to read their female partners' emotions correctly predicted greater relationship satisfaction. (Journal of Family Psychology, online Feb. 27)

  • Fluid arm movements may encourage creativity, according to a study by Stanford University social psychologists. In one experiment, researchers asked college students to trace a series of looping lines or to draw boxy lines, and then were given a minute to think of creative uses for a newspaper. The fluid movement group came up with more original ideas, such as creating black-out poems, poetry made by blacking out words from newspaper articles with a marker. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, online Feb. 20)

  • Students who were told that learning is difficult did much better on a follow-up test than those who didn't get that messageChildren may perform better in school if they are told that failure is a normal part of learning, suggests research conducted at the University of Poitiers in France. In one experiment, for example, scientists gave 111 French sixth-graders difficult anagrams that none of them could solve. One group of students was told that learning is difficult and failure is common, but practice will help. Children in a second group were only asked how they tried to solve the problems. Then, both groups were given a working memory test. The students who were told that learning is difficult performed significantly better on the follow-up test than the second group and a control group. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, online March 5)

  • Many young people don't know what constitutes sensible alcohol consumption, according to a University of Sussex study. Researchers quizzed 309 secondary school students and 125 university students in England on government guidelines for safe alcohol consumption. The students also reported their personal alcohol consumption and poured their "usual" drinks. They found that knowledge of alcohol units and guidelines was generally poor: Fewer than half of the students gave correct responses on most of the questions. Participants also tended to underestimate the alcoholic content of their drinks. (Drug and Alcohol Review, March)

  • Psychologists who feel they are in control of their workloads and schedules report better work-life balance and greater life satisfaction, finds research by psychologists at Loyola University in Chicago. The study examined the responses of 368 doctoral-level psychologists who worked at least 20 hours a week, and who were married or had children or both, to a national survey on professional and family life. While self-determined schedules were equally important for both men and women, the researchers found that having a supportive family was more important for women. (Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, online Feb. 20)

  • The amount and quality of sleep you get may be linked to risk for Alzheimer's disease, according to research led by scientists at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and presented at the American Academy of Neurology's Annual Meeting in April. Over the course of two weeks, researchers measured the sleep patterns of 100 people age 45 to 80. They found that those who woke up more than five times an hour were more likely to have amyloid plaque buildup—a precursor of Alzheimer's disease—compared with people who slept more soundly. The study also found that those who had trouble getting to sleep tended to have more amyloid plaque in their brains.

  • Babies understand more words than we thinkSix- to 9-month-old babies appear to understand the meaning of many spoken words, finds a study by psychologists at the University of Pennsylvania. The scientists had 33 caregivers ask their children to look at a picture of a one of several food items or body parts among a group. The babies looked longest at the correctly named pictures. These findings challenge the previously held consensus among psychologists that word comprehension doesn't emerge until closer to a child's first birthday. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb. 28)

  • Privilege seems to promote unethical behavior, according to a series of experiments led by a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley. In one experiment, for example, researchers found that upper-class participants were more likely to cheat during a dice game. They also found that people who drive more expensive cars were three times more likely than drivers of cheaper, older cars to fail to stop for pedestrians at a crosswalk, and four times more likely to cut off other drivers at a four-way stop. (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Feb. 27)

  • The use of statin drugs to lower cholesterol in people with coronary artery disease may also reduce their risk for depression, finds a study led by researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The scientists recruited 965 people with stable coronary artery disease at outpatient clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area, and tracked their statin use and depressive symptoms over six years. They found that, even after adjusting for age, sex, smoking, education, income, and several other factors, statin use was associated with a decrease of 38 percent in the odds of developing depressive symptoms over the course of the study. (Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, online Feb. 21)

  • A medication commonly used to help people stop smoking may hold promise as a treatment for alcohol abuse, according to a study by University of Chicago researchers. Fifteen heavy-to-moderate social drinkers received a single dose of varenicline three hours before an alcoholic beverage. Afterward, they reported an increase in the unpleasant effects of alcohol and reduced drug liking, even when researchers controlled for the nausea-inducing effects of the medication. The authors say these effects may encourage people to consume less alcohol during a drinking episode. (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, online Feb. 16)

  • Exercise may head off employee burnout, according to a study led by a Tel Aviv University researcher. Scientists asked 1,632 healthy Israeli workers to complete a physical and mental health questionnaire at four routine checkups over nine years. They found that the more physical activity that participants engaged in, the less likely they were to experience depression and burnout. Depression and burnout rates were highest among those who did not participate in any physical activity. (Journal of Applied Psychology, online Jan. 9)

  • Anxiety over the anticipation of stressful situations may increase a person's risk for developing cancer, heart disease and stroke, according to a study by University of California, San Francisco, psychologists. In a study with 50 women, researchers found that those most threatened by the anticipation of stressful tasks such as public speaking and solving math problems looked older at the cellular level. They determined this by measuring telomeres, which are the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes. Shorter telomeres are associated with increased risk for a host of chronic diseases. (Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, online Jan. 24)

  • The right diet could protect your brainA Mediterranean-style diet, which emphasizes healthy fats, fruits and vegetables, might protect against blood-vessel damage in the brain, reducing the risks of stroke and memory loss, according to a study by researchers at the University of Miami and Columbia University. The scientists gave 1,091 adults food questionnaires and then used MRI scans to look for damage to small blood vessels in their brains. They found that people who adhered most closely to the Mediterranean diet had the least damage. (Archives of Neurology, February)

  • Infants and toddlers who snore or have other sleep-related breathing issues are almost twice as likely to develop behavioral problems by age 7 as children whose breathing is normal, suggests research from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York City. Scientists examined parental reports on the snoring, mouth breathing and apnea behaviors of more than 11,000 children in England, who were followed for six years, beginning when the children were 6 months old. By interfering with the quality of rest, sleep-disordered breathing may contribute to behavioral issues, such as being easily distracted, hyperactivity and irritability, the authors say. (Pediatrics, online March 5)

—A. Novotney