In Brief

  • People who had backpacked were more creative than those who hadn’t, a study finds.Taking a break from technology and immersing yourself in nature may improve creativity, according to research by psychologists at the University of Utah and the University of Kansas. In the study, 30 men and 26 women participated in four- to six-day wilderness hiking trips without any electronic devices. Of the 56 subjects, 24 took a 10-item creativity test the morning before they began their trip, and 32 took the test on the morning of the trip's fourth day. The researchers found that people who had been backpacking four days answered an average of 6.08 of the 10 questions correctly, compared with an average score of 4.14 for people who had not yet begun the trip. (PLoS One, Dec. 12)
  • Married women appear to suffer less partner abuse, substance abuse and postpartum depression during their childbearing years than women who are cohabitating or do not have a partner, according to a study led by researchers at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto. Data from a survey of 6,421 Canadian women aged 15 years or older show that about 10 percent of married women experienced partner or substance abuse or postpartum depression and 20 percent of women who were cohabitating had at least one of these three psychosocial conditions. The figure rose to 35 percent for single women who had never married and to 67 percent for those who separated or divorced less than 12 months before their child was born. (American Journal of Public Health, February)
  • Feeling depressed may aggravate chest pain in older women who've had heart problems, according to research by scientists at Queensland University of Technology. The researchers surveyed more than 10,000 women ages 70 to 75. Their analysis showed that a diagnosis of depression within the previous three years was a significant risk factor for chest pain in women with heart disease and a past history of heart interventions. (British Journal of Health Psychology, online Dec. 7)
  • People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of domestic violence, finds a meta-analysis conducted at King's College London. Researchers examined results from 41 studies and found that women with depression were two-and-a-half times more likely to be physically abused by a partner than was the general population. Women with anxiety disorders were more than three-and-a-half times more likely to be abused, and those with post-traumatic stress disorder were seven times more likely. Women with other conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were also at higher risk, as were men with all types of mental disorders. (PLoS One, online Dec. 26)
  • A study by Harvard psychologists contradicts the widely held belief that suicide is largely due to a lack of access to treatment.Most adolescents who plan or attempt suicide have already received some mental health treatment, according to a study by Harvard University psychologists. In a survey of more than 6,000 youngsters ages 13 to 18 and at least one of their parents, the researchers found that about 1 in 8 of the teens had persistent suicidal thoughts at some point, and about one-third had made a suicide attempt. Among this group, 55 percent of suicidal teens had received some therapy before they thought about suicide, planned it or tried to kill themselves. The finding contradicts the widely held belief that suicide is largely due to a lack of access to treatment. (JAMA Psychiatry, online Jan. 9)
  • People enjoy their discretionary income more if they spend it on social activities, according to a study led by Stony Brook University psychologists. Four experiments involving more than 1,900 adults found that people preferred social experiences over objects, regardless of their age, employment or marital status, education, household size or income. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online Dec. 31)
  • Women with significantly lower levels of education than their parents may be at higher risk for poor mental health, finds a University of Queensland study. Researchers measured the depressive symptoms and educational achievement of 5,619 women ages 31 to 36, and those of their parents. They found that the greater difference between parents' — in particular a mother's — education and their daughter's, the greater the chance the daughter will experience depression and other mental health disorders. Daughters with an equivalent or higher level of education than their parents' had better mental health. (Quality of Life Research, November)
  • NFL retirees are more likely to have depression and cognitive problems due to brain injury, suggests research led by University of Texas at Dallas scientists. In the study, 34 retired NFL players submitted to neurological and neuropsychological tests and 26 underwent detailed brain scans. These results were then compared to brain scans of healthy individuals. While 58 percent of the players had cognitively normal results, 24 percent had mild cognitive impairments, 12 percent had cognitive deficits and 6 percent had dementia. Twenty-four percent of the athletes were also diagnosed with depression. The brain scans showed that the athletes with cognitive impairment and depression had "significant differences" in their brain's white matter compared with that of healthy individuals. (JAMA Neurology, online Jan. 7)
  • An overactive amygdala may keep autistic teens from adjusting to unfamiliar social settings, finds a University of Michigan study. Researchers analyzed fMRI data from 32 children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorders and 56 typically developing youth, gathered while they identified the gender of faces that were expressing different emotions. The youth without autism showed decreased activation over time to the faces, while those with autism showed sustained activity in the brain's amygdala region over time when they saw sad and neutral faces, the researchers found. This process can leave the children feeling overstimulated and anxious, the study concluded. (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, January)
  • Newborns arrive with some language skill, a study finds.Just hours after they're born, babies can tell the difference between sounds in their native tongue and a foreign one, suggest the results of a study led by a psychologist at Pacific Lutheran University. The researchers subjected 40 30-hour-old babies in Tacoma, Wash., and Stockholm, Sweden, to vowel sounds in their native language and in foreign languages and gauged their interest in the sounds by measuring how long they sucked on a pacifier. In both countries, the infants sucked on theirs pacifiers longer when they heard their native tongue, suggesting they could differentiate between the languages, the researchers found. (Acta Paediatrica, February)
  • Expectant dads' mental health problems may trigger later emotional and behavioral problems among their children, according to research conducted at Helse Fonna Hospital in Haugesund, Norway. In the study of nearly 32,000 children in Norway, scientists found that fathers who scored high in psychological distress, depression and anxiety at week 17 or 18 of the baby's gestation had children with higher levels of emotional and behavioral difficulties at age 3, including disruptive behavior and anxiety. The results held even after controlling for factors such as the father's age, marital status, physical ailments, alcohol use, cigarette smoking and the mother's mental health status. (Pediatrics, online Jan. 6)
  • The memory problems that many women experience in their 40s and 50s appear to be most acute right after menopause, according to a study led by a University of Rochester neuropsychologist. The researchers measured the cognitive skills, estrogen levels and menopause-related symptoms, such as hot flashes and sleep disturbance, in 117 women. Women in the early stage of postmenopause performed worse on measures of verbal learning, verbal memory and fine-motor skill than did women in menopause's later stages. The researchers also found that self-reported sleep difficulties, depression and anxiety did not predict memory problems, suggesting that cognitive declines brought on by menopause are independent processes rather than a consequence of sleep disruption or depression. (Menopause, online Jan. 2)
  • Women's use of anti-depressants during pregnancy is not linked with an increased risk of stillbirth or infant death, finds a study conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Researchers examined data from more than 1.6 million births — including nearly 30,000 women who had taken a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor during pregnancy. They found no significant association between use of these medications during pregnancy and the risk of stillbirth or infant death, even after accounting for maternal psychiatric disease and other factors. (Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 2)
  • Infants raised in a bad economy may be at greater risk for substance use and delinquent behavior during adolescence, according to a study by scientists at State University of New York Upstate Medical University. The researchers analyzed data on nearly 9,000 born from Jan. 1, 1980, through Dec. 31, 1984 to examine the relationship between the high unemployment rates and subsequent rates of substance use and delinquent behaviors among adolescents. They found that 1-year-old children during this time frame who lived in an environment with an unemployment rate that was 1 percent or more higher than the mean regional unemployment rates had a higher chance of using marijuana (9 percent more), smoking (7 percent), using alcohol (6 percent), getting arrested (17 percent), being affiliated with a gang (9 percent) and committing petty theft (6 percent) and major theft (11 percent) during adolescence. (Archives of General Psychiatry, online Dec. 31)
  • People appear to be more likely to reciprocate greed, not generosity, finds a study led by a psychologist at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. In five experiments involving divisions of money or work, participants who were the recipients of an act of generosity didn't pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally. But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to be greedy to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, online Dec. 17)
  • The negative effects of playing violent video games may accumulate over time and lead to increases in aggressive behavior, suggests a study conducted at The Ohio State University. Researchers assigned 70 French university students to play a violent or nonviolent video game for 20 minutes on three consecutive days. The students who played the violent video game showed increases in aggressive behavior and expected to be the recipient of hostility and aggression from others each day they played, whereas those who played nonviolent games showed no meaningful changes in aggression or hostile expectations. (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, March)
  • Toddlers with more developed language skills may be better able to manage frustration by the time they're in preschool, finds a study with 120 children ages 18 to 48 months led by Pennsylvania State University. In one lab-based task, children were asked to wait eight minutes before opening a gift. The researchers found that the children who had better language skills as toddlers and whose language developed more quickly expressed less anger at age 4 than their peers whose toddler language skills weren't as good. Children whose language developed more quickly also were better able to occupy themselves at age 4, which in turn helped them tolerate the wait. (Child Development, online Dec. 20)

—Amy Novotney