The following studies were among the research presented at APA’s 2013 Annual Convention.
(These studies are selected by APA divisions, but not formally peer-reviewed.)
- People who were repeatedly bullied throughout childhood and adolescence appear to be significantly more likely to go to prison than those who weren't, finds an as-yet-unpublished study led by Michael Turner, PhD, of the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. Turner analyzed data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which first surveyed 7,335 people ages 12 to 16, and followed them for 14 years. He found that almost 14 percent of those who reported being bullied repeatedly from childhood through their teens ended up in prison as adults, compared with 6 percent of non-victims, 9 percent of childhood-only victims and 7 percent of teen-only victims. Overall, more than 20 percent of those who endured chronic bullying were convicted of crimes, compared with 11 percent of non-victims, 16 percent of childhood victims and 13 percent of teen victims.
- About one-third of U.S. teens say they've been victims of dating violence, and approximately the same number also acknowledge they've been violent toward a date, finds an as-yet-unpublished study led by psychologist Michelle Ybarra, PhD, with the Center for Innovative Public Health Research, based in San Clemente, Calif. Researchers analyzed data collected in 2011 and 2012 from 1,058 American youths ages 14 to 20. They found that 41 percent of teen girls reported being victims of dating violence — defined as physical, sexual or psychological/emotional violence within a dating relationship — and 35 percent reported having perpetrated dating violence in their lives. Among boys, 37 percent said they had been on the receiving end, while 29 percent reported being perpetrators. Twenty-nine percent of girls and 24 percent of boys reported being both a victim and a perpetrator.
- Vulnerability to alcohol and drug abuse may be linked to how much fatty and sugary food a mother eats during pregnancy, according to as-yet-unpublished research with rodents, led by Nicole Avena, PhD, of the University of Florida's McKnight Brain Institute. Compared with pregnant rats that ate regular rodent chow, pregnant rats that ate high-fat or high-sugar diets gave birth to pups that weighed more as adults and drank more alcohol. The offspring of those on high-sugar diets also had stronger responses to commonly abused drugs, such as amphetamines.
- Multiracial people appear to value their race being accurately identified more than single-race individuals do, according to an as-yet-unpublished study led by Tufts University's Jessica Remedios, PhD. In it, she and colleagues took photos of 169 ethnically diverse participants and told them their photos would be traded with someone in another room. In reality, each participant received a photo of a fictional white male who had supposedly filled out a questionnaire related to the participant's photo. They found that multiracial participants were more interested in meeting partners who had accurately identified them than meeting someone who had incorrectly identified them. Single-race people were surprised when their race was not accurately identified, but showed no difference in willingness to meet that person.
- Feeling left out may lead people to make risky financial decisions, finds a study led by Rod Duclos, PhD, of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. In one experiment, 59 students played an online ball-tossing game designed to make them feel socially included or excluded. The participants then had to choose between two hypothetical gambles with very different odds. The socially excluded participants favored the riskier option more strongly than their included counterparts, the researchers found. A second experiment used essay writing to make 168 students feel either excluded or included. Similarly, it found that the socially excluded participants were twice as likely to gamble as the students who felt included (Journal of Consumer Research, June).
- Male Holocaust survivors lived significantly longer than their peers who'd never been under Nazi oppression, according to a study co-authored by a psychologist at the University of Haifa in Israel. The authors looked at more than 55,000 Polish immigrants, three-quarters of whom came to Israel from 1945 to 1950 (directly after the Holocaust) and one-quarter of whom had come to the country before 1939. The researchers found that men who'd experienced the Holocaust at ages 10 to 15 lived, on average, 10 months longer than the men who were already in Israel, and that those who were age 16 to 20 lived an extra 18 months. Why would one of the most traumatized populations in history lead longer lives? One theory is "post-traumatic growth," the idea that many survivors of very traumatic events emerge with a renewed sense of purpose and meaning, the authors speculate (PLOS ONE, July 24).
- Black students who need to improve their school performance may do so and feel less stereotyped as underachievers if teachers convey high standards and a belief that students can meet them, finds research from the University of Texas at Austin. In one of the study's three experiments, 44 seventh-grade students (22 black and 22 white) wrote an essay about a personal hero that was critiqued by their teachers for improvements. The students were randomly assigned to two groups, with the experimental group receiving a handwritten note with their critiqued essay that stated, "I'm giving you these comments because I have very high expectations, and I know that you can reach them." The control group got a note that stated, "I'm giving you these comments so that you'll have feedback on your paper." The researchers found that 71 percent of the black students who received the high-expectations note revised their essays, compared with 17 percent in the control group. No significant difference between the two groups was found for white students (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, online Aug. 12).
- Children who have been raped or physically abused may be significantly more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than child victims of other types of trauma, according to research led by Boston Children's Hospital scientists. The researchers analyzed data from 6,483 teen-parent pairs and found that 61 percent of adolescents ages 13 to 17 had been exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event in their lives, including interpersonal violence, injuries, natural disasters and death of a close friend or family member. Of all teens exposed to trauma, 4.7 percent had experienced PTSD. However, the lifetime prevalence of PTSD was 39 percent for teens who had been raped and 25 percent for those physically abused by a caregiver (Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, August).
- Exercise may improve mood and reduce fatigue in pregnant women, finds research from the University of Western Ontario. In the study, 56 previously inactive pregnant women took part in a four-week exercise program that encouraged them to exercise for 30 minutes, five days a week. Those who followed the guidelines reported experiencing significant decreases in depression, anger, tension, fatigue and anxiety, as well as improved levels of energy, compared with those who did not follow the exercise program guidelines and remained inactive (Psychology and Health, online July 10).
- Pregnant smokers who feel less emotional attachment to their fetuses may smoke more than women with greater feelings of attachment, finds research conducted at Brown University. The scientists asked 58 pregnant smokers to answer questions about their smoking history during pregnancy, as well as about their feelings toward the fetus at 30 and 35 weeks of gestation. The researchers also measured participants' saliva levels of the chemical cotinine, a metabolic byproduct of nicotine use that varies with the amount a person has smoked in the last day or so. Women in the lower attachment group had significantly higher levels of cotinine — an indicator that they smoked more — at weeks 30 and 35, as well as a day after delivery, than women in the higher attachment group. These women also reported smoking a higher number of cigarettes per day (Maternal and Child Health Journal, July).
- A sleepless night makes us more likely to reach for doughnuts or pizza than whole grains and leafy green vegetables, suggests a study led by University of California, Berkeley, psychologists. Using fMRI, the researchers scanned the brains of 23 healthy young adults, first after a normal night's sleep and then after a sleepless night. They found impaired activity in the sleep-deprived brain's frontal lobe, which governs complex decision-making, and increased activity in the brain centers that respond to rewards. They also found that participants favored unhealthy snacks and junk foods when they were sleep deprived but not when they were well-rested (Nature Communications, Aug. 6).
- The color of your night light may affect your mood, according to a study involving hamsters conducted by psychologists at Ohio State University. The researchers exposed adult female hamsters to four weeks of nighttime conditions with either no light, dim red light, dim white light (similar to that found in normal light bulbs) or dim blue light. The hamsters that were kept in the dark at night drank the most sugar water — a treat they enjoy — followed closely by those exposed to red light. Those that lived with dim white or blue light at night drank significantly less sugar water, which the scientists say may indicate evidence of a mood problem. The researchers then examined the hippocampus of the hamsters' brains and found that those that spent the night in dim blue or white light had a significantly reduced density of dendritic spines, a condition that has been linked to depression (The Journal of Neuroscience, Aug. 7).
- Personality may affect a new mother's decision to breastfeed, finds research out of Swansea University in the United Kingdom. Scientists surveyed 602 mothers with infants age 6 months to 12 months, asking about the mothers' personalities, how long they breastfed and about their breastfeeding attitudes and experiences. Moms who indicated that they were extroverted and emotionally stable were significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding and continue it longer. Those who were introverted or anxious were more likely to use formula or only breastfeed for a short while (Journal of Advanced Nursing, online Aug. 6).
- Regular marijuana use in adolescence — but not adulthood — may permanently impair brain function and cognition and increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, finds a study with mice at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The scientists first examined cortical oscillations — patterns of the activity of neurons in the brain that underlie the brain's various functions — in young mice, and then exposed the rodents to very low doses of the active ingredient in marijuana for 20 days. They found that after the mice were exposed to the ingredient, their cortical oscillations were grossly altered and they exhibited impaired cognitive abilities that persisted into adulthood. In a repeat of the experiment with adult mice, cortical oscillations and cognitive function remained normal (Neuropsychopharmacology, July 4).
- After a conflict, spouses want to see a willingness of their partner to relinquish power, not an apology, suggest the results of a study led by Baylor University psychologists. The researchers asked 455 married participants ages 18 to 77 to independently list desired resolutions to a conflict — anything from a minor disagreement to a big argument. They found that the No. 1 desired resolution was shared control, which can come in the form of giving a partner more independence, admitting faults, showing respect and being willing to compromise (Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, June).
- Children with chronic stomach pains may be at higher risk for developing anxiety disorders later in life, according to a study at Vanderbilt University. The researchers tracked 332 children with recurring stomachaches that could not be traced to a physical cause and compared them over time with 147 children who had never had such stomachaches. They found that about half of the teenagers and young adults who had had persistent stomach-aches as children developed an anxiety disorder, compared with 20 percent of the control group. Forty percent of the children with stomach pain went on to experience depression, compared with 16 percent of those who did not have stomach pain. This vulnerability to anxiety and depression persisted into adulthood even if that pain had disappeared (Pediatrics, online Aug. 12).
- Feeling powerful dampens the brain's ability to empathize, suggests a study by neuroscientists at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. The researchers randomly put the study's participants in the mindset of feeling either powerless or powerful by having the powerless group write about a time they depended on others for help and having the powerful group write about a time they called the shots. Next, all the participants watched a short video in which an anonymous hand squeezes a rubber ball several times. Meanwhile, the researchers tracked the participants' brain activity, paying particular attention to a region called the mirror system, which contains neurons that activate when one, or someone else that one is observing, performs an action — in this case, squeezing a ball. The researchers found that feeling powerless boosted activity in the mirror system, suggesting that these participants highly empathized with the person in the video. The empathy signal in the brain was much lower among the powerful group (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, online July 1).
- A mother's perceived social status may predict her child's brain development and stress levels, finds a study out of Boston Children's Hospital. Thirty-eight children ages 8 to 11 provided saliva samples to measure levels of cortisol, and 19 also underwent fMRI of the brain's hippocampus. Mothers rated their social standing on a scale of 1 to 10, comparing themselves with others in the United States. The researchers found that children whose mothers saw themselves as having a low social status were more likely to have increased cortisol levels — an indicator of stress — and less activation of their hippocampus, a brain structure that is known to be crucial for learning and especially vulnerable to stress (Developmental Science, online Aug. 7).
— Amy Novotney
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