In Brief

  • Parents who prioritize their children's well-being over their own may be happier than less child-centric parents. Parents who prioritize their children’s well-being over their own may be happier than less child-centric parents, finds research conducted with 322 parents by psychologists at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam and the University of British Columbia. In the first of two studies, scientists asked parents recruited online to complete a child-centrism scale to measure their parenting style and a survey measuring the happiness and meaning in life that they experienced from having children. The researchers found that more child-centric parents were significantly more likely to report higher happiness and a sense of purpose in life derived from having children. In the second study, participants retold their previous day's activities, reporting how they felt during each activity. The researchers found that more child-centric parents had greater positive feelings, fewer negative feelings and experienced more meaning in life during child-care activities (Social Psychological and Personality Science, November).
  • Irregular bedtimes may lead to behavioral problems in children, according to a study conducted at University College London. Researchers analyzed bedtime and behavioral data from 10,000 children in the United Kingdom, collected when the children were 3, 5 and 7 from their mothers and teachers. They found a clear, clinically and statistically significant link between bedtimes and behavior, noting that irregular bedtimes affected children's behavior by disrupting circadian rhythms, leading to sleep deprivation that affects the developing brain. As the children without regular bedtimes progressed through childhood, they scored increasingly worse on tests of hyperactivity, conduct problems, problems with peers and emotional difficulties. Children who switched to more regular bedtimes showed clear improvements in their behaviors (Pediatrics, November).
  • Ruptures in the therapist-client relationship may damage a patient's treatment outcome, according to research led by Case Western Reserve University psychologists. The study's 116 participants had previously experienced a traumatic event, such as childhood sexual or physical abuse, physical assault or combat exposure, and had a primary diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. The participants engaged in a 10-session, prolonged exposure therapy treatment program and were asked to assess their PTSD symptoms and their relationship with the therapist during treatment. The researchers found that 18 percent of patients experienced a rupture, or dip, in the therapeutic alliance, that was never repaired, and that this unresolved rupture predicted poorer treatment outcomes (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, online Nov. 4).
  • Wives' behaviors appear to matter more when it comes to calming down after marital conflicts, finds a study conducted at the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers analyzed videotaped interactions of more than 80 middle-aged and older heterosexual couples — who were primarily white, socioeconomically well-off and with children — to pinpoint the negative peaks in the couple's conversations and the amount of time it took spouses to recover based on their body language, facial expressions and emotional and physiological responses. Marriages in which wives quickly calmed down during disputes were ultimately shown to be the happiest, in both the short and long term (Emotion, online Nov. 4).
  • Eating disorders affect male as well as female teens, suggests a study led by Boston Children's Hospital scientists. The researchers reviewed survey responses collected every 12 to 36 months over 10 years from more than 5,500 U.S. teenage males. They found that nearly 18 percent reported being extremely concerned about their weight and physique, and nearly 3 percent met full or partial criteria for binge-eating disorder. Nearly one-third reported infrequent binge eating, purging or overeating (JAMA Pediatrics, online Nov. 4).
  • Mindfulness training appears to improve attention skills and lower anti-social behavior among incarcerated youth, according to a study led by New York University researchers. The scientists randomly assigned 267 incarcerated males, ages 16 to 18, to one of two groups: an intervention group that received cognitive-behavioral/mindfulness training or a control group receiving an evidence-based intervention focused on attitudes and beliefs about substance use and violence. While the attention-related task performance for most of the participants declined due to the stress of being incarcerated, the mindfulness group showed significantly less of a decline compared with the control group, the research found. In addition, the teens who practiced mindfulness outside of the intervention sessions showed no decline at all in attention and cognitive control (Frontiers in Psychology, online Oct. 8).
  • Learning a new skill may beat puzzles for boosting older adults' memory, finds a study led by a University of Texas at Dallas psychologist. The scientists divided the study's 221 older adults into three groups: One learned a new skill, such as photography, quilting or both; another took part in mentally stimulating activities, such as listening to classical music or completing crossword puzzles; and the third engaged in social activities, such as taking field trips with other adults. Each group took part in their activity for 15 hours a week for three months. The researchers found that participants who learned something new showed more improvement in their memory skills compared with the other groups (Psychological Science, in press).
  • People with autism have distinctive personality tendencies compared with those without the disorder, suggests research conducted at the University of California, Davis. Scientists compared self-reported personality traits of 37 adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 42 typically developed adults, and self- and parent-reported personality traits of 50 children with ASD and 50 typically developing children. They found that both adults and children with ASD are more neurotic and less agreeable, less conscientious, less extraverted and less open to new experiences than those without the disorder. The results also indicate that individuals with ASD have a significant level of understanding of their own personalities (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, in press).
  • People with autism spectrum disorder perform better on certain detail-oriented tasks than those without the disorder, finds research led by Carnegie Mellon University scientists. The researchers evaluated 13 study participants with ASD as they took part in a luggage-screening task, where they were asked to identify bags with suspicious objects in them and reject bags without suspicious objects. Compared with 13 participants without the disorder, those with ASD were faster at eliminating non-suspicious bags, and their efficiency at this task improved through the study's 320 trials. The control participants' performance stayed the same or worsened throughout the study, which the authors suggest may be due to a loss of focus (Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, October).
  • Eye contact during early infancy may be a key to identifying autism early, according to a study led by Emory University researchers. The scientists followed infants from birth to age 3, using eye-tracking equipment to measure the children's eye movements as they watched videos of their caregivers, testing the children 10 different times between 2 months and 24 months of age. The researchers found that infants later diagnosed with autism focused on their caregiver's eyes only about half as long as their typically developing peers. This drop in eye-looking began between 2 and 6 months of age and continued throughout the study (Nature, online Nov. 6).
  • Playing video games may be good for your brain, finds a study led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. The researchers asked 23 adults with a median age of 25 to play "Super Mario 64" for 30 minutes a day for two months. A control group did not play video games at all. Examining the brains of the two groups via MRI before and after the trial, the researchers found that the gaming group showed a rise in gray matter in the right hippocampus, right prefrontal cortex and the cerebellum — areas of the brain responsible for spatial navigation, memory formation, strategic planning and fine motor skills in the hands (Molecular Psychiatry, online Oct. 29).
  • Our ability to resist cheating or lying appears to decline over the course of a day, according to research led by a Harvard University scientist. In one study, researchers asked college-age participants to look at various patterns of dots on a computer and identify whether more dots were displayed on the left or right side of the screen. The participants received money based on which side of the screen they determined had more dots — and were paid 10 times the amount for selecting the right over the left. The researchers found that participants tested between 8 a.m. and noon were less likely to cheat — selecting the right side, even if there were unmistakably more dots on the left — than participants tested from noon to 6 p.m. (Psychological Science, online Oct. 28).
  • Sunlight may lower the prevalence of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, finds a study led by a psychologist at Utretcht University in the Netherlands. The researchers mapped the number of ADHD diagnoses across the United States and in nine other countries and compared those rates with the intensity of sunlight those regions receive year-round. Regions with the most sun, such as Arizona, California and Colorado, had rates of ADHD diagnoses that were about half as high as regions that received the least sunlight, such as much of the northeastern United States (Biological Psychiatry, Oct. 15).
  • People seem more attractive in a group than they do when they're alone, according to research led by University of California, San Diego, psychologists. In five experiments with 130 undergraduates, the scientists showed participants pictures of 100 people — half in a group portrait with two other people and the other half cropped to show the person alone. The participants rated both female and male subjects as more attractive in the group shot than when alone. In several other experiments, the scientists found that the pictures didn't need to be from a cohesive group portrait to obtain this effect. When participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of one person out of a collage of four, nine and 16 pictures, the "group" picture was still rated higher than when that individual's picture was presented alone (Psychological Science,online Oct. 25).
  • Moderate exercise appears to prevent episodes of depression in the long term.Moderate exercise appears to prevent episodes of depression in the long term, suggests a meta-analysis of 30 studies conducted over 26 years. University of Toronto researchers found that even low levels of physical activity — such as walking or gardening for 20 to 30 minutes a day — can ward off depression in people of all age groups (American Journal of Preventive Medicine, November).
  • Speaking a second language may delay the onset of dementia, finds research conducted at Nizam's Institute of Medical Sciences in India. In a review of case records of 648 people, controlling for education, gender, occupation and other factors, the researchers found that people who spoke two languages developed dementia an average of 4.5 years later than those who spoke only one language (Neurology, online Nov. 6).
  • A good night's rest may clean up the brain, suggests a University of Rochester-led study. Scientists injected the brains of mice with beta-amyloid, a substance that builds up in people who develop Alzheimer's disease, and followed the substance's movement. The researchers found that the beta-amyloid was removed faster from the mice's brains when they were sleeping. The researchers also found that brain cells tend to shrink during sleep, which widens the space between cells and allows toxins to pass through more easily (Science, Oct. 18).
  • Children are more likely to believe an adult with an attractive face than an adult with an unattractive one, suggests research by psychologists at Clark and Harvard universities. The researchers showed images of six novel objects to 32 children ages 4 to 5 and asked the children to name them. Whether or not the child answered correctly after seeing each object, the researcher then suggested the child ask one of two people what the object was. The researchers then showed the child a photo of a highly attractive woman and one of a highly unattractive woman. The child was then shown what each person in the photo said the object was and asked who they thought was right. The researchers found that more children, especially girls, selected the attractive face initially and both boys and girls were more likely to believe the answer given by the more attractive face (British Journal of Developmental Psychology, online Oct. 25).

— Amy Novotney and Seth McCanless Wegner