In Brief

  • Children with a history of depression appear to be at increased risk of showing signs of heart disease as early as their teens.Children with a history of depression appear to be at increased risk of showing signs of heart disease as early as their teens, according to research led by a University of South Florida psychologist. The study compared heart disease risk factors — such as smoking, obesity, physical activity level and parental history — among 210 adolescents with histories of clinical depression and 195 of their siblings who never had depression. The researchers also gathered information from 161 unrelated adolescents with no history of depression. The increased risk of heart disease held true even for participants who were no longer experiencing depressive symptoms (Psychosomatic Medicine, February-March).
  • Adults without college degrees appear to live longer if they feel in control of their lives, according to a study at the University of Rochester. Researchers followed 6,135 people ages 25 to 75 for 14 years, collecting a variety of data, including an assessment of each subject's perceived ability to exert influence over life circumstances. They found that the risk of dying increased among those who had lower levels of education, but feeling a sense of control counteracted the increased risk. Among people with more education — those with at least a college degree — feeling a sense of control didn't appear to affect lifespan (Health Psychology, online Feb. 3).
  • Single-sex education does not educate girls and boys any better than co-ed schools, suggests a meta-analysis of 184 studies of more than 1.6 million students around the world, led by a University of Wisconsin-Madison psychology professor. The analysis, which included studies of K–12 schools published from 1968 to 2013, examined students' performance in math and science, as well as their attitudes about school, gender stereotyping, aggression, victimization and body image. The researchers did not find sufficient evidence for any significant differences in performance or attitudes for boys or girls in single-sex versus co-ed classrooms (Psychological Bulletin, online Feb. 3).
  • A little indulgence over the weekend may not affect long-term weight control.A little indulgence over the weekend may not affect long-term weight control, according to a study led by a Cornell University psychologist. Scientists monitored the weight of 80 adults for a minimum of 15 days and found there was an overall pattern of higher weight on Sundays and Mondays. The participants who then lost more weight from Tuesday until the weekend ended up losing or maintaining their weight successfully up to a year later. The researchers also found that successful weight control is more likely in the long run if people allow for short-term splurges (Obesity Facts, online Jan. 31).
  • Having a supportive spouse may reduce your risk for heart disease, according to a study conducted by University of Utah psychologists. The researchers asked 136 older couples to complete questionnaires measuring their overall marriage quality, as well as their perceived support from their spouses. About 30 percent of individuals viewed their partners as supportive, while 70 percent saw them as ambivalent — sometimes helpful and sometimes upsetting. Using a CT scanner to check for calcium deposits in the participants' coronary arteries — which can narrow arteries and increase heart attack risk — the researchers found that calcification levels were highest when both partners in the relationship viewed each other as ambivalent. When neither or only one partner felt this way, heart disease risk was significantly less (Psychological Science, online Feb. 5).
  • Treating depression early may decrease the risk of future heart attacks and strokes by almost half, finds a study led by a psychologist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Researchers followed 235 clinically depressed patients age 60 or older who were randomly assigned to standard care, which typically included a prescription for antidepressants from their primary care provider, or to a collaborative care program, which typically involved antidepressants and/or brief psychotherapy and was coordinated by a care manager. Of the 168 patients who had no cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, those who received collaborative care to treat their depression had a 48 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke over the next eight years than patients who received standard care for their depression. In contrast, collaborative care was not associated with a lower risk of a heart attack or stroke among the 67 patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease (Psychosomatic Medicine, January).
  • Experience appears to improve mental health professionals' outlook on people with mental illness, finds a study conducted at the University of Washington. In a survey of 731 Washington state mental health professionals, including psychologists, counselors and social workers, researchers found more positive attitudes about people with mental health problems among those who had at least a four-year college degree, jobs with greater seniority and a past diagnosis of mental illness themselves, including depression or an anxiety disorder (Psychiatric Services, online Jan. 15).
  • Parents accidentally confuse children's names more often when names sound alike, according to a study led by University of Texas at Austin psychologists. Researchers conducted online surveys with 334 respondents with one or more siblings, asking participants to rate similarities in appearance and personality with their siblings, as well as the frequency of their parents' accidentally transposing their names. Participants whose names shared initial (Jamie/Jason) or final (Amanda/Samantha) sounds with a sibling's reported that their parents accidentally called them by the wrong name more often than those without such name overlap. This was especially prevalent among younger siblings who were close in age to and of the same gender as their siblings (PLOS One, Dec. 31).
  • The better minority youth feel about their ethnicity or race, the fewer symptoms of depression and behavior problems they have.The better minority youth feel about their ethnicity or race, the fewer symptoms of depression and behavior problems they have, suggests a meta-analysis of 46 studies, led by a Brown University psychologist. The studies looked at African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Pacific Islander and American Indian youth in the United States, primarily middle and high school students. The scientists also found that youths with positive feelings about their racial or ethnic identities had better social interactions and self-esteem, did better in school and had fewer problems with drugs or alcohol (Child Development, online Feb. 3).
  • Messages that describe obesity as a disease may undermine healthy behaviors among obese individuals, according to research led by psychologists at the University of Richmond. Researchers recruited more than 700 participants to read an article related to health and weight and then answer questions about attitudes toward health, diet and weight. Some participants read an article that described obesity as a disease, some read a standard public-health message about weight and others read an article stating that obesity is not a disease. The researchers found that obese participants who read the "obesity is a disease" article put less importance on health-focused dieting and reported less concern for weight compared with obese participants who read the other two articles (Psychological Science, online Jan. 24).
  • A smoking-cessation drug helps those with severe mental illness stay smoke-free longer, suggests research led by Harvard Medical School scientists. The study looked at 203 smokers being treated for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder at 10 mental health centers in six states. During the first 12 weeks of treatment, all participants received a daily dose of the drug varenicline and weekly group behavioral therapy sessions. After 12 weeks, 87 participants were considered to be abstinent and were randomly assigned to continue to receive the drug or a placebo — in addition to behavioral therapy — for another 40 weeks. The researchers found that 60 percent of the participants who received the extended drug treatment with therapy remained abstinent, compared with 19 percent of the placebo group (Journal of the American Medical Association, Jan. 8).
  • Altruistic acts may be more common in areas of the United States where levels of well-being are high, according to a study led by a Georgetown University psychologist. Researchers examined national kidney donation data as well as nationally representative well-being data from the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. They found that states with higher rates of people who donated their kidneys to strangers tended to have higher levels of well-being. The correlation remained even after considering household income, age, education, and mental and physical health, and was also not explained by specific cultural factors — including religiosity (Psychological Science, online Jan. 29).
  • People who tell only part of the truth about a transgression appear to feel worse than people who come completely clean or don't confess at all, according to five experiments conducted at Carnegie Mellon University involving more than 4,000 people. In one experiment, for example, participants were asked to predict the results of 10 coin tosses and report how many times they were correct, receiving a 10-cent bonus for each correct guess. Unbeknownst to the participants, the researchers tracked the outcomes of individual coin tosses and compared those outcomes with what each participant reported. At the end of the experiment, the researchers gave participants the option to come clean about their reports, and then asked them to report their feelings, both positive and negative, just before or after their decision to confess. Participants who partially confessed, especially those who cheated the most, expressed more negative emotions, such as fear, shame and guilt, than those who confessed everything, did not confess or did not cheat at all (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, February).
  • Teens with a history of concussions are more than three times more likely to suffer from depression than those who have never had one, according to research out of Seattle Children's Hospital. The study examined data from the 2007–08 National Survey of Children's Health, which included health information from more than 36,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17. Researchers found that 2.7 percent of the sample had had a concussion and 3.4 percent had a current depression diagnosis. Teens age 15 or older who lived in poverty or had a parent with mental health problems were also more likely to be depressed than other teens, but these factors didn't affect the association between depression and a history of concussion (Journal of Adolescent Health, online Dec. 17).
  • Postpartum depression improves with time, but depression remains a long-term problem for 30 percent to 50 percent of affected women, according to research conducted at the University of Leuven in Belgium. In a review of research on postpartum depression from 1985 to 2012, researchers found that scores for depressive symptoms decreased over time in women with postpartum depression. However, the scores did not always fall below clinical cutoff points for depression. In community-based studies, 30 percent of mothers diagnosed with postpartum depression were still depressed up to three years after delivery. Among women receiving medical care for depression, about 50 percent remained depressed throughout and beyond the first postnatal year. In total, the median rate of persistent depression was 38 percent (Harvard Review of Psychiatry, January/February).
  • Creating a positive school climate appears to deter teenagers from smoking marijuana more than school drug testing, according to a study at the University of Pennsylvania. Researchers interviewed 361 students about their school environments and drug and alcohol use and followed up with them a year later. They found that students who said their schools had drug testing policies were no less likely than other students to try marijuana, cigarettes or alcohol. However, students who considered their schools to have positive climates — characterized by having clear rules and students and teachers who treat each other with respect — were about 20 percent less likely to try marijuana and 15 percent less likely to try smoking (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, January).
  • Children who are bullied in gym class are less likely to pursue and enjoy physical activity, according to research led by a Brigham Young University psychology professor. Researchers polled fourth- and fifth-grade students from six Midwestern elementary schools about health, emotional well-being, cooperation with others and academics. A year later, researchers asked students the same questions. They found that children of all weights who were bullied in gym classes or during other physical activities still had an aversion to exercise a year later (Journal of Pediatric Psychology, January/February).

— Amy Novotney