In Brief

  • Reading to a child every day as early as age 9 months and being sensitive to the child’s cues were significant predictors of reading readiness at age 4 years.Moms who breastfeed are often more responsive and more likely to read to their babies — two parenting skills that likely explain why children who were breastfed tend to have higher IQs and do better in school than those who weren't, finds a study by Brigham Young University sociologists. The researchers analyzed a national data set of 7,500 mothers and their children from birth to age 5 on the home environment, including how early and how often parents read to their kids. Researchers also videotaped the mother and child as the child tried to complete a challenging task, measuring the mother's supportiveness and sensitivity to her child's emotional cues. They found that reading to an infant every day as early as age 9 months and sensitivity to the child's cues during social interactions, rather than breastfeeding per se, were significant predictors of reading readiness at age 4 years. They also found that breastfeeding mothers were the most likely to practice both of these parenting skills (The Journal of Pediatrics, March).
  • Personality appears to be a predictor of health, according to research conducted at Duke University. Scientists examined data from a New Zealand health and development study involving 1,037 people born between April 1972 and March 1973 who were assessed every two years from birth until they were 38 years old. At age 26, the participants nominated a person who knew them well to describe them using the Big Five personality traits. Researchers also gathered participants' clinical health information and risk factors commonly recorded in primary-care offices. The researchers found that participants who were more conscientious when they were 26 years old tended to have better health at age 38 than those who were low in that personality trait (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, March).
  • Preschoolers appear to be better than university students when it comes to figuring out how unusual toys and gadgets work, according to a study led by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Edinburgh. Researchers examined how 106 4- and 5-year-olds and 109 college undergraduates figured out which clay shapes — either as a combination or on their own — would cause a red-topped box to light up and play music. They found that the preschoolers solved the game more quickly, likely because they are more flexible and less biased than adults in thinking about cause and effect, the researchers say (Cognition, May).
  • College women who browsed Facebook for 20 minutes a day were more likely to report body dissatisfaction than peers who used the Internet to research animals, a study finds.Frequent Facebook use is associated with eating disorders among college women, according to a study led by Florida State University psychologists. The researchers surveyed 960 college women and found that more time on Facebook was associated with higher levels of disordered eating. Those who browsed the social network for just 20 minutes reported more body dissatisfaction than those who used the Internet to research rainforest animals. In addition, women who placed greater importance on receiving comments and "likes" on their status updates and were more likely to untag photos of themselves and compare their own photos with friends' photos reported the highest levels of disordered eating (International Journal of Eating Disorders, online Jan. 24).
  • Black boys are more likely to be mistaken as older and be perceived as guilty, suggests research conducted by psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles. In one experiment involving 264 mostly white, female undergraduates, researchers asked the students to rate the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to age 9 as equally innocent regardless of race but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10. Researchers also showed students photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked them to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students judged black boys to look older and be more culpable than whites or Latinos (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online Feb. 24).
  • LGB youth are more likely to engage in behaviors associated with cancer risk than heterosexuals, according to research led by a City College of New York psychologist. The study examined data from more than 65,000 high school students — 7.6 percent of whom identified as a sexual minority — to determine how much the students engaged in 12 cancer-risk behaviors, including tobacco use, drinking alcohol, engaging in early sex, having multiple sexual partners and not exercising. The researchers found that, across ages, genders and races/ethnicities, sexual minorities were more likely than heterosexuals to engage in the risk behavior (American Journal of Public Health, February).
  • An elementary classroom technique that fosters students’ relationships and encourages children’s self-control improved their math and reading, a study finds.Classroom programs that focus on improving elementary school students' social and emotional skills can lead to academic gains, according to research conducted at the University of Virginia. Researchers followed nearly 3,000 students from the end of the students' second-grade year until the end of their fifth-grade year. They then compared student math and reading achievement between 13 schools that used a Responsive Classroom approach — which guides teachers in fostering relationships in the classroom and encouraging children's self-control behaviors — and 11 schools that did not adopt this approach. They found that the use of the responsive classroom practice improved math and reading achievement, and that the benefit held true for students across a range of socioeconomic backgrounds (American Educational Research Journal, online March 5).
  • Brain abnormalities may be to blame for the chronic pain suffered by osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia patients, according to a study by University of Manchester researchers. Investigators measured brain waves in response to short painful laser pulses to the skin in 32 patients with osteoarthritic or fibromyalgia pain and those with no pain. They found that while patients anticipated the painful pulse, a brain area called the insula cortex showed increased activity, which predicted the extent and intensity of the patients' chronic pain. In addition, activity in the brain's dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was reduced during pain anticipation. This reduced activity corresponded to less ability to cope with the pain in both groups of patients (European Journal of Neuroscience, February).
  • Alzheimer's disease may cause six times as many deaths as official statistics indicate, according to research conducted at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Investigators analyzed data from more than 2,500 people ages 65 and older who had no dementia at the start of the study. After eight years, 22 percent developed Alzheimer's disease, 1 percent developed other forms of dementia and 42 percent died. Extrapolating their findings on the association of Alzheimer's disease with death to the entire population, the researchers estimate that more than 500,000 deaths of Americans ages 75 and older in 2010 could be attributed to Alzheimer's disease. In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that Alzheimer's disease caused almost 84,000 deaths in the United States (Neurology, online March 5).
  • HIV-infected women who are released from jail are more likely than their male peers to abuse cocaine and have co-occurring psychiatric disorders, according to research led by Yale University scientists. Researchers evaluated data from 867 HIV-infected released jail detainees in nine states. Compared with male detainees at six months after release, women were half as likely still to be receiving care and medications for their HIV status, were more likely to report depression, were more likely to have serious psychiatric disorders and were less likely to be receiving psychiatric care. These findings underscore the need for gender-specific interventions and services, the authors say (American Journal of Public Health, March).
  • Developing a relationship work ethic that equals one's professional work ethic can help couples— particularly women — improve their work-life balance, according to a study at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Researchers randomly assigned 47 married, dual-income couples to take part in a two-hour workshop focusing on strategies to help couples prioritize their partner's plan time together, participate in active listening, share household tasks and handle personal stress so that it doesn't spill over into their relationships. Couples who attended the training improved significantly their ability to manage work-partner role conflicts compared with the couples who had not attended the workshop. The couples who attended also reported a greater reduction in physical and emotional stress. Researchers also found that the workshop was most effective for women (Marriage and Family Review, February).
  • After committing a crime, guilt, shame and blaming others predict re-offense, according to research conducted at George Mason University. Scientists interviewed more than 470 prison inmates, asking them about their feelings of guilt, shame and externalization of blame soon after they were incarcerated. They then followed up with 332 of the offenders a year after they had been released, this time asking them whether they had been arrested again and whether they had committed another crime without being caught. Comparing the self-reported data with official arrest records, the researchers found that inmates who felt guilt about their past behaviors were more likely to stay out of jail later on, as were those who felt shame and did not blame others for the crime. Those who felt shame but were also defensive and blamed others were more likely to commit another crime (Psychological Science, March).
  • Emotions expressed online can be contagious, according to a study led by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. The scientists used an automated text-analysis system to sort Facebook status updates by their positive or negative language, reviewing posts by 100 million users in the 100 most populous U.S. cities over three years. The researchers found that rainy days directly influenced the emotional tone of a person's Facebook posts, increasing the number of negative posts by 1.16 percent and decreasing positive comments by 1.19 percent. That, in turn, affected the Facebook status of one or two friends in other cities where it wasn't raining. Each additional positive post resulted in a further 1.75 positive posts among friends, while each negative post yielded 1.29 more negative posts by friends, the researchers said (PLOS ONE, March 12).
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia can reduce health care use and costs, according to a study led by a University of Florida psychologist. Researchers reviewed the medical records of 84 outpatients who received up to six weekly treatment sessions for insomnia at a behavioral sleep medicine clinic. The sessions included sleep education, stimulus control therapy, sleep restriction, a 10-minute relaxation exercise and cognitive therapy. The researchers also measured health-care use and costs over a six-month period prior to and following treatment, including the patient's number of physician office visits, costs related to office visits and number of medications. Results showed that sleep improved in 86 percent of insomnia patients who completed at least three treatment sessions. In the six months following treatment, health-care use decreased and health care-related costs were reduced by more than $200 on average among people who completed the treatment (Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Feb. 15).

— Amy Novotney