In Brief

  • When it comes to bullying, you don’t have to be the victim to suffer from it. Psychologists Ian Rivers, PhD, of Brunel University in Uxbridge, United Kingdom, and Paul Poteat, PhD, of Boston College, report in December’s School Psychology Quarterly (Vol. 24, No. 4) that people who simply watch their peers get verbally or physically abused experience just as much, if not more, psychological distress as the actual bullying victim. They studied more than 2,000 students age 12 to 16 in a school in England and found that those who witnessed bullying reported more feelings of depression, anxiety, hostility and inferiority than either the bullies or victims themselves.

  • Don’t count on caffeine to clear your head after a few cocktails — in fact, it might make you more dangerous to yourself and others, suggests research by psychologists Danielle Gulick, PhD, and Thomas Gould, PhD, of Temple University. Drinking caffeine while still intoxicated may just make people less likely to realize they’re drunk and therefore more likely to take risks they’d normally only take while sober, the researchers report in December’s Behavioral Neuroscience (Vol. 123, No. 6). In their study, mice that drank alcohol followed by caffeine were more alert than those that imbibed alcohol and had no caffeine. However, their cognitive skills remained impaired.

  • Children are typically screened for autism by physicians around 18 to 24 months of age, but there are few therapies to help children diagnosed that young. Now, a five-year study by researchers at Autism Speaks, the University of California, Davis, and the University of Washington, Seattle, suggests that applied behavioral analysis mixed with play-based relationship-building can raise the IQ of toddlers with autism. The IQ of children in the study, published online in November in Pediatrics, rose by an average of 18 points.

  • While married people generally trounce singles on measures of emotional well-being, highly self-sufficient singles are the exception, suggests new research in November’s Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Study author Jamila Bookwala, PhD, of Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., posits that people who are highly self-sufficient may stay single longer than those who get married, and may avoid marriage specifically because they value their independence.

  • Transplanting nerve cells into a damaged brain might help the brain heal itself, finds new research published in December’s Behavioral Neuroscience (Vol. 123, No. 6). Researchers at Bangalore, India’s National Centre for Biological Sciences and National Institute for Mental Health and Neuro Sciences transplanted hippocampal cells from newborn mice into the damaged subiculum region of adult mice. Two months later, they tested those mice against a non-transplanted control group using a spatial learning maze test. They found that the transplant-recipient mice had fully recovered, while the control group struggled.

  • Reading may improve connections in your brain, suggests research in the Dec. 10 Neuron (Vol. 64, No. 5). Psychologists from Carnegie Mellon University used diffusion tensor imaging to measure the quality of white matter connections in below-average readers age 8 to 12. Compared with average readers, these children had poorer connections in the brain region called the anterior left centrum semiovale. The researchers assigned 35 of the poor readers to an intensive six-month remedial reading program and 12 to a control group that received normal classroom instruction. After six months, the readers in the intensive program showed significantly higher-quality connections in that brain region, while those in the control group did not.

  • A familiar smell can bring back surprisingly vivid memories, and now researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, think they may know why: The brain pays special attention to the first odor it associates with particular memories. The researchers report in the Nov. 9 Current Biology (Vol. 19, No. 21) that participants in a weeklong memory recall test performed better when memories were correlated with both unpleasant smells and unpleasant auditory stimuli. But when they compared hippocampal activity during the test at the beginning and end of the week, they found that only activity during olfactory correlations predicted memory at the week’s end.

—M. Price