In Brief

  • To improve kids’ grades, it’s not enough to help low-income kids achieve academically — you also have to educate parents, say researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of California, Los Angeles. The researchers looked at data from the Los Angeles Family and Neighborhood Survey, including reading and math assessments of 2,350 children and teens, their mothers’ level of education and neighborhood and family income. The greatest overall determinant to students’ academic success was low levels of mothers’ education, the researchers found, though poverty or wealth became a larger influence as the kids got older. The finding highlights the importance of parental education to starting young children down the path to academic success. (Demography, Vol. 47, No. 3.)
  • Our minds are frequently wandering and unhappy, according to research by Harvard University psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth, PhD, and Daniel T. Gilbert, PhD. The researchers devised an iPhone app that prompted 2,250 participants to share what they were doing at random intervals. The app asked them generally what task they were involved in, whether they were mentally engaged in that task or letting their minds wander, and if their thoughts were pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Participants reported a wandering mind 46.9 percent of the time and largely tuned out all their activities save one: 90 percent reported being mentally engaged while having sex. (Science, Vol. 330, No. 6006.)
  • Musicians who focus on positive words such as "bold," "confident" and "free" before they play a song have more expressive, dynamic performances than those who don’t, according to a study by performance coach and psychologist Jon Skidmore, PsyD. Skidmore taught junior high musicians to think about those words during their pre-performance routines. After the students’ performances, judges rated those students as having more expressive playing than a control group that didn’t receive this training. Skidmore suggests that focusing on positive words calms people’s pre-performance jitters, allowing them to better access their natural skills. (Contributions in Musical Education, Vol. 37, No. 2.)
  • Older adults who survive a bout with sepsis are at a higher risk of developing cognitive deficits than those who are hospitalized for other illnesses, researchers at the University of Michigan have found. Lead author Theodore Iwashyna, MD, PhD, analyzed Medicare claims data from adults age 50 and older who were hospitalized for sepsis — a debilitating immune response to severe infection — and compared them to other similarly aged hospital patients. He found that those who suffered from sepsis were three times more likely to experience cognitive decline. These results emphasize that sepsis can have chronic effects in older adults, researchers say. (Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 304, No. 16.)
  • It takes longer for our brains to process the face of someone from a different race than from our own, say researchers from the University of Glasgow. The team looked at EEG readings of people as they viewed faces from either their same or a different race and found that neural signals have to repeat themselves more frequently when receiving visual information from other-race faces, slowing down the brain’s processing of that information. The results suggest that the difficulty people have in differentiating those from different races takes place at the perceptual level. (In press in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.)
  • People are more likely to remember information if they believe others in their social group will see it, too, say Northwestern University researchers. The researchers showed marketing information to students and led them to believe that their peers either would or wouldn’t see the same information, then later asked them to recall what they’d seen. Participants who believed their peers saw the same information were better able to recall it. The finding has implications for marketers who could leverage these beliefs to make consumers better remember their product or promotions, the researchers say. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 99, No. 4.)
  • We are more likely to perceive remembered information as true, suggesting that memory retrieval itself creates the "illusion of truth," according to researchers from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. The researchers presented participants with factual statements (that were either true or false) and later asked them whether inferences based on those statements were accurate. Participants who heard the factual statements tended to rate the inferences as accurate — whether they were based on true or false facts — than members of a control group who were asked to assess the inferences with no background information. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, Vol. 37, No. 1.)
  • People often "misremember" how they predicted they’d feel following significant events, according to research by Tom Meyvis, PhD, at New York University. Previous research has found that people tend to overestimate the emotional effects of a good or bad event, such as their favorite sports team winning or losing. Meyvis found that when people are questioned about their predictions afterward, they tend to revise their recollections to better reflect their actual emotional state. So, if they predicted they’d be terribly upset if their team lost, but actually felt fine afterward, they’ll report that they predicted they’d be OK all along. (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol. 139, No. 4.)
  • Volunteering can help older adults with functional physical disabilities to live longer, according to researchers from Arizona State University, the University of California-Irvine, and Portland State University. The team looked at 916 adults in the U.S. age 65 and older and found that physically disabled people who regularly volunteered outlived their non-volunteering peers and lived just as long as people without physical disabilities. Researchers suggest that volunteering helps older adults feel useful and needed, leading them to take better care of their health. (Social Science & Medicine, Vol. 71, No. 10.)

—M. Price