In Brief

  • Children whose mothers hit them are more likely to be more aggressive later on.Moms who yell at their babies may put the children at risk for conduct problems later in life, according to a University of Minnesota study. Scientists followed 260 mothers and their children from birth until first grade and found that harsh speaking and rough handling of infants by mothers predicted increased childhood aggression as the kids entered kindergarten. The researchers also found that conflict between moms and toddlers led to later conduct problems, including aggression and defiance, in the children (Child Development, Oct. 26).
  • A type of cognitive therapy that helps patients overcome self-defeating beliefs may improve the lives of the nearly 3 million American adults with schizophrenia, finds a University of Pennsylvania study. In the study, 31 people being treated at community health clinics in Philadelphia took part in an 18-month weekly therapy program in which each person worked to adhere to his or her medication regimen and set a long-term goal — such as find a job, live on their own or strengthen a relationship. Patients in the program reported a higher level of functioning than those who received medication and case management services as needed (Archives of General Psychiatry, Oct. 3).

  • Reminders of God both help and hurt people’s self-control, according to a series of experiments conducted with 353 undergraduates at the University of Waterloo in Canada. In one experiment, students who took a grammar test that included Godrelated words such as “divine,” “sacred” and “spirit” performed worse than those whose tests included only neutral words. A second set of experiments looked at participants’ ability to resist temptation after being reminded about God. In one study, participants who said eating healthy food was important to them ate fewer cookies after reading a short passage about God than those who read a passage unrelated to God (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Oct. 24).

  • Autistic brains develop more slowly than normal brains, according to researchers at the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at the University of California, Los Angeles. Over the course of three years, the team compared brain images of 13 boys diagnosed with autism with seven non-autistic boys. They found that slower growth rates in particular areas of the autistic boys’ brains — including the parietal, temporal and occipital lobes — were associated with social impairment, communication deficits and repetitive behaviors — activities that characterize autism (Human Brain Mapping, Oct. 20).

  • More pregnant and postpartum American women now die from homicide or suicide than more traditional causes of maternal mortality. Researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University found that suicide and homicide account for 2 and 2.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, respectively, compared with a rate of 1.8 deaths due to each specific obstetric cause, including hemorrhage, placenta previa and eclampsia (Obstetrics & Gynecology, November). 

  • An insulin nasal spray slows memory loss and preserves thinking skills in people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease, according to a pilot clinical trial with 104 adults by scientists at the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System. The study builds on research exploring how abnormal functioning of the hormone insulin might contribute to memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease, because insulin helps to convert blood sugar into energy and is known to be important to normal brain functioning. Participants were given daily doses of either 20 IUs of insulin, 40 IUs of insulin or a saline placebo. The researchers found that both doses of insulin preserved patients’ abilities to perform many activities of daily living, and that treatment with 20 IUs of intranasal insulin led to improved memory. No memory improvement was seen in the placebo group or in those receiving 40 IUs of insulin, which suggests that this dose may exceed the optimal dose for memory, researchers say (Archives of Neurology, September).

  • Wearing makeup may make women look more competent, as long as it’s not overdone.Women who wear makeup are perceived as more attractive and competent than those who do not, according to research at Harvard. In the study, two groups of more than 100 participants were asked to rate photographs of female faces with varying levels of cosmetics applied by a professional makeup artist. The findings revealed that makeup has a significant and automatic effect on people’s judgments of attractiveness, and even influences how likeable, trustworthy and competent a woman is viewed. That positive perception decreases, however, as women apply heavier makeup (PLoS ONE, Oct. 3). 

  • Too much undeserved self-praise can lead to depression, finds a study with four different groups of young people from the United States and Hong Kong. The researchers found that students who inflated their academic performances compared to their peers were significantly more likely to feel depressed. These findings challenge the popular notion that self-enhancement and providing positive performance feedback to low performers improves emotional health, the researchers say (Emotion, October).

  • More than a decade after their initial diagnoses, nearly four out of 10 cancer survivors are still plagued by symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to new research from the Duke Cancer Institute. Researchers surveyed 566 survivors of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and found that 37 percent of participants experienced persisting or worsening PTSD symptoms, including flashbacks and avoidance, over five years. The study also showed that low-income survivors are especially vulnerable to the psychological effects of a cancer diagnosis (Journal of Clinical Oncology, Oct. 11). 

  • Rats exposed to an antidepressant just before and after birth showed substantial brain abnormalities and irregular behaviors that persist into adulthood. Scientists at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, gave citalopram — a serotonin-selective reuptake inhibitor — to male and female rat pups before and after their birth and examined their brains and behaviors as they grew. The male rat pups became excessively fearful when faced with new situations and shunned normal juvenile play behavior. Some female rats were also similarly affected, but the effects were not as pronounced as in the males. The researchers also discovered miswiring between the brain’s left and right hemispheres (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Oct. 24).

  • The stress of living in poverty affects children’s readiness for school.Poverty-related stress negatively affects children’s readiness for school, finds a study by scientists at Pennsylvania State University, New York University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The team measured levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 1,300 young children and administered tests to assess their executive function — a group of cognitive processes considered important for adjusting to school and making academic progress in the early elementary grades. They found that children in lower-income homes had higher levels of cortisol than children in slightly better-off homes – and that higher levels of cortisol were associated with lower levels of executive function abilities (Child Development, Oct. 25).

  • College football players who express their emotions have more confidence, according to research from Indiana University-Bloomington. In one experiment, 150 college football players were randomly assigned to four groups to read vignettes about “Jack,” a football player who cries after a football game. In the vignettes, Jack either sobs or tears up after his team loses or wins. The college football players in the study who believed Jack’s crying was appropriate had higher self-esteem. In contrast, players who believed Jack’s crying was inappropriate — yet felt they would likely cry in Jack’s situation — had lower self-esteem (Psychology of Men & Masculinity, October).

  • Changes in the brain’s grey matter during the teenage years lead to IQ fluctuations.IQ fluctuates throughout the teenage years, finds research from University College London, countering the longheld belief that intelligence as measured by IQ is stable throughout one’s life. In a brain-imaging study of 33 teens in early and late adolescence, scientists found that verbal and non-verbal IQ rises and falls, with corresponding changes in grey matter in speech and movement-related regions of the brain (Nature, Oct. 19).

  • People born without a corpus callosum — the condition called agenesis of the corpus callosum (AgCC) — still show remarkably normal communication across the gap between the two halves of their brains, according to a team of neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology. Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate that synchronized activity between the left and right brain survives even radical rewiring of the nerve connections between the two hemispheres. The authors say these findings highlight the brain’s remarkable plasticity and ability to compensate (The Journal of Neuroscience, Oct. 19).

  • Contrary to the view that an increase in secreted beta-amyloid peptides is the main trigger for developing Alzheimer’s disease, new research suggests that it’s the neurons’ inability to secrete beta-amyloid that actually sets the disease’s development in motion, according to scientists at Lund University in Sweden. The study shows an increase in unwanted intracellular beta-amyloid occurring early on in Alzheimer’s disease in mice, caused by a loss of normal function to secrete beta-amyloid. When the synapses can no longer hold the increasing amounts of the this toxin, researchers say, the membrane breaks, releasing the waste outside the cells and leading to the formation of plaques, the longtime hallmark biomarker of the disease (Journal of Neuroscience, Oct. 26).

  • College students and psychiatric patients are nearly three times more likely than the general public to experience episodes of sleep paralysis, a sensation in which a person feels as if his body is paralyzed. In a review study, researchers analyzed data from 35 studies and found that more than 28 percent of college students and nearly 32 percent of psychiatric patients had at least one episode of sleep paralysis, while the general population reported a rate of less than 8 percent. Given these prevalence rates, the researchers say, sleep paralysis should be assessed more regularly among these two populations to determine its effect on individual functioning and better articulate its relation to psychiatric and other medical conditions (Sleep Medicine Reviews, October).

—A. Novotney