In Brief

  • Physical abuse may lead to poor heart healthPhysical abuse may lead to poor heart health decades later, finds research conducted at the University of Pittsburgh. Nearly 350 middle-aged women completed a childhood-trauma questionnaire that assessed past physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The researchers found that the women who reported physical abuse as children — approximately 34 percent of participants — were twice as likely as other women their age to have high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a larger waistline and poor cholesterol levels. These findings held up even after controlling for ethnicity, age, socioeconomic status, exercise level and other traditional risk factors. (Health Psychology, online July 9)

  • Adolescents who are treated effectively for major depression appear to be less likely to abuse drugs later in life, finds a five-year study from researchers at Duke University. The researchers followed 192 participants ages 17 to 23 at 11 sites across the United States as they underwent 12 weeks of treatment with medication, cognitive behavioral therapy or a combination of both. Only 10 percent of participants whose depression receded later abused drugs, compared with 25 percent of those for whom treatment did not work. The researchers said that improved mood regulation due to medicine or skills learned in cognitive-behavior therapy, along with the support and education that came with all of the treatments, may have played key roles in keeping the youths off drugs. (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, April)

  • While spousal abuse rates among Air Force couples are generally lower after deployment than before, the abuse that does occur after deployment tends to be more severe and more likely to involve alcohol, according to research of nearly 5,000 couples led by a scientist at Northern Illinois University. The study — the first to look at spousal abuse among Air Force families that have been engaged in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — suggests that more targeted alcohol abuse prevention efforts may help reduce abuse rates further. (Psychology of Violence, July)

  • A modified form of prolonged exposure therapy initiated within hours of a trauma may stop post-traumatic stress disorder before it begins, finds research conducted at Emory University. Trained therapists asked the study's 137 participants to describe the trauma they had recently experienced, recorded the description and instructed the patients to listen to their recordings every day. The therapists also worked with the patients to help them overcome feelings of guilt or responsibility, and taught them breathing and relaxation techniques. They found that intervention participants reported significantly fewer symptoms of PTSD than a control group at four and 12 weeks post-trauma. (Biological Psychiatry, online July 4)

  • Keeping a food journal is key to losing weightKeeping a food journal is key to losing weight, suggests research from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. In the study, 123 overweight, sedentary women ages 50 to 75 followed a weight-loss program for a year. The researchers found that participants who kept food journals consistently lost about six pounds more than those who did not. (Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, online July 13)

  • Disordered eating can occur well into midlife and older adulthood, according to a study of more than 1,800 women age 50 and older. Researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, found that 13 percent of participants reported symptoms of an eating disorder, including binge eating, purging, diet pill use and excessive exercise. These behaviors were most prevalent among women in their early 50s, but they also occurred in women older than 75, the authors said. The study also found that 62 percent of respondents said their weight or shape negatively affects their life, and 64 percent think about their weight at least once a day. (International Journal of Eating Disorders, online June 21)

  • Giving makes young children happy, suggests a study by psychologists at the University of British Columbia. Researchers provided 20 toddlers with Goldfish crackers and then, in counterbalanced order, asked each toddler to give one cracker away to a puppet. Later they gave each toddler another cracker and asked the child to give it to the puppet. Based on videotapes of the children's reactions, the researchers found that toddlers displayed greater happiness when they shared their own crackers with the puppet than when they gave away the cracker provided by the researcher. (PLoS ONE, online June 14)

  • Babies can't distinguish between large and small groups, suggests research from the University of Missouri. Scientists found that 10- to 12-month-old infants consistently chose the larger of two groups of food items when both groups were larger or smaller than four, just as an adult would. But unlike adults, the infants showed no preference for the larger group when choosing between one large and one small set. The results suggest that at age 1, infants are not yet able to estimate numbers of items at a glance or visually track small groups of objects. (Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, online May 17)

  • Smart people may be more prone to making dumb mistakes, according to a study led by researchers at James Madison University and the University of Toronto. To measure cognitive ability, scientists asked nearly 500 undergraduates to complete SAT questions interspersed with classic bias problems — questions in which most people usually take the easiest route to an answer, rather than the most logical. The researchers found that the higher the participants' SAT scores, the slightly more vulnerable they were to common mental mistakes. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online June 4)

  • People who have certain alleles achieve the most education, a study findsGenes may play a role in whether a person finishes high school and goes to college, according to a study led by a Florida State University researcher. Scientists analyzed survey and interview data as well as DNA samples from 1,674 American youth who were enrolled in middle or high school in 1994 and 1995, and continued until 2008, when most of the respondents were age 24 to 32. They found that participants who possessed certain alleles within three genes — DAT1, DRD2 and DRD4 — achieved the highest education levels. (Developmental Psychology, July)

  • Working-memory training doesn't improve cognition, boost IQ or improve attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder or dyslexia, suggests a meta-analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Oslo in Norway. They examined working-memory treatments with 30 different comparison groups across 23 peer-reviewed studies. They found that working-memory training improved performance on tasks related to the training itself, but did not affect more general cognitive performance, such as verbal skills, attention, reading or arithmetic. (Developmental Psychology, online May 21)

  • Eating more fruits and vegetables may help smokers quit and stay tobacco-free for longer, according to a study led by University at Buffalo researchers. Scientists surveyed 1,000 smokers age 25 and older. The researchers found that those who consumed the most fruits and vegetables were three times more likely to be tobacco-free for at least 30 days than those consuming the least produce. The research also found that smokers with higher fruit and vegetable consumption smoked fewer cigarettes per day, waited longer to smoke their first cigarettes of the day and scored lower on a common test of nicotine dependence. (Nicotine and Tobacco Research, online May 21)

  • Children exposed to open-fire cooking in developing countries experience difficulty with memory, problem-solving and social skills, according to a study by scientists at the University of California, Riverside, and Pitzer College. Using data from the late 1970s, researchers looked at the cognitive assessment scores of 200 children age 3 to 9 living in traditional communities in American Samoa, Belize, Kenya and Nepal, where people commonly cook with wood, dung or straw or on kerosene stoves. They found that exposure to open-fire cooking, as opposed to cooking on kerosene stoves, was associated with lower cognitive performance and less frequent structured play, regardless of culture, socioeconomic status, and child age and educational level. (International Journal of Environmental Health Research, April)

  • Despite poor driving records, most seniors believe they are good behind the wheel, finds a study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Scientists analyzed Motor Vehicle Administration and self-reported driving performance data from 350 drivers age 65 to 91. They found that 85 percent of participants rated their driving as "excellent" or "good," although more than a quarter reported being involved in a car crash. No participants rated their driving as poor, and less than 1 percent rated their driving as fair, pointing to a possible lack of awareness of safe driving ability, the authors say. (Accident Analysis and Prevention, September)

  • Genes may play a greater role in forming character traits — such as self-control and sociability — than a person's home environment and surroundings, suggests research by psychologists at the University of Edinburgh. The study of more than 800 sets of twins — most age 50 and over — used a series of questions to test how participants perceived themselves and others. Researchers found that identical twins, whose DNA is the same, were twice as likely to share character traits compared with non-identical twins. Genetics were most influential on people's sense of self-control and also affected their social and learning abilities and their sense of purpose. (Journal of Personality, online March 20)

  • Volunteering may increase one's sense of leisure time, according to research led by a University of Pennsylvania scientist. Across four different experiments, researchers found that people's subjective sense of having time — referred to as "time affluence" — increases when they spend time on others — helping a failing student edit an essay or sending a card to a sick child, for example — compared to when they spend time on themselves or "waste" time. (Psychological Science, in press)

  • Nearly 6 million U.S. teens may live with uncontrollable angerNearly 6 million U.S. teens may live with uncontrollable anger, according to research led by a Yale University psychologist. Scientists analyzed data from a national household survey of 10,148 adolescents age 13 to 17 and their parents. The data indicate that close to 6 million teens in the entire population meet the criteria for intermittent explosive disorder, a condition characterized by repeated episodes of aggressive, violent behavior that is grossly out of proportion to the situation. Although nearly 38 percent of the respondents with this disorder received help for emotional problems, only 6.5 percent were treated specifically for anger. (Archives of General Psychiatry, July)

  • Sitting less could lead to a longer life, finds research conducted at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. Scientists looked at several studies that evaluated sedentary activities such as sitting and watching television and all causes of death, and reviewed government data showing that almost half of people report sitting more than six hours a day. Using a statistical model, they predicted that the average U.S. life expectancy would increase two years if most people sat for less than three hours a day. (BMJ Open, online July 9)

—Amy Novotney