In Brief

The following studies were among the research presented at APA’s 2012 Annual Convention:

  • Physically fit students get better gradesPhysically fit students get better grades, suggests an as-yet-unpublished study led by a team of University of North Texas psychologists. Researchers gathered data on physical fitness, academic performance, self-esteem and social support from more than 1,200 students at five Texas middle schools. They found that those who were more physically fit scored higher on reading and math tests, even after controlling for the influences of the students' socioeconomic status and their academic self-concept. In addition to cardiorespiratory fitness, social support—defined as reliable help from family and friends to solve problems or deal with emotions—was related to better reading scores among boys.

  • Telling the truth when tempted to lie improves a person's mental and physical health and strengthens their relationships, according to as-yet-unpublished research by University of Notre Dame psychologist Anita Kelly, PhD. Researchers asked half of the study's 110 participants to stop lying for 10 weeks and assessed their honesty with weekly polygraph tests. They found that during the weeks when participants from both groups lied less, they had fewer physical and mental health complaints, such as feeling tense or having sore throats or headaches. The participants also reported that their close personal relationships had improved and that their social interactions had gone more smoothly that week.

  • Grateful teens are not as likely as their less thankful peers to abuse drugs and alcohol or have behavior problems at school, finds an as-yet-unpublished study led by California State University psychologist Giacomo Bono, PhD. Seven hundred students age 10 to 14 completed gratitude and life-satisfaction questionnaires at the study's start and four years later. When comparing the results of the least grateful 20 percent of the students with the most grateful 20 percent, they found that teens with the most gratitude by the end of the four-year period had: gained 15 percent more of a sense of meaning in their life; become 15 percent more satisfied with their life overall; become 17 percent more happy and more hopeful about their lives; and experienced a 13 percent drop in negative emotions and a 15 percent drop in depressive symptoms. Participants who became more thankful over time were slightly less likely to use alcohol and drugs, cheat on exams and skip school.

  • Brain fitness games can help improve older adults' memory and language skills, finds research conducted at the University of California, Los Angeles. Scientists split the study's 59 older adult participants into two groups. The first group used a computerized memory-training program 12 times a month for six months, while the second group used the program less than eight times a month. The researchers found that the first group significantly improved in memory and language skills compared with the second group. (American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, June)

  • Modest weight loss can reap prolonged health benefits for those who are overweight and obese, according to a study conducted by Rena Wing, PhD, director of the Weight Control and Diabetes Research Center at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I. Researchers followed more than 3,000 overweight people over 10 years. The subjects learned to keep track of everything they ate, reduce the amount of unhealthy food in their homes and increase their physical activity. The scientists found that even a small weight loss—an average of 14 pounds—reduced the participants' risk of developing Type-2 diabetes by 58 percent. The health benefits of the loss lasted up to 10 years, even if people eventually regained the weight.

  • First-time mothers who focused mindfully on the emotional and physical changes brought on by pregnancy appeared to feel betterFirst-time mothers who focused mindfully on the emotional and physical changes brought on by pregnancy appeared to feel better and have healthier newborns than new mothers who didn't practice such mindfulness, according to as-yet-unpublished research led by Harvard University psychologist Ellen Langer, PhD. Researchers trained women pregnant with their first child in mindfulness, asking them to pay attention to subtle changes in their feelings and physical sensations each day. Compared with two other groups of first-time moms who had no mindfulness training, these women reported improved well-being, more positive feelings, less emotional distress and healthier newborns up to a month after birth.

Other new research:

  • Mindfulness meditation reduces loneliness in older adults, according to a study of 40 healthy adults age 55 to 85, conducted at Carnegie Mellon University. Participants were randomly assigned to take part in an eight-week mindfulness-based, stress-reduction training course. The researchers found that people who practiced mindfulness showed a reduction in several measures of loneliness, as well as less expression of a loneliness-related pro-inflammatory gene compared with those in the no-treatment group. (Brain, Behavior & Immunity, online July 20)

  • Boys' impulsiveness may make them better at math, according to research led by University of Missouri investigators. The study followed 300 children from first to sixth grade. It found that in first and second grades, boys' reliance on their memory and tendency to shout out addition-problem answers led to more responses from the boys in the class, but also more errors. Girls were more likely to compute the answer by counting and to respond more slowly and to fewer questions. By sixth grade, however, the boys answered more problems and got more correct. (Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, September)

  • Most fetuses exposed to high levels of alcohol in the womb do not develop the distinct facial features seen in fetal alcohol syndrome, but do show signs of abnormal intellectual or behavioral development, according to research conducted by scientists at the National Institutes of Health and the University of Chile in Santiago. The study compared the physical, intellectual and emotional development of infants born to 101 mothers who had consumed four or more drinks a day during pregnancy with 101 women who consumed no alcohol when they were pregnant. About 44 percent of children whose mothers drank during pregnancy displayed abnormalities of the nervous system, including language or intellectual delays and hyperactivity and attention deficits. However, abnormal facial features were present only in about 17 percent of alcohol-exposed children. (Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, online July 23)

  • Pupil dilation may reveal a person's sexual orientation, according to a study by Cornell University researchers. To determine which gender the study's 325 participants found attractive, researchers used a specialized infrared lens to measure pupillary changes while the participants watched erotic videos. Heterosexual men showed more pupil dilation after being shown sexual videos of women, and little response to men, while homosexual men showed the opposite.

    Heterosexual women, however, responded to both sexes, in accord with previous research that women may have more fluidity in their sexuality, the authors said. (PLoS One, online Aug. 3)

  • People with serious mental illnesses appear to be more likely to develop cancer, finds research out of Johns Hopkins University. Researchers examined 10 years of data from 3,317 Maryland Medicaid beneficiaries with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. They found that when compared with the general population, patients with schizophrenia were more than four and a half times more likely to develop lung cancer, three and a half times more likely to develop colorectal cancer and nearly three times more likely to develop breast cancer. People with bipolar disorder experienced similarly high risk for lung, colorectal and breast cancers. The researchers say the reason behind this may be because patients with a serious mental illness don't always receive appropriate cancer screenings and preventive care related to risk factors for cancer, such as smoking. (Psychiatric Services, July)

  • Sleep deprivation in the first few hours after exposure to a traumatic event may reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study by researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Tel Aviv University. Rats that underwent sleep deprivation after being exposed to the scent of a predator did not exhibit behavior indicating memory of the event, while a control group of rats that slept after the stressful exposure did remember, as indicated by their increased levels of anxiety and disordered sleep patterns—symptoms similar to humans with PTSD. (Neuropsychopharmacology, online June 20)

  • Caffeine during pregnancy does not appear to affect a child's later behavior, finds a study led by researchers at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. The study looked at the caffeine consumption of nearly 3,500 pregnant women and then assessed their children's behavior at age 5. The study found virtually no difference in the rate of emotional difficulties, hyperactivity, inattention or general behavioral problems between children whose mothers had consumed the most caffeine and those who had consumed the least. (Pediatrics, August)

  • Morning people are happier, according to a study conducted by University of Toronto researchers. More than 700 people age 17 to 79 completed a survey about their sleeping routines, emotional state, health and preferred time of day. Self-professed early birds reported feeling happier and healthier than night owls. One reason for this finding may be that the biological clocks of morning people are more in line with societal expectations about when someone should wake up and go to sleep, leaving night owls to spend the week unhappy about having to get up early for work, the authors suggest. (Emotion, June)

  • Concussions may make the brain age faster, suggests a study by University of Michigan researchers. More than 200 college athletes—of whom 62 said they had experienced from one to four concussions—completed computer tasks while brain images were taken. Even up to six years after the head injuries occurred, the scientists found that there were differences in electrical activity in the brain, as well as in gait and balance, between college students who had had a concussion and those who hadn't. The differences indicated a decline in cognitive functions typically associated with aging. (Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, July)

  • U.S. psychology graduate students perceive more social stigma around seeking therapy than students in several other countriesAmerican psychology students report higher levels of perceived social stigma around seeking therapy than do British and Argentinian psychology students, according to a study led by psychologists at Canterbury Christ Church University in England. Nearly 500 clinical psychology doctoral students from the three countries completed questionnaires about their attitudes and perceived social stigma associated with therapy seeking in general. Students in Argentina reported the lowest levels of perceived social stigma for receiving therapy, followed by students in Britain and America. (Psychotherapy, online Aug. 13)

  • Marital problems can affect children's development, according to a study by researchers at the University of Notre Dame. Scientists followed 235 middle-class mothers, fathers and their children over seven years, focusing on the links between marital conflict when the children were in kindergarten and subsequent problems when the children were teens. The researchers found that conflict between parents when their children were young predicted the children's emotional insecurity later in childhood, which, in turn, predicted adjustment problems in adolescence, including depression and anxiety. (Child Development, online June 13)

—Amy Novotney

For direct links to these journal articles, visit our digital edition.