In Brief

  • Even very young children understand that adults don't always know bestEven very young children understand that adults don't always know best, suggests Yale University research. In one of three experiments with 58 children, an adult asked 3-year-olds to help with simple tasks, such as making a phone call, but "mistakenly" asked for a toy phone. Most of the children ignored the request and instead brought the adult something functional, such as a real phone. The researchers also found that most youngsters also attempted to warn adults who were doing something counterproductive, such as reaching for an empty box of crayons to draw a picture or putting on a wet sweatshirt when they said they were cold (Developmental Psychology, online Feb. 4).
  • Happiness increases with age, but a person's overall level of well-being may depend on when he or she was born, finds a study by Florida State University psychologists. The researchers examined two large-scale longitudinal studies that analyzed data from thousands of people over age 30, including more than 10,000 reports on well-being, health and other factors. They found that, although life satisfaction increased with age for each birth cohort, older generations — particularly those who lived through the Great Depression — started off with lower levels of well-being in comparison to people born more recently. The researchers speculate that these findings may have important implications for today's younger generations who are dealing with unemployment, even after the economy improves (Psychological Science, online Jan. 24).
  • Nearly three-quarters of polled psychotherapists reported they cried during a session with a client, according to research conducted by Alliant International University psychologists. In the survey of 684 U.S. psychologists and trainees, the researchers also found that men cried just as often as women, even though men reported crying less often in daily life. Clinicians with more experience and who were older cried more in therapy than novice clinicians, even though the older therapists said they cried less in daily life. The authors speculate that more experienced therapists may feel more comfortable allowing themselves to express emotions in sessions (Psychotherapy, online Feb. 11).
  • It may be better — and healthier — to give than to receive, according to a study led by a University of Buffalo psychologist. The study's 846 participants completed baseline interviews assessing stressful events they had experienced in the previous year, such as serious illness, burglary, job loss or the death of a family member. They also reported the total amount of time they had spent helping friends, neighbors and relatives with running errands, performing housework, providing child care and other tasks in the past 12 months. After adjusting for age, baseline health and psychosocial variables, the researchers found that when it comes to dealing with stressful situations, the people who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die within five years than those who had not helped others (American Journal of Public Health, online Jan. 17).
  • Substance abuse rates appear to be higher in teens with a history of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder than in those without ADHD, finds a study that followed nearly 600 children into adolescence. University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine scientists found that 10 percent of the ADHD group met criteria for a substance abuse or dependence disorder, compared with only 3 percent of those without ADHD histories. They also found that, contrary to previous findings, substance abuse rates were the same in teenagers still taking ADHD medication and in those who no longer took the medication (Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, online Dec. 28).
  • College students with "helicopter parents" may be more depressed than those whose parents are less controlling, finds research conducted at the University of Mary Washington. Nearly 300 American undergraduates completed an online survey in which they described their mothers' parenting behaviors and rated their own perceptions of their autonomy, their competence and their ability to get along with others. The participants also answered questions about their overall satisfaction with their lives and their levels of anxiety and depression. Very high levels of perceived parental control were related to higher levels of depression, decreased life satisfaction and lower levels of perceived autonomy, competence and relatedness (Journal of Child and Family Studies, February).
  • Teens with more positive and supportive families may have better marriages later in life, finds a study led by a University of Texas at Dallas psychologist. The researchers examined longitudinal data from 288 individuals in seventh grade, and then again with their spouses nearly 20 years later. Participants who were more positively engaged with their families as adolescents — characterized by having more effective communication, warmth and support from their parents or guardians — expressed less hostility toward their spouses and were more satisfied with their relationships (Psychological Science, online Jan. 10).
  • The number of people in the United States with Alzheimer's disease will nearly triple by 2050, predict researchers at the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging in Chicago. They analyzed information from 10,802 Chicago residents ages 65 and older who were interviewed and assessed for dementia every three years from 1993 to 2011. The researchers used the results to project that 13.8 million people will have the disease by 2050 — up from about 5 million today (Neurology, online Feb. 6).
  • Poor sleep in old age may prevent the brain from storing memories, according to a study by neuroscientists at the University of California, Berkeley. Researchers taught and tested the study's 18 healthy young adults (mostly in their 20s) and 15 healthy older adults (mostly in their 70s) on 120 word sets that taxed their memories just before going to bed. An EEG device measured their brain activity as they slept. Then they were tested again on the word pairs while undergoing fMRI scans. In older adults, the results showed a clear link between the degree of brain deterioration in the middle frontal lobe and the severity of impaired "slow wave activity" during sleep. On average, the quality of the older adults' deep sleep was 75 percent lower than that of the younger participants, and their ability to remember the word pairs the next day was 55 percent worse (Nature Neuroscience, online Jan. 27).
  • Black and Hispanic high school students who work part time are less likely to see their grades suffer than white non-Hispanic students who work part time, finds research out of the University of Michigan. In the study of nearly 600,000 students from around the country, researchers found that grade-point averages among white and Asian-American students dropped dramatically the more hours they worked, while the GPAs of Hispanic and black students showed less connection with hours worked. In addition, among high school students who worked long hours at a part-time job, black and Hispanic students from lower income households were less likely to smoke and drink than affluent white or Asian-American students who worked long hours (Developmental Psychology, online Jan. 14).
  • Veterans with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) appear to have measurable brain abnormalitiesVeterans with mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) appear to have measurable brain abnormalities, finds a study led by psychiatrists from the Iowa City VA Medical Center and the University of Iowa. Researchers used an MRI-based brain-scanning technique called diffusion tensor imaging to study the brains of 72 veterans with mild TBI and 21 veterans without TBI. They found significant abnormalities in the white matter of the brains of those with mild TBI compared with those without TBI, even after controlling for age, time since trauma and co-existing psychological problems such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. The researchers also found that veterans with more significant abnormalities performed more poorly on cognitive tests that measured their decision-making and planning skills (American Journal of Psychiatry, December).
  • Children may start lying as early as age 2, finds a University of Toronto study of 41 2-year-olds and 24 3-year-olds. Researchers placed two toys — a car that made engine noises and a barking toy dog — behind the children's backs and asked them to guess what they were based on the sounds each toy made. They then placed a Barney doll behind their backs that made music that had nothing to do with Barney, so there was no way the children could guess correctly what it was. The researchers then left the room, telling the children not to peek, and a hidden camera caught most of them peeking within seconds. Upon their return, the researchers asked the children if they had peeked, and found that about 25 percent of the 2-year-olds and more than 60 percent of the 3-year-olds lied (Developmental Psychology, online Jan. 7).
  • Some children diagnosed with autism may recover completely from the disorder, finds research at the University of Connecticut at Storrs. Scientists recruited 34 people ranging in age from 8 to 21 who had been diagnosed in the higher-functioning-than-average range of the autism spectrum before age 5 and no longer had any symptoms. The team conducted extensive testing of its own, including interviews with parents to gauge the children's current social and communication skills. They found no differences between those who had been diagnosed and a group of 34 matched control subjects who had never had a diagnosis (Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, February).
  • Mindfulness meditation may relieve chronic inflammation, according to a study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientists. Forty-nine study participants, including people with such chronic inflammatory conditions as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and asthma, were randomly assigned to either an eight-week mindfulness-based, stress-reduction intervention or an eight-week health enhancement program focused on nutrition education, physical activity and music therapy. Based on immune and endocrine measures collected before and after the trainings, the scientists found that the mindfulness-based stress reduction approach was more effective at reducing stress-induced inflammation (Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, January).
  • Excessive television-watching in childhood may be linked to long-term antisocial behaviorsExcessive television-watching in childhood may be linked to long-term antisocial behaviors, suggests research from the University of Otago in New Zealand. Researchers followed a group of about 1,000 children born in 1972 and 1973, asking them every two years how much TV they watched from ages 5 to 15. Children who watched more TV were more likely to have antisocial personality traits in adulthood. The study also showed that the risk of having a criminal conviction by early adulthood increased by about 30 percent with every hour that children spent watching TV on an average weeknight (Pediatrics, online Feb. 18).

—Amy Novotney