In Brief

  • Straight women perceived advice offered by a gay man to be more trustworthy than advice offered by a heterosexual man or woman, a new study suggests.When it comes to following dating advice, straight women appear to trust gay men the most, and vice versa, according to a University of Texas at Austin study. Researchers presented 88 heterosexual women and 58 homosexual men with the Facebook profile of a person named Jordan. The profiles were identical, except for Jordan's gender and sexual orientation. They then asked the participants to imagine they were at a party with Jordan, who gave them romance-related advice. They found that straight women perceived advice offered by a gay man to be more trustworthy than advice offered by a heterosexual man or woman. Similarly, the gay male participants perceived a straight woman's love advice to be more trustworthy than advice offered by a gay man or woman (Evolutionary Psychology, February).

  • Grumpy old men and women may live longer, according to research from the University of Erlangen–Nuremburg in Germany. Scientists examined data on current and expected future life satisfaction collected over 10 years from 40,000 people. They found that people who have low expectations for their future happiness experience less disability and die later than those who overestimate their future happiness. The findings suggest that pessimism about the future may encourage people to take more health and safety precautions (Psychology and Aging, online Feb. 18).

  • A brief writing intervention may preserve marital quality, according to research led by a Northwestern University psychologist. In a two-year study of 120 couples, the researchers assigned half of the participants to take part in a seven-minute online writing exercise in which, three times a year, spouses wrote about their most recent disagreement with their partner from the perspective of a neutral third party who wants the best for all involved. Researchers found that marital quality declined for both the intervention and control groups in the first year of the study. But during the second year, marital quality improved for the couples in the intervention group. In addition, although couples in both conditions fought equally frequently, the intervention couples were less distressed by these fights (Psychological Science, in press).

  • Therapy to ease stress, fatigue and other quality-of-life issues may significantly improve patients' sense of well-being during cancer treatment, finds research led by a Mayo Clinic psychologist. In the randomized trial, half of the study's 113 patients who were receiving radiation treatment for advanced cancer attended a six-session group therapy program that included physical therapy exercises to mitigate fatigue, discussions of topics such as developing coping strategies or addressing spiritual concerns, and deep breathing or guided imagery to reduce stress. The other half had only a standard psychosocial routine, in which they saw psychotherapists, counselors or clergy. Participants in the group therapy program reported an improvement in quality of life, but the effects diminished significantly six months later. Patients in the control group showed a decline in quality of life during and after treatment (Cancer, Feb. 15).

  • High school students whose friends perform well academically were more likely to have better GPAs, a new study finds.Grade point averages may be contagious in high-school social networks, finds a study conducted by scientists at Binghamton University. Researchers asked 158 11th-graders to categorize their peers as best friends, friends, acquaintances, strangers or relatives and mapped how students performed in school relative to their peer groups. The researchers found that students whose friends were performing better academically were more likely to improve their own scores. Researchers also observed the opposite: When a student's friends' GPAs declined, the student's GPA also dropped (PLoS ONE, Feb. 13).

  • Folate and vitamin B12 appear to reduce disabling schizophrenia symptoms in some patients, according to a study led by researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In the study, 140 patients with schizophrenia who were all taking antipsychotic medications were randomized to also receive daily doses of either folate and vitamin B12 or a placebo for 16 weeks. Their medical and psychiatric status was evaluated every two weeks. The researchers found that patients who took folate and vitamin B12 showed improvement in the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, such as apathy, social withdrawal and a lack of emotional expressiveness. They also found that effects were greater in individuals who had specific variants of the gene MTHFR and three other folate-pathway genes previously associated with the severity of negative symptoms of schizophrenia (JAMA Psychiatry, online March 6).

  • In rich and poor nations, spending money on others makes people feel better than spending on themselves, suggests a study out of Simon Fraser University in Canada. Researchers found a positive relationship between personal well-being and spending on others in 120 of 136 countries covered in the 2006–08 Gallup World Poll. In one question, for example, the scientists asked 820 participants to write how happy they felt about a time they had spent money on themselves or on others. They found that those who remembered spending money on someone else felt happier than those who recalled spending money on themselves (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, online Feb. 18).

  • Girls acquire language earlier than boys thanks to a protein in the brain, suggests research from the University of Maryland. In the first part of the study, scientists analyzed the crying patterns of young rats and discovered that the "chattier" rats — the male pups — had more FOXP2 protein, which has been linked to speech and language, in their brains than the quieter ones. They then measured the FOXP2 protein in the brain tissue of 10 4-year-old and 5-year-old human girls and boys who had died suddenly due to accidents and found that the females had up to 30 percent more FOXP2 protein than the males. This finding may help explain previous data showing that young girls tend to have greater language abilities than boys of the same age (Journal of Neuroscience, Feb. 20).

  • A study of new moms found that 11 percent had obsessive-compulsive symptoms, such as worrying too much about dirt and germs.Post-partum mothers are nearly four times more likely than the general population to grapple with obsessive-compulsive disorder, suggests a Northwestern University study. Researchers surveyed 329 mothers at two weeks and six months after giving birth and found that 11 percent reported obsessive-compulsive symptoms, such as worrying too much about dirt and germs. They also found that about 70 percent of the women who screened positive for obsessive-compulsive symptoms also screened positive for depression. That overlap and the unique subset of obsessions and compulsions might indicate that postpartum OCD represents a distinct postpartum mental illness that is not yet well classified, the authors concluded (Journal of Reproductive Medicine, April).

  • Bullied children may be more likely to develop anxiety disorders and depression and have suicidal thoughts as adults, according to a 20-year study led by Duke University researchers. The researchers examined data from 1,420 children age 9 and older who were interviewed annually until age 16 about whether they'd been bullied or teased or had bullied others in the three months before the interview. About 26 percent reported being bullied at least once, and 9.5 percent acknowledged bullying others. The researchers then followed nearly 1,300 of the children into adulthood. They found that those who said they had been bullied were at higher risk for psychiatric disorders, including depression, anxiety, panic disorder and agoraphobia, than those with no history of being bullied. Those who were both bullies and victims had higher levels of anxiety and depression and the highest levels of suicidal thoughts and panic disorder (JAMA Psychiatry, online Feb. 20).

  • Children whose parents did not disclose their own drug use and delivered a strong antidrug message were more likely to exhibit antidrug attitudes, suggests research out of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nearly 600 sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders completed surveys about the conversations that they had with their parents about alcohol, cigarettes and marijuana. The researchers found that those who reported that their parents talked about the negative consequences of using substances and how to avoid substances and explained that they disapproved of such use were more likely to report anti-substance-use perceptions. Children whose parents shared regret over their own past substance use were less likely to view drugs as bad (Human Communication Research, April).

  • Praising children, especially those with low self-esteem, for their personal qualities rather than their efforts may make them feel more ashamed when they fail, according to research at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. In one experiment, researchers recruited 313 children ages 8 to 13 years old to play an online reaction-time game against a student from another school. The students were told that someone would monitor their performance, while in reality, the computer controlled the outcome of the game and divided the children into winners and losers. One group was praised for themselves ("Wow, you're great!"), another was praised for their efforts ("Wow, you did a great job!") and one group received no praise. The researchers found that the children who lost the game felt more shame if they had been praised for their personal qualities, especially if they had low self-esteem, compared with the other groups (Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, online Feb 18).

  • Test-taking appears to improve learning in people of all ages, according to research led by a psychologist with the Houston Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Center of Excellence. Participants — including 60 college students, 60 younger adults and 60 older adults — were given 15 minutes to study and read materials on four topics: tsunamis, armadillos, the human heart and black holes. They then took a multiple-choice test on two of the topics and were told which questions they answered incorrectly. Then the participants restudied the topics the test had not covered and took an exam on all four topics, either later that day or two days later. The researchers found that adults of various ages improved their retention of new information when they were tested and graded on the material, compared with when they only re-studied the material (Psychology and Aging, online Feb. 25).

  • People with mental illness are five times more likely to be victims of murder than other people, suggests a study led by Stanford University researchers. The scientists looked at data from Sweden's entire adult population — more than 7 million people — from 2001 to 2008. During that time, there were 615 murders, and of those, 22 percent were among people with mental health disorders. The disorders were grouped into five categories: substance-use disorder; schizophrenia; mood disorders, including bipolar disorder and depression; anxiety disorders and personality disorders. One explanation for the findings may be that people with mental illness are more likely to live in poor neighborhoods, which have higher murder rates, the authors conclude (BMJ, online March 5).

  • Providing a protein synthesis blocker to the brain may hold the key to reducing fear and stress after a traumatic event, find researchers from Harvard Medical School and McGill University. The team exposed rats to an auditory stimulus that the animals learned to associate with a mildly traumatic event, and during subsequent exposures to the sound they exhibited fear. The researchers then provided the animals with rapamycin, a protein synthesis blocker, immediately after the memory was retrieved in order to limit the strengthening of connections among neurons. When the animals were retested the next day, they exhibited significantly less fear in response to the trauma-invoking sound (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, March 4).

  • Younger soldiers appear to be at greater risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study by Columbia University researchers. The scientists examined data from 260 male Vietnam veterans who had been diagnosed with PTSD. They found that men who were younger than 25 when they first went to Vietnam were seven times more likely to develop PTSD compared with men who served in Vietnam when they were in their 30s and 40s. The researchers also discovered that pre-war vulnerabilities, such as childhood physical abuse or a family history of substance abuse, were just as important as combat-related trauma in predicting whether veterans' PTSD symptoms would be long-lasting (Clinical Psychological Science, online Feb. 15).

—Amy Novotney