In Brief

  • Children are less likely to be bullied when their parents establish clear rules about behavior and are emotionally warm and supportiveChildren who are exposed to negative parenting — including abuse or neglect, but also overprotection — are more likely to be bullied, according to a meta-analysis of 70 studies of more than 200,000 children. Researchers at the University of Warwick found that negative or harsh parenting was linked to a moderate increase in the risk of being both a bully victim and a perpetrator of bullying. In contrast, parenting that included clear rules about behavior while being supportive and emotionally warm reduced a child's risk of being bullied by peers (Child Abuse & Neglect, online April 25).
  • Intimate partner violence increases the risk for depression — and depression increases the risk for such violence, according to a meta-analysis of 16 longitudinal studies involving more than 36,000 people from high- and middle-income countries. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that women who experienced intimate partner violence had double the odds of subsequently experiencing depression. They also found the converse: Women with depression had nearly double the odds of experiencing violence by a partner. Among men, the researchers found some evidence of a link between intimate partner violence and later depression, but no evidence of the converse (PLOS Medicine, May 7).
  • Nerve stimulation for severe depression appears to change brain function, finds a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Scientists followed 13 people with treatment-resistant depression whose symptoms had not improved after treatment with as many as five different antidepressant medications. The participants had surgery to insert a device to deliver a 30-second electronic stimulus to the left vagus nerve every five minutes. Nine of the 13 subjects experienced improvements in depression with the treatment. Among those responders, PET scans showed significant changes in brain metabolism after three months of stimulation and further changes after 12 months (Brain Stimulation, online Feb. 15).
  • Having an unsupportive spouse increases a person's risk for depression, according to a University of Michigan study. After analyzing 10 years of data from nearly 5,000 adults, researchers found that the quality of people's relationships with a spouse, family and friends predicted how likely they were to develop depression, regardless of how frequently their social interactions took place. People with strained and unsupportive spouses were significantly more likely to develop depression, whereas those without a spouse were at no increased risk. People with the lowest quality relationships — characterized by social strain and a lack of support — had more than twice the risk of depression than those with the best relationships (PLOS ONE, April 30).
  • Acetaminophen may reduce anxiety about life and fear of death, according to a study by University of British Columbia researchers. In the study, 120 participants took acetaminophen or a placebo while performing tasks designed to evoke existential dread, including writing about death or watching a surreal video. The participants were then asked to assign fines for different types of crimes, including public rioting and prostitution. Compared with the placebo group, the people who took acetaminophen were significantly more lenient in judging the acts of the criminals and rioters and better able to cope with troubling ideas. The results suggest that participants' existential suffering was "treated" by the medication (Psychological Science, online April 11).
  • A particular protein in the hypothalamus appears to accelerate aging, a new study finds.The brain's hypothalamus region may play a key role in aging, finds research conducted at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. Scientists discovered that activating the protein complex NF-B in the hypothalamus of mice significantly accelerated aging, as shown by various physiological, cognitive and behavioral tests. The researchers also found that blocking the NF-B pathway slowed aging and increased median longevity by about 20 percent compared with control mice (Nature, online May 1).
  • Teenagers with high blood pressure appear to have less distress and enjoy a higher quality of life than those with normal blood pressure, according to research conducted at the University of Göttingen in Germany. By analyzing questionnaires from about 7,700 11- to 17-year-olds, researchers found that, not surprisingly, adolescents with hypertension were more likely to be obese and less physically fit than those with normal blood pressure. But unexpectedly, teens with high blood pressure earned higher grades and rated their quality of life as better than those with normal blood pressure. Researchers speculate that teens who are more achievement-oriented and do better in school may experience more stress, leading to higher blood pressure but also to better self-esteem and quality of life (Psychosomatic Medicine, May).
  • Many widely prescribed antidepressant medications are associated with increased risks after surgery, according to an analysis led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, and Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, Mass. The researchers looked at the medical records of more than 530,000 patients who had surgery at 375 U.S. hospitals from 2006 to 2008. They found that SSRIs were associated with an increased risk of bleeding, transfusion, hospital readmission and death when taken around the time of surgery (JAMA Internal Medicine, online April 29).
  • Preschoolers appear to learn math best when they're taught using brightly colored or unusually textured objects that are unfamiliar to them, according to research conducted by psychologists at the University of Notre Dame. In two experiments, 133 3-year-olds were randomly assigned to counting tasks that used different types of objects. The researchers found that the perceptually rich objects — such as sparkly pom-poms or neon pinwheels — helped capture the children's attention and helped them stay focused on the mathematical task. However, when children already were familiar with the objects, the items actually hindered performance on counting tasks because children's attention often is directed to the objects and their known purpose rather than to the mathematical task at hand (Child Development, May/June).
  • People who believe in God — no matter their religion — may be more responsive to depression treatment, according to research conducted at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Mass. Researchers asked 159 patients with depression how strongly they believed in God, as well as how effective they thought their psychiatric treatment would be in relieving their symptoms. The researchers found that a strong belief in God was associated with better outcomes over the course of treatment. People affiliated with a religion were also more likely to believe their psychiatric treatment was credible and to expect positive results (Journal of Affective Disorders, April 25).
  • Frequent binge drinking in college may lead to heart disease later in life, according to a study at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Researchers looked at two groups of healthy nonsmoking college students: binge drinkers and alcohol abstainers. The researchers found that binge drinkers had vascular changes that were equivalent to the impairment found in people with lifetime histories of daily heavy alcohol consumption, which can be precursors for hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke (Journal of the American College of Cardiology, May).
  • "Organic" labels appear to make food taste healthier, according to a study by Cornell University researchers. The scientists recruited 115 people in a food court to sample what were labeled as the organic and non-organic versions of cookies, potato chips and yogurt, though in reality the two types of each food were identical. Participants guessed that the "organic" snacks were nearly 25 percent lower in calories than the regular versions, and they thought the organic foods tasted lower in fat and calories and higher in fiber. The participants also indicated they'd pay about 20 percent more for all three "organic" snacks. The organic labels had less of an effect on people who reported reading nutrition labels frequently and those who often bought organic food (Food Quality and Preference, July). 
  • A particular style of thinking that makes people vulnerable to depression may rub off on others, finds a study led by University of Notre Dame psychologists. The researchers asked 103 randomly assigned college freshman roommate pairs to complete online questionnaires measuring their responses to stressful life events and asking about depressive symptoms. The participants completed the same measures again three and six months later. The results revealed that freshmen who were randomly assigned to roommates with high levels of cognitive vulnerability — in which they felt as if everything were out of their control or born out of their own deficiencies — were likely to "catch" their roommate's cognitive style and develop higher levels of cognitive vulnerability themselves. Students assigned to roommates who had low initial levels of cognitive vulnerability had decreases in their own levels. In addition, students whose cognitive vulnerability increased in the first three months of college had nearly twice the level of depressive symptoms at six months as those who didn't have an increase (Clinical Psychological Science, online April 16).
  • Mindfulness therapy can help veterans with combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder, finds research from the University of Michigan and the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System. In the study, veterans with PTSD were randomly assigned to either a mindfulness-based group treatment plan, which included meditation, stretching and acceptance of thoughts and emotions, or treatment as usual. After eight weeks of treatment, 73 percent of patients in the mindfulness group had meaningful improvement compared with 33 percent in the treatment-as-usual group (Depression and Anxiety, online April 17).
  • Teens who text and drive often take other risks, finds a study led by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Investigators asked 8,505 students across the country if they had texted while driving during the past 30 days. About 45 percent said yes. Those teens also admitted, more often than their peers who weren't texting, to driving after drinking alcohol, not wearing seat belts and riding with drivers who had been drinking (Pediatrics, June).
  • Elevated blood-sugar levels may increase a person's risk for Alzheimer's disease, according to a University of Arizona study. Researchers examined the 18F-FDG-PET scans of 124 people without diabetes and found that those with elevated blood sugar levels showed signs of lower metabolism in the same brain regions as patients with Alzheimer's disease (Neurology, April 23).
  • Having the flu while pregnant may quadruple the child's risk for bipolar disorder, finds a Columbia University study. From 1959 through 1966, researchers recruited more than 19,000 pregnant women enrolled in a large health insurance program in California and collected data on influenza infection from just before conception until delivery. The researchers then tracked down cases of bipolar disorder among the offspring from 1981 to 2010. They found a nearly fourfold increased risk of bipolar disorder among children of mothers who had the flu at any time during pregnancy. The evidence suggests a slightly higher risk if the flu occurred during the second or third trimesters (JAMA Psychiatry, online May 8).

—Amy Novotney