In Brief

  • Head injuries may make children loners, according to a study led by neuroscientists at Brigham Young University.Head injuries may make children loners, according to a study led by neuroscientists at Brigham Young University. The researchers examined MRI scans from 23 children three years after each had suffered a traumatic brain injury, most commonly from car accidents. The researchers found that lingering injury in the brain's right frontal lobe was associated with lower social competence when it came to participation in groups, number of friends, meeting new people and being open to making close friends. The study also found that therapy designed to improve working memory might help children with these social difficulties (Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, online April 7).
  • Homework assignments may detract from adult students' learning of a foreign language, according to research led by a scientist at Rice University. The investigators studied data from a survey of 2,342 adults who took an intensive foreign language course. The researchers found that students who rated homework assignments as relevant felt they got useful feedback for doing them, and students who thought the assignments were graded fairly became more proficient in the language. However, reported time spent on homework was negatively correlated with a student's grade and proficiency test scores in listening, reading and speaking the language. This may be because homework — which included workbook exercises, reading and listening to the foreign language — takes away from time spent speaking the language, according to the authors (Journal of Educational Psychology, online April 7).
  • Like humans, pigeons can place everyday things in categories, finds a study led by psychologists at the University of Iowa. Researchers used a touchscreen to show eight pigeons a series of images — squares decorated with a design such as a starburst, blobs, spirals and stars in each corner. If an image contained a starburst and a blob in any two of the four corners, the overall image belonged to group A, whereas the other two designs varied and could overlap with designs that appeared in images belonging to other groups. They found that the pigeons learned to select with about 85 percent accuracy whether an image belonged to category A or B by pecking multiple times on the image and then selecting one of two boxes to indicate the correct category (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, April).
  • Children often witness domestic violence that goes unreported, suggest the findings of a study led by a psychologist at Sewanee, The University of the South. Researchers examined data from a nationwide study of 517 children who had seen a parent or caregiver hit, beaten or kicked. Of those children, 3 in 4 saw the violence, 21 percent heard it and 3 percent saw the injuries later. Only a small fraction of offenders went to jail, and just 1 in 4 incidents resulted in police reports. The study also showed that violent incidents crossed economic lines, with 28 percent occurring in households with annual incomes under $20,000, 30 percent with incomes from $20,000 to $50,000, 18 percent with incomes from $50,000 to $75,000 and 24 percent with incomes of more than $75,000 (Psychology of Violence, online April 7).
  • Religion may facilitate the coming-out process among lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals, according to research led by a Barnard College psychology professor. In the study examining the post-coming-out relationships of 23 Christian and Jewish gay men and their families, the scientists found that more than two-thirds of the men reported positive interactions and relationships with religious relatives, claiming that religion helped them navigate coming-out issues and interactions effectively (Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, February).
  • A Web-based intervention can strengthen drug abuse treatment, according to a study at Columbia University. Researchers randomly assigned 507 adult men and women entering 10 outpatient addiction treatment programs for 12 weeks. One group received individual and group counseling. The other group got the same treatment plus two hours of a computer-delivered intervention covering abstinence skills and prize-based motivational incentives contingent on abstinence and treatment adherence. Compared with the first group, patients who received the computer intervention were less likely to drop out of treatment and more likely to abstain from drug use (American Journal of Psychiatry, online April 4).
  • Nearly half of teenage boys and college men report having an unwanted sexual experience, according to a study conducted at the University of Missouri. Researchers examined results of a survey of 284 U.S. high school and college males and found that 43 percent experienced sexual coercion, and of those, 95 percent said a female acquaintance was the aggressor. Specifically, 18 percent reported sexual coercion by physical force and 31 percent through verbal means, while 26 percent described unwanted seduction by sexual behaviors and 7 percent said they were compelled after being given alcohol or drugs. The researchers also found that being coerced into having sexual intercourse was related to risky sexual behaviors and more drinking among the victims, and students who were sexually coerced while drunk or drugged showed significant distress (Psychology of Men & Masculinity, online March 17).
  • Poor sleep is linked to cognitive decline among older men, finds research conducted at the California Pacific Medical Center Research Institute. Using a wrist monitor that measured sleep-wake cycles, scientists collected five nights of sleep data from 2,822 men whose average age was 76, and then followed the men for three to four years, measuring their cognitive function. They found that higher levels of fragmented sleep and lower sleep efficiency were associated with a 40 percent to 50 percent increase in the odds of a clinically significant decline in executive function, similar in magnitude to the effect of a five-year increase in age (Sleep, April).
  • People who are nervous about math tests may improve their scores by writing about their anxious thoughts before the test, according to a study at the University of Chicago.People who are nervous about math tests may improve their scores by writing about their anxious thoughts before the test, according to a study at the University of Chicago. Researchers randomly assigned 80 undergraduates either to write for seven minutes about their feelings about an upcoming math test or to sit quietly before taking the test. Participants who wrote about their feelings had similar test scores, regardless of whether they had reported high or low anxiety about math tests before the exam. Among participants who sat quietly, those who reported high math anxiety performed significantly worse than low-anxiety participants on difficult problems, while scores were similar for both groups on easy problems (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, online April 7).
  • Schools have had limited success in reducing bullying, according to research at the University of California, Los Angeles. Scientists analyzed more than 140 studies from the United States, Australia, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom — examining whether anti-bullying programs are reducing the number of bullying incidents on school grounds. While the more comprehensive programs have been the most effective in reducing bullying, they require substantial commitment and school resources to be successful. The research also showed that children with social connections — even just one friend — are at less risk of suffering severe symptoms after being bullied (Annual Review of Psychology, January).
  • Juveniles guilty of serious crimes appear to be less likely to commit crimes as adults if they receive therapy that involves their families and community treatment programs rather than individual counseling, according to a University of Missouri study. Researchers reviewed arrest records for 176 serious and violent juvenile offenders and 129 of their close-in-age siblings who participated 25 years ago in the largest clinical trial of a treatment known as multi-systemic therapy (MST). They found that the odds of being arrested for any crime during the follow-up was almost two times higher, and the odds of being arrested for a felony was more than two times higher if the juvenile offender had been in individual therapy compared with those in MST (Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, online March 31).
  • People at higher risk for developing bipolar disorder consistently report stronger experiences of inspiration than those at lower risk for the disorder, according to a study by Lancaster University and Yale University scientists. Researchers asked 835 undergraduate students to complete online questionnaires about their shifts in emotion, behavior and energy. The intent was to measure their bipolar risk, as well as their beliefs about inspiration, such as whether they thought it came from themselves, from others or the wider environment. Participants who were at higher risk of bipolar disorder consistently scored higher than the other students on levels of inspiration and on inspiration that they judged to have come from themselves (PLOS One, March 26).
  • Lied-to children may be more likely to cheat and lie compared with children who are told the truth, according to research at the University of California, San Diego. In a study with 186 children ages 3 to 7, experimenters told half of the participants there was a bowl of candy in the next room, but then quickly confessed the bowl was just a ruse to get the child to play a game. The other children were simply invited to play. The researchers then asked the children to identify character toys they couldn't see by their sounds, including a "tickle me" audio clip for Elmo and "I love cookies" for Cookie Monster. One toy was deliberately tricky, and when this audio cue was played, the experimenter was called out of the room, leaving the children alone and tempting them to peek at the toy. Researchers found that the 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds who had been lied to were both more likely to cheat and more likely to lie about having done so, compared with children who had not been lied to. The 3- and 4-year-olds in both groups lied at about the same rate (Developmental Science, online March 17).
  • When it comes to detecting deceit, our automatic associations may be more accurate than our conscious thoughts in pegging truth-tellers and liars, according to a study led by University of California, Berkeley, psychologists. Researchers asked 72 participants to watch videos of "suspects" in a mock-crime interview in which only some of the interviewees had stolen a $100 bill from a bookshelf, but all were instructed to tell the interviewer they had not stolen the money. When participants were asked which suspects they thought were lying and which were telling the truth, they were only able to detect the liars 43 percent of the time and the truth-tellers 48 percent of the time. But when researchers used implicit association tests to probe participants' more automatic responses toward the suspects, they found the participants were more likely to unconsciously associate deception-related words with the suspects who were lying and truthful words with those who were telling the truth (Psychological Science, online March 21).
  • Family caregivers show an increase in the beneficial stress hormone DHEA-S following days when they use an adult day-care service for their relatives with dementia, according to a study led by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Texas at Austin. The study examined 151 people who care for family members with dementia who attend an adult day-care service at least twice a week. For eight consecutive days, the caregivers collected their saliva five times throughout each day and answered questions about their daily stressors and mood each night. Findings showed that the caregivers had more positive moods and higher levels of DHEA-S the day after their family members used day care services (American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, online Feb. 3).
  • Obesity and depression are linked in teenage girls, according to a Rutgers University study. Researchers assessed a statewide sample of more than 1,500 males and females in Minnesota over more than 10 years and found that depression occurring by early adolescence in females predicts obesity by late adolescence. In addition, obesity that occurs by late adolescence in females predicts the onset of depression by early adulthood. The researchers did not find any significant associations between the two disorders in males during the same time period (International Journal of Obesity, Jan. 31).
  • People are more likely to deny the persistence of racism after being exposed to a successful African-American, according to research conducted at the University of Chicago and the University of California, Berkeley. Across eight studies, scientists exposed participants to images of multiple successful people. Then, in what participants thought was an unrelated task, they answered questions about the state of race relations. Even when only one of the many images was of a successful African-American, such as President Barack Obama, the immediate conclusions participants drew about present-day racism were affected (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, March).

— Amy Novotney