In Brief

  • Drug addicts with novelty-craving, risk-taking tendencies may be better able to stay sober if they take up new and stimulating hobbies, such as scuba diving and mountain climbing, suggests a study in February’s Behavioral Neuroscience (Vol. 124, No.1). The University of Nebraska–Lincoln researchers introduced novel objects and toys into the cages of cocaine-addicted rats and gauged how frequently they and a control group returned to the site inside the cage where they’d previously received cocaine injections. The control group rats, which didn’t receive the novel toys, spent most of their time in the cocaine injection site; the novelty-receiving rats spent only about half their time there.

  • Testosterone may make people more likely to make moral choices based on strict cost-benefit analysis, rather than on emotional responses, suggests an in-press article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. In the study, Columbia University researchers Dana Carney, PhD, and Malia Mason, PhD, tested whether participants with higher base rates of testosterone were more likely than lower-testosterone people to say they would push a person in front of a runaway trolley to save five people stuck on the track. Those with more testosterone were more willing to make such a sacrifice, the researchers found. The finding might explain why higher-testosterone people have more success on Wall Street or other ventures that reward insensitivity to emotional consequences.

  • Nicotine cravings are triggered more by environmental cues than how long it’s been since you last smoked, suggests a study in February’s Journal of Abnormal Psychology (Vol. 119, No. 1). Researchers from Tel Aviv University had flight attendants track their smoking cravings and found that their cravings intensified as the attendants prepared for landing, regardless of how long the flight had been. The imminent opportunity to smoke, the researchers explain, seems to cue the desire for smoking.

  • Caring, supportive friendships help overweight teens handle bullying, finds research by State University of New York at Buffalo psychologist Julie Bowker, PhD, and colleagues in press at the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology. The researchers surveyed 70 overweight and 86 average-weight adolescents about the quality of their friendships and their reactions to hypothetical peer events, such as bullying, or being teased or intentionally ignored. For average-weight students, the quality of their friendships neither protected nor hampered their response to bullying. Overweight students with supportive friends, however, were less likely to passively accept bullying, and those with conflict-heavy friendships said they tended to believe they deserved the derision.

  • Young adults who use alcohol to cope with life’s pressures are more likely to become problem drinkers than those who use alcohol to heighten enjoyment, suggests research by Columbia University graduate student Andrew K. Littlefield and his colleagues. By analyzing data from nearly 500 college students, the researchers found that young adults whose motives for drinking trended toward coping also developed more neurotic and impulsive personalities.

  • People with anxiety disorders report a strong emotional attachment to their cigarettes, suggests research in February’s Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Vol. 78, No. 1). The research by Megan Piper, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, and colleagues found that smokers with anxiety disorders were less likely to remain smoke-free after six months of treatment than a control group with no anxiety disorder. Knowing this could help clinicians realize they need to tailor their treatments to target both smoking and anxiety disorder in combination.

  • People have less favorable opinions about mothers who work full time, as well as those mothers’ kids, according to a team of Kansas State University researchers, who presented their data at the January Society for Personality and Social Psychology conference. In the study, the researchers asked participants to listen to one of three interviews with a full-time, part-time or stay-at-home mom. Then the participants all watched the same video of a mom putting together a puzzle with her child and were told it was the mom from the interview. Participants who’d listened to the full-time working mom said they didn’t think she worked very well with the child and were less likely to say the child seemed well-adjusted. The study participants looked just as favorably on mothers who worked part time as on stay-at-home moms.

  • Researchers have long shown that mindful meditation can improve your mood, but they weren’t sure which brain areas are involved. Now, a paper in February’s Emotion (Vol. 10, No. 1) suggests that mindfulness training turns down the activity of the neural pathways that are usually activated during sadness. Using fMRI, the University of Toronto’s Zindel V. Segal, PhD, and colleagues showed that people who had mindfulness training had muted activation along the cortical midline when watching sad movie scenes. That area of the brain is associated with autobiographical memory retrieval, which could relate painful memories from your past to the sad scenes being viewed.

—M. Price