In Brief

  • Cranky childNap-deprived children are missing more than sleep, according to scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder. Researchers assessed the emotional expressions of healthy, nap-deprived toddlers one hour after their normal nap times, and tested them again on another day after they had their normal naps. The researchers found that missing just one nap led to more anxiety, less joy and less understanding of how to solve problems. (Journal of Sleep Research, in press)

  • Thinking back to childhood may make you more likely to help others, according to a study by Harvard University scientists. In one experiment, researchers asked participants to donate to a charitable cause. Those who had been prompted to think back to their childhoods shortly before gave more to charity than participants who were asked to do something neutral, such as think about the last time they went grocery shopping. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dec. 19)

  • Empathy may drive rats to help each other, suggesting the feeling is not limited to humans and other primates, according to research led by University of Chicago scientists. The team put pairs of rats together in cages, allowing one rat to roam freely and restraining the other in a clear tube at the cage's center. The researchers found that the free rats would release the door and set their captive, distressed companions free. The findings were replicated even when the free rats were denied access to the liberated rat, suggesting that the desire for a playmate was not the driving force behind their empathy. (Science, Dec. 9)

  • Many soldiers remain reluctant to admit they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or have suicidal thoughts, according to a review of post-deployment screening questionnaires completed by more than 1,700 U.S. Army soldiers. The study finds that soldiers who were allowed to complete the forms anonymously reported symptoms of depression and PTSD and suicidal thoughts two to four times more often than those who had to put their names on the forms. In addition, more than 20 percent of the soldiers who screened positive for depression or PTSD said they were uncomfortable reporting their answers honestly in routine post-deployment screenings. (Archives of General Psychiatry, October)

  • Self-affirmation may help encourage medical screenings, according to a study by researchers at the University of Florida. Scientists asked study participants to think of a trait they value, such as compassion or honesty, and then write about how they or a friend demonstrated that trait. Participants then watched a video about a disorder that could lead to several medical complications, and had the option of completing an online risk calculator for the disorder. Compared with those who had written about a friend's compassion, more participants who wrote self-affirming essays chose to find out their risk for the disorder. (Psychological Science, in press)

  • What people say they want in a mate doesn't always match up with what they actually look for, according to a study by researchers at Northwestern University and Texas A&M University. Undergraduates completed a computer-based, word-association task assessing how much they associate physical attractiveness with their ideal partners. The researchers then compared these results with participants' responses to questions about important characteristics in a partner. They found that even if students said they didn't care about a mate's physical attractiveness, the computer task indicated otherwise. In addition, the results of the word test matched what the students were actually interested in when they met real potential mates in a speed-dating experiment. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, November)

  • Blogging may help teens who suffer from social anxiety, find researchers from the University of Haifa in Israel. Maintaining a blog had a stronger positive effect on troubled students' well-being—significantly improving their self-esteem and lessening their social anxiety and emotional distress—than recording their thoughts in private diaries, the study found. Opening the blog up to public comment intensified these effects. (Psychological Services, Dec. 21)

  • Memory loss and a decrease in other brain functions can start as early as age 45, according to findings from a study of more than 7,000 British government workers. Researchers from the Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France and University College London assessed participants' memories, vocabularies and comprehension skills three times over the course of 10 years. They found a 3.6 percent decline in mental abilities in both men and women ages 45 to 49 at the start of the study. Comparatively, men ages 65 to 70 at the study's start showed a 9.6 percent decline in mental abilities; women a 7.4 percent decline. (British Medical Journal, Jan. 5)

  • Nicotine patches may improve memory loss in older adults, according to a study of 74 non-smoking older adults with mild cognitive impairment. In the double-blind study led by Vanderbilt University researchers, half of the patients wore a 15-mg nicotine patch each day and half received a placebo patch. After six months of treatment, the nicotine-treated group regained 46 percent of normal long-term memory, while the placebo group's memories worsened by 26 percent. (Neurology, Jan. 10)

  • PigeonsPigeons can count, and even perform abstract mathematical reasoning, finds a study led by researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Similar to a landmark 1998 finding that rhesus monkeys can be taught arithmetical reasoning, the study found that pigeons can be taught to recognize groups of one, two or three objects on a screen and peck at them in proper numerical sequence. The birds were even able to correctly demonstrate that five was more than two, eight more than six and so on. (Science, December)

  • Vitamins and omega-3s may prevent the brain from shrinking as we age, according to research by scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University. In the study, researchers measured levels of more than 30 nutrients in the blood of 104 people with an average age of 87. They also conducted MRI scans of 42 participants to measure brain volume. Older adults with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins B, C, D and E in their blood had bigger brains and performed better on tests of executive function and attention, they found. Conversely, those with high levels of trans fats performed worse on tests of mental abilities and had smaller brains. (Neurology, Dec. 28)

  • Employees benefit from flexible work hours, finds a study led by researchers at the University of Minnesota. The team analyzed longitudinal data collected from 659 employees at Best Buy's headquarters. They found that employees who were allowed to change their schedules and whereabouts based on their individual needs and job responsibilities reported getting almost an hour more sleep on nights before work, were less likely to feel obligated to work when sick and were more likely to seek medical help. (Journal of Health and Social Behavior, December)

  • A person's risk of experiencing a heart attack increases by approximately 21 times in the first 24 hours after losing a loved one, according to a study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. The study also showed that the risk of heart attack remained eight times above normal during the first week after the death of a loved one, slowly declining, but remaining elevated for at least a month. (Circulation, Jan. 9)

  • An obsession with the Internet may affect the wiring of the brain, according to researchers at Jiao Tong University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The researchers scanned the brains of 17 adolescents who reported preoccupation with the Internet, repeated attempts to control their use without success, and feelings of restlessness, moodiness, depression or irritability when they tried to curb their use. The scientists compared the scans with those of 16 healthy teens and found that those who appeared to be addicted to the Internet had abnormal patterns of white matter connecting the parts of their brains that are involved in decision-making. (PLoS One, Jan. 11)

  • Expectant moms with gestational diabetes are more likely to have children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to research conducted at Queens College and Mount Sinai School of Medicine. In the study of 212 urban children ages 3 and 4, the researchers found that kids who came from low-income homes or who were born to mothers with gestational diabetes had double the risk of ADHD. The authors also found a 14-fold increased risk of developing ADHD among children exposed to both gestational diabetes and of low socioeconomic status. (Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, Jan. 2)

  • People in lower socioeconomic classes are quicker to show compassion in the face of suffering, University of California–Berkeley psychologists find. In one of four experiments, researchers asked young adults to rate how frequently and intensely they experienced such emotions as joy, contentment, pride, love, compassion, amusement and awe, as well as how much they agreed with such statements as, "When I see someone hurt or in need, I feel a powerful urge to take care of them." Compassion was the only positive emotion reported at greater levels by lower-class participants. (Emotion, Dec. 12)

— A. Novotney 

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